In the Greek mythology, Hades is the god of the Underworld, which is where all the dead are taken. Hades is greedy, as he wants to increase the population of his world and that is what causes deaths.
The Underworld has an interesting geography. Underworld is a place which is hidden in the earth and is surrounded with many rivers. They are the River of Woes, the River of Lament, the River of Fire, the River of Forgetfulness and the River of Oath. The Adamantine Gate forms the entrance to the Underworld, which is guarded by Cereberus, the three-headed dragon-tailed dog, who allows entry, but never an exit from the Underworld. The dead are ferried by an aged boatman named Charon who takes the souls across the River of Woe. The dead are buried with a coin in their lips; this is to pay for the fare for the ferry ride. Those without the coin are eternally trapped between the two worlds.
The souls which manage to enter the Underworld, have to appear before three judges, Rhadamanthus, Minos and Aeacus, who pass a judgement based on ones deeds on earth. The wicked and the evil are sent for an everlasting torment, while the good are sent to the Elysian Fields, a place of blessedness.
The Underworld is not a very pleasant place; rather it is painted as a miserable place where no sunlight or hope can enter. It is a vague, shadowy place where there is nothing. It seems like the highly descriptive Greek poets have not indulged in the dull gloomy aspect of death beyond this!
As we see, the Greeks too believe in life after death like the Hindus, but there is no mention of the cycle of birth, death and birth. There are many stories associated with Hades, the most famous being the kidnapping of Persephone (http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2011/03/demeter-persephone.html ).
The Egyptians had a very firm belief in life after death. According to the Egyptian mythology, Anubis and Osiris were the gods of the Underworld. After a person died, his soul was taken to the hall of the judgement in Duat by Anubis, who was the god of mummification. Here goddess Maat acts as the judge of morality. She would weigh the soul of the dead against her ostrich feather in a scale, and if the soul balances against the feather, then the soul reaches paradise. If it weighed heavier than the feather, a sign that it was a soul which harboured evil deeds, then it would be given to the crocodile headed goddess Ammut (some say she was lioness-headed), who would devour it and would be relegated to the underworld. This way the Egyptians believed that there would be balance, and just as the good would get rewarded, the evil would get punished.
According to the ancient Egytians, the soul was made up of three parts – Ka, Ba and Ahk and it was important to ensure the safeguard of all the three parts. The elaborate burial rituals were for the preservation of the body and the soul. The ancient Egyptians followed an elaborate process of mummification, as they strongly believed in the afterlife of the body and soul. The embalming and the preservation of the body were to preserve the individual’s identity during his afterlife. As a part of the embalming process, most of the body organs were removed before the burial, except the heart as the Egyptians believed that the heart was the home of the soul. The concept of afterlife was so important that many Egyptians prepared for the afterlife during their lifetime itself.
Like the Greeks and Hindus, the Egyptians too believed in trial after death, but unlike the Hindus, there is no cycle of death and life and the concept of salvation. Death is an end of the journey of the soul of an individual.
Death, be it in philosophy or mythology is definitely gloomy and sad. The last few articles on death have not been very uplifting, but have definitely been a cathartic for me. Writing about it has probably enabled me to somehow reduce the sense of loss that the recent death has left behind. I can appreciate Oscar Wilde much better now when he says – “One can survive everything nowadays, except death.” So true and so practical, I guess.