In ancient Greek mythology, Tartarus was one of the primordial deities and third in rank following Chaos and Gaea. In this form, he was also the father of the multi-headed snake Typhon. The primordial gods also embodied the things that they were believed to represent and, in this way, Tartarus was a deep abyss beneath Hades. The souls of those who were wicked in life were banned here to suffer an eternity of torment. The Greeks believed that the realm of earth was shaped like a dome, where the heavens were located at the top and Tartarus at the bottom. The distance between Tartarus and Hades was the same as the distance between Heaven and Earth, which was approximately nine days travel.
Tartarus did not just house the souls of the wicked, however, but also served as the courthouse for all those that had finished their earthly sojourn. Three judges decided which would wander the dreary halls of Hades, or endure the eternal torture of Tartarus. Rhadamanthus was the judge of Asian souls; Aeacus judged the Europeans and the final judge, Minos, had the deciding vote in any disputes as well as passed his judgement on the souls of the Greeks.
King Sisyphus was one of the evil spirits banned to Tartarus. Some of his most noteworthy offences were killing travellers that ate at his table, seducing his niece and divulging information about Zeus’ sexual conquests. Sisyphus was sentenced to constantly roll a large boulder uphill, never quite making it to the top. The boulder would roll back down right before it got to the hill’s peak and the king’s frustration was never-ending.
The Danaides were also sentenced to live an afterlife of performing an impossible task because they all murdered their husbands, as per their father’s instructions. They were supposed to carry water in a jug to fill a bath which would wash away their sins. The bath, however, was severely cracked and regardless of how much water they carried they were unable to get it filled. In other versions of the story the jugs had cracks in them and this is where the water would leak.
As the place of eternal punishment, Tartarus was surrounded by a bronze wall with a pair of gates and several other entrances. The gods also imprisoned those that they defeated here, including the Titans that Zeus banished after conquering them in the war for the dominion of Greece.
Even before Zeus became ruler of the gods Tartarus was being used as a prison. Kronos, the king of the Titans, imprisoned the one-eyed monster, Cyclopes, as well as the hundred armed Hecatonchires here. Zeus released these terrors when he was fighting the Titans, and their input helped to sway the war in his favour. The Hecatonchires now guard Tartarus and the souls of the damned continue to do their endless tasks, in the hope that one day their suffering may come to an end.