1. The Iliad, by Homer, Greek, c. 720 BCE. Books 8, 20, 22.
In Book 8 of Homer’s Greek epic poem, Zeus warns the gods not to involve themselves in the affairs of the Trojan War on the side of either the Greeks or the Trojans. Those guilty of interfering will be hurled into the deepest pit of Tartarus, as far below Hades as heaven is above the Earth. It is briefly described as having gates of iron and floors of bronze. The gods ignore Zeus’s warning, and in Book 20 the turmoil caused on earth reaches the realm of Hades, god of the underworld, who fears that the earth will crack so that all can see his grim, moldy mansions below. Finally in Book 22, Andromache speaks of her dead husband, Hektor, the greatest Trojan warrior, son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, who has just been killed by Achilles. Even such a noble is destined for the House of Hades under the secret places of the Earth. According to the Iliad, Tartarus remains a place for the punishment of the gods, and Hades the dwelling place of dead mortals. The text mentions that the living and the dead can do nothing for each other, a situation that will change over time under the influence of Orphism.
2. The Odyssey, by Homer, Greek, c. 680 BCE. Books 11, 24.
In Homer’s Greek epic poem, Circe advises Odysseus, the Greek hero of the Trojan War, to visit Hades and seek the blind prophet Teiresias, who will offer him advice on the best way to return to this home on Ithaka. Book 11 describes how the hero cut, flayed, and burned two dead sheep, praying to Hades and Persephone, the god and goddess of the underworld, then waited for Teiresias. He is crowded by the dead attracted by the blood, among them his former companion Elpenor, who recently died on Circe’s island. Odysseus is surprised to find him here already, and Elpenor explains that when he fell drunk from a roof, his soul came right down after his body.
Eventually Teiresias arrives and explains to Odysseus that his own mother who is nearby will know him if he offers her some of the sheeps’ blood, which has the power to restore awareness and speech — some semblance of vitality. Both his mother and Teiresias are surprised to find Odysseus alive and in the underworld, and she explains how it is separated by vast waters, which she calls Okeanos. When Odysseus is frustrated in trying to embrace her, she explains that the flesh and bones of the dead perish in consuming fire and all that’s left is a soul, while another explains that those in Hades are the “silly dead,” ghosts who can no longer labor once they reach the meadow of asphodel. He also encounters the ghost of Achilles, praising his son and Minos, son of Zeus, sitting in judgment.
He sees the Titans in their punishments — Tityus, Tantalus, and Sisyphus — as well as Herakles, and finally fearing the arrival of Gorgon, he returns to his ship to sail back across the Okeanos.
Book 24 of the Odyssey describes how Hermes leads the suitors of Odysseus’s wife Penelope into Hades. As they act like squealing bats, they cross Okeanos and come to Leukas. There they see there many dead Greek heroes from the war.
Hades is depicted in the Odyssey as a place far from the living, where souls, who are all equal in death, suffering no punishment or reward, are barely conscious, although they retain both some memory of their past lives and a sense of identity.
3. The Theogony, by Hesiod, Greek, 700665 BCE.
This cosmological poem from the first half of the seventh century bce, details the origins of the gods and their offspring and concerns itself primarily with issues of tyranny and power. He tell of the fate of the Titans, the second generation of the gods, after their defeat by Olympian gods in the ten years of battles known as the Titanomachy or the Titan War. He describes Tartarus as a place as far below the earth as heaven is above it and goes on to elaborate how an anvil thrown down from heaven would take ten days to arrive on earth, the same time it would take the same anvil to travel from earth to the underworld. Unlike Homer’s floor of bronze and gates of iron, in Hesiod we find both a fence and gates of bronze, but also a triple wall of Night. Above this place are the roots of earth and the sea.
Tartarus is windy, loathsome, misty, dank, and gloomy. It is the place where Day and Night alternately meet as one rises and the other sets. Tartarus is guarded by the powerful Hundred-Arms — Cottus and Briareos and Gyes, each with one hundred arms and fifty heads. It is the dwelling place of Night’s children, Sleep and Death, where Day never shines. The halls of the underworld are guarded by an unnamed dog [Cerberus] who is friendly to those entering, but refuses to let any leave.
