Mythursday Mythuesday: A-ing More Qs
Let’s do another one why not.
“I just saw Wrath of the Titans cause I was bored, and it made me wonder: How come Hades is usually cast as a villain in pop culture? I remember him not really being evil in the original stories.”
I often joke that Hades is basically just Strong Sad, the quiet, artistic, lonely one of a trio of brothers, but this is largely to counter the idea that he’s some kind of evil greedmaster who only wants to kill babies or whatever.
The fact is, while Hades is stern and unwavering, he is hardly a villain. He is a loyal brother who always fights on Zeus’s side, 100% of the time, and that is, like, the main thing. Don’t do what Zeus wouldn’t do. And Hades always doesn’t do what Zeus wouldn’t do. And he definitely doesn’t do a lot of things Zeus definitely wouldn’t not do. So in some ways, he is nicer than Zeus.
He’s not really even in that many stories, to be honest. When he shows up, he might be an obstacle—you know, in the way that death might be for someone—but he’s never antagonistic.
For example, when Orpheus shows up in the Underworld looking for Eurydice, Hades ultimately shows mercy and leniency where he doesn’t have to, and does nothing more than keep his word when Orpheus breaks their agreement.
From Demeter’s perspective, Hades might seem the villain when he kidnaps her daughter Persephone (I did a Mythursday on this a long time ago, maybe you can find it), but the fact is Hades was acting with the consent of Zeus, Persephone’s father, who was also, as it happens, the supreme lawgiver for all gods and men. And, yes, white vanning your child bride is the sign of a hella creeper in modern society, but everything turned out pretty okay for Hades and Persephone, or as well as things can go for people whose job is to look at ghosts in a cave all day.
So why is Hades a villain so often in modern portrayals of Greek mythology? Because people are scared of death, I suppose. And I’m sure it doesn’t help that Christians got him all mixed up with Satan in their minds, all thinkin Hades and Hell are synonymous.
But death is not even the main source of villainy in ancient mythology. The most common antagonists—monsters, giants, Titans—are villains because they represent a pre-Greek barbarism that it is the duty of the civilized Olympian gods and their offspring to tame.
Other villain-defining traits are hubristic acts such as setting yourself equal to or better than a god, or overstepping your social bounds. You could interpret Hera’s jealousy this way: she thinks she knows better than he does, and so she acts against Zeus’s wishes time and again (obviously this is super problematic to modern eyes). But, yes, Hera is the villain WAY more than Hades. She’s the evil queen in the stories of Heracles, Aeneas, Io, Echo, and probably dozens more. This hubris is also the downfall of characters such as Pentheus, Salmoneus, Niobe, Arachne, and some of the most famous tenants of the Underworld, Sisyphus and Tantalus.
The other big no-no is the breach of xenia, the code of hospitality that was one of the central tenets of Greek society. Be a good host; be a good guest; this is the most important thing. The entire Trojan War was fought because Paris was a shitty guest (ETIQUETTE TIP: Do not steal your host’s wife). Ixion was a shitty guest and he famously burns in the Underworld for his rape-based faux pas.
All of these things would be considered way worse than being a glum dude who looks at skeletons all day.
If there’s any god who should be a recurring villain, it’s Ares. Even the other gods hated him (except, notably, for Aphrodite), as he represented mindless bloodshed and the gross but necessary parts of war that we don’t like to think about.
But, no, it’s poor old Hades every time. Sorry, bro. It’s not your fault.