Ancient Greek mythology personified the mysteries of life and the cosmos in the form of a pantheon of gods who ruled from Mount Olympus. Their most powerful god who controlled the sky and weather was named Zeus.
Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto and the twin of the goddess Artemis. He is sometimes personified as the sun driving a fiery chariot across the sky each day. He is associated with the tending of flocks and herds, love of beauty, balance, music, fine arts, poetry and medicine. He is the god of prophecy and is credited with the foundation of the oracle of Delphi. He is usually pictured as a young and handsome man holding the lyre, the bow and arrow, or seated on the omphalos next to the tripod, the twin symbols of Delphi.
Hermes, the little brother of Apollo, was personified as Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. The ancient Greek gods were very real to the common man in antiquity, but to the philosophers and to people who could think for themselves, the gods were recognized as metaphors for the powers of nature.
Hades was one of the many children of Cronus and Rhea. Because an oracle once predicted to Cronus that one of his offspring would defeat him and steal his throne, the Titan decided to swallow all of his children alive the moment they came into the world. Rhea who yearned for a baby of her own, soon grew tired of this and decided to fool her husband. After giving birth to her youngest son Zeus she wrapped a stone in a baby’s blanket and gave it to Cronus to devour. She then quickly hid the infant safely away on the isle of Crete. Just as the Priestess promised, Zeus grew to manhood and returned to overthrow his father but not before giving him a potion that caused him vomit up the other siblings.
Out popped Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter and Hera. The Universe was then divided among the three brothers; Zeus, Poseidon and Hades by the drawing of lots. Zeus was granted the sky, Poseidon the sea and Hades the Underworld.
The land of the dead was protected by Hades’ three headed dog Cerberus. This creature allowed the shades to pass by freely but was sure to keep out all trespassers from the world of the living. He also made certain that once your soul passed theough the gates it was never able to leave again. Before being led to their new place of residence, the newly dead were required to drink from the Pool of Lethe.
Just one taste of this water of forgetfulness would leave the spirit void of all memories of his former life on earth. After drinking from the Pool of Lethe, the souls were next led before Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus, the three judges of the Underworld. It was at this place where three roads meet that the eternal fate of the new arrivals was decided.
Each spirit was then directed to travel down the road that best corresponded to the way he conducted his life on earth. Those who were neither virtuous or evil were sent back to the Fields of Asphodel. It was here that the joyless souls of heros languished without purpose, their only release being the libations of blood that were poured to them by the living.