Hades, son of Cronus and Rhea and husband of Persephone, is 'Lord of the dead' and king of the Underworld, the 'house of Hades' (Homer., Hesiod.), where he rules supreme and, exceptionally, administers justice (Aesch. SUPP. 228-31, Eum. 273-5). After Homer, Hades is not only the god of the dead, but also the god of death, even death personified. Hades refers normally to the person; in non-Attic literature, the word can also designate the Underworld. Cold, mouldering, and dingy, Hades is a mirthless place. The proverbial 'road to Hades is 'the same for all. Aeacus, son of Zeus, keeps the keys to Hades; the same is said of Pluton, Anubis (love charms from Roman Egypt). The gates of Hades are guarded by 'the terrible hound', Cerberus, who wags his tail for the new arrivals, but devours those attempting to leave (Hes. Thcog. 311 f., 767-73). Hades, too, was sometimes perceived as an eater of corpses. See image in collection: Fra Angelico's The Last Judgment. Without burial, the dead cannot pass through Hades' gates. Once inside, they are shrouded in 'the darkness of pernicious Hades.
Like the Erinyes / Eumenides (Angry / Kindly Ones') and Demeter, Hades lacked a proper name; as in the case of other nameless chthonians ('gods of the earth', as opposed to Olympians, 'of the heavens'), his anonymity was a precaution. He was referred to by descriptive circumlocutions as chthonian, the chthonian god' (Hes. ThcOg. 767), 'king of those below' (Aesch. Pers. 629), 'Zeus of the departed' and 'the other Zeus' (Aesch. Supp. 156f., 231), 'the god below' (Soph. Aj. 571~ Eur. AIC. 424), or simply 'lord' (Eur. Alc. 852). As the Lord of the Dead, he was dark and sinister, a god to be feared and kept at a distance. Paradoxically, he was also believed to 'send up' good things for mortals from his wealth below; he is a'good and prudent god.
The two opposite but complementary aspects of his divinity are reflected in a host of positive and negative epithets. Of the latter, Hades, 'the invisible one' according to ancient etymology (E. R. Dodds on Pl. Grg. 493b4, cf. Soph. Aj. 607, but modern linguists are divided on this), recalls the darkness of his realm. The 'wolf's cap of Hades', worn by Athena in the Iliad (5. 844f.) and by Aita/Hades in Etruscan art, makes its wearers invisible (Ar. Ach. 390; Pl. Resp. 612b). Other negative epithets are 'hateful' (It. 8. 368 stugeros, like the Styx, 'implacable and adamant' (It. 9. 158), 'tearless' (Hor. Carm. 2.14.6) and malignant. Epithets which euphemistically address his benign and hospitable aspects include Clymenus ('Renowned'), Eubouleus ('Good Counsellor': Nic. Alex. 14; GVI 2030. 9), Euchaites ('the Beautiful-haired One': Clarian oracle ISestos IL 24, C. AD 166), Eukles ('Of Good Repute': Orph. fr. 32 c-e 2 Kern; Hsch. E 6926), Hagesilaos ('Leader of the People': Aesch. ft. 4o6 Radt; A. W Bulloch on Callim. Hymn 5. 130; GVI 1370. 2), Pasianax ('Lord over All': Dcf tab. Audollent, nos. 43-4), Polydektes or Polydegmon ('Receiver of Many': Hymn. Hom. Cer. 9, 17), Polyxeinos ('Host to Many': Aesch. fr. 228 Radt; Callim. fr. 2,85 Pf), and Pluton ('Wealth', ploutos, personified; cf Soph. fr. 273 Radt). Originally a divinity in his own right, during the 5th cent. BC Pluton became Hades' most common name in myth as well as in cult.
Hades was not a recipient of cult (Soph. Ant. 777 80). Like Thanatos, 'Death', he was indifferent to prayer or offerings (Aesch. fr. 161 Radt; Eur. Alc. 424). The abnormal cult of Hades at Elis, with a temple open once a year, then only to the priest.
Minthe near Pylos (Strabo 8. 344) are the exceptions that prove the rule. But throughout the Greek world-at Eleusis, Sparta, Ephesus, Carian Cnidus, and Mytilene on Lesbos, among numerous other places--he received cult in his beneficial aspect as Pluton, often alongside his consort Persephone. The couple were widely worshipped as Pluton and Kore; at Eleusis, they were also known as Theos and Thea. Pluton is related to the Eleusinian cult figures Plutus and Eubouleus as well as to other friendly chthonians such as Zeus Meilichios and Zeus Eubouleus. In various curse tablets, however, he is invoked along with Derneter and Kore or, more menacingly, with the Erinyes, Hecate, Hermes, Moirai, and Persephone; curses in the name of Hades and Persephone are less common.
Apart from the story of Persephone's abduction by him, few myths attach to Hades. By giving her the forbidden food of the dead to eat--the pomegranate--he bound Demeter's daughter to return periodically to his realm. Their union was without issue; its infertility mirrors that of the nether world. When the sons of Cronus divided the universe amongst themselves, Hades was allotted the world of the dead, Zeus obtained the sky, and Poseidon the sea. As ruler of the dead, Hades was always more ready to receive than to let go (Aesch. Pers. 688-go), Two kindred gods, Demeter and Dionysus, as well as heroes like Heracles, Theseus, and Orpheus descended alive to Hades and returned to earth. Ordinary mortals went there to stay; Alcestis, Eurydice, and Protesilaus were among the few allowed to leave. Heracles wrestled with Thanatos and wounded Hades with his arrows. Hades' mistress Minthe or Menthe was changed into the mint plant by Persephone.
In Greek art, Hades and Pluton--differentiating between the two is not always possible--are wingless human figures lacking any terrifying aspects. Zeus-like and bearded, Hades-Pluton is a majestic, elderly man holding a sceptre, twig, cornucopia, pomegranate, or cantharus. On some vases, Hades is shown averting his gaze from the other gods. Unlike Hades, Thanatos is represented with wings. Conceptually and iconographically, Dionysus (Heraclitus ft. 15 DK) and Sarapis (H. Heubner on Tac. Hist. 4. 83 f) in their chthonian aspects have affinities to Hades-Pluton.
Hades was the universal destination of the dead until the second half of the 5th cent. Bc, when we first hear of the souls of some special dead ascending to the upper air (aithir), while their bodies are said to be received by the earth (Athenian epitaph, C.432 BC, IG il. 1179. 6 f ~ CEG I. io. 6 f; Eur. SUPP. 533 f; CEG 2. 535, 558). Notably, the souls of the heroized daughters of Erechtheus 'do not go to Hades', but reside in heaven. The various Underworld topographies found in Homer and Virgil (Aen. 6), in the esoteric gold leaves containing descriptions of Hades, and in the apocryphal Apocalypse of Peter reflect changing constructs of the afterlife.
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization