The underworld has gotten a bad rep over the centuries. Let’s clear a few things up:
The underworld isn’t hell, nor is Hades the devil.
We’re all gonna die eventually, and the ancient Greeks had definitive ideas about life after death. This was their theory.
Upon death, the first god you encounter is Hermes, the messenger god. All smiles and charm, Hermes makes it seem like everything is going to be okay. Of course, the messenger doubles as a trickster and travel guide, and Hermes escorts you directly to a bearded, disgustingly filthy ferryman at the entrance of a creepy river.
Although there are six rivers visible to the living and the dead, Styx snags the spotlight in mythology. Inevitably, everyone pays Charon’s toll and takes that long ferry ride down the River Styx. No pointy-tailed devil with pitchfork awaits you. Instead, you are greeted by Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades, who really doesn’t care if you want in–he’s there to keep you from getting out.
Thereafter, your newly departed soul generally incurs one of five afterlife outcomes, and you don’t get to decide which end up with. The choice belongs to Hades, god of the underworld. Along with his judges, Minos (yes, that Minos), Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus, Hades sorts the Goodies from the Baddies.
Your fate depends on virtue. So good luck with that.
The Goodies go to the Elysian Fields. These are ultra posh afterlife accommodations with zero toiling or strife. Elysium is strictly for the virtuous, the righteous, and the heroes. Chances are, if you go to Elysium, you’ll run into Achilles. And probably Gandhi and the inventor of chocolate or something.
The Baddies go to Tartarus. Sinners can enjoy some good old fashioned wailing and gnashing of teeth in Tartarus. Occupants include Sisyphus, who wasn’t such a good guy in mythology even though we like to feel sorry for him because of the boulder thing. No doubt, ancient Greek parents used to threaten unruly kids with Tartarus.
Everyone else (and we all know who we are) goes to the Asphodel Meadows. Why? Because you didn’t suck in life, nor were you awesome. In eternal mediocrity, you get to live in Asphodel Meadows, some afterlife subdivision with ticky-tacky houses that were built over 40 years ago and haven’t been renovated since. Your plumbing still gets clogged, you still hold a 9-5 cubicle job, and the three-headed dog next door sometimes barks in the middle of the night for no good reason.
Oh–and there are couple of lesser-known areas of the underworld, too. Let’s call them addendums to whatever lands you in one of the three above-mentioned places.
First, if you spent your life pining away over someone who didn’t love you back, you go to the Mourning Fields where you can bemoan with the other bemoaners.
Second, if you happened to have died three times before and you went to Elysium for being awesome all three times, you wind up on one of the Isles of the Blessed, where you get to live in bliss for all eternity. It’s the opposite of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. Three scores and you’re in. Forever.
The underworld wasn’t hell. It was a type of karmic sorting station.
Hades? Not so much the devil, but more like karma. And we all know what they say about karma.
It’s a bitch.