from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Underworld is the pictorial representation of a world beyond that occurs in the myths of many cultures and denotes a realm of the dead ("realm of the dead", "world of the dead"). Originally, underworld referred to everything 'that is under the surface of the earth', including the 'world of the dead imagined there' in Greek mythology.

Derived from the English underworld , the term underworld was established in the German language around the 1920s for so-called 'anti-social layers of criminals , criminal world ' and in contemporary language denotes a dodgy milieu of professional criminals , especially in large cities.


The concept of the underworld originally stood for the spatial conception of a place that is located below the normally accessible world (based on the concept of the earth as a disc), then increasingly for a place outside the world of mortals, where special beings and also the spirits of the deceased (hence the term "realm of the dead" or "realm of death") were suspected. This variant of the term is a precursor to later conceptions of the afterlife. In addition to the culture-specific aspects, there are also cross-cultural aspects, so there is usually a ruler or a pair of rulers from a family of gods who preside over it. The gods of the underworld are sometimes referred to as the chthonic powers (from Greek chthon , earth).

The underworld is the dwelling place of the death and underworld deities . The deceased arrive here, usually led by a soul guide or ferryman, across the border water. In the west, across the ocean, where the sun sets, the entrance to the underworld is believed. Guarded by demonic beings, it allows entry only for the dead and forbids it for the living.

In some cultures the underworld is a desolate and dark, yet morally unevaluated place to stay, in other cultures it is a horrific and agonizing hell and dwelling place of evil.

The Analytical Psychology in the tradition of Carl Gustav Jung brings the underworld in connection with the so-called. Mother archetype .


Greek mythology

In Greek mythology , the underworld is described as follows: Its ruler is the god Hades (Roman: Pluto ), it is also called Hades itself. Hades' wife is Persephone . With the help of the ferryman Charon , the river Styx , which separates the upper and lower world, can be crossed. The three-headed hellhound Cerberus guards the entrance and ensures that no living person enters Hades and no dead person leaves it.

The judges of the dead Minos , Rhadamanthys and Aiakos sit (according to later presentations) over the souls in judgment. Most of them go to the Elysian realms surrounded by the Lethe (stream of oblivion) , where they move painlessly as shadows or live in eternal bliss. (According to another, at least as old idea, the Elysion was far beyond the Ocean, on the islands of the blessed.) The wicked, however, are found in the Tartarus , the deepest region inhabited by eerie figures. Those who have committed wrongdoing against the gods are said to suffer eternal torment here. The area is surrounded by a bronze wall and the flaming river Pyriphlegeton and serves Zeus as a prison for wrongdoers and godly wicked (e.g. Tantalos , Sisyphus ).

Norse mythology

The terms Niflheim and Helheim refer to the underworld in Nordic mythology . The goddess Hel rules here, but she never appears in action and was personified only late. Your realm is surrounded by a river with a golden bridge over it. The giantess Modgudur guards the bridge and asks the newcomers about their names and gender, about others the helhund Garm . Only then and after overcoming the iron fence does the deceased soul reach the Helheim kingdom. Helheim is not a place of punishment , but a place of residence of the dead who have died of illness or old age (the "straw death" in bed or straw bed). The Edda describes the Náströmnd as the place of punishment within Helheim . Most of these ideas, however, are already influenced by Christianity or reflect Greek elements (Hellhound Garmr / Kerberos , Hell's River Gjoll / Styx , etc.) The Hel of the pre-Christian Teutons, on the other hand, was not a place of the damned, only the dark, foggy place of the dead, where they are similar to how they lived on in this world, but could not return (hence the waking giantess Modgudur in front of the Hell gate Helgrind). Also Walhalla as a place of fallen heroes came later added, and there was this place anyway only in the imagination of the North Germans.

Finnish mythology

In Finnish mythology , the Tuonela underworld is best described in the epicKalevala ”. It is ruled by Tuoni and Tuonetar .

Death gods from other cultures

The underworld in literature

The underworld or underworld trips were used in the most varied of ways in literature. The origins of these literary journeys into hell are probably in the Descensus of Christ as well as in ancient literary models such as the Katabasis of Odysseus , which among others served as a model for Virgil . Examples of literary trips to the underworld or to hell include:

Web links

Wiktionary: Abyssus [2]  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Realm of the Dead  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Underworld  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Etymological dictionary of German according to Pfeifer, online at DWDS , accessed on February 28, 2012
  2. ^ Unterwelt, die , duden.de, accessed on February 28, 2012
  3. Wolfgang Golther : Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie, 3rd edition. Magnus-Verlag, Kettwig 1987, OA 1908, ISBN 3-88400-111-6 , pp. 471-478.