Judges of the Dead
RHADAMANTHYS, MINOS and AIAKOS (Aeacus) were the judges of the dead, three demi-god ministers of Haides. They were originally mortal men, sons of the god Zeus, who were granted their station in death as a reward for establishing law and order on earth.
Individually, Aiakos was guardian of the keys of Haides and judge of the men of Europe, Rhadamanthys the lord of Elysion (Elysium) and judge of the men of Asia, and Minos the judge of the third and final vote. According to some Triptolemos was a fourth judge who presided over the souls of Initiates of the Mysteries.
The name Aiakos was derived from the Greek words aiaktos and aiazô, “wailing” and “lamentation.” The etymology of the other names is obscure.
The mortal lives of the three judges is not detailed on this page only their role in the afterlife.
RHADAMANTHUS (Rhadamanthos), a son of Zeus and Europa (Hesiod Catalogues Frag 19, Aeschylus Frag 50 & various other sources), and brother of king Minos of Crete (Hom. Il. xiv. 322), or, according to others, a son of Hephaestus (Paus. viii. 53. § 2). From fear of his brother he fled to Ocaleia in Boeotia, and there married Alcmene. In consequence of his justice throughout life, he became, after his death, one of the judges in the lower world, and took up his abode in Elysium. (Apollod. iii. 1. § 2, ii. 4. § 11; Hom. Od. iv. 564, vii. 323; Pind. Ol. ii. 137.)
AE′ACUS (Aiakos), a son of Zeus and Aegina, a daughter of the river-god Asopus. (Hesiod Catalogues Frag 53, Pindar Isthmian 8, Pindar Nemean 7, Corinna Frag 654, Bacchylides Frag 9, Apollodorus 3.156, Pausanias 2.29.2, Diodorus Siculus 4.72.1, Antoninus Liberalis 38, Hyginus Fabulae 52, Ovid Metamorphoses 13.25, Nonnus Dionysiaca 13.201) He was born in the island of Oenone or Oenopia, whither Aegina had been carried by Zeus to secure her from the anger of her parents, and whence this island was afterwards called Aegina. (Apollod. iii. 12. § 6; Hygin. Fab. 52; Paus. ii. 29. § 2; comp. Nonn. Dionys. vi. 212; Ov. Met. vi. 113, vii. 472, &c.). After his death Aeacus became one of the three judges in Hades (Ov. Met. xiii. 25; Hor. Carm. ii. 13. 22), and according to Plato (Gorg. p. 523; compare Apolog. p. 41; Isocrat. Evag. 5) especially for the shades of Europeans. In works of art he was represented bearing a sceptre and the keys of Hades. (Apollod. iii. 12. § 6; Pind. Isthm. viii. 47, &c.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Plato, Gorgias 523a and 524b ff (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
“Well, first of all,’ he said, ‘we must put a stop to their foreknowledge of their death; for this they at present foreknow. However, Prometheus has already been given the word to stop this in them. Next they must be stripped bare of all those things before they are tried; for they must stand their trial dead. Their judge also must be naked, dead, beholding with very soul the very soul of each immediately upon his death, bereft of all his kin and having left behind on earth all that fine array, to the end that the judgement may be just. Now I, knowing all this before you, have appointed sons of my own to be judges; two from Asia, Minos and Rhadamanthys, and one from Europe, Aiakos (Aeacus). These, when their life is ended, shall give judgement in the meadow at the dividing of the road, whence are the two ways leading, one to the Isles of the Blest (Nesoi Makaron), and the other to Tartaros. And those who come from Asia shall Rhadamanthys try, and those from Europe, Aiakos; and to Minos I will give the privilege of the final decision, if the other two be in any doubt; that the judgement upon this journey of mankind may be supremely just . . .’”
Plato, Apology 41a (trans. Fowler) :
“Sokrates (Socrates) : For if a man when he reaches the other world, after leaving behind these who claim to be judges, shall find those who are really judges who are said to sit in judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthys, and Aiakos (Aeacus) and Triptolemos, and all the other demigods who were just men in their lives, would the change of habitation be undesirable?”
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8. 7 :
“In the weighing of souls again the poets tell you that, although after his [Minos’] death he [Zeus] presented Minos the brother of Sarpedon with a golden sceptre, and appointed him judge in the court of Aidoneos [Haides], yet he could not exempt him from the decree of the Moirai (Fates).”
Ovid, Metamorphoses 13. 25 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“Aeacus, who sits as judge there in the silent world where Sisyphus strains at his heavy stone; and Juppiter [Zeus] most high claims Aeacus and owns him as his son.”
Propertius, Elegies 2. 20 (trans. Goold) (Roman elegy C1st B.C.) :
“If I do, then may the very Erinyes of tragedy persecute me and may Aeacus convict me at the assize in hell, and may one among Tityus’ vultures range to be my punishment, and then may I carry rocks, enduring the toil of borne by Sisyphus.”