Hesiod goes on the explain that outside Tartarus, perhaps on the same level, is the House of Hades, ruled over by Hades and Persephone. He describes the River Styx as one of the ten rivers of Oceanus, vaulted by high rocks and surrounded by silver pillars in a rugged place. Its cold waters, which flow from a rock, are used for the libations of the gods, but the gods who swear oaths with these waters are severely punished for ten years if those oaths are broken.
4. Hymn to Demeter, Greek, 67825 BCE.
This Homeric Greek poem, dating between 678 and 625 bce describes the abduction of Persephone by the god Hades, who is the brother of her mother Demeter and her father Zeus. It describes as well Persephone’s annual visit each spring to her mother Demeter in the world of the living, an event marked by the return of fertility to the earth. The underworld is described as the home of Hades and Persephone, a realm of darkness, mist and gloom, the place of the dead, but also a place that serves as a repository of the seeds necessary for rebirth.
In this poem Hades declares that Persephone is worthy of homage and indicates that those who pay homage will enjoy a happier afterlife. It promises the initiates into the Orphic and mystery cults, an alternate and better afterlife than the one awaiting the uninitiated who experience darkness and gloom.
5. The Frogs, by Aristophanes, Greek, 405 BCE. First performed in the festival of the Lenaia, possible in the Agora of Athens, in January.
Aristophanes, the Athenian comic playwright, wrote this play for performance in 405 bce. It describes the journey of Dionysus, a citizen of Athens, and his servant Xanthias to the underworld to rescue Euripides, since Athens found itself without a decent poet. Before they depart Herakles warns them that the voyage will be perilous as they cross an enormous lake of fathomless depth and a sea of filth and dung. Dionysus construes the warning as Herakles’s attempt to deceive him about the underworld. Charon will take Dionysus across in a little boat for two coins, but, Xanthias, not being a free man, is forced to walk around. They are warned that they will see tens of thousands of snakes and savage monsters, who are there to punish a variety of sinners, including oath-breakers and people who abuse their parents and guests, but also those who refuse to pay bought lovers and those who quote a certain bad playwright named Morsimus.
This is the first surviving literary work from Greece to record otherworld punishment of the dead, where conduct determines fate, and some suffer while others do not. It enumerates tortures: being thrown into pits, covered with piles of bricks, being hacked, racked, flayed, flogged, and hung, and finally having acid stuffed into the nose. Because this work is satirical, it is difficult to determine Aristophanes’s own views on the behaviors that will result in punishment. His parody is, however, clearly speculating about and articulating certain newly current attitudes.
The underworld is described as a place of sleep and forgetfulness, full of filth and darkness. It is also a place of contrasts: good and evil, sacred and profane, punishment and reward. Mention is made of Empusa — the peg-legged specter with a blazing face — as well as the fierce, multi-headed dog Cerberus — who guards the gates to the underworld — the hell hounds of the River Cocytus, the hundred-headed asp, the voracious sea eel referred to as the Tartesian Lamprey, and the Gorgons from the shores of the Tithrasos River. The judge Aeacus appears as judge.
The geography includes the rivers Styx, Acheron, and Cocytus, as well as inky-hearted rocks and blood-dabbled peaks.
6. Orphic Lamina, Greek, c. 400 BCE. From Hipponeum (Vibo Valentia).
This pendant, found in a burial and one of several found in Magna Greca, Thessaly, and Crete, is dated to 400 bce. Its inscription comprises instructions to the deceased, one initiated into one of the mystery cults — perhaps an Orphic cult — on how to proceed in the otherworld. It guides to deceased to avoid the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness at the side of a white cypress tree, and to seek a drink instead from the spring of Mnemosyne, the spring of memory. After this the soul will be able to follow the sacred path of the other initiates. The text of this particular lamina, although relatively long, is somewhat corrupt, since the Lethe should be on the left, not the right, and line thirteen is somewhat opaque.
