Who Is Pluto?
The ancient Roman people were afraid to utter the name of Pluto for fear it would attract the attention of the deity known as the judge of the dead. Pluto was also a god of wealth, as the lord of all the metals and riches that lie under the ground. His name is derived from the Latinized form of the Greek name Plouton, which means wealth.
Pluto was previously referred to as Dis Pater, meaning Father of Gods. However, he is best known for his role as ruler of the underworld and as the counterpart to the Greek god Hades. When the Romans conquered Greece, the gods Hades and Pluto were combined and replaced Dis Pater as the god of wealth, the dead and agriculture.
The god Pluto lived in a palace in the underworld, far away from the other gods who lived at Mount Olympus. It was his role to claim the souls that inhabited his underworld domain. Those who entered were destined to stay there for eternity. The entrance gates were guarded by his enormous three-headed dog, Cerberus.
The three brother gods, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, were charged with ruling the worlds after their powerful father Saturn died. Jupiter took the sky, Neptune became ruler of the sea and Pluto’s domain was the underworld. Eventually, Jupiter became the supreme god who ruled all of the earth and sky, while Neptune married and stayed in the sea, and Pluto happily remained in the underworld where he presided over the afterlife. Occasionally, he emerged to earth for a visit or a meeting of the gods.
The Abduction of Proserpina
The King of the Gods, Jupiter, had a niece name Proserpina. She was the daughter of his sister Ceres, the goddess in charge of the harvest. In consideration of her valuable domain, everyone, both gods and mortals, did all they could to keep Ceres happy.
Proserpina was a lovely and happy young woman. One day, while she was out in the fields collecting flowers, she was spotted by her uncle Pluto. He was enchanted with her beauty and felt compelled to have her, so he quickly kidnapped Proserpina and took her to the underworld in his chariot before anyone could run interference.
Disheartened at her fate, Proserpina refused to speak to Pluto, who had fallen madly in love with her, and also refused to eat. According to the legends, one who ate a meal in the underworld would seal their destiny and never be able to leave. Hoping for someone to come to her rescue, she held out as long as she could. Finally, after a week of crying and starving, she could no longer bear it, and ate six pomegranate seeds.
At this point, back on earth, Jupiter was getting increasingly concerned about Ceres and the crops. Ceres was absolutely miserable and tearful about her missing daughter. Jupiter decided to send his youngest son Mercury, the messenger, known for his excellent negotiating skills, to visit the underworld and try to make a deal with Pluto.
Since Proserpina had already eaten the pomegranate seeds, and Pluto was hopelessly in love, Mercury needed to think quickly. After much discourse, Pluto agreed that if Proserpina married him she would live as queen of the underworld for six months of the year and in the spring she could return to earth for six months. Proserpina also agreed to these terms, as did Ceres.
Each spring, Ceres blooms all the flowers as a welcome to her beloved daughter returning from the underworld. In the autumn, when Proserpina returns to Pluto, Ceres cries and lets all the crops die until the following spring when the cycle begins again. And so, according to the legend, this is why we have seasons.
The one-eyed giant, Cyclops, gave Pluto the cap of invisibility to help in his battle with the Titans. The cap enables the one who wears it to become invisible to all other supernatural and mortal beings.
Pluto is also symbolized by the pomegranate, the fruit of the underworld. Proserpina ate six seeds from the symbolic fruit and sealed her destiny. The hard outer shell of the pomegranate encapsulates a multitude of seeds representing fertility, prosperity and abundance. Each spring, when Proserpina emerges from the underworld and arrives on earth, she brings the seeds of fertility and the bloom of spring.
Pluto holds a key and scepter, which he uses to protect his kingdom and guard the dead from escaping.
The Romans adopted much of the Greek culture and mythology. Hades, his Greek counterpart, was a darker god than Pluto, who eventually became known as the ruler of the afterlife and a fair judge of the dead. The Romans combined their deity of wealth – Dis Pater – with Pluto/Hades.
The Roman underworld was not the burning dark and hellish place commonly depicted in Christianity. It consisted of five parts, where all of the departed, both good and bad, eventually passed through at the time of their death. The first three divisions consisted of a journey of the souls, where they were sorted. After crossing the waters of the River Styx, the good souls eventually ended up in Elysium, the land of the blessed, and lived out their eternity in peace and happiness. Only the evil ended up in Tartarus, the region of torment.
The palace of Pluto and Proserpina was located at the entrance of the road to the Elysian Fields, although they presided over the entirety of the underworld.
The ninth planet in our solar system, now considered a dwarf planet, is named for the Roman god Pluto. The planet was discovered in 1930. The Lowell Observatory in Arizona had a contest to name the planet. Venetia Burney of Oxford, England, an 11-year-old girl, suggested the name Pluto to her grandfather, who passed it along to the institute. The astronomers unanimously selected the name.
The moons of Pluto are also associated with the god. Charon is the name of the first discovered moon, after the boatman who ferried the souls of the dead to the underworld. The other moons were later named for Charon’s mother Nix, underworld guardians Hydra and Cerberus, and Styx, the river passage to the underworld.
Later that same year, Walt Disney’s bloodhound dog character, originally named Rover, was dubbed Pluto. Mickey Mouse’s pet pup has remained Pluto to this day and is still a featured character appearing in films, television specials, video games and as a meetable character at the Disney theme parks.