Supergiant Games’ latest offering, Hades, takes a deep dive into Greek mythology, plumbing the depths of Tartarus and giving a unique take on the chthonic legends of the pantheon. But how much of it is their own invention, and what’s actually based on myths? Let’s take a stroll through the Underworld and separate creativity from mythology.
House of Hades - Welcome Back, Deadbeat
The House of Hades, the eternal abode of the god of the dead as well as his family and fellow chthonic gods. As far as I can find, the homebase region of the game is not actually based on a location in Greek myth.
While it’s a neat shout-out to the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan, myths don’t really talk about Hades or any of the other gods really having homes, beyond just the general “residing in the underworld.” After all, if you’re the god of the dead, what do you need a house for?
However, unlike the game, Hades is usually found in one of the upper echelons of the Underworld in mythology. That makes sense; if I had to stay underground all the time I’d rather be closer to Elysium than Tartarus. Speaking of which…
Tartarus - The Pits of Eternal Damnation
In Greek mythology, Tartarus is also commonly referred to as “the pits of Tartarus” and is the eternal prison of the legendary Titans, the forebears of the Greek gods. It’s where the worst of humanity are punished and is commonly described as being surrounded by impenetrable walls—accounts differ from Hesiod, Vergil, Homer, and others.
Luckily, Hades has a much nicer Tartarus than the legends say. While it is still the lowest depths of the Underworld, it’s also the easiest region to beat and is where the House of Hades is located. I wouldn’t exactly call it sunny, but it’s a far cry from the dark, black prison described in some of the legends.
It’s more like exploring the abandoned, poorly kept dungeons of an old medieval castle that’s crawling with demons than an endless pit of pitch-black night. However, it is still designed for the worst of humanity, with the Tartarus entry in the Codex stating, “Tartarus is one of the Master’s most elaborate designs, constructed not just to contain the wretched dead, but to oppress them, to punish them.”
Sisyphus, the helper character for the region that you can come across, is rather different from his myths as well. While he still has his boulder with him, nicknamed Bouldy, pushing it uphill for so long seems to have mellowed him out. We no longer see the crafty, deceitful king who postured to be better than Zeus himself and for his hubris was sentenced to continually push a rock up a hill for all eternity.
While the Titans are mentioned several times in the narrative, thankfully, you don’t have to fight any of them to escape—just the Furies. Also known as the Erinyes, they are three spirits of vengeance who reside in the Underworld and punish mortals for their crimes. Or try and keep Zagreus from escaping, one of the two.
Asphodel - Prancing Through A Meadow of Lava
The Meadow of Asphodel gets my vote for the weirdest change from mythology to game. Traditionally, Asphodel is a mediocre place, though depictions of it greatly improved its character as history went on. It’s a large area where fallen war heroes reside, and Odysseus encountered individuals including Patroclus, Achilles, and Agamemnon during his brief sojourn there in the Odyssey. The meadow is covered in the Asphodel flowers, for which it is named.
So why do we end up having to fight our way through a magma-covered hellscape in Hades? While I’ve no doubt the devs could have made the meadows just as creepy and annoying as falling and burning to death is, Asphodel instead takes its character from the Phlegethon, the river running through the region. Phlegethon, in addition to being extremely difficult to pronounce, is the river of fire in the underworld, one of five rivers running through the domain. Zagreus even comments at one point that Asphodel is like this because the Phlegethon flooded over it.
Interestingly enough, Phlegethon is one of the aspects of the underworld that has crossed cultural boundaries, appearing in works such as Dante’s Inferno, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and Paradise Lost. With all of this recognition, it makes sense that Asphodel would be transformed by its river into a more traditionally Christian depiction of hell.
Elysium - Paradise, If You Can Remember It
The Elysian fields, in ancient Greek times, were the best place to be after you died. In fact, they were the only place to be unless you wanted to be tortured or roam around basically soulless for all eternity. The final resting place of Orpheus and Anchises, father of Rome founder Aeneas, it is also called the Isle of the Blest and draws close parallels with Christianity’s concept of heaven.
Like in the legends, Elysium in Hades is a beautiful paradise, surrounded by the River Lethe, the river of forgetting. Statues scattered throughout honor Greek fighters, and several of the enemies you face are implied to be their fallen spirits attempting to prevent you from reaching the surface.
Its residents include Theseus, King of Athens, and the famous Minotaur, here named Asterius. In an interesting upgrade from mythos, we also find Patroclus here as opposed to the Asphodel meadows, since they are no longer the residence of Greek heroes. One of the more prominent participants in the Trojan War on the side of the Greeks, Patroclus was the constant companion of Achilles, who was killed when he was wearing the latter’s armor as a diversion.
Of the three main Underworld regions, Elysium is the closest to its depictions in legend. That is, except for the whole “trying to murder Zagreus every two steps” part of it. Presumably if the spirits had not been ordered by Hades to stop the Prince, it would be a much calmer and more welcoming place—hopefully one where pink butterflies don’t actually try and kill you.
Temple of Styx - Dog House of the Demonic Good Boy
The last section of the Underworld isn’t so much an area as a bridge between it and the surface. Much like the depictions in Greek myths, Cerberus guards the gates to the Underworld, and Charon is waiting at the River Styx to ferry passengers across, for the right amount of money. While it’s a little unorthodox to have Cerberus guard to passageways out, he is still a good boy.
Interestingly, one variation of the Greek myths does put the entrance to the Underworld in a temple: the Necromanteion of Acheron. Located on the banks of the Acheron River, which is both a real location and one of the five rivers of the Underworld in mythology, the temple was dedicated to Hades and Persephone and placed near the city of Ephyra.
Chaos - Randomized Nonsense
Traditionally, Chaos is a hybrid of both a person and a place. Chaos is the concept personified, but is also the shapeless mass from which the universe and the oldest of the gods were created. Overthrown by his son Erebus, Chaos presumably still exists in the universe as a primordial deity in legends.
While the location of Chaos in game isn’t particularly chaotic, its random appearances and rearranging layout and portals do add an interesting element. Chaos the god is just as confusing and bizarre as the old descriptions would have you believe, but much wiser and seemingly more organized. His boons, of course, grant both good and bad effects once taken, and seem to have a greater variety than that of the Olympian gods, befittingly.
Erebus - Battlegrounds of Darkness
Erebus, the god personifying Darkness, is the son of Chaos and Nyx and also husband of Nyx according to legend (don’t ask). It’s also the realm that the dead must travel through in order to reach the Underworld itself, sort of like a very claustrophobic corridor.
However, the in-game location where you fight Charon and get to do some extra challenges seems more based on and attuned to Charon’s themes in game than those of darkness. For one thing, the place is very well lit. For second, it’s decorated with gold statues and surrounded by the River Styx. Not that I’m complaining, as it would be very difficult to fight Charon in the dark without a night light.
Separating mythology from fiction can be difficult, but it's interesting to see where the Hades developers took their inspiration from.
Want to know more about the story behind the story? Let us know what mythology you'd like to see explained in the comments below!