7. The Gorgias, by Plato ( c.428/7-c.348/7 BCE), Greek.
Plato’s Dialogue from c. 380 bce, features Socrates revealing to Callicles some of the workings of the afterlife with the good being sent to the Isles of the Blessed and the wicked being consigned to Tartarus. This differs from the earlier formula of Hades as destination for all the mortal dead and introduces the element of a judgment on performance in this life to be punished or rewarded in the next.
Socrates explains that in the time of Cronos and even into the reign of Zeus, people, since they had foreknowledge of their impending deaths, appeared for judgment before they died, dressed in their best clothes and accompanied by witnesses to attest to their just life. They were then assigned their destiny by living men.
Pluto and several of the overseers of the netherworld complained to Zeus that the wrong people were being sent to the wrong places, so Zeus revised the procedure. He told Prometheus to end foreknowledge of death among men. Then Zeus required everyone to be judged only after death, naked and without witnesses. He assigned new judges: Rhadamanthus from Asia Minor and Aeacus from Europe each judged the dead from their own regions. When they were in doubt, Minos, also from Asia Minor, would cast his opinion. The place of judgment lay at a meadow where a road forks in two, one leading to the Isles of the Blessed, the other to Tartarus.
Naked, without the signs of rank and status, souls, which had been separated from their bodies, showed all the physical characteristics of the living person, but also showed natural gifts and pursuits. Everything showed: perjury, injustice, falsehood and truthfulness, insolence and debauchery.
This netherworld included the purgative power of punishment for those who were curable. Those who were incurable were punished and hung in the infernal dungeon as an example for others. The judges marked each shade with a sign so those in Tartarus could distinguish the curable from the incurable.
Socrates explains that private persons are usually curable, whereas public persons, especially the powerful — despots, kings, potentates and public administrators — are more likely to be wicked. The powerful good are rare.
8. The Phaedo, by Plato (c.428/7-c.348/7 BCE) Greek.
Plato’s Dialogue from c. 380 bce, features Socrates’ short disquisition on the movements of waters and wind, the four rivers that flow from earth, winding into and out of the chasm of Tartarus, always flowing in below where they flow out. The walls of this chasm made it possible to descend only to the center. Beyond that the walls leaned back in over the streams. The first and largest of these rivers is Oceanus, the outermost of the four, which flows around in a circle. The Archeron also flows around in a circle, but in the opposite direction, through desert places into the Acherusian Lake, where most of the dead go for varying lengths of time before being reborn.
The third river, the Pyriphlegethon, flows between the first two and falls into a great burning lake of boiling mud and water. It then proceeds in a circle toward the Acherusian Lake, although their waters never mingle. This river is the source of lava streams. The fourth river is the Cocytus, also known as the Stygian River since it forms the River Styx. It is a wild and awful dark blue water. It flows in the opposite direction from Pyriphlegethon and falls into Tartarus opposite it after they meet at the Acherusian Lake, where it also does not mingle.
Socrates proceeds to explain how these rivers function in relationship to the dead, who from philosophers to tyrants, are led by their genius and sentenced according to the lives they led. Those neither good nor bad are destined for Acheron where they are absolved of wrongs and rewarded for good deeds according to their merit.
Those who number among the incurables — the sacrilegious, wicked murderers, and the like — are sent to Tartarus for eternity. Other wicked people who are capable of cure are also sent to Tartarus, but after a year they are cast out. Murderers are thrown into the Cocytus, while those who sinned against their parents are thrown into the Pyriphlegethon. They flow around toward the Acherusian Lake where they seek forgiveness from those they have harmed. Without forgiveness they are returned to Tartarus to repeat the cycle until they are finally forgiven and can be reborn.
Socrates also mentions those who lived well and how they mount upward after death to live upon the earth as pure beings before they ascend to even better places. He does not describe those places, claiming they are too difficult to explain in the short time that he has. The prospects of punishment or reward in the otherworld are clearly here intended to promote ethical lives in this world.