Propertius, Elegies 4. 11 :
“If there is an Aeacus who sits as judge with the urn before him, let him judge my shade when my lot is draw: let his brothers sit as assessors, and beside the chair of Minos the stern band of the Eumenides [Erinyes], while all the court is hushed to listen to my trial. Sisyphus, rest from your rock! Let Ixion’s wheel be silent! Frustrating water, be caught on Tantalus’s lips! Let fierce Cerberus rush at no Shades today, but let his chain hang slack from a silent bolt. I shall speak in my own defence: if I speak falsely, let the luckless urn that is the Danaids’ punishment weight down my shoulders.”
Seneca, Hercules Furens 731 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
“Is the report true that in the Underworld justice, though tardy, is meted out, and that guilty souls who have forgot their crimes suffer due punishment? Who is that lord of truth, that arbiter of justice? Not one inquisitor alone sits on the high judgment-seat and allots his tardy sentences to trembling culprits. In yonder court they pass to Cretan Minos’ presence, in that to Rhadamanthus’, here [Aiakos (Aeacus)] the father of Thetis’ spouse gives audience. What each has done, he suffers; upon its author the crime comes back, and the guilty soul is crushed by its own form of guilt. I have seen bloody chiefs immured in prison; the insolent tyrant’s back torn by plebeian hands. He who reigns mildly and, though lord of life, keeps guiltless hands, who mercifully and without bloodshed rules his realm, checking his own spirit, he shall traverse long stretches of happy life and at last gain the skies, or else in bliss reach Elysium’s joyful land and sit in judgment there. Abstain from human blood, all ye who rule : with heavier punishment your sins are judged.”
Seneca, Troades 344 ff :
“Achilles who by right of lineage extends throughout the realm of the immortals and claims the universe: the sea through Thetis, through Aeacus [his grandfather] the shades [i.e. as a judge of the dead], the heavens through Jove [Zeus his great-grandfather].”
Statius, Thebaid 8. 21 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
“The lord of Erebus [Haides], enthroned in the midst of the fortress of his dolorous realm, was demanding of his subjects the misdoings of their lives, pitying nought human but wroth against all the Manes (Shades). Around him stand the Furiae (Furies) [Erinyes] and various Mortes (Deaths) [Thanatoi] in order due, and savage Poena (Vengeance) thrusts forth her coils of jangling chains; the Fatae (Fates) [Moirai] bring the Animas (Souls) and with one gesture damn them; too heavy grows the work. Hard by, Minos with his dread brother [Rhadamanthys] in kindly mood counsels a milder justice, and restrains the bloodthirsty king [Haides]; [the River-Gods] Cocytus and Phelgethon, swollen with tears and fire, aid in the judgement, and Styx accuses the gods of perjury.”
Statius, Silvae 3. 3. 15 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
“Begone, begone, ye wicked, all in hose hearts is a crime unspoken, any who deems his aged sire has lived too long, or, conscious of ever having struck his mother, fears the urn of unbending Aeacus in the world below.”
AEACUS DOORKEEPER OF HADES
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 159 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
“Aiakos (Aeacus) was the most religious of all men . . . and Aiakos, even after death, is honoured in the company of Plouton (Pluton) [Haides], and has charge of the keys of Haides’ realm.”
Aristophanes, Frogs 466 & 605 ff (trans. O’Neill) (Greek comedy C5th to 4th B.C.) :
“[Comedy play in which Dionysos travels to the underworld to bring back the greatest of the tragic poets. Aiakos (Aeacus) appears as the doorkeeper of Hades :]
Dionysos : What’s the right way to knock [on the gates of Haides]? I wonder how the natives here are wont to knock at doors.
Xanthias : No dawdling: taste the door. You’ve got, remember, the lion-hide and pride of Herackes.
Dionysos (knocking) : Boy! boy! (The door opens. Aiakos [one of the judges of the dead] appears.)
Aiakos (Aeacus) : Who’s there?
Dionysos : I, Herakles the strong! [Dionysos is disguised as Herakles.]
Aiakos : O, you most shameless desperate ruffian, you O, villain, villain, arrant vilest villain! Who seized our Kerberos (Cerberus) by the throat, and fled, and ran, and rushed, and bolted, haling of the dog, my charge! But now I’ve got thee fast. So close the Styx’s inky-hearted rock, the blood-bedabbled peak of Akheron (Acheron) shall hem thee in: the hell-hounds of Kokytos (Cocytus) prowl round thee; whilst Ekhidna (Echidna) with her hundred-heads shall rive thy heart-strings: the Tartesian Lamprey prey on thy lungs: and those Tithrasian Gorgones mangle and tear thy kidneys, mauling them, entrails and all, into one bloody mash. I’ll speed a running foot to fetch them hither. (Exit Aiakos).
[Dionysos swaps costumes with his slave dressing up as the slave of Herakles] . . .
