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Map of the Underworld
Showing the descents of Odysseus and Aeneas

Descents of Odysseus, Aeneas, and Heracles 1 

Odysseus came to the Underworld in order to meet the seer Tiresias and learn about the outcome of his wanderings. It was the witch Circe who gave Odysseus this task, and the instructions as to how to do it. She also sent the wind who carried Odysseus' ship to the farthest realm of Oceanus, allowing him and his crew to find the Grove of Persephone that Circe had indicated. Circe instructed Odysseus to go to a rock which is located in the place where the rivers Pyriphlegethon (or Phlegethon) and Cocytus flow into Acheron. In that place Odysseus dug a pit around which he poured a libation to all the dead, first with honey and milk, then with wine, and finally with water. Then, having sprinkled white barley over the libation, he invocated the spirits of the dead, and after the invocation he cut the throats of a ram and an ewe. Then the souls of the dead came gathering about the pit.

The souls that Odysseus saw in the Underworld

On seeing Achilles' soul, said Odysseus:

"… Achilles, the most fortunate man that ever was or will be … honoured as though you were a god … and now you are a mighty prince among the dead. For you … Death should have lost its sting." (Odysseus to Achilles. Homer, Odyssey 11.480).

But Achilles replied:

"Do not speak soothingly to me of death, Odysseus. I should choose to serve as the serf of another, rather than to be lord over the dead." (Achilles to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.486).

And after that salutation, Odysseus told him what had happened in Troy after Achilles' death.

Agamemnon described to Odysseus how he had been murdered by Aegisthus and his own wife during a banquet. His wife's treason inspired him to lecture Odysseus about marriage:

"Never be too gentle with your wife, nor show her all that is in your mind." (Agamemnon to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.440).

And the soul of the man who had always taken women through violence dared to add:

"Women, I tell you, are no longer to be trusted." (Agamemnon to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.455).

Ajax 1, still embittered by the defeat Odysseus inflicted on him on account of the arms of Achilles, refused to talk, and that is why Odysseus said to him:

"So not even death itself could make you forget your anger with me on account of those accursed arms." (Odysseus to Ajax 1. Homer, Odyssey 11.554).

But Ajax 1 left without a word.

Alcmena, mother of Heracles 1.

Anticlia 1. Odysseus was stirred to compassion when he saw his mother's soul, for she was still alive when he left Ithaca. And yet Odysseus did not allow the soul of his own mother to approach the sacrificial blood before he had talked to Tiresias. But later, when she was allowed to approach, she told him news about his father Laertes, who lived the life of a recluse and yearned for his return home. Likewise she told him that the cause of her own death had been her heartache for him.

Odysseus tried to embrace her, but the ghost slipped through his arms, and as he cried to his mother in despair she explained:

"We no longer have sinews keeping the bones and flesh together, but once the life-force has departed from our bones, all is consumed by the heat of fire, and the soul slips away like a dream …" (Anticlia 1 to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 11.219).