9. The Republic, by Plato (c.428/7-c.348/7 BCE) Greek.
In Plato’s Dialogue from c. 380 bce, Socrates tells Glaucon the story of Er, a bold warrior from the Pamphylian race who was killed on the battlefield. After twelve days as he was about to be cremated on a funeral pyre, he revived to tell what he had seen in the mysterious regions where on either side of judges he saw were four openings: the right two leading up to heaven and the left two leading downward toward Tartarus — one hole each for those going and the other hole for those returning. Er explained that the openings to heaven were clean and pure while their opposite emitted dust and squalor. The judges marked the dead with their destination and sent them on their way.
Er observed that when the souls who entered through the holes came back, they joined together in a meadow encampment. There those from below lamented and bewailed about the dreadful things they had suffered and seen, while those from heaven exclaimed about delights and beauty beyond words.
Socrates attempts to lay out a schema of ten-fold returns for earthly behavior calculating periods of hundreds and thousands of years of suffering or reward. He mentions specific sins that lead to extreme punishment: murder, betrayal, slavery, impiety towards the gods or one’s own parents, and self-slaughter. On the other side are rewards for kindness and piety.
Er goes on to tell that mostly he saw tyrants, but there were also those private citizens who had committed great crimes. He mentions in particular the tyrant of Pamphylia, Ardiaeos the Great, who had killed his own father and older brother and committed many other unholy deeds. When Ardiaeos approached the mouth of the underworld to leave, it bellowed, summoning savage men of fiery aspect — little devils — who dragged back Ardiaeos and many like him, who either had not yet completed their punishments or had been designated as incurable. The devils bound these souls hand, foot and head, flinging them down, flaying them, and carding them with thorns. These men told those watching that all tyrants would be thrown back into the depths of Tartarus.
Some of the other souls who had successfully left, explained to Er that everyone feared as they approached the mouth that it would bellow, and they would be dragged back down into the depths.
Neither Er nor Socrates, explains the fate of those released from the holes connecting heaven or the netherworld, although based on the Phaedo, they are probably in the meadow awaiting rebirth.
10. The Aeneid, by Vergil (7019 BCE), Roman, 19 BCE. Book 6.
Book 6 of Virgil’s epic, dating from 19 bce, tells of Aeneas’s journey to the underworld accompanied by the Sibyl. Before he finally encounters his father, Anchises in the Fields of Elysium, he sacrifices four bulls and a ewe and enters a cave that leads through empty realms. Finally they arrive at the entrance to Hades and find arrayed around it Cares, Old Age, Disease, Fear, Hunger, Want, Bondage, Death, Sleep, War, the Furies, and Strife.
At the center of a court they discover an ancient elm where visions hang. Next they pass by monsters — Centaurs, Scylla, Briareos, Chimera, Gorgons, Harpies, and Geryon, but these are all illusions. They next come upon the Styx where the dead await passage over in Charon’s boat, but those who remain graveless may wait a hundred years before they journey across. Charon the Ferryman on the Stygian waters warns Aeneas away, refusing to carry the living across. The sibyl, however, is carrying the Golden Bough, and gains a crossing for the Trojan hero in a boat surrounded by ghostly shapes.
Once on the other side, the three-headed dog Cerberus, who guards the entrance to Hades bays at them, and the Sibyl throws him a loaf of honeyed bread that puts the beast to sleep. On his journey toward Tartarus, Aeneas passes the souls of babies at the threshold of Hades, and nearby those who died as a result of unjust judgment. Here Minos sits in judgment of the dead. Aeneas next encounters suicides around whom the Styx winds nine times. In Fields of Sorrow, he finds those who died for love, including his own paramour Dido, who shuns him. On his left a cliff with a high rampart and triple wall is encircled by the Phlegethon. Here where a strong gate and tower is guarded by one of the Furies, he hears sounds of woe and punishment. Here Rhadamanthus punishes those who escaped punishment in this world.
Finally Aeneas comes upon the multi-headed Hydra who guards Tartarus, which unlike Hesiod’s calculation, is twice as far below Earth as Heaven is above it. There, in addition to the Titans, he finds those who hated their fathers and their brothers, the greedy and the incestuous, adulterers and traitors.