(Re-enter Aiakos with assistants.)
Aiakos : Seize the dog-stealer [Dionysos’ slave disguised as Herakles], bind him, pinion him, drag him to justice.
Dionysos : Somebody’s going to catch it.
Xanthias (striking out) : Hands off! away! stand back!
Aiakos : Eh? You’re for fighting. Ho! Ditylas, Skeblyas (Scebylas), and Pardokas (Pardocas) [his assistants], come hither, quick; fight me this sturdy knave.
Dionysos : Now isn’t it a shame the man should strike and he a thief besides?
Aiakos : A monstrous shame!
Dionysos : A regular burning shame!
Xanthias : By the Lord Zeus, if ever I was here before, if ever I stole one hair’s-worth from you, let me die! And now I’ll make you a right noble offer, arrest my lad [Dionysos disguised as the slave of Herakles]: torture him as you will, and if you find I’m guilty, take and kill me.
Aiakos : Torture him, how?
Xanthias : In any mode you please. Pile bricks upon him: stuff his nose with acid : flay, rack him, hoist him; flog him with a scourge of prickly bristles: only not with this, a soft-leaved onion, or a tender leek.
Aiakos : A fair proposal. If I strike too hard and maim the boy, I’ll make you compensation.
Xanthias : I shan’t require it. Take him out and flog him.
Aiakos : Nay, but I’ll do it here before your eyes. Now then, put down the traps, and mind you speak the truth, young fellow.
Dionysos (in agony) : Man’ don’t torture me! I am a god. You’ll blame yourself hereafter if you touch me.
Aiakos : Hillo! What’s that you are saying?
Dionysos : I say I’m Bakkhos (Bacchus), son of Zeus, a god, and he’s the slave.
Aiakos : You hear him?
Xanthias : Hear him? Yes. All the more reason you should flog him well. For if he is a god, he won’t perceive it.
Dionysos : Well, but you say that you’re a god yourself. So why not you be flogged as well as I?
Xanthias : A fair proposal. And be this the test, whichever of us two you first behold flinching or crying out-he’s not the god.
Aiakos : Upon my word you’re quite the gentleman, you’re all for right and justice. Strip then, both.
Xanthias : How can you test us fairly?
Aiakos : Easily. I’ll give you blow for blow.
[Aiakos whips them both, but is still unsure which is the god] . . .
Aiakos : No, by Demeter, still I can’t find out which is the god, but come ye both indoors; my lord himself [Haides] and Persephassa (Persephone) there, being gods themselves, will soon find out the truth.
Dionysos : Right! right! I only wish you had thought of that before you gave me those tremendous whacks. (Exeunt Dionysos, Xanthias, Aiakos, and Attendants) . . . (Enter Aiakos, Xanthias and two Attendants) . . .
Xanthias : Phoibos Apollon! clap your hand in mine, kiss and be kissed: and prithee tell me this, tell me by Zeus, our rascaldom’s own god, what’s all that noise within [the house of Haides]? What means this hubbub and row?
Aiakos : That’s [the ghosts of the tragic poets] Aiskhylos (Aeschylus) and Euripides.
Xanthias : Eh?
Aiakos : Wonderful, wonderful things are going on. The dead are rioting, taking different sides.
Xanthias : Why, what’s the matter?
Aiakos : There’s a custom here with all the crafts, the good and noble crafts, that the chief master of art in each shall have his dinner in the assembly hall, and sit by Plouton’s [Haide’s] side.
Xanthias : I understand.
Aiakos : Until another comes, more wise than he in the same art: then must the first give way.
Xanthias : And how has this disturbed our Aiskhylos (Aeschylus)?
Aiakos : ‘Twas he that occupied the tragic chair, as, in his craft, the noblest.
Xanthias : Who does now?
Aiakos : But when Euripides came down, he kept flourishing off before the highwaymen, thieves, burglars, parricides-these form our mob in Hades-till with listening to his twists and turns, and pleas and counterpleas, they went mad on the man, and hailed him first and wisest: elate with this, he claimed the tragic chair where Aiskhylos was seated.
Xanthias : Wasn’t he pelted?
Aiakos : Not he: the populace clamoured out to try which of the twain was wiser in his art . . .
Xanthias : And what does Plouton (Pluton) [Haides] now propose to do?
Aiakos : He means to hold a tournament, and bring their tragedies to the proof.
Xanthias : But Sophokles, how came not he to claim the tragic chair?
Aiakos : Claim it? Not he! When he came down, he kissed with reverence Aiskhylos, and clasped his hand, and yielded willingly the chair to him. But now he’s going, says Kleidemides, to sit third-man: and then if Aiskhylos win, he’ll stay content: if not, for his art’s sake, he’ll fight to the death against Euripides . . .
(Here apparently there is a complete change of scene, to the Hall of Plouton, with himself sitting on his throne, [ready to judge the competition] and Dionysos, Aiskhylos, and the foreground.).”