The Elysian Fields, also called Elysium is the conception of the afterlife of the souls of the courageous and the righteous in Greek religion and mythology.
Elysium went by many names. It was sometimes called the White Island, and more often was referred to as the Islands of the Blessed.
Most often in English, it is called the Elysian Fields.
This realm was, precisely speaking, not a part of the underworld. Although it was reserved for those who had died.
Often, when we do something good, there is a reward recognizing our good deeds. For instance, if you found a wallet lying on the ground and returned it to its owner, the owner may give you a small monetary reward for your good deed. For modern-day Christians, the reward for living a good life, in general, is going to Heaven; for Vikings in Norse mythology it is Valhalla, and for Buddhists it is Nirvana.
For ancient Greeks, the best place a mortal or demigod could go would be the Elysian Fields. While the notion of Heaven is a more modern idea, such places were not as black and white in Greek mythology. However, Greeks did have a place where spirits went to when they died, and their deeds while living determined which place their souls went to.
In Homer’s writings, the Elysian Plain was a land of perfect happiness at the end of the Earth, on the banks of the Oceanus. A similar description was given by Hesiod of the Isles of the Blessed. In the earlier authors, only those specially favored by the gods entered Elysium and were made immortal. By the time of Hesiod, however, Elysium was a place for the blessed dead, and, from Pindar on, the entrance was gained by a righteous life.
What happens to us when we die is a question that has been discussed for ages. Many civilized cultures have a place that spirits go when they die, and the ancient Greeks were no different.
There was not a typical Heaven and Hell type dichotomy, however. It wasn’t necessarily the case that going ‘up’ meant Heaven and going ‘down’ meant Hell.
In Greek culture, most spirits went to the Underworld, which was ruled by Hades. There was no implication that spirits that went down to the Underworld were bad. It was just a place where most spirits were housed. It was actually a place underneath the Underworld, a place called Tartarus, where the vilest of spirits went. Tartarus would be the closest to the modern-day notion of Hell that we have. ‘Good’ people could not go ‘up’, because that would imply that their spirits would be received on Mt. Olympus, and only the gods were allowed there. Instead, the spirits of noble and well-respected heroes were sent to another plane of existence called Elysium or the Elysian Fields.
Elysium was a place for the especially distinguished. It was ruled over by Rhadamanthus, and the souls that dwelled there had an easy afterlife and had no labors. Usually, those who had proximity to the gods were granted admission, rather than those who were especially righteous or had ethical merit, however, later on, those who were pure and righteous were considered to reside in Elysium.
Most accepted to Elysium were demigods or heroes. Heroes such as Cadmus, Peleus, and Achilles also were transported here after their deaths. Normal people who lived righteous and virtuous lives could also gain entrance such as Socrates who proved his worth sufficiently through philosophy.
To gain access to Elysium the souls of the dead first had to cross the River Styx ferried by Charon the boatman. The River Styx was the principal river of the underworld and had to be crossed to pass to the regions of the dead. The mortal life of the dead soul was judged in Hades by the gods and judges of the Underworld. The judges of the underworld of Hades were Minos for the regions of Erebus, Rhadamanthus for Tartarus, Aeacus for Elysium and Pluto, and Proserpina as sovereigns over the whole of the Underworld of Hades. The gods and judges would decide which part of Hades the dead soul would go to. Hades consisted of five different regions one of which was the district of joy and bliss which was called Elysium.
There are six main rivers that are visible both in the living world and the underworld. Their names were meant to reflect the emotions associated with death.
The Styx is generally considered to be one of the most prominent and central rivers of the underworld and is also the most widely known out of all the rivers. It’s known as the river of hatred and is named after the goddess Styx. This river circles the underworld seven times.
The Acheron is the river of pain. It’s the one that Charon, also known as the Ferryman, rows the dead over according to many mythological accounts, though sometimes it is the river Styx or both.