Aeneas eventually finds his father Anchises, whom he has been seeking, on the plain where the River Lethe flows. While Anchises explains many things to Aeneas about the future of Rome and Italy, he also discusses the Roman belief in transmigration of souls. The souls they can see before them, he tells his son, are due rebirth, and they wait there near the water of forgetting after being scourged of their former sins — hung and stretched and burned until all stain is finally removed. They finally arrive in Elysium, called to the Lethe after 1000 years.
11. The Metamorphoses, by Ovid (43 BCE17 CE), Roman, c. 8 CE.
Book 10 of Ovid’s masterpiece from 8 ce recounts the well-known tale of Eurydice and Orpheus, the husband so distraught by the death of his new wife that he travels to the underworld to plead for her release. He finds there a dark and shadowy void beneath the earth where all mortals will eventually come to stay, a place of fear, vast and silent. Orpheus’s sorrow is so potent that he stops the normal working of Hades and Tartarus: Tantalus, Ixion, the Belides, Sisyphus, and even the vultures who torment Tityus halt their otherwise ceaseless and obsessive tasks. Even the Furies are silenced.
12. Mad Hercules, by Seneca (4 BCE65 CE), Roman, after 81 CE.
Seneca’s earliest tragedy, a Roman play on a Greek subject, opens as the hero completes the last of the labors set for him by the goddess Juno. Rescuing Theseus from the underworld, Hercules has frustrated the jealous goddess’s attempts to destroy him. Act 3 includes Theseus long description of the otherworld from the entrance at Sparta, past the rivers of Lethe and Cocytus to personifications — including Hunger, Fear and War — the Palace of Dis [Hades], and the places of judgment and punishment. Theseus describes Charon the ferryman and Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the entry to Hades. The Chorus that follows Theseus’s dialogue with Amphitryon, the husband of Hercules’ mother, continues the description of the Underworld to speculate on the legions of the dead.
13. The Vision of Thespesius, by Plutarch (45??120 CE), Greek, after 81 CE.
This vision of the otherworld, which is strangely similar to later medieval visions, describes the otherworld journey of a profligate and iniquitous man, who falls on his head and appears to lie dead for two days, while his soul travels in the otherworld to receive a warning about reforming his behavior. He returns to this life totally reformed after meeting several relatives who guide him through the intricacies of the otherworld systems of punishment and reparation.
This work is imbued with Greek mythological figures and Platonic elements. Striking is the description of floating bubbles that burst to release the souls of the dead who congregate together, the good with the good and the evil with the evil. This is very reminiscent of the description of souls in the afterlife found in Bede’s Vision of Furseus. The underworld itself is thinly described, as a place where the souls can see all around and where stars are widely spread out emitting light in amazing colors and energy that souls can travel along. There are also three pools described, one of boiling gold, a second of freezing lead, and a third of rough iron. The guardians of these pools are like blacksmiths, tossing souls of the avaricious and greedy from one to the other, where they are heated in the gold, frozen in the iron, and embrittled in the lead.
Thespesius, formerly known in this life as Aridaeus, is instructed by a relative he barely recognizes, in the three different sorts of punishment, performed under the watchful eye of Adrasteia, the daughter of Necessity and Zeus. The first under Swift Poiné deals with those who have already in this life received some sort of punishment usually involving a loss of reputation, and only require further emotional purifying. The second group is under Diké who deals with those unpunished in this world for their more difficult crimes and so, exposed and naked, must endure longer and harsher punishment turning themselves inside out as they are flayed and cut open by guards. The third group , under the Erinys, or Furies, the incurable that she exterminates in cruel and brutal ways, are imprisoned in a place with no identity or form.
Thespesius is shocked to meet here relatives enduring punishment, but overwhelmed when his father emerges from a pit marked so that all of his crimes are revealed, because one particular feature of this otherworld is how souls are disfigured with scars and welts according to their wickedness. They are also colored according to the nature of their sins until they undergo sufficient punishment for all their color to attain a unified hue and are finally purified.
