Pluto (Dis, Hades, Orcus, Aïdoneus), son of Cronus and Rhea,
received as his share of the world the supervision of the Infernal
Regions, situated beneath the earth, and was also appointed god of the
dead and of riches, for all precious metals are buried deep in the
bosom of the earth.
 Besides this Pluto, god of the Infernal Regions, the
Greeks also worshiped Plutus, a son of Ceres and Jason, who
was known exclusively as the god of wealth. Abandoned in
infancy, he was brought up by Pax, the goddess of peace, who
is often represented holding him in her lap. Because Plutus
insisted upon bestowing his favors upon good and noble
mortals only, Jupiter soon deprived him of his sight. Since
then the blind god's gifts have been distributed
This god inspired all men with a great fear. They never spoke of him
without trembling, and fervently prayed that they might never see his
face; for, when he appeared on the surface of the earth, it was only
in search of some victim to drag down into his dismal abode, or to
make sure there was no crevice through which a sunbeam might glide to
brighten its gloom and dispel its shadows. Whenever the stern god set
out on one of these expeditions, he rode in a chariot drawn by four
coal-black steeds; and, if any obstacle presented itself to impede his
progress, he struck it with his two-pronged fork, the emblem of his
power, and the obstacle was immediately removed. It was on one of
these occasions that Pluto kidnapped Proserpina, the fair goddess of
vegetation, daughter of Ceres, whom he set on his throne in Hades, and
crowned his queen (p. 183).
[Sidenote: Worship of Pluto.]
Pluto is always represented as a stern, dark, bearded man, with
tightly closed lips, a crown on his head, a scepter and a key in hand,
to show how carefully he guards those who enter his domains, and how
vain are their hopes to effect their escape. No temples were dedicated
to him, and statues of this god are very rare. Human sacrifices were
sometimes offered on his altars; and at his festivals, held every
hundred years, and thence called Secular Games, none but black animals
His kingdom, generally called Hades, was very difficult of access.
According to Roman traditions, it could only be entered at Avernus,
but the Greeks asserted that there was another entrance near the
Promontory of Tænarum. Both nations agreed, however, in saying that it
was an almost impossible feat to get out again if one were rash enough
to venture in.
"To the shades you go a down-hill, easy way;
But to return and re-enjoy the day,
This is a work, a labor!"
To prevent all mortals from entering, and all spirits from escaping,
Pluto placed a huge three-headed dog, called Cerberus, to guard the
"There in state old Cerberus sate,
A three-headed dog, as cruel as Fate,
Guarding the entrance early and late."
From thence a long subterranean passage, through which shadowy spirits
glided incessantly, led to the throne room, where Pluto and Proserpina
sat in state, clad in their sable robes. From the foot of this throne
flowed the rivers which channeled the Lower World. One, the Cocytus,
rolled salt waves, composed of naught but the tears flowing
continually from the eyes of the criminals condemned to hard labor in
Tartarus, the portion of Hades reserved for the exclusive use of the
"Cocytus, named of lamentation loud
Heard on the rueful stream."
[Sidenote: Rivers of Hades.]
To separate this section from the remainder of his realm, Pluto
surrounded it with the Phlegethon, a river of fire; while the Acheron,
a black and deep stream, was to be passed by all souls ere they
reached Pluto's throne and heard his decree. The current of this river
was so swift, that even the boldest swimmer could not pass over; and,
as there was no bridge, all the spirits were obliged to rely upon the
aid of Charon, an aged boatman, who plied the only available skiff--a
leaky, worm-eaten punt--from shore to shore. Neither would he allow
any soul to enter his bark, unless he was first given a small coin,
called the obolus, the ferryman's fare, which the ancients carefully
laid under the tongue of the dead, that they might pass on to Pluto
without delay. Charon's leaky boat no sooner touched the shore than a
host of eager spirits pressed forward to claim a place. The cruel
boatman repulsed them roughly, and brandished his oars, while he
leisurely selected those he would next ferry across the stream.
"The shiv'ring army stands,
And press for passage with extended hands.
Now these, now those, the surly boatman bore;
The rest he drove to distance from the shore."
Virgil (Dryden's tr.).
All those who could not produce the required obolus were obliged to
wait one hundred years, at the end of which time Charon reluctantly
ferried them over free of charge.
There was also in Hades the sacred river Styx, by whose waters the
gods swore their most irrevocable oaths; and the blessed Lethe, whose
waters had the power to make one forget all unpleasant things, thus
preparing the good for a state of endless bliss in the Elysian Fields.
[Illustration: THE FURIES.--A Study for the Masque of
"Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls
Her wat'ry labrinth, whereof who drinks,
Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain."
[Sidenote: The judges.]
