Pluto was one of three brothers and two sisters born to the Roman god, Saturn, and his goddess wife, Ops. Upon the death of Saturn and after the defeat of the Titans, the three brothers divided the realms of their father. Jupiter received the sky as his dominion; Neptune, the sea, and Pluto, the underworld. Though it may seem like Pluto received an inferior inheritance than that of his younger brothers, the Roman underworld was far less sinister than one might imagine.
The Romans recognized that many good things came from beneath the earth, gold, silver, and their crops being chief among them, so Pluto and his domain were not considered be all that terrible. It is said that Pluto lived in a magnificent palace at the entrance to the Elysian Fields, although being underground, it was quite a dark palace.
Tools of War
During the war with the Titans, the Cyclopes gifted the three brothers tools to aid them in battle. Jupiter was given thunder and lightning, Neptune received a trident, and Pluto, a Helmet of Invisibility. As its name would imply, the helmet’s primary function was to render its wearer invisible to foes, but it was also said to conceal the true nature of the wearer as well, making it easier to practice deceit. On several occasions, other gods borrowed Pluto’s Helmet to accomplish their own feats, but Pluto was always known to be its primary owner.
Besides his Helmet, Pluto was known to possess a few other key items as well. He was often depicted driving an ebony chariot drawn by 4 black horses. As the ruler of the underworld, he also held the keys to the large gates that locked the dead souls permanently within his kingdom. His three headed dog, Cerberus, helped guard the entrance to the underworld, making sure that no one was able to escape as the gates were closed behind them.
The Role of Pluto
Pluto’s chief duty as God of the Underworld was to meet the newly dead after they were rowed across the River Styx and then to bind the souls in chains and escort them to be judged. After they were judged according to the life they had lived and their deeds while on earth, Pluto then escorted them to their new homes in the underworld. Those who were judged to be good would live forever in in the blissful Elysium Fields, the land of the blessed; the evil were sentenced to a dark eternity in Tartarus, the region of torment.
To ensure that Pluto dealt with their departed loved ones fairly, Romans made yearly sacrifices of all black bulls, sheep, or pigs to him in night time ceremonies. The sacrifices were done over a pit so that the blood could drip down to Pluto in the underworld. Additionally, cypress wood was usually burned at Roman funerals, as it was sacred to Pluto.
An Unlikely Love
After a time, Pluto recognized that he needed a wife to help him rule and to have an heir. Unfortunately, being that Pluto was rather pale and homely from spending so much of his time underground, none of the goddesses wanted to marry him and come live in his dark and gloomy kingdom. During one of his visits above ground he was playfully shot by one of Cupid‘s arrows and immediately fell in love with the goddess Proserpine, who was frolicking near the river with her maids. He grabbed the beautiful Proserpine and rode away with her in his chariot, and, opening a passage in the river Chemarus, descended with her into the night lands. In spite of being violently kidnapped from her home, Proserpine eventually grew to love Pluto, and, unlike most other gods, Pluto was always faithful to her.
Poor Lost Souls
Pluto and Proserpine were visited in the underworld on a few occasions by living souls who were seeking lost souls. One such visitor was Orpheus, who was said to be able to charm even the trees with his delightful music. He came to ask for the return of his bride, and played his music for Pluto and Proserpine in hopes of charming them into granting the soul of his lost Euridice. Though they were greatly touched by his request, they simply could not allow him to take Euridice back to the living world with him. Another visitor was Odysseus, who needed to consult with Teiresias for help on his quest.
On another occasion, Protesilaus, an heroic soldier killed in the battle against the Titans plead with Pluto to return his soul to the land of the living so that he could be reunited with his young wife. Knowing the love of his own wife and understanding how the soldier felt, Pluto tried to comfort him with the reassurance that the two of them would surely be reunited in death. Proserpine was so moved by Protesilaus’s request that she intervened to Pluto on his behalf, asking if there was nothing that could be done. Out of love for his wife, Pluto finally granted the couple one last day together.
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