The big differences in the atmosphere in various areas of the Underworld were to encourage the Greeks to strive to live as remarkably as possible while they were on earth. They believed that in order to become part of an extraordinary afterlife, you would have had to have made sure that your earthly life had also been extraordinary. Unfortunately, most of the country’s citizens had pretty ordinary existences and their souls would then pass on to the Fields of Asphodel, also known as the Asphodel Meadows.
The Asphodel plant is a perennial with small white flowers, and was believed to be the favourite food of the dead. The name was the only thing that the fields and the flowers had in common, however, because the meadows’ atmosphere was always dreary and dull. The flowers in these meadows were described as the colour of ash, and the souls wandered around in a joyless daze. These souls were referred to as shades, a name which must have been given to them in order to match their drab existence.
Life in the Asphodel Meadows was similar to life on earth without any of its pleasures. Before entering the fields the souls were required to drink from the River Lethe. After this, they lost any memory that they had of their previous lives, which is the main reason why they wandered around aimlessly and mechanically. There are stories in Greek mythology that show that there were shades who had managed to retain their memory even though they had also partaken of the river’s waters. One of the most well-known was the shade of the blind profit, Tiresias, who was still able to give Odysseus the directions to get home even after becoming a part of the dismal afterlife.
The souls in the Fields of Asphodel were numerous and clueless. In order to have a sense of order throughout the meadows, it was decided that a system should be put in place. This task was given to Daedalus, as the inventor of the labyrinth and other structures that were used throughout the cities of the Ancient Greeks. The oldest known demi-god and the son of Athena, Daedalus, managed to create a network of roads that were perfect for controlling the traffic of the souls in the Fields of Asphodel.
The heavenly Fields of Elysium were located on the outskirts of the Fields of Asphodel. This set up might have been made in order to further torture the wandering souls, as they would have had to watch the happy heroes making their way to their afterlife paradise. Wandering through these depressing fields might not have had as devastating an effect on the shades as we believe it should have. Being unable to remember anything from their previous lives meant that they wouldn’t have been able to miss their happiness, and might have just been in a comfortable daze.