Tartarus

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Important Information:

  1. Pronounced TAR tah russ
  2. Existed at the start of life and time
  3. Simultaneously a god and a place
  4. The god is obscure, but can still produce Typhon, Echidna, the Gigantes, and the Telchines
  5. The place starts out as the lowest, deepest pit below Hell
  6. The place turns into (as views change) a prison-like place of punishment
  7. Surrounded by 3 layers of night, an unearthly bronze wall, and Pyriphlegethon
  8. Inhabited by creatures like the Cyclopes, the Titans, and the Hecatonchires
  9. Inhabited by humans like Sisyphus, Ixion, and Tantalus


Origin:

Tartarus is a metaphysical being that is simultaneously a deity and a place that came into existence at the beginning of the universe, during creation. It is known as a primordial object because it was one of the very first entities to be spawned from the dark void of space called Chaos alongside Eros (which is Love) and Gaia (which is the Earth).

Tartarus the Being:

Not much is known about Tartarus the Being, who personifies the worst form of incoherent gloom imaginable. Because there is only a fine line of distinction between Tartarus the Being and Tartarus the Place due to the nature of primordial objects, he may be mainly the substance of the doom and gloom instead of being a man-shaped god himself. Yet, he is somehow still capable of producing offspring and ends up fathering Typhon (the storm-giant), Echidna (the she-dragon), and the Gigantes (a tribe of one hundred giants) with Gaia, and the Telchines (seventeen magician-smiths) with Nemesis.

Tartarus the Place:

Tartarus the Place is much more well-known and is the deepest, darkest chasm or abyss possible; even lower than Hades (the Underworld). At first, Greek poets and philosophers looked at Tartarus as an enormous pit. Homer’s “The Iliad” states that it is as distant from the Earth as the Earth is from the sky, and extends downward twice as far as the distance seen looking upward to Heaven. According to Hesiod, the Greek poet, in his poem “Theogony,” it would take a bronze anvil nine days to fall from Heaven and land on the Earth, and then another nine days for the anvil to fall to Tartarus. It is the source of all rivers, which flow into and out of it as well. Another way that Tartarus has been described is as a pit that is the opposite to the dome shape of the sky.
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Diagram of the relative position of Tartarus


Tartarus the Place of Punishment:

As time progressed, the Greeks and Romans began to think of Tartarus as not just an unthinkably deep, dark, wretched pit, but as the ultimate confinement or place of punishment for those that had really lost favor with the gods and deserved the worst form of retribution. This place is the exact polar opposite of Elysium, or the afterlife where blessed people went. The murky depths of Tartarus are extremely dark, as the whole place is surrounded by a triple-thick layer of pure night. Because of the utter intense pitch black darkness present there, Tartarus is personified with Erebus, the substance of darkness.

This prison-like description of Tartarus includes a grand portal entrance with solid pillars unbreakable even by the gods; this is guarded with a whip by the never-sleeping, bloodstained Erinye, Tisiphone (or the first of the three Furies). Around Tartarus is a bronze wall that is unearthly in material, which is surrounded by the three layers of night, and also surrounded by a flaming river called Pyriphlegethon. All of these combined make it literally impossible for anyone to escape (it doesn’t matter if you are a god or not).
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"Hell (Tartarus)" engraving by Bernard Picart


Inhabitants of Tartarus:

There were many gods or beings cast into the dank depths of this imprisonment. Some of these include: the Cyclopes, many of the Titans, the three Hecatonchires (enormous monsters that have fifty heads and one hundred strong arms), and the serpent monster Typhon. The most famous humans that got sent to Tartarus were Sisyphus, Ixion, and Tantalus. Each had unique punishments there: Sisyphus had to continually push a boulder up a cliff just to have it roll back down again; Ixion was chained to a burning wheel that endlessly kept rolling; and Tantalus was forever tied down in the middle of a river with a berry tree over his head and was incapable of either eating the berries or drinking the water because they receded from him.

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Sisyphus with his boulder punishment


























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Tantalus's starvation punishment