In A Nutshell
They’re both rulers of the Underworld, but that’s where similarities end. The Christian Satan is the most evil of creatures who delights in torment and pain, while Hades was long known as defender of the rights of the dead, as well as the overseer of both Tartaros and the beautiful fields of Elysium. While Satan is said to delight in walking the Earth and causing trouble, most of the interaction Hades has with humans is when they invade his domain—and sometimes, they’re given what they want.
The Whole Bushel
Hades is the Greek god of the Underworld, and as such, he’s often imagined to be the same villainous, diabolical entity as the Christian Satan. That’s very, very far from the truth, however, but it’s become such a prevalent myth that the two are often absolutely, wrongly interchangeable, with Hades tasked as playing the Satan-like villain in countless modern works about Greek mythology.
When it comes to wanting dominion over the dead, Hades never asked for the job—he never had the dark heart that the Devil had even in the form of an angel. Hades was only assigned his domain when he and his two brothers decided to draw lots for who ruled what part of the universe. Zeus went first and got the land and sky, Poseidon the seas, and Hades ended up with the afterlife.
One of the biggest differences between the two is their interaction with mankind. Satan is said to wander among men, tempting them to sin and damn their souls for all eternity. Satan tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and that’s a trend that seen throughout his acts. If he’s not causing trouble himself, he’s sending out demons to do his dirty work. According to 1 John 5:19, “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” He’s the bringer of doubt, conflict, and despair.
Hades, on the other hand, is a very hands-off sort of Underworld ruler. When he’s in the Underworld, which is most of the time, he doesn’t even know what’s going on in the world of the living. It was said that all he could hear in the Underworld of the living was man’s curses. In fact, it’s rare that he emerges from the Underworld. According to myth, most of his interaction with living mortals occurs when they storm the gates of his kingdom, such as in the myths of Orpheus and Heracles.
And in those myths, he helps them out. He gives Orpheus the chance to take his wife back to the land of the living (Orpheus, of course, disobeys the simple rule of “Don’t look back”) and, according to some versions of the myth, allowed Heracles to take the three-headed dog Cerberus from the Underworld to complete his labors.
When he does unleash his wrath, it’s not just for the sake of causing trouble or being evil. The infamous punishment of Sisyphus came only when the king tried to cheat his own death, and Theseus and Pirithous were condemned to eternal torment after stealing into the Underworld to abduct Hades’ wife and a 12-year-old Helene to take them for their own wives. And when he struck down Thebes with a plague, that was retribution for a king who refused to honor dead soldiers with a proper burial.
Hades also has the ability to love, and rules alongside his consort, Persephone. Popular myth says that he saw the daughter of the goddess Demeter and, with the help of Zeus, he kidnapped the girl and carried her off to be his queen. While his methods are more than a little shady, it’s important that he truly did love the girl.
Another incredibly important difference between the two is in the realms they lord over. Satan is the master of Hell, where the evil and the sinners of the world go to suffer in eternal torment. Hades is the lord of the Underworld—and that means the good side as well as the bad. While the concept of a reward after death as an ever-changing and ever-evolving concept through Greek mythology, Hades was also given domain over the Elysian Fields. Occasionally also governed by Kronos or by one of Zeus’s sons, the more common version of the Elysian Fields is one that exists in the deepest areas of Hades’ Underworld. This netherworld realm was the reward to which heroes and virtuous souls would go after death and was a beautiful paradise.