Hades is one of the three leading gods of Greek mythology, alongside his brothers Zeus and Poseidon.
Hades was primarily known as the God of the Underworld, but his complete roles and functions in Greek religion are complex and nuanced.
So, what exactly are Hades’s powers and abilities?
In short, Hades had complete control over the Underworld, the deities and creatures within. Hades had final judgment and could impart divine punishment to any soul in the Underworld. Finally, Hades could provide wealth and crop fertility, become invisible, or even resurrect the dead.
The 7 Greatest Powers of Hades
1. Power over the inhabitants of the Underworld
As the Greek god of the underworld, Hades has absolute control and dominion over the realm of the dead. This includes all of the souls, creatures, and inhabitants of the Underworld.
As an example, Hades had full control over Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guarded the entrance to the Underworld. Cerberus prevented the dead from leaving and the living from entering without permission.
Hades’ control over Cerberus is proven when Heracles asks Hades for permission to borrow Cerberus to fulfill his twelfth labor.
However, Hades also had command over other minor deities and entities in the Underworld, such as the Furies (Erinyes), who were goddesses of vengeance, and Thanatos, the personification of death. They carried out their duties under Hades’ rule.
2. Ultimate Judge of the Dead
As the ultimate ruler of the Underworld, Hades has the final power to impart judgment over the souls residing in his domain. This can be seen in famous cases such as Sisyphus, Tantalus, and the Danaids.
However, the process of judging the dead was different for most ordinary mortals.
In summary, while Hades is not typically depicted in the act of judging the souls of the dead, his role as the lord of the Underworld puts him in a position of authority over the processes of death, the afterlife, and justice.
The judgment of mortal souls would involve the dead crossing the river Styx, ferried by Charon, and presenting themselves before the three judges of the Underworld.
These judges—Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus—were not Hades himself but were mortal sons of Zeus who had been granted this role after his death.
These three judges would then assign each soul to one of the three areas of the Underworld.
The Elysian Fields were for those who led virtuous lives or were heroes; the Asphodel Meadows were for ordinary souls who lived neither a very good nor a very bad life; and Tartarus was a place of punishment for those who committed serious offenses or opposed the gods.
Hades’ role, then, was more of a ruler and overseer, ensuring the rules of the afterlife were followed.
3. Powers of Divine Punishment and Curses
In certain cases, Hades passed direct judgment over notable mortals. These mortals usually earned this dubious privilege by committing acts of immense cruelty in their lives, or by desecrating the gods themselves.
This has given us some of the most memorable Greek myths.
The Myth of Sisyphus: Sisyphus was a cunning king who was punished for his trickery and deceit. In one instance, he cheated death by tricking Thanatos into demonstrating how the chains of Tartarus worked and then trapping him.
After eventually being dragged to the Underworld by Hermes, Sisyphus was judged by Hades and sentenced to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down each time it neared the top.
This myth in particular also has deep philosophical meanings and and is referenced even today.
The Myth of Tantalus: Tantalus was a son of Zeus who committed terrible crimes, including killing his own son and serving him as a meal to the gods.
Once his deeds were discovered, he was sent to the Underworld, where Hades judged him and gave him a fitting punishment.
Tantalus was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any.
The Danaids: The fifty daughters of Danaus, known as the Danaids, were ordered by their father to murder their husbands on their wedding night.
All but one of them did as commanded. After death, they were judged by Hades and sentenced to spend eternity carrying water in a sieve or perforated device.
4. Powers of Resurrection
Hades is most commonly associated with imprisoning the souls of the dead, and not with their release. However, there are a few situations in Greek mythology where Hades appears to resurrect a person, though this is often accompanied by strict conditions.
Orpheus and Eurydice: The most famous example is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. After Eurydice died from a snake bite, her husband Orpheus, a legendary musician, journeyed to the Underworld and played his lyre so beautifully that it moved Hades and his wife Persephone.
