BLACK TARTARUS AND THE ELYSIAN FIELDS
Immediately on quitting the presence of the three judges, Hercules saw them open out before him an immense gulf whence arose thick clouds of black smoke. This smoke hid from view a river of fire that rolled its fiery waves onwards with a deafening din.
Not far remote from this rolled Cocytus, another endless stream, fed by the tears of the wretches doomed to Black Tartarus, in which place of eternal torment Hercules now found himself.
The rulers of these mournful regions were the Furies who, with unkempt hair and armed with whips, tormented the condemned without mercy by showing them continually in mirrors the images of their former crimes.
Into Tartarus were thrown, never to come out again, the shades or manes of traitors, ingrates, perjurers, unnatural children, murderers and hypocrites who had during their lives pretended to be upright and honorable in order to deceive the just.
But these wretches were not the only denizens of Black Tartarus. There were to be seen great scoundrels who had startled the world with their frightful crimes. For these Pluto and the Furies had invented special tortures.
Among the criminals so justly overtaken by the divine vengeance Hercules noticed Salmoneus, whom he had formerly met upon earth. This madman, whose pride had overturned his reason, thought himself to be a god equal to the Thunderer himself.
In order to imitate remotely the rolling of thunder, he used to be driven at night, over a brazen bridge, in a chariot, whence he hurled lighted torches upon his unhappy slaves who were crowded on the bridge and whom his guards knocked down in imitation of Jove’s thunder-bolts.
Indignant at the pride and cruelty of the tyrant, Jupiter struck him with lightning in deadly earnest and then cast him into the outer darkness of Tartarus, where he was for ever burning without being consumed.
Sisyphus, the brother of Salmoneus, was no better than he. When on earth, he had been the terror of Attica, where, as a brigand, he had robbed and murdered with relentless cruelty.
Theseus, whom Hercules was bent on freeing from his torment, had met and killed this robber-assassin, and Jupiter, for his sins, decreed that the malefactor should continually be rolling up a hill in Tartarus a heavy stone which, when with incredible pains he had brought nearly to the top, always rolled back again, and he had to begin over and over again the heart-breaking ascent.
Some distance from Sisyphus Hercules came upon Tantalus, who, in the flesh, had been King of Phrygia, but who now, weak from hunger and parched with thirst, was made to stand to his chin in water with branches of tempting luscious fruit hanging ripe over his head. When he essayed to drink the water it always went from him, and when he stretched out his hand to pluck the fruit, back the branches sprang out of reach.