Department of English

Fall 2010 Edition

The Unseen One

Nathan Vest
Argumentative 1010 Honorable Mention
Professor: Rosalyn Eves

The remnants of the ancient Greeks can be found everywhere, both in the form of the physical artifacts and in the cultural influences on government, science, math, and philosophy. Even their myths and legends have been handed down. Thousands of years later, these stories are still being retold. Even today they have found a way into our culture in print and even film. They have not, however, made it through untainted. Changes have been made and details have been forgotten or excluded, some lost simply due to the passage of time. Others, however, have been skewed by the beliefs and views of the preceding generations. One of the most predominate gaps between modern and classical versions of the myths is the depiction of Hades, god of the underworld. As one of the three sons who rose to over throw their father, the titan Cronos, Hades was one of the central powers in the Greek pantheon; despite this, the Greeks of the ancient world rarely prayed to him. As god of the underworld he was feared by the Greeks, and was usually considered unswayable no matter what pleas or sacrifices were made, much as their eventual descent into the underworld was unavoidable. In the few myths in which he makes an appearance, Hades is depicted as a harsh unyielding god, but not cruel. Although his actions may be seen as extreme, they are rarely unprovoked. In truth, in comparison to some of the other gods he was unusually fair. In his current depictions, however, he comes across quite differently. The films Clash of the Titans, Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief, and Disney's Hercules, show him as being an evil, cruel, god abusing those around him and plotting to overthrow his fellow gods.

In all three of our modern examples, Hades is depicted as being unhappy with his lot in life, the lot in this case being literal, or at least as literal as can be when dealing with mythic beings. The three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, drew lots after the overthrow of their father to determine who should rule what portion of the world. Zeus was assigned the sky, Poseidon the seas, and Hades, drawing the short lot, was given to rule over the underworld which later came to be known by the name of it lord, Hades. In Hercules, Hades is cast as the main villain, engaging in a plot to over throw his brother Zeus and the other gods of Olympus by enlisting the aid of the Titians. Clash of the Titans has him in a similar role of attempting to pull Zeus off the throne, this time by tricking the sky god into abusing his followers to the point that they turn to worshipping Hades instead. In Percy Jackson, Hades is shown in a slightly kinder light; his intention to takeover being more a matter of opportunity then the result of brooding hatred as in the first two examples. However, given even the slightest chance, he is eager to take his brother's power for himself.

In his classic representation, Hades shows little to no ambition to rule the world. Much like his brothers, he is omnipotent within his own domain, and reacts harshly to unwanted encroachment upon it; however, in comparison to Zeus or Poseidon he seems to lack their desire to try and extend his power beyond his borders. Nonetheless, he is very protective of what is his. More so than any other deity with in the pantheon, his realm is clearly defined and occupies a physical, if mythical, location. Although he is feared by mortals and shunned by the other gods due to his association with death, he seems to have taken this isolation in stride, choosing to have as little to do with the world outside his realm as it chooses to have with him.

In his modern aspect Hades is often shown to be exceptionally cruel. Clash shows him killing innocents, the main character's family, simply because he can. Percy shows him offhandedly attempting to destroy the main character once he has gotten what he desired from him. Even the version of him in the children's cartoon, Hercules takes out his anger on his underlings and punishes the dead simply for being around.

However, the classical version is quite different. Despite his fearful reputation, he very rarely is shown to harm anyone with the important exception of those who disrespect his domain. While the other gods are shown to be fickle and chaotic, he shown as constant and almost fair, admittedly harsh, but fair. One example of this is the myth of Orpheus, which shows him being moved by the pleas of Orpheus to release the soul of his dead wife and even agreeing to do so, but on the condition that he must not look back to make sure that her soul followed him. When Orpheus broke his word, Hades kept his, and reclaimed the soul of Orpheus's wife. In some versions of the labors of Hercules, Hades is said to have consented to allow the hero to complete his task by capturing the three headed hound Cerberus as long as the dog was not harmed. When the hero Theseus came down to the underworld to attempt to steal away Hades's wife, the hero was imprisoned in a throne of forgetfulness, an unusually merciful act for a god. Even in the story of his capture of Persephone he is depicted as treating her kindly after her capture.

The realm of Hades is also often misrepresented. In two of the three modern examples used so far, we are given a look into the underworld: Clash brings us to the edge, but never really goes into the underworld proper; however, both Percy and Hercules show it to be a place whose description is very close to that of the Christian Hell: a dark foreboding place filled with fire and horrible creatures. In truth this depiction can be a somewhat accurate view of parts of the classical underworld, but fails to include that fact that in the myths the underworld encompasses not only their version of Hell but also Heaven. The Greek underworld covers all aspects of the afterlife in one place by handing out reward to the deserving and punishment to the wicked.

As the lord of the underworld, the ancient Greek views of Hades defined their relationship with death. It was cold, uncaring and unstoppable; however, this impersonal view also stripped it of the ability to be cruel or vindictive. As times change and things that were once considered the wrath of the gods have come to be accepted as explainable natural events like lighting and hurricanes, death has not lost its mystery. If anything it has gained more. No matter the modern science, death cannot be stopped, delayed perhaps, but never stopped. While the modern world has lost its fear of the thunder the fear of death is still present, perhaps even stronger than in our ancient counter parts. The reasons for the gap in the modern and classical views of the god Hades are many, but the modern versions of Hades do the god of the underworld an injustice when compared to their classical counterparts. By giving him the aspects of evil and cruelty, these misconceptions change the meaning of the myths, and warp his role with the classical Greek world. They also reinforce the thought that death is something to be feared as opposed to simply being an unavoidable fact of life.

Works Cited
Hercules. Screenplay by Ron Clements, Don McEnery. Dir. John Musker, Ron Clements. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, 2000. DVD.Ron Clements
Percy Jackson and The Lighting Thief. Dir. Chris Columbus. 21st century Fox, 2010. DVD.
The Clash of The Titians. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi. Dir. Louis Leterrier. Warner Brothers, 2010. DVD.
Mythology Guide. Web. Nov 1, 2010. <http://www.online-mythology.com/orpheus_eurydice/>.