1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pluto

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PLUTO (Πλούτων), in Greek mythology, the god of the lower world. His oldest name was Hades, Aides or Aïdoneus, “the Unseen.” He was the son of Cronus and Rhea, and brother of Zeus and Poseidon. Having deposed Cronus, the brothers cast lots for the kingdoms of the heaven, the sea, and the infernal regions. The last, afterwards known as Hades from their ruler, fell to Pluto. Here he ruled with his wife Persephone over the other powers below and over the dead. He is stern and pitiless, deaf to prayer or flattery, and sacrifice to him is of no avail; only the music of Orpheus prevailed upon him to restore his wife Eurydice. His helmet, given him by the Cyclopes after their release from Tartarus, rendered him invisible (like the Tarn—or Nebelkappe of German mythology). He is hated and feared by gods and men, who, afraid to utter his name, both in daily life and on solemn occasions make use of euphemistic epithets: Polydectes (the receiver of many), Clymenus (the Illustrious), Eubulus (the giver of good counsel). Later, owing to his connexion with Persephone and under the influence of the Eleusinian mysteries, the idea of his character underwent a radical change. Instead of the life-hating god of death, he became a beneficent god, the bestower of grain, minerals, and other blessings produced in the depths of the earth. In this aspect he was called Pluto, the “giver of wealth” (a name that first occurs in the Attic poets of the 5th century), and at most of the centres of his cult he was so worshipped; at Elis alone he was Hades, the god of the dead. The plants sacred to him were the cypress and narcissus; black victims were sacrificed to him, not white, like those offered to the other gods. In art he was represented like Zeus and Poseidon; his features are gloomy, his hair falls over his forehead; his attributes are a sceptre and Cerberus; he carries the key of the world below (cf. the epithet πυλάρτης, “keeper of the gate”), and is frequently in company with Persephone. He is sometimes represented as an agricultural god, carrying a cornu copiae and a two-pronged fork. Amongst the Romans Hades was usually called Dis pater (the “wealthy father”) and Orcus, although the name Pluto is often used. Orcus, however, was rather the actual slayer, the angel of death, while Father Dis was the ruler of the dead. The Etruscan god of death was represented as a savage old man with wings and a hammer; at the gladiatorial games of Rome a man masked after this fashion removed the corpses from the arena. In Romanesque folk-lore Orcus (possibly English “ogre,” q.v.) has passed into a forest-elf, a black, hairy, man-eating monster, upon whose house children lost in the woods are apt to stumble, and who sometimes shows himself kindly and helpful.

The “house of Hades” was a dreadful abode deep down in the earth, and the god was invoked by rapping on the ground. According to another view, the realm of Hades was beyond the ocean in the far west, which to the Greek was always the region of darkness and death, as the east of light and life. This is the view of Hades presented in the Odyssey. Besides this gloomy region, we find in another passage of the Odyssey (iv. 561 seq.) a picture of Elysium, a happy land at the ends of the earth, where rain and snow fall not, but the cool west wind blows and men live at ease. After Homer this happy land, the abode of the good after death, was known as the Isles of the Blest (q.v.).[1] But in the oldest Greek mythology the “house of Hades” was simply the home of the dead, good and bad alike, who led a dim and shadowy reflection of life on earth.

See article “Hades,” in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie; Preller-Robert, Griechische Mythologie (1894); L. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, vol. iii., who regards Hades as an evolution from Zeus and his counterpart, according to J. E. Harrison, in Classical Review (Feb. 1908), Hades is the under-world sun.

  1. The Samoan Islanders unite the two conceptions: the entrance to their spirit-land is at the westernmost point of the westernmost island, where the ghosts descend by two holes into the under-world. Long ago the inhabitants of the French coast of the English Channel believed that the souls of the dead were ferried across to Britain, and there are still traces of this belief in the folk-lore of Brittany (Tylor, Primitive Culture, ii. 64; Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, ix. 694). In classical mythology the underground Hades prevailed over the western. It was an Etruscan custom at the foundation of a city to dig a deep hole in the earth and close it with a stone; on three days in the year this stone was removed and the hosts were then supposed to ascend from the lower world. In Asia Minor caves filled with mephitic vapours or containing hot springs were known as Plutonia or Charonia. The most famous entrances to the under-world were at Taenarum in Laconia, Heraclea on the Euxine, and at the Lake Avernus in Italy.