What tail the word ‘hell’ are connotations limited with the evil forces, darkness and all things negative. I am not saying that these aren’t true.
It’s just that there are stories in hell that are not focused on the darkness that it exudes.
Allow me to enumerate several stories that you might find interesting, romantic even, as we take a tour on the different side of hell in a list.
Orpheus & Euridice, A love story that tried to cheat death.
This is about the young love of Orpheus, a lad gifted with music that can sooth and melt anyone’s emotions.
He fell in love with the beautiful Euridice. With his music, the lass fell in love with him and they decided to tie the knot.
Thinking of a happily-ever-after, they didn’t expect that Euridice will be taken away by death too soon and that their love would abruptly end.
With all Orpheus’ sorrow, he vowed that he would retrieve his wife from hell, where he planned to melt the heart of Hades, the Lord of the Underworld to give back his wife. The problem is, Hades would never grant such request. Many have tried and failed.
The only hope that Orpheus had is his incomparable talent in music. Did he succeed in melting Hades’ heart?
Yes. He was granted the request provided that he will not look if Euridice is following him as he ascends the trek towards the upper world.
Just as when he was almost there, he couldn’ help but check if Euridice is indeed with him, so he looked back. Instantly, the figure of Euridice vanished just as she said farewell.
Death Kidnapping Spring
Hades, the lord of the underworld is often portrayed as the merciless god who rules the dead and the afterlife. But Hades has a love story, too.
It may not be very romantic, but he did fell in love with Persephone. Persephone, the daughter of Demeter goddess of fertility, caught the heart of the lord of the dead.
He asked for Zeus’ permission to take Persephone with him in the underworld, since they know that Demeter wouldn’t consent. Bursting through a cleft in the Earth, Hades abducted her.
Demeter looked for her daughter and during her sorrow, the Earth stopped producing life.
With the pleading of hungry people and the advice of other gods, Zeus asked Hades to return Persephone. But before Hades did, he tricked Persephone to eat Pomegranate seeds.
Since she ate food from the underworld, she needs to go back every now and then.
A quarter every year, Persephone has to go back to the underworld which refers to the season of winter where all the fruits of the Earth loose life.
Dionysius, meeting long-lost mom in hell
Semele, priestess of Zeus, became Zeus’ love interest.
Being the lover boy that he is, he made sure that Semele would fall in his hands. He transformed into an eagle to meet her, which led to his constant visits. This affair prospered and soon Semele got pregnant.
Hera, goddess-wife of Zeus , found out and befriended Semele. She told Hera of her love with the great Olympian ruler.
Hera planted seeds of doubt whether her lover is really Zeus and that made her ask Zeus for a gift.
Zeus took an oath over the River Styx and promised anything that she would ask would be granted. It was then that she asked to see the god in all his glory.
A mortal can never see a god in such form and live. With the unbreakable vow that he made, Zeus does not have a choice but to grant he request. Semele died in the processs and Zeus saved the baby in her womb.
He had sewn him in his thigh until he was born. When the son of Zeus came of age, he went to the underworld to retrieve the soul of his mother whom he had never met.
He is one of the very few who succeeded. This is the story of birth and descent to the underworld of Dionysius, god of wine and revelry.
River Styx, The river in hell
The river Styx is the one of the famous setting of Greek mythology since it provides transport down to the underworld. It marks the boundary of Earth and afterlife.
When a person dies, his soul needs to cross the river using a boat ferried by Charon.
The ferryman accepts only Greek coins before he transports the soul down to the underworld. This explains the ritual of including a coin in the mouth of a dead.
This is prepared by the relatives. It is believed that the soul can’t reach the underworld and would remain lurking the Earth if not ferried across the river.
Also, Styx is a sacred river where gods swear unbreakable vows. This power of the river Styx was granted in honor of the river goddess who sided with Zeus during the war between the Titans and the Olympians.
After the war, all who would take oath under the power of the river Styx is are bound to fulfill them. The river is also known for its power to grant invulnerability just as how Achilles was dipped into the river and became the greatest Greek warrior.
His only weakness was his heel where he was held by his mother upon dipping him into the river; thus, the Achilles’ heel.
Journey through hell for forgiveness
The most famous hero of Greek mythology is Hercules. His last journey in order to recompense for killing his children when he was driven insane by Hera, was the descent to the underworld where he is tasked to capture Cerberus, the three-headed giant hellhound that patrols souls in the underworld.
After a long and difficult journey, Hercules met Hades and the lord of the underworld agreed that he bring Cerberus provided that he can capture the beast without using any weapon.
He succeeded and brought the beast to Eurystheus, the king who ordered Hercules’s labors. He asked Hercules to return Cerberus to the underworld as he was released of his labors.
Monsters in hell
Mythology wouldn’t be complete without the presence of monsters that make it colorful. Some of them act as guardians of hell. Here they are:
- Cerberus – a giant multi-headed hellhound which guards the entrance of Hades, to prevent those who entered from going back. That is why mythological heroes are not allowed to go down the underworld unless dead, thus they are also not allowed to go back.
- Hydra – an ancient serpent-like water monster with a lot of heads. When one head is cut off, three more grow out of them. It has poisonous breath and blood. It is also the guardian to an underwater entrance leading to the underworld.
- Minotaur – characterized by the head of a bull and a body of a man. It dwelt at the center of the Cretan Labyrinth, which was a maze-like creation of architect Daedalus and his son Icarus, on the command of King Minos of Crete. In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the Minotaur is one of the monsters in hell that punishes the sinners.
Hell as it is, “Dante’s Inferno”
In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, hell was divided into circles that contained the committers of the seven deadly sins—also known as cardinal sins or capital vices.
These are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. These cardinal sins are presented in circles of hell where monsters and demons guard each circle.
They punish the sinners based on what they committed when they were living. This is the first part of Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory and paradise, the Divine Comedy.
Immortality in hell
One story of the underworld that doesn’t fear me is the version in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
On the second part of the epic which is believed to be an addition to it, the epic hero, Gilgamesh went on a journey to the underworld in order to find the secret to immortality.
He was hoping that that would bring back his friend Enkidu to life. He was sentenced to death by the gods when he helped Gilgamesh kill the Bull of Heaven.
In order to know the secret of immortality, he needs to meet Utnapishtim, the only man granted immortality after the great flood. Unfortunately, Gilgamesh failed to discover the secret of an immortal life.
The Story of Creation: Point of View from hell
In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the story from the book of Genesis was narrated in a different perspective.
The pages of creation, Adam and Eve and their banishment from the garden of Eden was opened in the setting of hell.
Planning to avenge his banishment, Lucifer, the fallen angel, conspired with the other fallen angels who took his side during the war against the son of God.
The devil went to the newly created paradise where he found Adam and Eve. When God found out that the devil found its way into the paradise, He was resolved that He needs to sacrifice His son in order to save humanity. Then the expected happened.
The devil tempted Eve to take a bit of the forbidden fruit and Adam followed. Thus, they are banished from paradise.
Hell is other people
According to Jean Paul Sartre, on his theory of existentialism, “hell is other people.” Whatever difficulties and struggles that we have in life are made by people who made us subjects of their existence. This theory pertains to individuality and the lack of predetermined natured of anyone since it explores on the belief that “existence precedes essence.”
Since there is nothing that would determine a person’s essence, it would greatly rely on what we are going to do with our life.
It is a survival not to be the object of somebody’s existence, because being one’s object would create a hell courtesy of that other person.
Existentialism is a matter of striving for your essence so that it won’t be you who would perish.