Near Pluto's throne were seated the three judges of Hades, Minos,
Rhadamanthus, and Æacus, whose duty it was to question all newly
arrived souls, to sort out the confused mass of good and bad thoughts
and actions, and place them in the scales of Themis, the blindfolded,
impartial goddess of justice, who bore a trenchant sword to indicate
that her decrees would be mercilessly enforced. If the good outweighed
the evil, the spirit was led to the Elysian Fields; but if, on the
contrary, the evil prevailed, the spirit was condemned to suffer in
the fires of Tartarus.
"Where his decrees
The guilty soul within the burning gates
Of Tartarus compel, or send the good
To inhabit, with eternal health and peace,
The valley of Elysium."
[Sidenote: The Furies.]
The guilty souls were always intrusted to the three snake-locked
Furies (Erinnyes, or Eumenides), who drove them with their stinging
lashes to the gates of Tartarus. These deities, who were sisters, and
children of Acheron and Nyx, were distinguished by the individual
names of Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megæra, and with Nemesis, goddess of
revenge, were noted for their hard hearts and the merciless manner in
which they hurried the ghosts intrusted to their care over the fiery
flood of the Phlegethon, and through the brazen gates of their future
place of incessant torment.
"There rolls swift Phlegethon, with thund'ring sound,
His broken rocks, and whirls his surges round.
On mighty columns rais'd sublime are hung
The massy gates, impenetrably strong.
In vain would men, in vain would gods essay,
To hew the beams of adamant away.
Here rose an iron tow'r: before the gate,
By night and day, a wakeful Fury sate,
The pale Tisiphone; a robe she wore,
With all the pomp of horror, dy'd in gore."
Virgil (C. Pitt's tr.).
[Sidenote: The Fates.]
The three Fates (Mœræ, Parcæ), sisters, also sat near Pluto's throne.
Clotho, the youngest, spun the thread of life, in which the bright and
dark lines were intermingled. Lachesis, the second, twisted it; and
under her fingers it was now strong, now weak.
"Twist ye, twine ye! even so,
Mingle shades of joy and woe,
Hope, and fear, and peace, and strife,
In the thread of human life."
Atropos, the third sister, armed with a huge pair of shears,
remorselessly cut short the thread of life,--an intimation that
another soul would ere long find its way down into the dark kingdom of
When the gates of Tartarus turned on their hinges to receive the
newcomer, a chorus of cries, groans, and imprecations from within fell
upon his ear, mingled with the whistling of the whips incessantly
plied by retributive deities.
"What sounds were heard,
What scenes appeared,
O'er all the dreary coasts!
Fires that glow,
Shrieks of woe,
And cries of tortured ghosts."
[Sidenote: The Danaides.]
Many victims renowned while on earth for their cruelty found here the
just punishment of their sins. Attention was first attracted by a
group of beautiful maidens, who carried water to fill a bottomless
cask. Down to the stream they hastened, a long procession, filled
their urns with water, painfully clambered up the steep and slippery
bank, and poured their water into the cask; but when, exhausted and
ready to faint from fatigue, they paused to rest for a moment, the
cutting lash fell upon their bare shoulders, and spurred them on to
renewed efforts to complete a task so hopeless that it has become
These fair maidens were the Danaides, daughters of Danaus, who had
pledged his fifty daughters to the fifty sons of his brother Ægyptus.
The marriage preparations were all completed, when Danaus suddenly
remembered an ancient prophecy which had quite escaped his memory, and
which foretold that he would perish by the hand of his son-in-law.
It was now too late to prevent the marriages, so, calling his
daughters aside, he told them what the oracle had said, and, giving
them each a sharp dagger, bade them slay their husbands on their
wedding night. The marriages were celebrated, as was customary, with
mirth, dance, and song; and the revelry continued until late at night,
when, the guests having departed, the newly married couples retired.
But as soon as Danaus' daughters were quite certain their husbands
were fast asleep, they produced their daggers and slew their mates.
"Danaus arm'd each daughter's hand
To stain with blood the bridal bed."
Euripides (Potter's tr.).
One of the brides only, Hypermnestra, loved her husband too dearly to
obey her father's command, and, when morning broke, only forty-nine of
Ægyptus' sons were found lifeless. The sole survivor, Lynceus, to
avenge his brothers' death, slew Danaus, thus fulfilling the ominous
prophecy; while the gods, incensed by the Danaides' heartlessness,
sent them to Hades, where they were compelled to fill the bottomless
Tartarus also detained within its brazen portals a cruel king named
Tantalus (the father of Niobe), who, while on earth, had starved and
ill-treated his subjects, insulted the immortal gods, and on one
occasion had even dared to cook and serve up to them his own son
Pelops. Most of the gods were immediately aware of the deception
practiced upon them, and refused the new dish; but Ceres, who was very
melancholy on account of the recent loss of her daughter, paid no heed
to what was offered her, and in a fit of absent-mindedness ate part of
the lad's shoulder.
