Three Judges of the Underworld

The three judges of the souls in the Underworld were Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanthus. When these men died, they were assigned to judge the dead. The Underworld was an extremely vast area with an entrance called Avernus. Hermes led the souls to Avernus and headed the ferry that went across the Acheron. When a spirit, assuming that a Greek coin was placed on the lips of the corpse, was brought across the River Styx by Charon,  the spirit passed by Cerberus who stood guard at the entrance of the realm of Hades. A spirit, however, would not be brought across the River Styx if the fare could not be paid. Upon passing Cerberus, who allowed all to enter but no one to exit, the soul would confront the three aforementioned judges. The soul would then be judged and would most likely become a ghost in the Elysian Fields. However, harsh sentences would be handed out to any of the dead who committed atrocities, which included the disrespecting of the parents and the defying of the gods.

Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa and the King of Crete. He had ruled over Crete, along with the islands of the Aegean Sea. During hardships, Minos had appealed to Poseidon for aid. As a result, Poseidon sent a white bull that Minos was supposed to sacrifice to Poseidon, but Minos decided otherwise. Enraged, Poseidon cursed Minos’ wife, Pasiphae. Then, Daedalus decided to construct a wooden bull for Pasiphae to take shelter in from Poseidon, but the bull impregnated Pasiphae, resulting in the birth of the Minotaur who was eventually contained in the labyrinth. According to one myth, Minos was said to have passed away in Sicily during his quest to find Daedalus who had divulged the clue as to how to escape out of the labyrinth. In addition, Minos traveled from city to city to find Daedalus, and when Minos reached Camicus in Sicily, he confronted King Cocalus who had taken Daedalus into his court. Minos was then killed with boiling water, while taking a bath, by the daughters of Cocalus. Another conventional myth entailed Minos as a great ruler who died and became the “appeals court” judge, joining Aeacus and Rhadamanthus. Therefore, Minos’ role as a judge, after his death, was to have the deciding vote, which held significant weight in the judging of the souls in the Underworld.

Aeacus was the King of the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf and was notable for his loyalty and sound judgment during his reign over all the Hellas. He was the son of Zeus and Aegina, whose mother was Asopus. During his reign, his kingdom experienced a dire plague, and consequently, he made an appeal to Zeus for aid. As a response, Zeus changed the local ants into people, known as the Myrmidones. Interestingly enough, Aeacus was also said to be the grandfather of Achilles, and eventually, Aeacus constructed a temple dedicated to Zeus, while helping both Poseidon and Apollo construct the famous walls of Troy. Aeacus became the judge of the Eurpeans in the Underworld after his death.

Rhadamanthus, was the son of Zeus and Europa, raised by Asterion, and the brother of Minos and Sarpedon. According to one myth, he ruled Crete prior to Minos’ rule but was driven out by Minos who was fueled by jealousy. Another version of a myth encompassed Minos expelling Rhadamanthus from Crete, and Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthus quarreling over Miletus, the son of Apollo and Areia. Naturally, Miletus preferred Sarpedon, so Minos, driven by revenge, conquered all of Crete. After his death, Rhadamanthus, as a result of his “inflexible integrity” became a judge of the Asians in the Underworld. Virgil’s The Aeneid notes that Rhadamanthus was responsible for punishing the damned in the Underworld.