They agreed to restore Eurydice to life on the condition that Orpheus must not look back at his wife until they had both reached the surface. Tragically, Orpheus couldn’t resist looking back just before they emerged, and Eurydice was pulled back into the Underworld.
Heracles and Alcestis: In another myth, when Heracles was a guest in the house of Admetus, he learned that Admetus’ wife, Alcestis, had recently died and offered herself as a replacement for her husband to the Underworld.
Touched by the love story and the hospitality of Admetus, Heracles decided to wrestle Thanatos (Death personified) to bring Alcestis back to life.
Since Thanatos was entirely subservient to Hades, this story can be interpreted as Hades allowing Heracles to bring Alcestis back from the dead.
Thus, Hades did have some power to restore life, but this was severely limited and constrained. After all, the natural order calls for all life to eventually return to Hades’ realm.
5. Powers over the Earth (Geokinesis)
As the ruler of everything beneath the earth’s surface, he also has control over the riches and resources found in the earth, including precious metals and gems. However, this control extends to the earth itself.
Thus, Hades can possess the power of geokinesis, or the ability to manipulate the earth itself.
Examples of these powers can be seen in various stories, such as:
The Abduction of Persephone: The most notable example of Hades’ geokinesis is in the myth of the abduction of Persephone.
According to the story, Hades created a beautiful flower to tempt Persephone.
When she reached out to pick it up, Hades caused the earth to split open, creating a chasm through which he emerged from the Underworld in his chariot.
He seized Persephone, retreated back into the Underworld, and closed the earth behind him.
The Imprisonment of the Titans: After defeating them in the war called Titanomachy, the Greek gods imprisoned the Titans in Tartarus, a deep abyss in the Underworld. Besides acting as ruler of the Underworld, Hades also acts as chief jailer of the Titans, his powers ensuring their imprisonment.
6. God of Wealth
Hades was also known as Plouton, which means “wealthy one” in ancient Greek, because all the precious metals and gems mined from the earth were said to belong to his realm. This made him the god of wealth and abundance.
In addition, ancient Greece was an agricultural society, so fertile lands and crops were considered a form of wealth too.
Thus, seeds sown in the ground “died” and were “reborn” as plants, mirroring the cycle of death and rebirth associated with Hades and the Underworld.
This association of Hades with crop fertility is further strengthened by his marriage with Persephone, the goddess of vegetation, and Persephone’s mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility.
Finally, in art and literature, Hades or Plouton is often depicted holding a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, symbolizing abundance and prosperity.
This aspect of Hades shows a different side of him from the gloomy, fearsome ruler of the dead; it presents him as a provider and a source of prosperity.
7. Powers of Invisibility
During the war between the Gods and Titans, the Cyclops forged three magical items for the leading Olympian gods. For Zeus, they crafted his magical thunderbolt; for Poseidon, they made a powerful trident; and for Hades, they crafted the Helm of Darkness.
This Helm of Darkness was also known as the Cap of Invisibility, and was a powerful item that granted its wearer the ability to become invisible.
This item is mentioned in several Greek myths, but it seems Hades himself never actually used the Helm himself. Instead, it was used by several other characters:
Perseus: The hero Perseus used the Helm of Darkness during his quest to slay Medusa, one of the Gorgons whose gaze turned people to stone.
He borrowed the helmet from Hades, along with other magical items from various gods, to successfully complete his mission. The helmet allowed Perseus to become invisible so he could approach Medusa without being seen.
Athena: The goddess Athena also reportedly used the Helm of Darkness during the Trojan War to become invisible. She used it to blend in and trick Hector, leading to his death at the hands of Achilles.
Hermes: In some versions of the myth, Hermes, the messenger of the gods, used the helmet to free Zeus when he was captured by Typhon.
- The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
- Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch
- D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
- The Library of Greek Mythology by Apollodorus
- The Gods of Olympus: A History by Barbara Graziosi
- The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth
- Greek Religion by Walter Burkert
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