The Ancient Greeks respected their heroes almost as much as they did their gods, and the myths written about them are as interesting and as numerous. This ‘hero worship’ meant that there was even a special resting place for their souls, known as The Fields of Elysium or The Fortunate Islands. In addition to those who were able to prove themselves as above others through their heroic deeds, the souls of other virtuous Greeks would be allowed to rest in peace here.
The fields were believed to be located on the western edge of the Earth, close to the Okeanus stream. They were described as having beautiful green grass and springs of glowing water and wine made from the nectar of Ambrosia, which was the drink of the gods.
The types of souls that were allowed to enter Elysium were:
• Heroes – Trojan War heroes such as Achilles and Diomedes entered Elysium after deaths, and it was assumed that all other heroes did as well.
• Mortals related to the gods/Demi-gods – Hercules, as both a hero and the son of Zeus, Helene daughter of Zeus and Lykos (Lycus) son of Poseidon are examples of demi-gods that resided here.
• Those chosen by the gods, because of how virtuously they had led their earthly lives, or even because of death by unexpected misfortune – Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, and sons, Telegonos and Telemakhos were allowed to enter the fields to continue their eternal lives with their husband and father.
There realm was divided into two sections:
• The Isles of the Blessed – This island paradise was reserved for heroes only. This meant that it was a place of constant euphoria and would have surpassed any earthly feeling imaginable. In some stories it was ruled by Kronos (the Titan) and in others Zeus’ son Rhadamathys was in charge.
• The Lethean Fields of Hades – These fields were separated from the Underworld by the river Lethe. They were pleasant areas for the souls of the virtuous to remain, but did not come close to the unbounded ecstasy that was associated with the Isles of the Blessed.
Those that entered the Lethean Fields had the option of being reincarnated and if they made it back three times, their soul would move up to the heroes’ paradise.
Even though the fields weren’t a part of heaven, they were still a place of infinite peace and the souls residing here became a prominent part of history without threatening the gods’ superiority. They were transported directly to Elysium without going through the death process that had to be completed before entering Hades, after being granted their immortality.