The pain associated with these otherworld punishments is described as different in degree from corporeal pain as corporeal pain is from imagined pain. The author singles out for special mention those who leave debts for their descendants who as punishment furiously assault them, covering them like swarming bees. Souls are eventually returned to this life, either twisted or hammered into shape for rebirth. Others are returned to their own bodies as necessitated by their own violence and need for action.
14. Description of Greece, by Pausanius (110180 CE), Greek, late second century CE.
This work includes a description of a painting by Polygnotus (mid 5th century bce) in Delphi at the Lesche of the Cnidians, which depicts Odysseus’s visit to the underworld along with the Fall of Troy. Pausanias attributes the basis for the painting to the Odyssey and the unknown Minyad. Although the painting described includes numerous mythological figures who dwell in the underworld, description that is relevant to an understanding of Hades are limited to Book 10, chapters 28, 30.6 and 31.10–12.
The painting shows the River Acheron and the ferryman Charon. It depicts two punishments: a man beats his son who failed in proper filial duty and a man guilty of sacrilege is punished by a woman skilled in poisons and other drugs. Another figure named Ocnus is a token of Sloth.
Pausanias mentions details such as Odysseus’s companions who carry the sacrificial animals — described as black rams — as well as a group carrying water in jars, where the broken jar of an old woman is interpreted as a sign that she was not a follower of the Eleusian mysteries, so her task in the underworld is condemned to failure.
Three Titans are depicted: Tityus, Sisyphus, and Tantalus. The first is no longer being punished, but continuous torture has reduced him to “an indistinct and mutilated phantom.” Sisyphus and Tantalus are still engaged in their endless dooms, with the former pushing his rock uphill and the latter stretching out for food and drink forever beyond his reach. Here his pain is augmented by a rock that hangs overhead ready to crush him.
15. The Golden Ass (Metamorphoses), by Apuleius (124170 CE), Roman, 2nd C. CE.
Included in this Latin work dating from the late second century ce, is the story of Cupid and Psyche. During the trials of Psyche — after she had violated the strictures set down by Venus — this goddess sends her on two missions to Hades. She is first sent to gather water in a vessel from the source of the Cocytus and the Styx, flowing through a precipitous chasm guarded on either side by unsleeping monsters with long and bloody necks. She is saved by Jupiter, who descends in the form of an eagle to retrieve the water for her.
Venus then sends Psyche a second time into the pit and wrath of hell, this time to bring her back for Venus a day’s worth of Proserpina’s beauty. Psyche takes herself to a high tower, intending to throw herself down in order to reach Hades, but the tower speaks and advises her how to gain her objective. It sends her to Taenarus in Sparta where she will find an entrance to the underworld. The tower also advises her, as the Sibyl in the Aeneid advises Odysseus, to bring two coins, carrying them in her mouth, for the Charon the ferryman and two barley cakes soaked in honey for Cerberus, the three-headed dog. She is also warned of the tricks that Venus has planted: three times she will be asked for help — from a man with a donkey carrying wood, from a man in the Styx with decaying hands, and from three women spinning wool. In helping them, she will drop her cakes and will fail to return from the otherworld.
Psyche finally reaches the palace of Pluto and Proserpina, where the queen offers her a royal seat and delicate meats, but Psyche has been warned to refuse and will accept only a seat on the floor and brown bread. Proserpina rewards Psyche with a box supposedly containing beauty, but when Psyche again fails to avoid the temptation to look, she finds in the box not beauty but infernal and deadly sleep, and she falls to the ground like a corpse.
16. The True History, by Lucian of Samosata (120190 CE), Greek (Syrian). Book 2.
In this parody of the fantastic stories included in The Odyssey, it describes a visit to the underworld. The narrator is escorted by Rhadamanthus, unidentified — but perhaps the same underworld judge found in other ancient texts — and a ferryman named Nauplius into the place full of the horrible smell of burning bitumen, brimstone, and pitch mixed with the disgusting smell and intolerable fumes of roasting human flesh. Here the air is dark and thick, filled with a pitchy dew. They can hear the cracks of whips and voices yelling. They reach a dry and arid island, stony, rugged, and treeless surrounded by precipitous cliffs. They follow a thorny road until they reach a prison that serves as a place of punishment where the ground is covered with sharp stakes and knife blades, which recalls the knife blades that cover trees found in Hindu and Buddhist hell texts.
