"The gates of Hades have never held me!" - Kratos
Greek MythologyIn Greek mythology, the Underworld, also known as Hades, was a place ruled by the god Hades and his wife, the goddess Persephone. The Underworld was a misty, gloomy, and volcanic realm where all mortals would be judged in the afterlife, either being rewarded or cursed. There were several sections within the Underworld, including the Elysian Fields and Tartarus. Heroes of the ancient time dwelled in Elysium (Isles of the Blessed), ruled by the Titan Cronos.
The dead entered the Underworld by crossing the Acheron, ferried across by Charon, who charged an obolus for passage, which should have been placed under the tongue of the deceased by pious relatives. The far side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog defeated by Heracles.
Passing beyond Cerberus were the shades of the departed who entered the land of the dead to be judged.
There were five rivers in the Underworld: Acheron (the river of sorrow), Cocytus (the river of lamentation), Phlegethon (the river of fire), Lethe (the river of forgetfulness), and Styx (the river of hate). The River Styx in particular formed the boundary between upper and lower worlds.
The first region of the Underworld compromised of the Fields of Asphodel, where the shades of heroes wandered despondently among lesser spirits, who twittered around them like bats. Only libations of blood offered to them in the world of the living could reawaken them for a time in the sensations of humanity.
In the forecourt of the palace of Hades and Persephone sat the three judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. There at the trivium sacred to Hecate, where three roads met, souls were judged, they returned to the the Fields of Asphodel if they were neither virtuous nor evil, sent by the road to Tartarus if they were impious or evil, or were sent to Elysium with the heroes.
In the God of War Series
Throughout the series, Kratos journeys to the Underworld numerous times, but always eventually makes it out.
God of War: Chains of Olympus
After restoring life to the Fire Steeds, Kratos was taken into the Underworld. While journeying through the dark realm, Kratos met and fought Charon on his boat along the River Styx. Charon managed to subdue Kratos and knocked him off his boat unconscious into the pits of Tartarus, where the Titans were held.
While attempting to escape Tartarus, Kratos came upon the area where the mighty Atlas was supposedly imprisoned, only to discover that it is empty. Someone had released him. Kratos was eventually able to escape the dark pits of Tartarus, where he would face Charon once again and defeat him. Taking Charon’s boat, Kratos followed the sunlight of Helios down the River Styx, coming upon the Temple of Persephone. Believing it to be a hallucination Kratos saw his daughter Calliope on the shorelines of the temple playing her song on the wood-made flute he made for her long ago.
Tracking her movements, Kratos finally arrived at the entrance to the Elysium Fields, where Calliope was kept. Instead of meeting his daughter Kratos was welcomed by Persephone, who told Kratos that in order to see his child he would have to surrender all his powers to become worthy of entering Elysium.
Kratos was finally able to hold his daughter in his arms again, but their reunion was shortlived when Persephone revealed her true intentions. She would obliterate everything by using Atlas to destroy the Pillar of the World. Kratos, leaving his daughter, gained back his powers by murdering the resident virtuous souls of Elysium, and followed Persephone to the top of the pillar where they would fight.
Persephone was destroyed and Atlas was forced to uphold the world on his shoulders. Kratos saved both Olympus and the world from being destroyed, and helped Helios return to the sky, however, the journey left him weakened, but he was saved just in time by Helios and Athena, and was taken to the Suicide Bluffs.
The depiction of the Underworld in this game differs substantially than in previous installments. It is considerably more faithful to the Underworld of Greek mythology. The sky remains somewhat lighted because of the fallen sun and the River Styx is colored blood red. The Elysium Fields are very bright and peaceful, having various pure souls of mortals wander around in bliss.
It should be noted that Chains of Olympus is the first God of War game where the main bulk of the storyline takes place in the Underworld.
God of War
After Kratos finally retrieved Pandora's Box, Ares learned of this and threw a pillar from the ruins of Athens far into the the Desert of Lost Souls where it pierced Kratos through the chest. As he slowly died, he watched helplessly as Ares' Harpies took the box for their master.
Kratos fell to the Underworld along with many other souls. He would not give up so easily, however, and grasped onto a person who had been gripping onto the ledge of what appeared to be a massive bone. This same person was the man whom Kratos allowed to be swallowed by the horrific Hydra in the Aegean Sea. Kratos stabbed ship's Captain , climbed on top of the bone, and kicked him off the edge, ready and willing to reach the surface of the mortal world once again.
Journeying through the Underworld, Kratos encountered creatures engulfed in flame which were the strongest he had faced yet. Large axe-wielding demonic Minotaurs appeared in all sorts of hellish areas, and screeching Harpies would attack Kratos while he tried to cross and climb paths of rotating blades. Eventually, the Spartan warrior managed to escape the clutches of the Underworld, rescued by the old Grave Digger, who helped provide Kratos a means to escape.
The depiction of the Underworld in God of War was very different from its successive appearances later on, where most, if not all, of the landmarks were made of some kind of flesh and bones, as well as rotating blades with blood stains all over them. Below the falling mortals lay the River Styx, depicted as being a current so strong even the most powerful mortal could not escape it; however, the river itself is obscured by a red mist.
God of War II
After Zeus killed Kratos with the Blade of Olympus, the Arms of Hades surfaced and reached out to Kratos’ corpse. Bringing him down with them, Kratos was met by Gaia who gave him the opportunity to resurface and change his fate. The wound left by the Blade of Olympus in his chest was healed, but scarred over, and Kratos opened his eyes. Climbing upon the walls of the Underworld, Kratos was powerful enough to overcome the arms which tried to pull him down.
The depiction of the Underworld in God of War II is similar to God of War, but not very much of it is seen in the game. Kratos’ main goal is to escape by jumping from wall to wall and destroy the Arms of Hades. When he resurfaces, the ground in which he climbed from the Underworld is put back together by a supernatural force.
During the fight with Icarus, Kratos fell into the Underworld, where Atlas was holding the world upon his shoulders. The River Styx below him is still covered in the same red mist shown in the first game. He climbed his hands and loosened the chains binding Atlas. After a brief tussle, Atlas helped Kratos reach the Palace of the Sisters of Fate.
God of War III
Kratos was not able to hold on Gaia and he falls in the River Styx and lost the Blade of Olympus. He was hurt and without power. While swimming he was attacked by the souls of Hades taking his health, magic, and even damaging the Blades of Athena. He cursed the name of Zeus and in this time the spectre of Athena appears at Kratos. She told him how to destroy Zeus by destroying the Flame of Olympus. She took the ruined blades and transformed them in the Blades of Exile. While traveling in the Underworld, Kratos encountered Peirithous, who was being tortured by Hades by being place in a cage of bramble, presumably for having an affair with Hades' wife Persephone. Peirithous offered to give Kratos the Bow of Apollo, but Kratos freed the Cerberus to incinerate Peirithous, seeing no need to keep him alive. He aquires his bow and continued his quest. After climbing a cliff he encountered the Three Judges of the Underworld. Kratos needed to complete the Trials of Erebus to have an audience with the judges. After the death of Hades the souls of the Underworld are free from his will and escape to the mortal world above. The realm that once belonged to Hades became a desolate place where hopeless spirits will roam forever in despair. While people above are still dying and with The Three Judges destroyed, the souls will never be judged or find peace.
The depiction of the Underworld in God of War 3 is very different from the earlier games yet similar to God of War where the souls of the dead are constantly falling. The Underworld appears as a much darker place and the River Styx has a more transparent appearance instead of the blood red color it had in the previous games.