If you're looking to talk to the dead while you visiting Greece, turn to the legend of Hades. The ancient God of the Underworld is associated with the Nekromanteion (“the Oracle of the Dead”), which visitors can still see ruins of today. In Ancient Greece, people visited the temple for ceremonies to communicate with the dead.
Whether or not you believe that's possible, this historical site is still interesting to visit.
Who Was Hades?
Hades' appearance: Like Zeus, Hades is usually represented as a vigorous bearded man.
Hades' symbol or attribute: Scepter or horn of plenty. Often depicted with the three-headed dog, Cerberus.
Strengths: Rich with the wealth of the earth, especially precious metals. Persistent and determined.
Weaknesses: Passionate over Persephone (Kore), the daughter of Demeter, whom Zeus promised to Hades as his bride. (Unfortunately, Zeus apparently neglected to mention it to either Demeter or Persephone.) Impulsive, favoring sudden, decisive actions. Can also be deceptive.
Birthplace of Hades: The most common story is that Hades was born to the Great Mother goddess Rhea and Kronos (Father Time) on the island of Crete, along with his brothers Zeus and Poseidon.
Spouse of Hades: Persephone, who must stay with him part of each year because she ate a few pomegranate seeds in the Underworld.
Pets and associated animals: Cerberus, a three-headed dog (in the "Harry Potter" movies, this beast was renamed "Fluffy"); black horses; black animals in general; various other hounds.
Some major temple sites: The spooky Nekromanteion on the River Styx along the west coast of mainland Greece near Parga, still visitable today. Hades was also associated with volcanic areas where there are steam vents and sulfurous vapors.
Basic myth: With permission from his brother Zeus, Hades springs out of the earth and captures Persephone, dragging her off to be his queen in the Underworld. Her mother, Demeter, searches for her and stops all foods from growing until Persephone is returned. Finally, a deal is worked out where Persephone stays one-third of the year with Hades, one-third of the year serving as a handmaiden to Zeus at Mount Olympus and one-third with her mother. Other stories skip Zeus's portion and divide Persephone's time just between Hades and her mom.
Interesting facts on Hades: Though a major god, Hades is Lord of the Underworld and so is not considered to be one of the more celestial and bright Olympian gods, despite the fact that his brother Zeus is king over them all. All of his siblings are Olympians, but he is not.
Hades originally may have been all of the dark and underworld aspects of Zeus, eventually considered to be a separate deity. He is sometimes called Zeus of the Departed. His name originally probably meant "invisible" or "unseen," as the dead go away and are seen no more. This may find an echo in the word "hide."
In Roman mythology, Hades is considered to be the same as Pluto, whose name comes from the Greek word plouton, which refers to the riches of the earth. As Lord of the Underworld, the deities of the dead were believed to know where all the precious gems and metals were hidden in the earth. This is why he can sometimes be depicted with the Horn of Plenty.
Hades can also be conflated with Serapis (also spelled Sarapis), a Graeco-Egyptian deity who was worshipped alongside Isis at many temple sites in Greece. A statue of Serapis-as-Hades with Cerberus at his side was found at a temple in the ancient city of Gortyn on Crete and is in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Modern depictions: Like many of the Greek gods and goddesses, Hollywood has re-discovered Hades and he is included in many modern movies based on Greek mythology, including "Clash of the Titans" and others.
More Fast Facts on Greek Gods and Goddesses
Plan Your Own Trip to Greece
- Book your own day trips around Athens.