What Were the Elysian Fields in Greek Mythology?

An Ancient Greek Happily-Ever-After...in Heaven!

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The Elysian Fields or Elysium refer to a beautiful meadow in Homer where the favored of Zeus enjoy perfect happiness. This was the ultimate paradise a hero could achieve: basically an ancient Greek Eden. In the OdysseyHomer tells us that, in Elysium, "men lead an easier life than anywhere else in the world, for in Elysium there falls not rain, nor hail, nor snow, but Oceanus [the giant body of water surrounding the entire world) breathes ever with a West wind that sings softly from the sea, and gives fresh life to all men." Sounds nice!

By the time of the Roman master poet Vergil (also known as Virgil), the Elysian Fields became more than just a pretty meadow. They were now part of the Underworld as the home of the dead who were judged worthy of divine favor. ​ In the Aeneid, those blessed dead compose poetry, sing, dance, and tend to their chariots.

As the Sibyl, a prophetess, remarks to the Trojan hero Aeneas in the epic Aeneid when giving him a verbal map to the Underworld, "There to the right, as it runs under the walls of great Dis [a god of the Underworld], is our way to Elysium. Aeneas talks to his father, Anchises, in the Elysian Fields in Book VI of the Aeneid. Anchises, who's enjoying the good retired life of Elysium, says, "Then we are sent to spacious Elysium, a few of us to possess the blissful fields."

Vergil wasn't alone in his assessment of Elysium. In his Thebaid, the Roman poet Statius claims that it's the pious who earn the favor of the gods and get to Elysium, while Seneca states that it's only in death that the tragic Trojan King Priam achieved peace, for "now in the peaceful shades of Elysium’s grove he wanders, and happy midst pious souls he seeks for his [murdered son] Hector."

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-​Revised by Carly Silver