The Lethe is the river of forgetfulness. It is associated with the goddess Lethe, the goddess of forgetfulness and oblivion. In later accounts, a poplar branch dripping with water of the Lethe became the symbol of Hypnos, the god of sleep.
The Phlegethon is the river of fire. According to Plato, this river leads to the depths of Tartarus. The Cocytus is the river of wailing.
Oceanus is the river that encircles the world, and it marks the east edge of the underworld, as Erebos is west of the mortal world.
Entrance of the underworld
In front of the entrance to the underworld live Grief (Penthos), Anxiety (Curae), Diseases (Nosoi), Old Age (Geras), Fear (Phobos), Hunger (Limos), Need (Aporia), Death (Thanatos), Agony (Algea), and Sleep (Hypnos), together with Guilty Joys (Gaudia). On the opposite threshold are War (Polemos), the Erinyes, and Discord (Eris). Close to the doors are many beasts, including Centaurs, Scylla, Briareus, Gorgons, the Lernaean Hydra, Geryon, the Chimera, and Harpies. In the midst of all this, an Elm can be seen where false Dreams (Oneiroi) cling under every leaf.
The souls that enter the underworld carry a coin under their tongue to pay Charon to take them across the river. Charon may make exceptions or allowances for those visitors carrying a Golden Bough. Charon is said to be appallingly filthy, with eyes like jets of fire, a bush of unkempt beard upon his chin, and a dirty cloak hanging from his shoulders. Although Charon ferries across most souls, he turns away a few. These are unburied which can’t be taken across from bank to bank until they receive a proper burial.
Across the river, guarding the gates of the underworld is Cerberus. Beyond Cerberus is where the Judges of the underworld decide where to send the souls of the dead — to the Isles of the Blessed (Elysium), or otherwise to Tartarus.
While Tartarus is not considered to be directly a part of the underworld, it is described as being as far beneath the underworld as the earth is beneath the sky. It is so dark that the “night is poured around it in three rows like a collar around the neck, while above it grows the roots of the earth and the unharvested sea.” Zeus cast the Titans along with his father Cronus into Tartarus after defeating them. Homer wrote that Cronus then became the king of Tartarus. While Odysseus does not see the Titans himself, he mentions some of the people within the underworld who are experiencing punishment for their sins.
The Asphodel Meadows was a place for ordinary or indifferent souls who did not commit any significant crimes, but who also did not achieve any greatness or recognition that would warrant them being admitted to the Elysian Fields. It was where mortals who did not belong anywhere else in the underworld were sent.
In the Aeneid, the Mourning Fields (Lugentes Campi) was a section of the underworld reserved for souls who wasted their lives on unrequited love. Those mentioned as residents of this place are Dido, Phaedra, Procris, Eriphyle, Pasiphaë, Evadne, Laodamia, and Caeneus.
The myths and legends relating to the five different regions of Hades are as follows:
The Fields of Asphodel contained beings that brought misery to mortal men such as war, discord, labor, grief, and all the most frightful monsters of the images taken from mythology such as Gorgons and Harpies
The River Styx - All the departed souls had to pass the waters to enter into the Underworld of Hades.
The melancholy and gloomy region called Erebus began immediately on the bank on the other side of the River Styx. Erebus has divided again into several particular districts or regions for different souls including the place for infants, the place for all who had been put to death without a cause, the place for those who put an end to their own lives. After this were the fields of mourning, full of dark woods and forest and inhabited by those who died of love and lastly was an open country which was allotted for the souls of departed warriors.
The road from Erebus divided into two, of which the right hand road led to Elysiumand the left hand road to Tartarus
The fourth district was Tartarus or the region of torments and punishment after death
The fifth district was the region of joy and bliss which was called Elysium.
Hesiod lived at about the same time as Homer (8th or 7th century BCE). In his Works and Days, he wrote of the deserving dead that: “father Zeus the son of Kronos gave a living and an abode apart from men, and made them dwell at the ends of the earth. And they live untouched by sorrow in the Islands of the Blessed along the shore of deep swirling Okeanos (Oceanus), happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Kronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds. And these last equally have honor and glory.”
