What items are necessary for a mortal to travel safely in the underworld?

  • I am currently working on a performance where the hero has to make it through the underworld and back. I am assuming there are things such a traveller could bring with them to safely complete the journey. A well-known example would be the coin for Charon's ferry.

    What other items would help a mortal to travel safely in the underworld?

    Hello *Vilhelm*! Are you interested in mythological references about characters who ventured into the underworld from Greek mythology? Or are you looking to create your own world with your own rules about how you want to represent your underworld? If it's the latter the sister site WorldBuilding.SE might be interesting for you. We don't deal with opinion-based questions about what a character should do, but maybe we could rework this a bit if that fits your goal. What are the dangers you expect for example? [Tour] and [Help] may be useful for you.

    Hello. We generally favour specific questions over broad list-type ones. I tried to narrow this down a bit by making it explicitly about the Greek underworld. You may find more details on our guidelines in our help center.

    Oh, and you can find WorldBuildings tour here and the corresponding help center here.

    The coin is for the one-way passengers, the dead: I do not recall its appearance in mythological accounts of round trips to the underworld by living persons. Such a mythic/epic episode is termed a *katabasis:* the most famous examples are *Odyssey* 11 and *Aeneid* 6. A "sop" (actually a drugged cake) for Cerberus appears in the latter, provided not by the traveler Aeneas but by his guide the Sybil. The great talisman for that visit, though, is the golden bough. Odysseus took his sword and a black ram for sacrifice. Drinking the blood from this sacrifice enabled the shades to speak to him.

    @BrianDonovan Great info. You should do a formal answer!

    Thanks! I am interested in ALL underworlds in this part of my work. To get inspired. and in the end take out the best from all of them. And I will check out the Worldbuilding.se All the best, Vilhelm

    There's also a story in Greek mythology about Orpheus the musician entering the underworld alive to return his dead wife Eurydikē from there. Orpheus made the trip but didn't manage to rescue his wife. The Kalevala also has what I think is a journey through the underworld with return.

    I am familiar to the Euridike story, thanks for the Kaleavala tip, I will check that out. Vilhelm.

    See also https://gaming.stackexchange.com/q/197475/48048 "How do I survive in the Underworld?" (on Arqade).

  • I don't know about specific items or how you could fit this in your performance, but the first step for a mortal to prepare for a roundtrip journey to Hades should be to initiate themselves in the Eleusinian Mysteries. We can only speculate on the details involved, but being an initiate apparently helped Herakles to bring Cerberus up from Hades:

    [4.25.1] But when Heracles had made the circuit of the Adriatic, and had journeyed around the gulf on foot, he came to Epirus, whence he made his way to Peloponnesus. And now that he had performed the tenth Labour he received a Command from Eurystheus to bring Cerberus up from Hades to the light of day. And assuming that it would be to his advantage for the accomplishment of this Labour, he went to Athens and took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries, Musaeus, the son of Orpheus, being at that time in charge of the initiatory rites.

    Source: The Library of History of Diodorus Siculus. Published in Vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1935

  • It depends on the religion and who you are talking about. In Sumerian religion Inanna or Ishtar needed a crown, rings in her ears, beads, toggle pins, girdle birthstone, bangles, and garment. Which was all taken off when entering each gate. The reason for this was to make her weaker. Ishtar got her items back for they were magickal and the Gods helped her get out of the underworld. There is a story were Gilgamesh attains objects from the underworld, which is another Sumerian or Mesopotamia story. A lot of Gods, Goddesses, Demi-Gods, Entities, and Heroes all had to have items to go to the underworld or had to attain items from the underworld. The underworld would be a place depicted as looking the same as earth. Other depictions would be of fire, monsters, and total darkness. There is stories that talk about civilizations living under ground and having cities. I would look at each hero and type in what items they used. It should be really simple because there are a lot of stories involving going into the underworld.

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