The gods in pity restored the youth to life, and Ceres replaced the
missing shoulder with one of ivory or of gold. Driven away from his
kingdom, which was seized by the King of Troy, Pelops took refuge in
Greece, where he ruled the extensive peninsula, the Peloponnesus,
which still bears his name.
To punish the inhuman Tantalus, the gods then sent him to Tartarus,
where he stood up to his chin in a stream of pure water, tormented
with thirst; for, whenever he stooped to drink, the waters fled from
his parched lips. Over his head hung a branch of luscious fruit. His
hunger was as intolerable as his thirst; but, whenever he clutched at
the fruit, the branch swung upward, and eluded his eager grasp.
"Above, beneath, around his hapless head,
Trees of all kinds delicious fruitage spread.
The fruit he strives to seize; but blasts arise,
Toss it on high, and whirl it to the skies."
Homer (Pope's tr.).
This singular punishment inflicted upon Tantalus gave rise to the
expression "to tantalize."
Another criminal was Sisyphus, who, while king of Corinth, had misused
his power, had robbed and killed travelers, and even deceived the
gods. His reprehensible conduct was punished in Tartarus, where he was
condemned to roll a huge stone to the top of a very steep hill; and
just as he reached the summit, and fancied his task done, the rock
would slip from his grasp and roll to the foot of the hill, thus
obliging him to renew all his exertions.
"With many a weary step, and many a groan,
Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone;
The huge round stone, resulting with a bound,
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground.
Again the restless orb his toil renews,
Dust mounts in clouds, and sweat descends in dews."
Homer (Pope's tr.).
Salmoneus, another king, had vainly tried to make his subjects believe
he was Jupiter. To that effect, he had once driven over a brazen
bridge to imitate the roll of thunder, and, to simulate the
thunderbolts, had thrown lighted torches down upon the multitude,
purposely assembled below.
"Th' audacious wretch four fiery coursers drew:
He wav'd a torch aloft, and, madly vain,
Sought godlike worship from a servile train.
Ambitious fool, with horny hoofs to pass
O'er hollow arches of resounding brass,
To rival thunder in its rapid course,
And imitate inimitable force!"
Virgil (Dryden's tr.).
This insolent parody so incensed Jupiter, that he grasped one of his
deadliest thunderbolts, brandished it aloft for a moment, and then
hurled it with vindictive force at the arrogant king. In Tartarus,
Salmoneus was placed beneath an overhanging rock, which momentarily
threatened to fall, and crush him under its mass.
"He was doomed to sit under a huge stone,
Which the father of the gods
Kept over his head suspended.
Thus he sat
In continual dread of its downfall,
And lost to every comfort."
Still farther on was the recumbent form of Tityus, a giant whose body
covered nine acres of ground. He had dared offer an insult to Juno,
and in punishment was chained like Prometheus, while a vulture feasted
on his liver.
"There Tityus was to see, who took his birth
From heav'n, his nursing from the foodful earth:
Here his gigantic limbs, with large embrace,
Infold nine acres of infernal space.
A rav'nous vulture in his open side
Her crooked beak and cruel talons try'd:
Still for the growing liver digg'd his breast,
The growing liver still supply'd the feast."
Virgil (Dryden's tr.).
Here in Tartarus, too, was Ixion, king of the Lapithæ, who had been
given the hand of Dia in marriage on condition that he would give her
father a stipulated sum of money in exchange, but who, as soon as the
maiden was his, refused to keep his promise. The father-in-law was an
avaricious man, and clamored so loudly for his money, that Ixion, to
be rid of his importunities, slew him. Such an act of violence could
not be overlooked by the gods: so Jupiter summoned Ixion to appear
before him and state his case.
Ixion pleaded so skillfully, that Jupiter was about to declare him
acquitted, when he suddenly caught him making love to Juno, which
offense seemed so unpardonable, that he sent him to Tartarus, where he
was bound to a constantly revolving wheel of fire.
"Proud Ixion (doom'd to feel
The tortures of the eternal wheel,
Bound by the hand of angry Jove)
Received the due rewards of impious love."
Sophocles (Francklin's tr.).
[Sidenote: Elysian Fields.]
Far out of sight and hearing of the pitiful sounds which so constantly
rose out of Tartarus, were the Elysian Fields, lighted by a sun and
moon of their own, decked with the most fragrant and beautiful of
flowers, and provided with every charm that nature or art could
supply. No storms or wintry winds ever came to rob these fields of
their springlike beauty; and here the blessed spent eternity, in
pleasant communion with the friends they had loved on earth.
"Patriots who perished for their country's rights,
Or nobly triumphed in the fields of fight:
There holy priests and sacred poets stood,
Who sang with all the raptures of a god:
Worthies whose lives by useful arts refined;
With those who leave a deathless name behind,
Friends of the world, and fathers of mankind."