Who Goes to the Underworld in Greek Mythology?

Hades and Persephone were the king and queen of the underworld.
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According to Greek mythology, humans who received a proper burial would spend their afterlife in the underworld. Yet a number of those who traveled to the underworld were far from dead. Whether kidnapped or seeking favors, they interacted with many of the underworld's occupants, from the three-headed hound Cerberus to the lord of the underworld himself, Hades.

1 The Abduction of Persephone

Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was picking a bouquet when Hades, god of the underworld, saw her. Enchanted by her beauty, Hades conspired to lure Persephone with a narcissus flower. As she plucked it, the earth opened up beneath her feet and Hades, on a chariot drawn by deathless horses, absconded with her to the underworld. Though Demeter eventually sent the god Hermes to retrieve her daughter, Hades handed Persephone a pomegranate before she left. Because Persephone consumed the fruit of the underworld, Zeus determined that she was forever bound to serve as its queen for one-third of the year, spending the other two-thirds with her mother in the upper world.

2 The Song that Turned the Heart of Hades

Eurydice died when a snake bit her heel. Bereaved, her husband Orpheus, a famed musician in Greek legend, descended into the underworld to convince Hades to return Eurydice to the upper world. When he reached the court of Hades, he played his lyre and sang a dirge so moving that even Hades couldn't ignore his feelings of pity. He called the soul of Eurydice forth and revived her, telling Orpheus that both could return to the upper world on the condition that he resist the urge to look at his wife until they were there. Yet when he reached the opening to the upper world and saw the light of day, Orpheus turned and looked at her face. Eurydice scarcely had time to say farewell; she returned to the underworld and Orpheus lamented his loss thereafter.

3 Heracles Retrieves Cerberus

In the last of Heracles' 12 labors, he was ordered to take Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guarded the underworld. Heracles descended into the underworld to ask permission of Hades. On his way to the throne room, Heracles wrestled with Hades' servant, proving his strength. Impressed, Hades told Heracles he was welcome to take Cerberus, on the condition that he overpower the animal using only the weapons he possessed. Heracles easily grabbed Cerberus, and though the dog's dragon-headed tail bit, Heracles squeezed until the dog went limp. He presented Cerberus to King Eurystheus, then returned Cerberus to the underworld.

4 Odysseus Speaks with the Dead Heroes

Odysseus went to the underworld to seek the counsel of the prophet Tiresias on how to complete his journey home. While there, Odysseus was able to speak to his mother, though he could not embrace her. When she departed, he spoke dead soldiers from the Trojan War and to Heracles, who sympathized with his hardships. Eventually, Odysseus grew fearful in the mass of shrieking souls and fled the underworld to continue his voyage home.

Since 2003, Momi Awana's writing has been featured in "The Hawaii Independent," "Tradewinds" and "Eternal Portraits." She served as a communications specialist at the Hawaii State Legislature and currently teaches writing classes at her library. Awana holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Hawaii, Mānoa.