There are also three rivers surrounding the prison, the first of slime, the second of blood, and the third, a broad and impassable river of flame full of flaming fish. One bridge crosses all three rivers, and it is guarded by Timon of Athens. In this place the narrator sees the punishment of all types of people from kings to common men, naming only specifically Cinyras, but their guide, who describes all the punishments, explains that the severest torment is reserved for liars and those who write false histories, including Ctesias of Cnidus and Herodotus. The narrator takes delight in this because, he writes no falsehoods.
17. Menippus, by Lucian of Samosata (120190 CE), Greek (Syrian).
This text satirizes otherworld journeys with its description of Menippus’s visit to the underworld. He is guided by Mithrobarzanes, who brings him down the Euphrates on a boat that carries the sacrifices necessary to gain entry to the underworld. They come first upon a woody, deserted, and sunless place, where they dig a pit for slaughtering their sheep and then sprinkle the blood around, while Mithrobarzanes shouts to summon the spirits and the Furies, Hecate, and Persephone. His shouting is so loud, it causes an earthquake that opens the ground, makes Cerberus bark, and frightens Hades himself, as well as Rhadamanthus. They find the lake and river of fire, as well as the Palace of Pluto. Using his lyre, Menippus charms Cerberus into letting them pass by. When they try to cross the lake they find the boat is full of men wounded in the Parthian War, during 161. Charon, thinking Menippus is Hercules, since he carries a lion skin, brings him on board and across, pointing out the way for him.
Mithrobarzanes leads them through the darkness into a large meadow of asphodel until they come to the Court of Minos, who is surrounded by Tormentors, Avengers, and Furies. He will judge the dead, assigning them to punishments that fit their crimes, including the chained group that Menippus sees approaching, a group comprised of adulterers, tax-collectors, toadies, and informers. Another group in neck irons arrives separately made up of millionaires and money-lenders, pale and pot-bellied with each bearing a one-hundred pound “crow” on his shoulders. At this court the shadows of the dead, those that follow everyone along the ground, act as witnesses against the dead. The most harshly punished are those proud of their wealth, lineage, and sovereignty. They are stripped naked and hang their heads in shame, as Menippus taunts those he recognizes.
Menippus notices Dionysius of Sicily who, after being prosecuted by his own shadow and Dion, is about to be chained to a Chimera, but Aristippus of Cyrene saves him after explaining how he was always generous to men of letters.
Menippus next arrives at the place of punishment itself where he can hear the sounds of scourges and the wails of those being punished. He can also smell the reek of burning flesh. He sees racks, pillories, and wheels and how the Chimera tears at the dead as Cerberus ferociously devours them. Here everyone is punished together from kings to slaves, but the poor are punished only half as much as the rich. Menippus recognizes some of the recently dead but they turn away ashamed. Here he also sees the Titans (Ixion, Sisyphus, Tantalus, and Tityus).
Eventually he comes to the Acherusian Plain where he finds the demigods and fair women. The recently dead are recognizable, as well the Egyptians, because of their superior embalming process, but the others are blending together into a moldy, ill-defined, and indistinguishable pile of bones.
As the dialogue continues, Menippus is asked about the fate in the otherworld of those commemorated by great burial monuments. Menippus explains how the greatest are selling salt fish and mending shoes, while philosophers continue as before, cross-examining those they encounter.
He is also asked about a motion that was pending in the otherworld and approved while Menippus was present, which provides for the rich who oppress the poor to have their souls transferred into donkeys for 250,000 years while their bodies are punished in the otherworld.
Finally Teiresias advises Menippus that a simple, common life is the best, and Mithrobarzanes points out a hole through which he can escape back to Greece.
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