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Afterlife article

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What Did the Ancient Greek Believe
Happened After Death?
by Momi Awana, Demand Media
The god Hades ruled the underworld, and while he might take an interest in the afterlives of
certain mortals, he often appointed specific tasks within the underworld to others. In this
manner, every stage of the human afterlife was overseen by a particular deity, ensuring each
human followed the appropriate path after burial.
The Fleet-Footed Guide
The Greeks believed that the soul, which they called "shade," left the body after burial. From
there, the god Hermes descended from Olympus on his winged boots to lead them to the
afterlife. He guided each individual shade to the Acheron, the river of pain. The upper world
location of this river changed as the Greeks expanded their territory, but each of these
landmarks served to connect the upper world to the underworld.
Pay the Toll
As part of their burial ritual, Greeks always placed coins in the mouth of the deceased so that
they could pay the entrance fee to the underworld. Those shades who received improper burials
and couldn't pay the toll were turned away. Doomed to wander the upper world for an eternity,
the outcast shades joined the retinue of the Melinoe, an underworld goddess. She and her
ghostly companies roamed at night, terrifying the living and reminding humans of what befalls
those unfortunate enough to receive an improper burial.
Ferry to the Underworld.
Charon, the ferryman of the underworld, was the son of Erebos, or darkness. He would
accompany all shades who could pay the fee into the underworld, but refused to allow any to
leave. He was aided in his task by Cerberus, a fearsome, three-headed dog who guarded the
gates of the underworld. Charon rowed the shades across the Acheron to their final resting
place in the underworld, where they would remain forever, untroubled by thoughts of their
human lives.
Forgetfulness and Judgment
Lethe was the goddess of forgetfulness and her namesake river flowed around the cave of
Hypnos. The river murmured to the shades invited lethargy and sleep. Shades drank from the
river and immediately forgot their earthly lives. Yet the Judges of the Dead, Minos, Aiakos and
Rhadamanthys, did not forget the deeds and misdeeds the shades. Instead, they judged earthly
lives determine whether the shades would reside in the gray field of Asphodel, the glorious
fields of Elysium, or, for the wicked, the horrible prison of Tartarus.
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