Tartarus (Greek: Τάρταρος, transl.: Tartars), in Greek mythology, is personified by one of the primordial gods, born from Chaos (although some authors consider him to be Chaos' brother). His relations with Gaia spawned the most terrible beasts in Greek mythology, among them the mighty Typhon.
Just as Gaia is the personification of the Earth and Uranus the personification of Heaven, Tartarus is the personification of the Underworld. In it are the deepest caves and caverns and the most terrible corners of the realm of Hades, the world of the dead, where all enemies of Olympus are sent and where they are punished for their crimes.
There the titans are imprisoned by Zeus (Jupiter), Hades (Pluto) and Poseidon (Neptune) after the Titanomachy.
In Homer's Iliad, this mythological Tartarus is represented as an underground prison 'as far below Hades as the earth is from heaven'. According to mythology, only the lower gods, Kronos and the other titans, are imprisoned there, while human beings are cast into the underworld, ruled by Hades.
The Greek poet Hesiod guaranteed that a bronze anvil would fall from the sky for nine days until it reached the earth, and that it would fall another nine days until it reached Tartarus. Being a place so deep in the ground, it was covered by three layers of nights, which followed a wall made of bronze surrounding this far underground.
It is a dank, cold, and dismal pit immersed in the darkest darkness.
While, according to Greek mythology, the Underworld (Erebo, the realm of Hades) is the place where the dead go, Tartarus had several residents. When Kronos was the titan who ruled the world, he imprisoned the Cyclops in Tartarus.
Zeus freed them, so that they could help him in his fight against the titans - who were eventually defeated by the gods of Olympus, and imprisoned in this desolate tugury. They were guarded by huge giants, each with 50 large heads and 100 strong arms, called hecatons. Later, when Zeus defeated the monster Typhon, son of Tartarus with Gaia, he also threw him into this same pool of water.
Tartarus is also the place where crime meets its punishment. A good example is that of Sisyphus, thief and murderer, condemned to eternally push a rock up a slope - only to see it come down again under his own weight. There, too, was Ixion, the first man to spill the blood of a relative.
He made his father-in-law fall into a pit full of burning coals to avoid paying a dowry for his wife. His just punishment was to spend all eternity spinning a flaming wheel. Tantalus, who enjoyed the trust of the gods, talking and eating with them, shared the food and the divine secrets with his friends.
His punishment for his perfidy consisted in being dunked up to his neck in cold water, which disappeared whenever he tried to drink it to quench his enormous thirst, as well as seeing delicious grapes fruiting just above his head, which, when he tried to pick them, climbed out of his reach.
For the Romans, Tartarus is the place where sinners are sent. Virgil describes it in the Aeneid (book VI). as a gigantic place, surrounded by the river of fire Phlegon, surrounded by a triple wall that prevents sinners from escaping.
In this version, it is guarded by a Hydra with 50 enormous black faces, which stood before a creaking gate, and protected by columns made of adamant (supposedly indestructible material, similar to diamond), so hard that nothing could cut them.
Inside was a castle with wide walls and a high iron tower. Tisiphone, the Fury who represented Vengeance, is the watchman who never sleeps at the top of this tower, whipping the condemned to spend eternity there.
Inside this castle is a well that descends into the depths of the earth, twice as far as the distance between mortal earth and Olympus. At the bottom of this pit are the Titans, the Aloides (twin giants) and many other criminals.
In Tartarus itself are thousands of other criminals, receiving punishments similar to those in the Greek myths.
The Second Letter of St. Peter refers to this Latin tradition, calling Tartarus (ταρταρώσας) the punishment of the fallen angels (II Peter, 2:4):
"Indeed, if God did not forgive the angels who sinned, but, precipitated into Tartarus, he delivered them into the chains of darkness to be tormented and reserved until judgment..."
Radamanthus, Aeacus and Minos are the judges of the dead, and they decided who should go to Tartarus. Radamanthus judged the Asiatic souls; Aeacus, the European souls; Minos had the decisive, final vote, and is the one who judged the Greeks.