The whole imaginary Roman underworld, which we tend to call Hell, though according to the ancients it was the receptacle of all departed persons, of the good as well as the bad, is divided into five parts: the first may be called the previous region; the second is the region of waters, or the river which they were all to pass; the third is what we may call the gloomy region, and what the ancients called Erebus; the fourth is Tartarus, or the region of torments; and the fifth the region of joy and bliss, or what we still call Elysium.
The first part of the Roman Underworld has two sorts of beings; first, with those which make the real misery of mankind upon earth, such as war, discord, labor, grief, cares, distempers, and old age; and, secondly, with fancied terrors, and all the most frightful creatures of our own imagination, such as Gorgons, Harpies and the like.
The next part of the Roman Underworld is the water which all the departed were supposed to pass, to enter into the other world; this was called Styx, or the hateful passage: the imaginary personages of this division are the souls of the departed, who are either passing over, or suing for a passage, and the master of a vessel who carries them over, one freight after another, according to his will and pleasure.
The third division of the Roman Underworld begins immediately with the bank on the other side the river, and was supposed to extend a great way in: it is subdivided again into several particular districts; the first seems to be the receptacle for infants. The next for all such as have been put to death without a cause; next is the place for those who have put a period to their own lives, a melancholy region, and situated amidst the marshes made by the overflowings of the Styx, or hateful river, or passage into the other world: after this are the fields of mourning, full of dark woods and groves, and inhabited by those who died of love: last of all spreads an open country, allotted for the souls of departed warriors; the name of this whole division is Erebus: its several districts seem to be disposed all in a line, one after the other, but after this the great line or road divides into two, of which the right hand road leads to Elysium, or the place of the blessed, and the left hand road to Tartarus, or the place of the tormented.
The fourth general division of the subterraneous Roman Underworld is this Tartarus, or the place of torments: there was a city in it, and a prince to preside over it: within this city was a vast deep pit, in which the tortures were supposed to be performed: in this horrid part Virgil places two sorts of souls; first, of such as have shown their impiety and rebellion toward the gods; and secondly, of such as have been vile and mischievous among men: those, as he himself says of the latter more particularly, who hated their brethren, used their parents ill, or cheated their dependants, who made no use of their riches, who committed incest, or disturbed the marriage union of others, those who were rebellious subjects, or knavish servants, who were despisers of justice, or betrayers of their country, and who made and unmade laws not for the good of the public, but only to get money for themselves; all these, and the despisers of the gods, Virgil places in this most horrid division of his subterraneous world, and in the vast abyss, which was the most terrible part even of that division.
The fifth division of the Roman Underworld is that of Elysium, or the place of the blessed; here Virgil places those who died for their country, those of pure lives, truly inspired poets, the inventors of arts, and all who have done good to mankind: he does not speak of any particular districts for these, but supposes that they have the liberty of going where they please in that delightful region, and conversing with whom they please; he only mentions one vale, towards the end of it, as appropriated to any particular use; this is the vale of Lethe or forgetfulness, where many of the ancient philosophers, and the Platonists in particular, supposed the souls which had passed through some periods of their trial, were immersed in the river which gave its name to it, in order to be put into new bodies, and to fill up the whole course of their probation, in an upper world.
In each of these three divisions of the Roman Underworld, on the other side of the river Styx, which perhaps were comprehended under the name of Ades, as all the five might be under that of Orcus, was a prince or judge: Minos for the regions of Erebus; Rhadamanthus for Tartarus; and Aeacus for Elysium, Pluto and Proserpine had their palace at the entrance of the road to the Elysian fields, and presided as sovereigns over the whole subterraneous world.
The content of this Roman Underworld category on life in Ancient Rome provides free educational details, facts and information for reference and research for schools, colleges and homework. Refer to the Colosseum Sitemap for a comprehensive search on interesting different categories containing the history, facts and information about Ancient Rome.