Elysium

In Greek mythology, Elysium (Greek: Ἠλύσια πεδία) was a section of the Underworld (the spelling Elysium is a Latinization of the Greek word Elysion). The Elysian Fields, or the Elysian Plains, were the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous.

Elysium is an obscure name that evolved from a designation of a place or person struck by lightning, enelysion, enelysios. This could be a reference to Zeus, the god of lightning, so "lightning-struck" could be saying that the person was blessed (struck) by Zeus (lightning). Scholars have also suggested that Greek Elysion may have instead been derived from the Egyptian term ialu (older iaru), meaning "reeds," with specific reference to the "Reed Fields" (Egyptian: sekhet iaru / ialu), a paradisaical land of plenty where the dead hoped to spend eternity.

Elysium is thus clearly equivalent to the Summerland.

The ruler of Elysium varies from author to author; Pindar names the ruler as Kronos, released from Tartaros and ruling in a palace:

And those that have three times kept to their oaths,

Keeping their souls clean and pure,

Never letting their hearts be defiled by the taint

Of evil and injustice,

And barbaric venality,

They are led by Zeus to the end:

To the palace of Kronos

Other authors claim that Kronos remained in Tartarus for all eternity, and the judge was another, sometimes Rhadamanthys.

Two Homeric passages in particular established for Greeks the nature of the Afterlife: the dreamed apparition of the dead Patroclus in the Iliad and the more daring boundary-breaking visit in Book 11 of the Odyssey. Greek traditions concerning funerary ritual were reticent, but the Homeric examples encouraged other heroic visits, in the myth cycles centered around Theseus and Heracles.

The Elysian Fields lay on the western margin of the earth, by the encircling stream of Oceanos, and there the mortal relatives of the king of the gods were transported, without tasting death, to enjoy an immortality of bliss (Odyssey 4.563). Lesser spirits were not quite as fortunate: an eerie passage describes the twittering bat-like ghosts of Penelope's slain suitors, led by Hermes:

down the dank

mouldering paths and past the Ocean's streams they went

and past the White Rock and the Sun's Western Gates and past

the Land of Dreams, and soon they reached the fields of asphodel

where the dead, the burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home
—Odyssey 24.5-9, translation by Robert Fagles

Hesiod refers to the Isles of the Blessed (makarôn nêsoi) in the Western Ocean (Works and Days). Walter Burkert notes the connection with the motif of far-off Dilmun: "Thus Achilles is transported to the White Isle, which may refer to Mount Teide on Tenerife, whose volcano is often snowcapped and as the island was sometimes called the white isle by explorers, and becomes the Ruler of the Black Sea, and Diomedes becomes the divine lord of an Adriatic island."

Pindar makes it a single island:

And those that have three times kept to their oaths,

Keeping their souls clean and pure,

Never letting their hearts be defiled by the taint

Of evil and injustice,

And barbaric veniality,

They are led by Zeus to the end:

To the palace of Kronos,

Where soothing breezes off the Ocean

Breathe over the Isle of the Blessed:

All around flowers are blazing with a

Dazzling light:

Some springing from the shining trees,

Others nourished by the water from the sea:

With circlets and garlands of flowers they

Crown their hands,

Ruled by the steadfast councils of

Rhadamanthys:

Rhadamanthys,

The great Judge,

Whom the Father,

The husband of Rhea,

Whose throne is higher than all:

The great Father keeps him by his side,

His loyal advisor.

Peleus and Kadmos both are there,

And Akhilleus, brought there by his mother,

After she had conquered the heart of Zeus with her

Prayers

In Elysium where fields of the pale liliaceous asphodel, and poplars grew, there stood the gates that led to the house of Ais (in Attic dialect "Hades").

In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas, like Heracles and Odysseus before him, travels to the underworld. Virgil describes an encounter in Elysium between Aeneas and his father Anchises. Virgil's Elysium knows perpetual spring and shady groves, with its own sun and lit by its own stars: solemque suum, sua sidera norunt (Aeneid, 6.541).

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