Fields of Mourning, Where Grieving Love-Sick Women Retire

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Phaèdra by Alexandre Cabanel (1818) Musee Fabre. (Public Domain)

Fields of Mourning, Where Grieving Love-Sick Women Retire

Hidden deep within the bowels of the earth and ruled by the god Hades and his wife Persephone, the ancient Greek Underworld was the kingdom of the dead, the sunless, cold and shadowy place where the souls of those who died went after death. The Underworld was watered by the streams of five infernal rivers - The Styx, the river of hatred and unbreakable oaths; the Acheron, the deep river of sorrow and pain; the Cocytus, the river of lamentation and wailing; the Phlegethon, the river of fire which led to the very depths of Tartarus; and the Lethe, the river of oblivion and forgetfulness, out of which the dead souls are obliged to drink to forget their previous lives on earth in preparation for a possible reincarnation.

Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld (circa 1800) Yale Center for British Art  (Public Domain)

Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld (circa 1800) Yale Center for British Art  (Public Domain)

For most of the ancient Greeks, the Underworld would not have been viewed as a particularly pleasant place. Ancient authors described the Underworld as nothing more than a joyless realm where the dead would slowly fade into nothingness or, as one learns from Plato’s Myth of Er, prepare themselves for a reincarnation back to earth. However, it is also known that the Underworld was divided into four different regions.


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