According to ancient Greek mythology it was situated in the dark, terrifying depths of the mysterious Underworld, in the bowels of the earth. It was the place of punishment where the spirits of the wicked suffered endless torture.
Tartarus - An area of Hades, the Underworld
Tartarus was the terrifying area of Hades, the Underworld where wicked souls faced endless torture and punishment. The Underworld was the domain of the god Hades and other gods and goddesses associated with the inexplicable, such as death, disease, sleep, ghosts, dreams, witchcraft and enchantments. Hades the Underworld consisted of different areas where the souls of dead mortals resided. The souls of mortals who had led good lives were sent to the Elysian Fields, part of Elysium (our modern equivalent would be paradise). The souls of mortals who had led both good and evil lives on earth were sent to the Asphodel Meadows, where they were faced with endless toil. Those mortals that had led evil lives were confined in the dark depths of Tartarus, in the bowels of the earth, where no ray of sunshine nor gleam of daylight or healthy life ever appeared and the souls of the wicked suffered endless torture.
Elysium and the Elysian Fields (Paradise)
Geography of Tartarus in the Underworld
The imaginary world of the Underworld, with its different provinces, including Tartarus, was believed to be located in a subterranean region, the world of the dead where all souls passed after their time on earth. Tartarus was the most feared of all the realms. The River Styx was the great black river that encircled the Underworld, one of five rivers in the Underworld. The only way to cross the River Styx was in a ferryboat rowed by a terrible boatman named Charon the Ferryman. After facing judgement those souls who had committed evil deeds were sent to Tartarus (Hell). Tartarus was said to be surrounded by massive, solid walls of unyielding strength surrounded by the river Phlegethon. The waves of which rolled flames of fire, and lit up, with their lurid glare, the awful realm of Tartarus. The River Phlegethon (meaning flaming) was described as "a stream of fire, which coils round the earth and flows into the depths of Tartarus". According to some myths the River Phlegethon flowed with fire that burned but did not devour fuel, other legends say that it was made of boiling blood.
The Journey into Tartarus
The journey of the evil souls into Tartarus took a truly terrifying path. The realms of and facts about Tartarus are described in the following list, a second list details interesting information and facts about the residents of Tartarus. The journey followed the following events:
The River Styx: The journey to the underworld across the River Styx and required payment to Charon, the ferryman
The Judges of the Dead: Upon arrival in the Underworld, souls faced the Judges of the Dead who judged whether the life of a mortal had been good or evil. The names of the three judges of the Dead were called Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. The judgement was guarded by Cerberus the monstrous three-headed dog who permitted all shades to enter, but none to return.
The Confessions: The souls made their confessions about their life on earth and their 'Ker', or life force was weighed by the Keres (the Death Spirits)
The Sentence: The Judges of the Dead and the gods pronounced the precise torments which awaited evil souls in Tartarus and the Three Fates (Moirai) entered complete record of their mortal lives in the Archives of the Fates, on indestructible tablets of brass and iron
Crossroads of Hecate: The wicked souls were sent to the Crossroads of Hecate and directed to Tartarus, literally the 'Road to Hell'
The Gates of Tartarus: The wretched sinners were then seized by the avenging deities called the Furies, who scourged them with their whips, and dragged them along to the the bronze Gates of Tartarus, literally the 'Gates of Hell', into whose awful depths they were hurled to suffer endless torture.
The Pit of Tartarus: The evil souls were hurled into the pits of Tartarus, the infernal regions, to suffer endless tortures and torments
Facts about the Inhabitants of Tartarus in Greek Mythology
Many evil souls were sent to Tartarus and some feature in Ancient Greek mythology. The following list details some of the famous inhabitants of the infernal region.
The Titans: Following the Battle of the Titans against the Olympians, many were confined in the pits of Tartarus
The Aloadae: The Aloadae were Otus and Ephialtes, the giant sons of Poseidon, who had attempted to scale Olympus and dethrone Zeus
The Furies: The Furies (Erinyes) were the punishers
Hecate: Hecate was a goddess of the Underworld, the patron of magic and witchcraft and mistress of the terrible Keres,
Tityus: In Greek mythology Zeus flung Tityus into Tartarus, where he suffered dreadful torture, inflicted by two vultures, which perpetually gnawed his liver.
Tantalus: Tantalus insulted Zeus and was tortured with an ever-burning thirst
Sisyphus: Sisyphus was condemned to incessantly roll a huge block of stone up a steep hill, which, always rolled back again
Ixion: Ixion offended Zeus and was bound to an ever-revolving wheel.
Salmoneus: Salmoneus committed the sin of hubris, Zeus struck him down with his thunderbolt and had Salmoneus hurled into Tartarus where he was subjected to eternal torment.
The Danaides: The Danaides were the 50 daughters of Danaus who married and murdered their 50 cousins. Their punishment was to fill with water a vessel full of holes, a never-ending and useless task.