Antilochus. Son of Nestor and leader of the Pylians against Troy. He was killed in the war by Hector 1, or by Memnon.
Antiope 3. Mother of Amphion 1 and Zethus.
Ariadne. Daughter of Minos 2 who helped Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth. She was deserted by the man she saved, but Dionysus 2 loved her, though some say that in such a way that he had Artemis kill her, which means that Ariadne died of a sickness.
Chloris 1, who survived the killing of the NIOBIDS, and having married Neleus, became queen of Pylos. She is the mother of Nestor.
Elpenor was one of Odysseus' companions. He fell from the roof of Circe's house and broke his neck. As he had been left behind unburied, he now asked Odysseus to bury him on his return to the island of Aeaea.
Eriphyle. The story of hateful Eriphyle is at Robe and Necklace of Harmonia 1.
Odysseus saw in Hades just the wraith of Heracles 1, for the real Heracles 1, who married Hebe in heaven, is always banqueting with the OLYMPIANS, having been made immortal.
Iphimedia. Mother of the ALOADS, who had the ambition of piling Mount Ossa on Olympus, and Mount Pelion on Ossa, and in that way reach up to heaven (see Zeus, for their attack against his rule).
Jocasta, also called Epicasta 3, is mother and wife of Oedipus. She hanged herself obsessed by the idea of having married her own son.
Leda, mother of Helen, Clytaemnestra, and the DIOSCURI.
Maera 3.
Megara, Heracles 1's wife.
Minos 2. Odysseus saw this former king of Crete sitting with a gold sceptre in his hand, delivering judgement to the dead (see also Underworld).
Odysseus saw Orion driving together over the field of asphodel wild beasts which he had slain, holding in his hands a club of bronze that could not be broken.
Patroclus 1.
Phaedra, wife of Theseus who fell in love with her stepson.
Procris 2, wife of Cephalus 1. She was killed accidentally by her husband. Cephalus 1 was son of Deion, son of Aeolus 1, son of Hellen 1, son of Deucalion 1, the man who survived the Flood. Cephalus 1, after whom was named the island of Cephallenia, which is a part of Odysseus' kingdom, is related to Odysseus, for he is father of Arcisius, father of Laertes, who is Odysseus' father. Procris 2 is Odysseus' great grandmother.
Odysseus saw Sisyphus being punished by rolling a stone with his hands and head in an effort to heave it over the top of a hill, but as he pushes it to the top it rebounds backward.
Odysseus also saw impious Tantalus 1, who is punished by not being able to eat or drink as the water in the lake dries out, and the fruits in the trees are lifted by the wind each time he tries to reach either.
Tiresias, whose mind was unchanged since Persephone had granted him to keep his wits in Hades, warned Odysseus of the wrath of Poseidon, who was angry at him because he had blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus 2, a son of the god. Tiresias also advised Odysseus not to harm the cattle of Helius in Thrinacia (Sicily), and told him about the conditions of his home in Ithaca, where many SUITORS, wishing to marry his wife, lived at his expenses. He also prophesied that Odysseus death would come in his old age, far from the sea, and in a gentle way.
Tityus. Odysseus saw this son of Gaia being punished in the Underworld for having attacked Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. There a pair of vultures eat his liver and he is powerless to drive them off.
Tyro. Mother of Neleus and Pelias 1.

Aeneas "Easy is the descent to Hades: night and day the door stands open; but to recall the steps and pass out to the upper air, this is the task, this the toil!" (The Cumaean Sibyl to Aeneas. Aeneid 6.126).
Aeneas descended to the Underworld, guided by the Sibyl, through a cave in Cumae (Italy). After having passed the entrance where Grief, Anxiety, Diseases, Old Age, Fear, Hunger, Death, Agony, Hypnos, and other creatures dwell, he came to the Elm from which False Dreams cling. Next he followed the road to the river Acheron where he saw the souls of the unburied whom Charon refused to take to the other side.

Charon accepted to ferry Aeneas when he saw the Golden Bough that Aeneas was carrying. On the other bank, they first met the hound Cerberus 1, whom the Sibyl put to sleep with a cake of honey and wheat infused with sedative drugs. In the fields behind the cave of Cerberus 1, Aeneas saw those who died in childhood, those who had been condemned to death on a false charge, and those who killed themselves. Next he came to the Vale of Mourning where those who were consumed by unhappy love dwell, and in the farthest fields, before the dividing road, he saw those who were famous in war. Then Aeneas came to the place where the road forks, the left hand leading to Tartarus, and the right, beneath the Palace of Hades to Elysium. In the entrance of the Palace, Aeneas put down his passport, the Golden Bough, and then he proceeded to Elysium, where he met his father Anchises 1, saw souls who were not yet born, and other souls drinking from the waters of the river Lethe (Oblivion) before they were reborn.

The souls that Aeneas met in the Underworld

Adrastus 1, King of Argos who raised the army of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES.

