Hades was the Greek god of the dead who ruled over the Underworld with his queen, Persephone. His brother Zeus was the king of Olympus, and the twelve Olympians were all his siblings or nieces and nephews.
However, as well as powerful allies, Hades had rivals and enemies. Unlike his brothers and sisters, he avoided the mortal realm – but the mortal realm didn’t always avoid him! The following is a list of some of those who vexed the god of the dead most ardently, and how he dealt with each.
Enemies, Opponents and Rivals of Hades
Sisyphus was the king who founded Ephyra, later known as Corinth. He was not a pleasant man, consumed by greed and spite, which manifested in the murder of guests in his home. This violated the sacred law of xenia, hospitality, and turned the gods against him. He also seduced his own niece to defeat his brother, but she killed the children she bore.
Thanatos, god of death and underling of Hades, was sent to bring Sisyphus to the Underworld and chain him to a rock. Sisyphus asked Thanatos how the chains worked and, when the god was explaining, slyly chained him instead, then made his escape. Hades, who took pride on never letting mortals escape his domain, was furious.
While Thanatos was chained, nobody died, infuriating both Hades and the war god Ares. Ares freed Thanatos, and Sisyphus died. This time, he had his wife throw his naked body into the River Styx without telling her why. When he reached the Underworld, he explained to a sympathetic Persephone that his wife had ‘disrespected’ him, and she let him go.
Hades was enraged not only by Sisyphus cheating death, but by how he fooled Persephone. He sent Hermes to drag Sisyphus back to Tartarus, where he set an eternal punishment. Sisyphus was sentenced to roll a boulder to the top of a hill, and once he reached it, he would go free. Hades, however, enchanted the boulder so that every time it was near the top, it rolled away – trapping Sisyphus for eternity.
Demeter was both Hades’s sister and his mother-in-law. Her daughter by their brother Zeus, Persephone, was loved by Hades. When Zeus discovered this, he gave his permission for Hades to abduct Persephone to the Underworld. Hades did so, and the two were soon married.
Demeter responded to this by causing a widespread famine amongst mankind until she was allowed to see Persephone once more. She refused to lift the curse, even when all of the other gods entreated her. Eventually, Hermes sent his daughter to fetch Persephone.
Hermes travelled to the Underworld and found Persephone perfectly happy with her new husband. He informed them of the situation and, though Persephone did not want to leave, Hades told her to go for the sake of the world. On the way out, Hades handed Persephone pomegranate seeds, which she ate and then was bound to the Underworld.
When Persephone returned to Olympus and admitted she’d eaten Underworld food, Demeter flew into a rage and demanded that Zeus punish their brother. Instead, Zeus created a compromise, where Persephone would spend half (or a third) of the year with her husband and the rest with her mother. Whenever Persephone was in the Underworld, Demeter caused winter.
3. Theseus and Pirithous
Theseus was a Greek hero who in most stories was a son of Poseidon and therefore a nephew of Hades. He and his friend Pirithous decided that they must have the best of wives and should claim daughters of Zeus. Theseus selected Helen of Troy, who was seven to ten years old at the time, and the two kidnapped her.
Leaving Helen with Theseus’s mother, the two headed to the Underworld where Pirithous’s desired bride, Persephone, awaited. Thanks to Zeus, however, Hades was already aware of the intentions of the men. His pride and exceeding protectiveness of Persephone caused him to devise a plan.
Hades pretended hospitality, but when Theseus and Pirithous sat on his chairs, they were trapped by the coils of snakes. Though the hero Heracles, a cousin of Theseus, eventually rescued him, Pirithous was left to languish in the Underworld forever. According to some myths, the chair where he was bound caused him to lose all memories.
Asclepius was the semi-divine son of Hades’s nephew Apollo and the Lapithian princess Coronis. He inherited his skill in healing from his father, and eventually became such a talented physician that he could raise people from the dead.
Hades could not tolerate this, as any interference with the order of life and death was unendurable for him. He appeared to Asclepius in his aspect of Pluton, god of wealth, and bribed and coerced the healer to stop stealing his subjects.
When this didn’t work, Hades appealed directly to Zeus. Zeus worried that Asclepius would share the secrets of resurrection with the other humans, and so he killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt.
At Apollo’s behest, Asclepius was later brought back to life as a full god on Olympus.
Orpheus was a poet, musician, and prophet who was infamous throughout Ancient Greece. His wife, Eurydice, was his muse. However, either on their wedding day or some other significant event, Eurydice was bitten on the ankle by a snake and became overcome with poison and died.
When she reached the Underworld, Hades prepared her for her new life as he did with all of his subjects. However, at the behest of nymphs who sympathized with his grief, Orpheus travelled to the Underworld to try to retrieve her and bring her back to life.
Hades initially refused, as he did not allow escape from his realm. However, Orpheus played a song for them, which pleased Persephone so much that she begged Hades to reward the musician with Eurydice. Hades relented, and allowed Orpheus to leave with Eurydice on the condition that he not look back upon her before they were both clear of the Underworld.
Orpheus was initially thrilled but, due to Eurydice’s silence and Hades’s initial reaction, he slowly became convinced that she was not following him at all and that the whole thing was a trick. Right at the mouth of the Underworld, he couldn’t stand it anymore and turned his head around to see if Eurydice was there. She was, but as soon as he looked upon her, she faded, returned to death for good.
The Titan Kronos was the husband and brother of Rhea. The pair of them were the parents of six gods, of which Hades was the second oldest child and the oldest son. These gods were Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, and Zeus, in birth order. Kronos was also the father of the centaur, Chiron, by the Oceanid Philyra.
When Rhea first became pregnant, Kronos heard a prophecy that his child would one day overthrow him as he himself had overthrown his own father, Uranus. To avert this problem, each time that Rhea gave birth, Kronos swallowed the child alive. This went on until Rhea hid her youngest son, Zeus, and fed Kronos a rock instead.
When Zeus was grown, he freed his siblings. Hades was the second last to be freed from Kronos’s stomach. After this, Zeus led all of the gods, giants, and others in a great war against the Titans known as the Titanomachy. Afterward, the Titans were bound in the deepest bowels of the Underworld.
Afterward, someone needed to be assigned to the Underworld to prevent Kronos and his ilk from ever escaping as well as to rule over the dead. The three brothers drew lots, and this job was tasked to Hades.
Heracles (or Hercules), son of Zeus, was portrayed by Disney as Hades’s greatest rival, but in the original myth the two actually got on relatively well! As one of Heracles’s Twelve Labors, he was tasked with traveling to the Underworld to retrieve Hades’s three-headed dog, Cerberus. Heracles enlisted the help of his half-brother Hermes and his half-sister Athena and took on the task.
Hades was initially reluctant, but after his nephew explained the purpose of his visit, Hades reconsidered. He allowed Heracles to temporarily take Cerberus to complete the task, on the condition that the hero could swear that Cerberus would not be at any risk of being harmed. Heracles agreed to this condition.
Once the deal was made, Hades even let Hades walk right out of the Underworld with Cerberus in tow. Cerberus finally returned when the labor was complete.
They did have conflict later, though. In the one myth where Hades ever leaves the Underworld, he was shot while trying to defend the city of Pylos. Heracles fired this arrow, and Hades had to retreat to Olympus where his family helped him to heal his wounds.
Only seven living people ever made it out of the Underworld alive. Those were Theseus, Heracles, Aeneas and his companion who was the Sibyl, Orpheus, Odysseus, and Psyche.