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Welcome to the Underworld

By Michael A. Signal

Hello and welcome! I’ll be your tour guide for the day. No reason to be scared well, there is some reason to be scared. But don’t worry, for I will

keep you safe. Your surroundings are, no doubt, frightful. As you look around, however, I am sure you will begin to understand. You see, you are no

longer in the land of the living, a world commanded by Zeus. You are now in his brother’s kingdom. Ah, it’s becoming clear now. I can see the understanding beginning to dawn across your face. You have passed on to the land of souls: the realm of Hades.

I am here to welcome you into this realm and to guide you through it. At the end of the tour, I will escort you back to the land of the living. Welcome... to the Underworld.

Well, we’re not exactly in the Underworld, not yet. First, we have to cross this river, which acts as a boundary between the living and the dead. It is called the River Styx, and we can’t cross it alone. We have to wait here for the ferry.

Do you have the fare? Of course, you don’t. In this world, there's a fare you have to pay in order to travel across the river. Typically, loved ones place coins in the mouth of the dead, knowing they will need the money to pay Charon, the ferryman of Hades. I have a coin that will allow us to board the

ferry. And look, here is Charon now, wearing his long tattered robe and carrying his ferryman’s pole. We must give the coin to Charon before we can board his vessel.

Look there! See that figure in the distance? Yes, those are three heads. We are nearing the gates of Hades, guarded by a fierce hound named Cerberus. Cerberus is a massive, fearsome beast. I am sure you have heard tales of him, but seeing him in person can be intimidating. He is not just a huge dog

with three heads but a mixture of the Underworld’s most monstrous creatures. You can see now that he has the tail of a serpent and the heads of many snakes growing from his back. I assure you, Cerberus will not harm

anyone unless they try to escape Hades. You see, Cerberus ensures that none but the souls of the dead enter the Underworld unless accompanied by me! He also guards the gate so that no one can escape back into the world of the living.

Because Cerberus has allowed us safe passage through the gate, we are now in Hades. The Underworld is divided into three parts. First, there is paradise: the Elysian Fields. People earn the right to spend eternity in the Elysian Fields through heroic feats and virtuous deeds on earth. Many mortals strive to get here but, alas, only a small number of souls earn the right to spend eternity in paradise. Next, there are the Asphodel Meadows. It is not a land of pure delight, like the Elysian Fields. This is where people who have lived good but unremarkable lives come to stay after those lives have ended. And finally... let us move just a bit closer to the edge here. Look down. That is the pit of Tartarus. You should never want a closer look than this. Tartarus is a land of pain, despair, and punishment. It is reserved for only the most despicable people who have spent their lives as scoundrels, thieves, and murderers.

Who determines who is good and who deserves to be sent to Tartarus? Every Greek knows that Zeus reigns over all other gods. He presides over them and the living from his home on Mt. Olympus. And his brother, Poseidon, rules the oceans. Well, there is another powerful god who rules the dead here in the Underworld. Hades, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, is god of the dead. He has rule over every departed soul.

For those who are deserving, Hades will reward them in the Elysian Fields. But Hades will eternally punish those who cross him or anger the gods. Sisyphus and Tantalus were crafty, deceitful kings who were sent to Tartarus for the rest of time. Sisyphus was sentenced to push a heavy boulder up a steep hill forever. Every time he is close to reaching the top of the hill, it rolls back down, and he must start the process over again. Tantalus was sentenced to stand in a pool of water that sits beneath a fruit tree. No matter how hungry or thirsty he gets, he will never be able to reach for the fruit or the water. Imagine how tantalizing that must be!

Sorry, that was a bad joke. This is serious. Don’t worry, for most humans have not been so vile and wretched in life as Sisyphus and Tantalus. Few should fear this punishment... as long as they obey the laws of Hades.

It is my job to know these things and to share with you this knowledge. I am Hermes, messenger of the gods and son of Zeus. I am also tasked with guiding souls to the Underworld. I hope that I have given you useful information and have answered any questions that you might have about the realm of the dead. Feel free to stop by again! After all, the Greeks believed that this would be their home for all eternity it's not as if we are going anywhere!