According to Homer in his epic poems written around the 8th century BCE, Elysian Fields or Elysium refers to a beautiful meadow in the Underworld where the favored of Zeus enjoy perfect happiness. This was the ultimate paradise a hero could achieve: basically an ancient Greek Heaven. In the Odyssey, Homer tells us that, in Elysium, “men lead an easier life than anywhere else in the world, for in Elysium there falls not rain, nor hail, nor snow, but Oceanus [the giant body of water surrounding the entire world] breathes ever with a West wind that sings softly from the sea and gives fresh life to all men.”
By the time of the Roman master poet Vergil (also known as Virgil, born in 70 BCE), the Elysian Fields became more than just a pretty meadow. They were now part of the Underworld as the home of the dead who were judged worthy of divine favor. In the Aeneid, those blessed dead compose poetry, sing, dance, and tend to their chariots.
As the Sibyl, a prophetess, remarks to the Trojan hero Aeneas in the epic Aeneid when giving him a verbal map of the Underworld, "There to the right, as it runs under the walls of great Dis [a god of the Underworld], is our way to Elysium. Aeneas talks to his father, Anchises, in the Elysian Fields in Book VI of the Aeneid. Anchises, who is enjoying the good retired life of Elysium, says, “Then we are sent to spacious Elysium, a few of us to possess the blissful fields.”
Vergil wasn’t alone in his assessment of Elysium. In his Thebaid, the Roman poet Statius claims that it’s pious who earn the favor of the gods and get to Elysium, while Seneca states that it’s only in death that the tragic Trojan King Priam achieved peace, for “now in the peaceful shades of Elysium’s grove he wanders, and happy midst pious souls he seeks for his [murdered son] Hector.”
Elysian Fields according to Pindar:
Pindar claimed that Elysium was covered in golden flowers. The grass, trees, and water were dotted with fragrant blooms. The people there, he said, had all day to pursue leisure. They played games, held friendly contests, and played music.
The Islands of the Blessed were an idyllic and pristine afterlife free of suffering, pain, and hardship. However, the heroes of legend were the only ones who were admitted.
While the subterranean Elysian Fields was a more comfortable and enjoyable afterlife than the Asphodel Meadows, it was still imperfect. Although some sunlight reached it, it was never as warm and bright as the upper world. There was no refreshing breeze and the waters of the River Lethe could not be touched without bringing the curse of forgetfulness. Residents of the underworld Elysium could also see, just across the river, the constant darkness and misery of the rest of the underworld. Close by, the residents of Tartarus underwent constant, brutal punishments.
A foreign concept from the east finally found a way to reconcile the different tiers of the afterlife. By the 5th century BC, the concept of reincarnation had found its way into the Greek world. Contact with religions of the Near East and India had introduced the belief that the soul could return from the underworld into a new life.The Greeks, as they had with so many myths before, adopted this idea and incorporated it into their existing cosmology. Reincarnation provided a possible way out of the underworld.
Probably influenced by Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, some Greeks began to believe that souls reincarnated from the underworld Elysium might eventually be able to earn their way onto the Islands of the Blessed.The idea developed that if a soul was virtuous enough to earn a place in the Elysian Fields after three incarnations, they would be elevated to the Islands of the Blessed. This would free them not only from the gloom of Hades’ realm but also from the cycle of reincarnation.
The good receive a life free from toil, not scraping with the strength of their arms the earth, nor the water of the sea, for the sake of poor sustenance. But in the presence of the honored gods, those who gladly kept their oaths enjoy a life without tears, while the others undergo a toil that is unbearable to look at. Those who have persevered three times, on either side, to keep their souls free from all wrongdoing, follow Zeus’ road to the end, to the tower of Cronus, where ocean breezes blow around the island of the blessed, and flowers of gold are blazing, some from splendid trees on the land, while water nurtures others.
