While Zeus and Hades were brothers in Greek mythology, at a glance they appeared to have little in common.
Zeus ruled over Olympus and the sky. He took a great interest in the affairs of the world and of mortals, even having many children who lived human lives.
Hades, in contrast, was a more distant figure. He rarely left the underworld and, although he was entitled to rule over a third of the earth, took virtually no interest in humankind or the lives of the other gods.
Despite their differing characterizations, however, Zeus and Hades were more alike than it may seem. Their powers were similar, with Hades being shown as nearly equal to Zeus in authority and strength.
In fact, there was some belief that Zeus and Hades were not only closely related, but were virtually the same. Among certain Greek cults, a belief arose that Hades was, in fact, another aspect of the king of the gods.
So what did these cults believe about Zeus and Hades, and how widespread was this view? Read on to learn about the parallels between the king of the gods and the king of the dead!
Zeus and Hades were brothers. Together with Poseidon they were the three sons of the Titans Cronos and Rhea.
Zeus was the youngest and had been the only one of his siblings to escape being swallowed by their father at birth. When he had grown, he returned to free his brothers and sisters and challenge his father’s authority.
Hades fought alongside Zeus in the Titanomachy, helping to overthrow their father’s rule and establish a new generation of gods at Mount Olympus. Hades would not stay at the gods’ new home, however.
After the Titans had been defeated, the three brothers drew lots to split the realms of the world between them. Poseidon drew the sea, Zeus the sky, and Hades the underworld.
Zeus, as their leader, was named king of the gods and had the final say in all divine matters. But within their own realms, each of the brothers ruled as kings.
In mythology, Zeus is active in the affairs of the world and of mortals. Hades, however, rarely leaves his home in the realm of the dead.
There he ruled with absolute authority. Few living beings, even gods, descended to see him and none of the souls of the dead were permitted to leave.
While Hades had little to do with the world above, he did come to the surface on one memorable occasion. He left the underworld to abduct a bride.
Hades was the last of the three brothers to be married, and it was Zeus who decided that the king of the underworld needed a queen. Moreover, he decided who that queen should be.
He arranged for Hades to marry Persephone, Zeus’s own daughter. Her mother was also Zeus and Hades’ sister, Demeter.
Knowing Demeter would oppose having her beloved daughter sent to the dreary land of the dead, the brothers arranged for Hades to claim Persephone when she was away from her mother. In a dramatic scene, Hades burst out of the earth in his chariot and seized Persephone without warning, disappearing back into his realm before Demeter even knew her daughter was gone.
In her despair, Demeter made a grave threat to her brothers. If Persephone was not returned to her, she would make all the grain of the earth stop growing.
This would lead to starvation and destroy humanity. It would also deprive the gods of their sacrifices.
Facing such a threat, Zeus compelled Hades to accept a compromise. Persephone would spend just one third of the year with him and the rest of her time on Olympus with her mother.
Beyond this myth, Hades and Zeus seemed to have little interaction.
Zeus established the judges of the dead, but otherwise had little influence on his brother’s realm. Hades, for his part, preferred to remain in the underworld rather than take part in the affairs of Olympus or the earth.
Despite the distance between them in the familiar stories, however, there may be a close tie between Zeus and Hades.
While Zeus and Hades rarely interacted in the myths, there is some evidence that they were still closely bound. In fact, some Greeks believed them to be one and the same.
The followers of the Orphic mysteries, cults which focused on understanding the underworld and the nature of death, had a unique view of Zeus and Hades. They believed that Hades was in fact the king of the gods.
The Orphic mystery cults taught that Hades was just another name for Zeus. In a belief similar to the Christian Trinity doctrine, they believed that the two gods were part of a tripartite deity.
In addition to seeing Hades and Zeus as aspects of the same divine being, they also believed that Dionysus was linked in the same way. Their beliefs about the god of wine further linked the king of Olympus to the underworld.
The Orphic mysteries claimed that Persephone was Zeus’s lover. He went to her in the underworld in the guise of a snake and she conceived a son named Zagreus.
Zeus made the heart of Zagreus into a potion which he then gave to one of his priestesses, Semele. When she drank it, she became pregnant with Dionysus, who was the reincarnation Zagreus.
To the Orphic mysteries, therefore, Zeus and Hades were not completely separate beings. Together with Dionysus, they were three forms taken by the same entity to exercise power in different realms of life and death.
The unusual tale of Zeus having a child with the wife of Hades is not the only link between the two gods. While the Orphic mysteries created this unusual tale to link the gods, other stories show that there may have been a connection in the minds of some other Greeks as well.
In certain regions, for example, Zeus was worshipped in a way more reminiscent of underworld deities than the Olympians. For example, black animals were sacrificed to him instead of the usual white ones.
Hades was also sometimes called Zeus katachthonios, or “Zeus of the Underworld,” by Greeks who placed a taboo on saying his name.
By this name he was not conflated with Zeus, but was considered to be his brother’s peer in the Underworld. While Zeus was the ultimate authority in life, his brother had equal power in death.
In most familiar legends Zeus and Hades are kept separated by their realms. In the minds of some Greeks, however, they were beings of equal power who may have, in fact, been aspects of the same king.
Zeus and Hades were brothers in Greek mythology, but after dividing the realms of the world they had little interaction. While Zeus was the king of the gods and the ruler of the sky, Hades lorded over the dreary realm of the underworld.
While each of the three sons of Cronos, including Poseidon, had an equal share of the earth Hades rarely went there himself. Zeus and Poseidon were involved in the lives of humans, but Hades occupied himself only with the dead.
The one notable time Hades left his realm was to take Persephone, Zeus’s daughter, as his bride. The two gods planned her abduction together after Zeus, as the king of the gods, arranged the marriage.
In most stories, the abduction of Persephone was one of the few times the two brothers truly interacted and worked together after the war with the Titans. To others, however, Persephone’s descent to the underworld was only part of their connection.
A few Greeks, particularly believers in the Orphic mysteries, believed that Zeus and Hades were aspects of the same god. They made up a tripartite being with Dionysus that took different forms and names in its various roles.
Beyond the Orphic cults, there was some belief that Hades was virtually equal to Zeus. Rather than being subservient to his brother as the other gods were, Hades ruled over the dead with the same absolute authority that Zeus exercised among the living and immortal.