Hell on Earth? Is the REAL location of the Ancient Underworld Right in Front of Us?
The myth of the underworld, much like the myth of the lost paradise and the worldwide deluge, is a universal one. Cultures from all across the world, past and present, widely separated and with seemingly no historical contact, believed in this mysterious realm that the spirits of the deceased went to after death. Hell, the Christian version of the myth and Sheol, the Jewish variant, are very familiar in Western society, but the Greeks, Egyptians, and Maya all believed in their own version of this myth. In Atlantis: The Antediluvian World , Ignatius Donnelly argued that the universal myth of the lost paradise was referring to a real and physical place, but he did not mention the underworld. In this article, I shall extend Donnelly’s thesis and undertake an in-depth analysis of the underworld and where it may have been, and how a real and physical place might have become transformed into the final resting place of souls departed both in the physical and the mythological planes.
Realm of the Spirits
The Greeks believed that the underworld was very much a real place that the lucky few, blessed by the gods, could venture to. For example, Ulysses, in his quest to return to his wife and family on the island of Ithaca after the Trojan War, visited the underworld, meeting with the spirits of his father and the dead Achilles.
Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld, 1806. ( Public Domain )
Moreover, they believed that the underworld was located in the far west, beyond the pillars of Heracles, somewhere where the sun continued to shine after it had already set over Greece itself. Hesiod placed the underworld in Oceanus, the western sea, or the Atlantic Ocean, and called it Hades.
Hell on Earth?
Hades has been interpreted by contemporary scholars, and the Ancient Greeks themselves, as being an underground world. Could they both have been mistaken? Could the underworld, in actuality, have been not a world literally beneath our feet but a land so conspicuously low compared to other lands that it merited the designation of an underworld?
Although there are a million words in the English language, there are no words that describe the idea of a land below sea level. Even altitude and elevation, the words used to describe the height of a location above a given level, assume that the location being discussed is above sea level .
Mark Twain, best known for his novels, was also among the most quotable writers of his time. Among his memorable quotes is one that may be particularly relevant to unveiling the true nature of the underworld:
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter, for it is the difference between the lightning bug and lightning.”
Could it be that the word “underworld” is just that, the exactly the right word for a land situated below sea level?
- When Ancient Masters Ruled the Earth: The Mysterious Depths of the Saint Croix Basin
- The Hell of Tartarus, Ancient Greek Prison of the Damned
- Ragnarok: Norse Account of Strange & Wonderful Land Doomed to Destruction – Part I
There are several advantages to this interpretation of the underworld. Firstly, there is strong evidence suggesting that a dry and habitable, below-sea-level basin did exist contemporaneously with behaviorally modern man , namely the Caribbean. Secondly, the Caribbean is exactly where the Ancient Greeks placed the underworld – somewhere in the remote west, across the Atlantic Ocean, for Ulysses was said to have “reached the far confines of Oceanus,” or the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in his odyssey to the underworld. Thirdly, I shall demonstrate that an underworld that is a below-sea-level basin instead of an underground realm naturally and elegantly accounts for the transformation of Hades from a land of the living to the land of the dead. Finally, the Caribbean Basin contains within it a trench that strongly resembles a certain primordial abyss that features prominently in many Greek myths.
A Land of Life and a Land of Death
In the Odyssey, a myth dating back to the Heroic Age of Greece, Homer portrays the underworld as a gloomy realm of deceased spirits and shades. However, in myths that depict events taking place in the distant past, Hades is described as an abode of the living. For example, in the myth of the Titanomachy, or the war between the Titans and the Olympians, Zeus, son of Kronus, rebelled against his father and the Titans, the elder race of Gods, and emerged victorious in a ten-year-long war. Upon his victory, Zeus imprisoned the defeated Titans in Tartarus. There is no mention of spirits, shades, and ghosts in this version of Hades, and if Hesiod had called Hades and Tartarus by another name, one would hardly suspect that the setting of this war between the Titans and the Olympians was in any way a spiritual realm.