Anchises 1, Aeneas' father.

liebaen1.6: Vision of Aeneas in the Elysian Fields: his father shows him both past and future. Behind them is the Cumaean Sibyl. Liebig sets.

Caeneus 1. Once a woman called Caenis, she was turned into an invulnerable man by Poseidon.
Capys 2. Future King of Alba.

Deiphobus 1, son of Priam 1 who married Helen after Paris' death, and was himself killed by Menelaus at the end of the Trojan War.

Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Eriphyle. For the story of this woman see Robe & Necklace of Harmonia 1.

Glaucus 6. A Trojan, son of Antenor 1.

Idaeus 1. A Trojan herald during the war.

Leucaspis 2. One of Aeneas' companions, lost in shipwreck.

Medon 4, son of Antenor 1, killed by Philoctetes at Troy.

Musaeus. A famous bard, perhaps son of Orpheus.

Numitor 2. Son of Proca, brother of Amulius and grandfather of Romulus and Remus 1, the founders of Rome.

Orontes 1. One of Aeneas' companions, lost in shipwreck.

Palinurus. The steersman of the exiled Aeneas, during the latter's trip from Troy to Latium. On approaching Italy Palinurus fell asleep and was hurled into the sea, and apparently he swam to the coast where he was killed by the locals. A harbor in Italy was named Palinurus after him. Palinurus had a brother, Iapis, who received from Apollo the gifts of music and divination, and certainly he was also a healer, because he is reported to have applied, on one occasion, curative herbs to Aeneas' wound.

Parthenopaeus. One of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES. He was killed in that war.

Pasiphae. Queen of Crete. Daedalus constructed a hollowed wooden cow on wheels for Pasiphae so that she could couple with a bull (see Daedalus and Minotaur).

Phaedra, wife of Theseus. She fell in love with Hippolytus 4, her stepson, and as he refused her, she falsely charged him of having assaulted her. Phaedra hanged herself when her passion for Hippolytus 4 was made public.

Polyphoetes. A priest of Demeter at Troy.

Proca Silvius. King of Alba and Latium. Succeeded his father Aventinus 2. At his death, his younger son Amulius seized the kingship by violence. His other son was Numitor 2.
Procris 2. Bribed by a golden crown, Procris 2 admitted a lover in her bed, and having being detected by her husband, she fled to Crete where Minos 2 was king. Minos 2 fell in love with her, and offered her a swift dog and a dart that flew straight; and in return for these gifts, Procris 2 let herself be bribed again, sharing his bed. But afterwards, fearing Queen Pasiphae, she came to Athens, and being reconciled with her husband Cephalus 1, she went with him to the chase. During the hunting she met her death, for Cephalus 1 accidentally killed her with the dart that flew straight, which she had got from Minos 2. Romulus.

Silvius Aeneas, son of Silvius (see also Aeneas).

Silvius, son of Aeneas and Lavinia 2. Succeeded Ascanius 2 on the throne of the Alban and Latin state. Silvius was father of Latinus 2, and of Silvius Aeneas.

Sychaeus. First husband of Dido.

Thersilochus 1. Son of Antenor 1, killed by Achilles during the Trojan War.

Tydeus 2. Father of Diomedes 2 and one of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES. Tydeus 2 was killed in that war by Melanippus 1.

Heracles 1
The three-headed dog

Heracles 1 descended to the Underworld because his tormentor Eurystheus imposed on him the task of capturing and bringing up to our world of light Hades' three-headed dog Cerberus 1, offspring of Typhon and Echidna. Some say that this bronze-voiced hound had in fact three heads of dogs, the tail of a dragon, and on his back the heads of all sorts of snakes, but others affirm that this raw flesh eating monster had as many as fifty heads.

