Two Kinds of Darkness: A Comparison of Hades teaching in Homer’s Odyssey and Plato’s Pheado
Author: Huang, Qun
Affiliation: Institute of Ethnic Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

In this paper, I intend to present my research results on teachings of Hades in Classical Greek Literature, I draw special attention to the two texts: Homer’s Odyssey and Plato’s Pheado. Both works describe Hades, while the meanings are different.

As a main traditional source of poetic education in ancient Greece, Homeric poetry has great influence on ancient Greeks in shaping their understanding of the life and humanity. Through the journey to Hades in Odyssey, the Poet teaches the ancient Greeks what view they should hold on death and limit of this life.

In the 24-books’ Odyssey, the journey to Hades is exactly located in the center (book 11). However, from the ninth book on, Odysseus tells his own story to the Phaercians, and the story about Circe is central among nine stories. Thus there are differences between the story of Homer and that of Odysseus: Homer regards the experience in Hades as a turning point, where Odysseus becomes himself and acquires the self-knowledge. Actually, Odysseus obtains the person of gods when he knew the most ultimate riddle in life after he went to the Hades. His mind and courage surpasses the others who must die so far, Odysseus would be seen a model of the great. So, the Poet’s education of Hades is the key in Odyssey. But, according to Odysseus’ own account, encountering Circe is the most important experience. If not Circe’s help, Odysseus cannot go down to Hades to ask Teiresias who reveals his future and the route of return home to him. He knows from Circe that souls are shadows (Hom.Od.10.495). Furthermore, Odysseus won’t leave Circe until his men demanded to return home repeatedly. In brief, the difference between Homer and Odysseus indicates that the figure does not yet understand the education of Hades, until he goes through all the vicissitudes of life. Close scrutiny of the eleventh book in Odyssey, we learn that everything will not exist in Hades, including our knowledge and courage, once man go down to there. Base on this, Homer teaches the ancient people that man should have great piety toward the Olympian gods, cherish this life, because talent, honors, wealth and authority cannot contend against Hades, even those extraordinary hero, son or mate of the Olympian gods also cannot escape from Hades, but melt into “a shadow of dream” (Pindar).           

However, the great political philosopher presents different views of Hades in the Plato’s Pheado. In this dramatic dialogue, Plato quietly replaces the journey to Hades in Odyssey with Socrates’ myth of the earth, about which Socrates talks to his youth friends as the last moment in life, describing to us another kind of darkness in the region of the invisible. Plato-Socrates teach us that a man where he go in the Hades after death is relate to his ways of life while living, especially relate to his studies in wisdom and virtue. By Socrates’ account of Hades we would not feel fear but calmness, while Odysseus’ account with an air of mystery and gloom make us  thrilled by fear. Socrates like an dear friend who is wise and kind, his account is a appeasement to our life in which full of fear, passion and desire.   

In brief, although the ancient poet and political philosopher tell us both the end-result of our souls, describing circumstances and sufferings in Hades, then forecast our future which is unknown but has been designated by Fate. However, they guide us to different region of the invisible, and cover the ending of life with different darkness.

Furthermore, Every of us who loves classical wisdom deeply must face a problem, that is how does we respond to the question of which life is the best life, whether the contemplative life or the active life ?

     Keywords:Homer; Odyssey; Plato; Pheado; Hades; Teachings