Unit 1, Lesson 5
The Birth of Death
As I stared into the reflective water, I saw a dead face staring back at me. I had died. Born and delivered straight to the hands of my murderer, I died alongside my other siblings. How had I risen now?
Taking a brief glance around, I saw the rest. Demeter, Hera, and Hestia looked as unnerved and confused as I did, but they all looked alive again. I stared down at my pale blue hands, fingernails black and dead. I knew at once that I was nothing but an animated corpse, while the others glowed once again with life. Had not we all died?
"Welcome back, my brothers, my sisters."
My head whipped around so fast that I thought it might have fallen off. Before me stood a tall and handsome god whose fingers sparked with electricity, and behind him stood another dark-looking one with a great trident in hand.
"You do not know us, but we are allies." Spoke the dark one quietly. "We are your brothers. I am Poseidon, and here stands Zeus."
I sat on the ground, dumb-founded, as they explained what had happened to us. Our father, Cronus, had eaten us at birth, fearing that we would overthrow him. Our mother had managed to save Zeus and Poseidon, who had in turn saved us.
"What becomes of us now?" Hera asked quietly and we all fell silent.
Then Zeus decided he had an answer. The world beyond Mount Olympus had been populated since our births by small powerless creatures made in our image: Man. In the past Cronus had ruled over them, but now that he was gone (here Zeus gestured towards the giant stinking corpse of our father, with his belly sliced open) someone else would have to rule.
"I want nothing to do with Man," muttered Poseidon. "I have not the patience for them. Zeus will rule."
Zeus accepted this with a merry shrug and beamed at us all. "And I do not wish to carry the heavy burden of ruling all the Earth. I will give you all a purpose; you will each rule a portion. First, I give Poseidon the Sea, where there are no Men to bother him."
And he proceeded to give Demeter rule over the growth of the Earth, Hera ruled over the sacred laws of marriage, and Hestia was given the rule over the order of families. Then he looked upon me.
"Why Hades, you haven't returned to your living form!" he cried out, only just having noticed my slightly blue and cold skin.
"I hadn't realized." I murmured darkly.
Zeus, however, seemed pleased. Grinning at me wider than he had done before, he briefly explained how easily Men are frightened, and how they often judge by appearance only.
"They would think you a monster, dear brother, and flee from you rather than love you. I am sorry it is so, but nothing can be done. Man will fear you, so I know not what to place under your care."
At this Poseidon tapped his chin thoughtfully before turning around and waving his trident through the air. The clouds that blocked the view of Man's world swiftly moved from view, and the Sea God pointed his finger down to some place below. We all looked where he had pointed and my eyes instantly fell upon a dead man.
"A creature would not fear something that looks just as it does. The dead Men look as Hades looks and they wander lost over the Earth. They have never been cared for by a god but I feel pity for them." Poseidon turned to Zeus with a burdened look in his dark eyes. "Let Hades rule the dead. He can lead the lost to a place of rest, and give them a somewhere to belong. Give him a realm for himself and the Men he will eventually take there."
Zeus nodded in agreement and turned his eyes down to the Earth once more. "There is a river below the Earth that our father created, but I do not know what for. It leads to another realm that I have never seen used, but I have seen lost spirits attempt and fail to cross it many times."
"It is a river not meant for the living; it deforms them." Poseidon added. "In curiosity, I once splashed its waters up, and a single drop landed on a mortal Man. He burst into flame and became nothing but bones, but his bones continued to move and walk."
"How strange," Demeter frowned unhappily. "Have there been others?"
Poseidon nodded grimly. "I once saw a dog stumble across it and the moment its foot touched the water it grew a thousand times in size and sprouted two extra heads. And another time I saw three witches fleeing from Men who wished to harm them—fell in the water and resurfaced looking as though their flesh is decaying and their eyes grew white. They wander in the nameless realm now, neither alive nor dead, but unable to cease existing."
Zeus grinned once more. "Would you like a dog Hades?"
Next thing I knew, I had descended down below the Earth to the impassable river, which I discovered to be named the Acheron. Being a god, I could simply float over the top to the other side and looked upon my new domain. It was a dark and gloomy cave that went on forever, without a ray of light to be seen, and echoed with the pained howls of the lost and lonely dog.
I fashioned some fire and lit torches that I placed along the walls, and whistled loudly so that it echoed throughout the cave. My summoning worked, and an enormous three-headed dog came bounding out of the darkness, whining sorrowfully.
"You seem so unhappy. It's so cruel to lose life before you've lived it, isn't it?" I spoke in hushed tones and patted the snout of one of his heads gently. "We won't let it happen to another unsuspecting creature. You will guard the river and let not another living being touch it."
I patted each of his three giant heads and told him that his name would be Cerberus, and then he bounded off obediently to the river. I then set off to find the other lost souls of this depressing place.
I came across the Man named Charon, who was nothing more than a living skeleton as Poseidon had said and spoke with him. I explained that I was now the ruler of this place and that I wanted him to help me. Charon agreed, and so I made him a small boat and asked him to ferry the souls on the Earth across the river to this place.
I walked further on, and found three women sitting around a small fire, making some kind of clothing. They appeared dead, like me, with pale skin and knobbly fingers, their eyes a pearly white. The three witch sisters who had power in their mortal lives were given greater power in their immortal lives.
Their names were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, and they named themselves the Moirae, as they were not a whole unless they were together. As we spoke I watched them work—Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis measured it, and Atropos cut it. They seemed to be kind women, and they had already given me an idea for their roles in my new world.
"Let me make the threads have life, and when a Man is born you will decide how long he shall live by the length of his thread." All of their gleaming white eyes turned up to me and I smiled a little. "I will give you greater powers than what you have now, and you will be respected and feared by all, as the givers and takers of life." And so it was.
I made my dark world a little brighter, so that the lost souls who came to it might not be so frightened by the distorted appearances of the ones who ran it—Cerberus, the Moirae, Charon, and myself. I created many rivers and the Elysian Fields, which were beautiful to see, and Tartarus where the wicked ones would go so as not to disrupt the peace of the others.
I had made my realm as welcoming and comfortable as I could, but Man still fears me and dreads the day when the ferryman will bring them across. They will see, soon enough, that their imagined stories of the Realm of Hades are untrue, for even the pit of Tartarus is kind. Charon is enjoyable to listen to, as the Moirae are wonderful for listening, while Cerberus will gladly play about, and the souls of their long lost families wait to welcome them with open arms. My realm is one of peace and happiness.
So do not fear the dead, because we like you.