Hades and the Helm of Darkness

The Helm of Darkness…sounds awesome right? Also known by the less impressive title of The Cap of Invisibility, this powerful object rendered anyone who wore it completely invisible. Originally forged by the craft master’s among the Cyclops, this object is part of a triad of weapons specially created during the Greek Titanomachy, the great war between the Titans and the Olympians. Before the war began the Cyclops had been imprisoned in the earth by the Titan Cronus, but Zeus freed them along with the Hecatonchires (the hundred-handed ones), recruiting them to his side and tipping the scales of the war. As part of the war effort, the Cyclops created three supernatural objects for the three first generational Olympian brothers: a thunderbolt for Zeus, a trident for Poseidon and a helmet for Hades.

Hades used his helmet to great effect during the Titanomachy, and the Olympians eventually emerged victorious, banishing the Titans to Tartarus. The brothers then divided the world; Zeus ruled the heavens and earth, Poseidon the water, and Hades the underworld. Once the war was over, rather than leave his helmet gathering dust, Hades began to generously lend it out to others to aid them in their own quests.

Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, The Fall of the Titans, 1596-98

Hermes borrowed it during the Gigantomachy, the war between the Olympians and the Giants that directly followed the Titanomachy. According to Apollodorus, the Earth, vexed at the imprisonment of the Titans, gave birth to a race of giants. These giants were borne out of anger and angry they were, hurling rocks and burning logs into the sky as they tried to hit the Olympians.

An oracle had decreed that the Giants could not be killed by the Olympians, but Zeus found a loophole; he forbade the sun, the dawn and the moon to shine, and then he called his mortal son Hercules to come to his aid. The Olympians dispatched the giants in various ways; Hermes specifically tricked the giant Hippolytus with his invisibility, courtesy of Hades’ Helm. Hercules, not being a God, was free to slay the giants, fulfilling the oracle’s proclamation.

Athena/Minerva also borrowed the helm during the Trojan war. In book V of The Iliad Minerva aided the mortal Diomedes, one of the ‘Seven against Thebes’ and her own personal champion in the war. As Diomedes chased after the God Ares/Mars, Minerva boarded Diomedes’ chariot, hidden by the Helm of Darkness. She guided Diomedes hand as he threw his spear, adjusting its aim so it plowed into the stomach of the God, making Diomedes one of the few mortals ever to have harmed one of the Gods, or so it was thought. Minerva’s invisibility beneath the helm meant that no one was ever aware that it was Her divine intervention that had caused Diomedes careful aim.

Athena guiding Diomedes in the Trojan War, 
the Tyszkiewicz Painter, 490-480 BCE 
Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Some accounts of the slaying of Medusa by the hero Perseus also included the Helm of Darkness (Apollodorus & Hyginus are two such accounts). Tasked with killing Medusa, Perseus was equipped with the Helm of Darkness, winged boots, a curved sword and a reflective shield. The helm allowed Perseus to sneak past the sleeping gorgons undetected. Using the shield as a mirror so he would not look upon the sisters and be turned to stone, Perseus swung his sword and decapitated her head from her body before fleeing on his winged horse, Pegasus.

For those of you wanting to borrow a magical helmet that will impart the power of invisibility, who knows, perhaps Hades will lend it out to you…then again, dealing with Hades can be tricky: just ask Persephone

persephone hades
Persephone and Hades, red-figure kylix, c. 440-430 BCE, British Museum, London

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