-Pindar, Odes 2.59-75
Pindar went on to say that reincarnation was not immediate. Persephone, as the queen of the underworld, required every soul to spend nine years in her realm. Even the most virtuous and devout souls would have to experience the underworld. But the truth, undeniably good people of the Greek world had a hope of sometimes reaching true paradise.
The Greek idea of the afterlife was constantly evolving to meet the ideas of the time. The Elysian Fields, as a later addition to their idea of the underworld, went through some of the most radical changes.
Paradise would never be considered easy for the Greeks to reach. But the idea of the Elysian Fields transformed over the course of a few hundred years from an exclusive and unreachable paradise to a tiered system based on rewards for behavior, devotion, and morality.
Elysium was the place of the blessed inhabited by those who died for their country, those of pure lives, truly inspired poets, the inventors of arts, and all who have done well to mankind. It was a delightful region where souls could converse with whom they pleased. Elysium, a paradise for those who found favor with the gods. The home of heroes and the virtuous. Fields of the pale liliaceous asphodel and poplars grew in Elysium. This gave rise to the name of the place known as the Elysian Fields which were the final resting place of the blessed chosen by the gods - paradise or heaven.
The Ruler of the Elysian Fields
There was disagreement among the ancient sources as to who ruled over the Islands of the Blessed. Because it was outside of the realm of Hades, the White Island was not under his dominion.
Homer said that Rhadamanthus ruled there.
A son of Zeus and Europa, he and his brother Minos were made judges of the dead by their father and Hades. He earned the position through his steadfast sense of integrity.
Zeus appointed three judges to weigh the merits of each soul that passed into the underworld without knowledge of their wealth or status. King Aeacus of Aegina judged those from the west, Rhadamanthus judged those from the east, and Minos cast the deciding vote if there was ever a disagreement. These three were appointed to ensure that all souls who entered the afterlife were judged fairly and given what was due to them.
In Odyssey, Homer depicted Rhadamanthus as the ruler of the Islands of the Blessed. A later Roman writer seemed to agree when he had Zeus order that Alcmene be sent there to be his wife in the afterlife.
Pindar and others, however, said that Chronus ruled Elysium.
For leading the Titans, Zeus’s father had been imprisoned with most of his people in the pit of Tartaros. After several ages, Zeus agreed to free the Titans he had once fought against. Some ancient sources said that Chronus had become the ruler of Tartarus during his long stay there. But some gave him a more pleasant task after he gained his freedom.
As the ruler of Elysium, Chronus would have had a position fitting of his station as both an elder Titan and the father of Zeus. It was, however, not a powerful enough position for Chronus to ever try to retake the throne he had lost. Additionally, the Islands of the Blessed were largely populated by Zeus’s children and allies. There would be no opportunity for his father to consolidate power.
The Child of the Afterlife
In the 1st century AD, another story arose about the Elysian Fields. The mythographer Ptolemy Hephaestion wrote that a child was born on the Islands of the Blessed. While other sources said that Achilles married Medea after their deaths, Ptolemy Hephaestion partnered the hero with Helen. They had a son they called Euphorion, “abundance,” after the richness of the island.
Euphorion was a winged boy who arrogantly tried to fly too far. Zeus struck him with a thunderbolt. Euphorion was killed and his body fell to the island of Melos, just south of Crete. The island was the home of the Meliai, a group of naiads, or water nymphs. Although Zeus had forbidden it, they buried the body of the boy.
As punishment for disobeying his command, Zeus changed the nymphs into frogs.
The bizarre story of Euphorion’s birth seems at odds with many other accounts of Greek mythology. Helen, for example, was married to King Menelaus who other writers described as having entered the Islands of the Blessed himself. The short passage written by Ptolemy Hephaestion does not explain this discrepancy or why Zeus seemed so hateful toward Euphorion.
