Greek Mythology for Life After Death

The three judges of the underworld decided a human's fate in the afterlife.
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Zeus, the primary god in the Greek pantheon, assigned his sons Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aikos to serve as judges in the underworld. They would determine whether humans deserved to suffer in Tartarus, languish in the Asphodel Fields or enjoy eternal happiness in Elysium. Rarely, the gods would intervene and make exceptions, but in most cases the human souls remained in the afterlife of the judges' choosing for an eternity.

1 Abyss of the Damned

Humans who committed unforgivable acts like treason or incest were condemned to Tartarus, a bronze-walled prison where Hades, god of the underworld, would issue punishment to the wicked. Such punishment was designed to address a particular crime and typically inflicted both physical and psychological torment. In the case of Tantalus, who served human flesh to the gods, Hades created a punishment that dealt directly with food and drink. Immersed in water up to his neck and tormented by delicious fruit that hovered above his head, Tantalus could neither drink nor eat during his eternity in the pit of Tartarus.

2 The Gray Fields of Asphodel

Those who had committed no great evil and accomplished no great task spent their afterlife in the purgatory of the Asphodel Fields. Though a field of asphodel blossoms may sound appealing and enjoyable, the Asphodel Fields were anything but. Gray and joyless, they were populated by the souls of the dead, who drifted about in confusion and sadness. Professor Steve Reece of St. Olaf College even suggests that this purgatory was a field of ash rather than a field of asphodel blossoms, a change that would only heighten the atmosphere of oblivion.

3 The Two Elysiums

Those who led righteous lives or performed great deeds spent their eternal afterlife in the beautiful realm of Elysium, though the location of this paradise changed from author to author. Homer and Hesiod describe Elysium as being located at the end of the Earth, while Pindar wrote that Elysium was in the underworld itself. Regardless of its location, Elysium was the final resting place of several key human figures in Greek mythology, including the chaste Penelope, talented Orpheus and fearless Achilles.

4 Afterlife in Olympus

In very rare cases, heroes could circumvent the underworld entirely and ascend to Olympus. Heracles earned his immortality by performing a number of heroic deeds. In addition to performing 12 labors to atone for murdering his wife and children, Heracles helped his father defeat the giants who attempted to take over Olympus. As a result, when Heracles was atop his funereal pyre, Zeus sent the goddess Athena to bring Heracles to Olympus, where he gained true immortality.

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.