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Tartarus

The Underworld

Can a place also be a being and a person too? In the back of the brain, it makes no sense whatsoever. How could a solid "thing", a "place" you can physically be in and occupy space within also be a PERSON? A weird thing to sit and think about, for sure.

Yet in the oldest portions of Greek mythology, there was a being that was exactly that; someone who was what the Greeks called a Protogenoi (first god) and also an actual location/place (a place you did NOT want to find yourselves in, all rolled up into one! Who was this puzzling conundrum?

Well, he was a name that would later strike fear into the hearts of ancient Greek humans and Olympian gods alike for his fiery and repulsive manner; he was TARTARUS, the vast, mysterious and unknowable Titan who also served as the universe’s most infamous and horrific prison. Get ready gang, because he’s a certifiably WEIRD one!!!

Tartarus began life much like the other Protogenoi; he came straight out of the void of nothingness/everything-ness that was Chaos at the beginning of time, along with Gaea (the earth), Ouranos (the heavens) and a few other original gods, according to the Greeks.

When Gaea became the whole earth and Ouranos took up the job of being the heavens above, Tartarus found his career opportunities limited; he found himself setting up shop within Gaea herself, way deep down at her very core. It would be like finding yourself stuck in someone’s lower intestines for eternity.

Not a great place to be, but it was what he had to work with. (How did he wind up there? Good question. No one really knows, but as always, remember: its mythology. Just roll with it!) Deep under Gaea’s skin, Tartarus became one with the molten hell that existed deep inside the Earth Mother, fusing together into one mega-being that actually was a part of Gaea as well!

How far down was Tartarus’ new home? Well, it was said by ancient Greek poet Hesiod that if you were to take a large iron anvil and drop it into the pit above Tartarus, it would take the anvil NINE DAYS to reach the bottom. That’s waaaay down there. Later on in the story, even Zeus was impressed, as he was quoted in the tale of the Illiad (the story of the Trojan War) saying that Tartarus was "as far beneath Hades as heaven is high above the earth." Dang.

It shouldn't be much of a stretch to see how Tartarus would later morph into our modern-day conception of Hell...

As time went on, the Protogenoi (and later, the Titans), would find that the place he now lived in/existed as made a perfect place to send "criminals" (a.k.a. "anyone they didn’t like"). Kind of like a SuperMax prison for gods and all manner of creatures, and a vicious, ferocious place from which there was little to no hope for escape!

Some of the first inmates were Gaea and Ouranos’ first kiddos, the Hecatonchires (Hundred Handers) and the Cyclopes (one-eyed Cyclops-folk), whom Ouranos judged to be just too dang ugly in addition to being a threat to his rule.

To make things even worse, a very special guardian was sent down into Tatarus’ guts to act as the biggest, baddest prison warden ever seen; Kampe, the mutated dragon-like she-beast who was pure evil and ALL brutal business.

After the Titans were defeated in the Titanomachy (War Between Gods) by Zeus and his gang of Olympians, things changed: Kampe was slaughtered by Zeus and the Hecatonchires, who had been imprisoned not once, but TWICE, by their Titan parents and siblings, got to sit in as the new security guards to make sure the Titans stayed imprisoned in the fiery depths of Tartarus! Oh, sweet revenge!

During the time of the Olympians, even though the underworld (known by the name of its gloomy, cranky king, Hades) was where the majority of the dead went to spend eternity when they passed on at the end of their lives, some of the worst human beings around got sent even further down to the hell-fire spewing pits of Tartarus' guts.

Many of these sleazy characters had done some pretty serious stuff to get delivered to the worst spot imaginable, and were usually sentenced there by Zeus himself. Heinous , tricksy individuals like Tantalus, Ixion, Sisyphus, the gigante (giant) Tityos and a host of other shady characters had run afoul of the king of gods and Tartarus' innards were the perfect place to make sure they got tortured for the rest of time!

Out of sight, out of mind! According to the Greek philosopher Plato, Zeus later appointed special judges down in the underworld who would decide who was going down to the boiling innards of Tartarus. Each judge had been a king in their mortal life and had been chosen by Zeus to dish out punishment to those who deserved it. King Rhadamanthus judged Asian souls (anyone from the east in those days), King Aeacus judged European souls (anyone from north and west of Greece) and Minos was the judge of the Greeks themselves. Better play it safe and not manage to get on their bad sides.

Tartarus actually managed to have a kid of his very own, as far as its possible for a hell-pit to have kids at all, and he combined his reproductive forces with his sibling, Gaea, to give birth to what amounted to the most famous and devastating monster of all time; the master of disaster himself, Typhon, who gained the nickname "the Father of All Monsters". (Check him out here "Typhon" …he was the perfect son for a dad whose main features were deadly lava and poisonous churning guts where criminals were imprisoned)!

Typhon basically was the last-ditch effort by Gaea to save the bacon of her Titan children from Zeus and the Olympians; he failed at his task, but not after giving Zeus and company a serious run for their money! Tartarus, it seems, could have cared less, and went right back to being his hellish, vast and fiery self, down in the bowels of Mother Earth…

[1]

Also

Tartaros was secured with a surrounding wall of bronze set with a pair of gates, guarded by the hundred-handed Hekatonkheir giants, warders of the Titanes.

Through the gates of Tartaros passed Nyx (goddess of the Night) who emerged to wrap the earth in darkness, and also her daughter Hemera (Day), who scattered the mists of night.

The Pit sired a child, Typhoeus, a monstrous serpentine storm-giant who attempted to seize heaven. Zeus vanquished the creature and cast it back down into the Pit.

From Typhoeus came hurricanes and storm-winds, which issued forth from Tartaros when Zeus commanded the gates be opened.

[2]

Sources

[1] "Mythopedia"

[2] "Theoi"




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