As soon as the boat had touched the shore, Hercules went towards the gloomy palace of Pluto where he with difficulty, on account of the darkness, saw Pluto seated upon an ebony throne by the side of his beloved Proserpina.
Pluto was not at all pleased to see the hero, as he hated the living and had interest only in the shades of the dead. When Hercules announced himself, however, he gave him a permit to go round his kingdom and, in addition, acceded to his prayer for the release of Theseus.
At the foot of Pluto’s throne Hercules saw Death the Reaper. He was clothed in a black robe spotted with stars and his fleshless hand held the sharp sickle with which he is said to cut down mortals as the reaper cuts down corn.
Our hero was glad to escape from this dismal palace and as he did not know exactly where to find Theseus he began to make the circuit of Hades. During his progress he saw the shades of many people of whom, on earth, he had heard much talk.
He had been wandering about some time when, in a gloomy chamber, he saw three old sisters, wan and worn, spinning by the feeble light of a lamp. They were the Fates, deities whose duty it was to thread the days of all mortals who appeared on earth, were it but for an instant.
Clotho, the spinner of the thread of life, was the eldest of the three. She held in her hand a distaff, wound with black and white woollen yarn, with which were sparingly intermixed strands of silk and gold. The wool stood for the humdrum everyday life of man: the silk and gold marked the days of mirth and gladness, always, alas! too few in number.
Lachesis, the second of the Fates, was quickly turning with her left hand a spindle, while her right hand was leading a fine thread which the third sister, Atropos by name, used to cut with a pair of sharp shears at the death of each mortal.
You may imagine how hard these three sisters worked when you remember that the thread of life of every mortal had to pass through their fateful fingers. Hercules would have liked them to tell him how long they had yet to spin for him, but they had no time to answer questions and so the hero passed on.
Some steps farther he stopped before three venerable looking old men, seated upon a judgment seat, judging, as it seemed, a man newly come to Pluto’s kingdom.
They were Minos, AEacus and Rhadamanthus, the three judges of Hades, whose duty it was to punish the guilty by casting them into a dismal gulf, Tartarus, whence none might ever emerge, and to reward the innocent by transporting them to the Elysian Fields where delight followed delight in endless pleasure.
These judges could never be mistaken because Themis, the Goddess of Justice, held in front of them a pair of scales in which she weighed the actions of men. Their decrees were instantly carried out by a pitiless goddess, Nemesis, or Vengeance by name, armed with a whip red with the gore of her sinful victims.