The underworld was surrounded by a series of rivers. In the book The Everything Classical Mythology (Bolton 2002) describes the following rivers surrounding the Greek underworld:
Acheron: The River of Woe
Cocytuys: The River of Wailing
Lethe: The River of Forgiveness
Pyriphlegethon: The River of Fire
Styx: The river of Hate
To enter the underworld it was required to cross one of the rivers. A ferryman named Charon ferried the spirits of the dead across the rivers to the underworld. Both the Greeks and Romans buried their dead with a coin in the mouth to pay Charon for the trip. After crossing the river, the dead would pass gates guarded by a three-headed dog. Next the spirits came before one of the judges of the dead (one of the three sons of Zeus) who directed the soul to one of three areas of the underworld Elysium, the Asphodel Fields or Tartarus. Though in practice, it was only the gods or goddess who directed a person wither to Elysium or Tartarus.
Elysium was the island for a chosen few. The gods permitted only heroes or very good people to enter into this area.
The Asphodel Fields were for the spirits of the common Greek. The majority of the population would be directed to here after death. Those who went to the Asphodel Fields were people who were neither particularly good or evil during their lives.
Tartarus was an area for those who were to be punished. In this place punishments were severe and unending. It was to Tartarus that Zeus sent the Titans after winning the battles against them. Mortals also could end up in Tartarus for crimes such as raping a daughter, hording wealth, committing fraud, and other more severe crimes.
Charon Ferrying the Sades by Subleyras, Pierre Musee du louvre, Paris
Major Gods and Goddesses
Introduction | Creation Story | Olympians VS. Titans | Creation of Man |
Revolt of Giants | Abduction of Persephone | The Underworld
Visitors to Underworld | Amzon Warriors | Ares vs. Athena | Daedalus and Icarus
Echo and Narcissus | Judgement of Paris | Perseus and Andromeda | Trojan War