At the Eleusinian Mysteries

In any case, to accomplish this task, which is one of his LABOURS, Heracles 1 thought it convenient to be initiated in the mysteries at Eleusis, so that he should be prepared and understand better the world he was about to set his foot upon. However, since it was not lawful at the time for a foreigner to be initiated, he became the adoptive son of Pylius, otherwise an unknown man. And since he still was polluted because of the slaying of the CENTAURS, he was purified, before his initiation, by Eumolpus 1, son of Poseidon and Chione 1, daughter of Boreas 1, one of the WINDS. At the time, Orpheus' son Musaeus was in charge of the initiatory rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a man who could fly, since Boreas 1 had taught him how, and who having been trained by Apollo and the MUSES, wrote poems and songs.

Descends somewhere

Having been initiated, Heracles 1 came to Laconia in southern Greece where an entrance to the Underworld could be found at Taenarum. Yet others have said that he entered the Underworld in a place at the Acherusian Chersonese on the Black Sea.

It is said that the souls of the dead fled on seeing Heracles 1; and when he saw Medusa 1, he wished to draw his sword against her, but he learned from Hermes that he was only seeing her empty phantom, and let it go. Likewise, on seeing Meleager shining in his armour, Heracles 1 prepared to shoot at him, but Meleager calmed him saying:

"Son of great Zeus, stand where you are, and calm your spirit. Do not shoot a harsh arrow from your hands in vain against the souls of those who have perished. You have no need to fear." (Meleager to Heracles 1. Bacchylides, Odes 5.80).

Heracles 1 not only found dead souls; for he also met Theseus and his accomplice Pirithous. The latter had come to the realm of shadows, also through the entrance at Taenarum, having in mind the bizarre idea of marrying Persephone. On account of this great insolence, they were both bound fast in the Underworld before they were dead, and when they saw Heracles 1, they, wishing to be raised from the dead, stretched out their hands towards him. Some have said that Heracles 1 rescued both, but others assert that he could only raise Theseus; for when he wished to save Pirithous the earth quaked, and he desisted. Still others affirm that neither of them ever returned.

Ascalaphus 2

Heracles 1, who often protected those in need, also rolled away the stone of Ascalaphus 2, the son of the river god Acheron. Ascalaphus 2 bore witness against Persephone, confirming that she had eaten the seed or seeds of pomegranate that Hades had given her, not knowing that for doing so she would be bound to the Underworld. For giving that testimony, Demeter laid the heavy rock on him in Hades, which Heracles 1 rolled away. Yet, when Ascalaphus 2 was free again, Demeter turned him into a short-eared owl.

Herdsman Menoetes 1, again

Heracles 1 wished to provide the thirsty souls with blood, and for that purpose he dared to slaughter one beast of the cattle of Hades. But the herdsman Menoetes 1, the same who had exposed him when he had come to fetch the Cattle of Geryon (see LABOURS) challenged Heracles 1 to wrestle, which resulted in Menoetes 1 having his ribs broken when Heracles 1 seized him round the middle.

Captures the dog

After these minor incidents, Heracles 1 asked Hades for Cerberus 1, and the god replied that he could take it if he could master it without weapons. So finding the three-headed hound at the gates of the river Acheron, he grasped it without relaxing his grip, and although the dragon in Cerberus 1's tail bit him, he at last gained control over the brute. Yet it is also told that Heracles 1 received Cerberus 1 in chains by the favor of Persephone, who had welcomed him, as some say, like a brother.

Return to the upper world

It is uncertain whether Heracles 1 returned to this world through the exit at Troezen, through that at Hermione (the city facing the island of Hydra in eastern Argolis), or through the exit at Mount Laphystius in Boeotia. In any case, Heracles 1 came with the hound to Mycenae, and after showing it to Eurystheus, he carried it back to the Underworld.

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Related sections Hades, Heracles 1, HERACLES 1'S LABOURS, Immortals, Underworld & Afterlife, Persephone, Odysseus, Aeneas, Anchises 1, Sibyl 6 Cumaean, Thanatos  

Apd.2.5.12; Dio.4.25.1, 4.63.5; Hom.Od.11 passim; Hyg.Fab.79; Pau.2.35.10, 9.34.5; Plut.Thes.33.2; Vir.Aen.6 passim; Xenophon, Anabasis 6.2.2.