The character would probably have been forgotten entirely had he not appeared in later work. In the second part of Goethe’s Faust, it is the legendary German magician who falls in love with the spirit of Helen and father the winged boy.
Goethe makes no mention of Zeus’s wrath, but his Euphorion falls from the sky and is killed when he tries to fly too high.
Reaching the Elysian Fields
The Greeks next thought it would be easy to reach eternal paradise. Earning a spot among the blessed residents was second only to being elevated to godhood. The people there were not the lost shades of the underworld but could experience all the joys of life without the pain and hard work.
As the concept of Elysium changed and expanded though, it became easier for a Greek person to imagine having a good afterlife, even if a perfect one was still hard to attain. Those deemed worthy were allowed into another Elysium. It was not as perfect as the White Island, but it was a great deal better than their ancestors had thought possible.
Eventually, the people of Greece saw even this as a possible next step toward paradise. A truly virtuous soul could be judged worthy after three lifetimes and earn a place in paradise. The Elysian Fields were not easy to reach, but as the idea developed they provided a sliver of hope for a peaceful and prosperous afterlife.
Every religion in history has had its own concept of what happens to the human soul after death. Often, the experience of the afterlife depends on the person’s actions and beliefs during their time on earth. A common feature in the afterlives of the world’s religion is a system of punishment and reward. The wicked are punished for their evil ways, while those people that led a good life are given rich rewards. From a bleak and depressing eternity as a shade, the Greeks developed the idea of a true paradise. The Elysian Fields were hard to reach, but they promised an eternal life of relaxation, beauty, and amusements for those few deemed worthy.
In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields (also spelled Elysium) are the paradise where gods and nobles spend eternity in the afterlife. The inhabitants are believed to live in perfect happiness, similar to the Christian Garden of Eden.
As proper nouns the difference between Elysium and heaven.
is that Elysium is (classical mythology) the home of the blessed after death while heaven is (religion) the abode of god or the gods, when considered as a specific location; the abode of the blessed departed who reside in the presence of god or the gods.
The Elysian Fields were, according to Homer, located on the western edge of the Earth by the stream of Okeanos. In the time of the Greek poet Hesiod, Elysium would also be known as the “Fortunate Isles”, or the “Isles (or Islands) of the Blessed”, located in the western ocean at the end of the earth.
The Elysian Fields are named for Elysium, the final resting place of virtuous and heroic souls in Greek mythology. According to Homer, the Elysian Fields were located on the wester edge of the Earth, by the stream of Okeanos
The gods of the Mysteries associated with the passage to Elysium included Persephone, Iakkhos (Iacchus), Triptolemos, Hekate, Zagreus (the Orphic Dionysos), Melinoe (the Orphic Hekate) and Makaria.
Elysium, also called Elysian Fields or Elysian Plain, was originally the paradise to which heroes on whom the gods conferred immortality were sent. By the time of Hesiod, however, Elysium was a place for the blessed dead, and, from Pindar on, the entrance was gained by a righteous life.
In mythology, the Greek underworld is an otherworld where souls go after death. The original Greek idea of afterlife is that, at the moment of death, the soul is separated from the corpse, taking on the shape of the former person, and is transported to the entrance of the underworld.
Tartarus, the infernal region of ancient Greek mythology. The name was originally used for the deepest region of the world, the lower of the two parts of the underworld, where the gods locked up their enemies. It gradually came to mean the entire underworld.
The Romans had a similar belief system about the afterlife, with Hades becoming known as Pluto.
Yes he is mentioned in the Book of Acts chapter 14 when Sts. Paul & Silas were mistaken for him & Hermes. Also, in the Books of Maccabees (which are not included in Protestant Holy Bibles), he is mentioned, as the Syrian Greeks took over ancient Israel, & put statues of Zeus & other Greek gods into the Temple.
Elysian Fields is a conception of the afterlife that developed over time and was maintained by some Greek religious and philosophical sectors and cultures.