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In Greek mythology, Elysium (Greek: ) was a section of the Underworld (the spelling Elysium is a Latinization of the Greek word Elysion). The Elysian Fields, or the Elysian Plains, were the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous.


Elysium is an obscure name that evolved from a designation of a place or person struck by lightning, enelysion, enelysios. This could be a reference to Zeus, the god of lightning, so "lightning-struck" could be saying that the person was blessed (struck) by Zeus (lightning). Scholars have also suggested that Greek Elysion may have instead been derived from the Egyptian term ialu (older iaru), meaning "reeds," with specific reference to the "Reed fields" (Egyptian: sekhet iaru / ialu), a paradisaical land of plenty where the dead hoped to spend eternity.


The ruler of Elysium varies from author to author; Pindar names the ruler as Kronos, released from Tartarus and ruling in a palace:

Other authors claim that Kronos remained in Tartarus for all eternity, and the judge was another, sometimes Rhadamanthys.

Classical literature

Two Homeric passages in particular established for Greeks the nature of the Afterlife: the dreamed apparition of the dead Patroclus in the Iliad and the more daring boundary-breaking visit in Book 11 of the Odyssey. Greek traditions concerning funerary ritual were reticent, but the Homeric examples encouraged other heroic visits, in the myth cycles centered around Theseus and Heracles.

The Elysian Fields lay on the western margin of the earth, by the encircling stream of Oceanus, and there the mortal relatives of the king of the gods were transported, without tasting death, to enjoy an immortality of bliss (Odyssey 4.563). Lesser spirits were not quite as fortunate: an eerie passage describes the twittering bat-like ghosts of Penelope's slain suitors, led by Hermes:

Hesiod refers to the Isles of the Blessed (makarôn nêsoi) in the Western Ocean (Works and Days). Walter Burkert notes the connection with the motif of far-off Dilmun: "Thus Achilles is transported to the White Islemarker, which may refer to Mount Teidemarker on Tenerifemarker, whose volcano is often snowcapped and as the island was sometimes called the white isle by explorers, and becomes the Ruler of the Black Seamarker, and Diomedes becomes the divine lord of an Adriaticmarker island."

Pindar makes it a single island:

In Elysium where fields of the pale liliaceous asphodel, and poplars grew, there stood the gates that led to the house of Ais (in Attic dialect "Hades").

In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas, like Heracles and Odysseus before him, travels to the underworld. Virgil describes an encounter in Elysium between Aeneas and his father Anchises. Virgil's Elysium knows perpetual spring and shady groves, with its own sun and lit by its own stars: solemque suum, sua sidera norunt (Aeneid, 6.541).

Hades is the ruler of the underworld, which includes the Elysian Fields (similar to the christian view of heaven, it is always holiday), Tartarus (similar to the christian view of hell, souls are punished there for eternity) , and Asphodel (normal people that did no evil, or any good worth special recognition go there to wait-for nothing)

Post-classical literature

Elysium was a pagan expression that passed into the usage of the Christian patristic writers as a synonym for paradise.

In Dante's epic The Divine Comedy, Limbo is purposefully described to much resemble the Elysian Fields. This is due in large part to Limbo's being described as the resting place of, among others, virtuous pagans who lived before the time of Christ. Being the first and uppermost layer of Hell, Limbo is closed off from God; the mood is one of sadness, since heaven is close yet unattainable.

In the Renaissance, the heroic population of the Elysian Fields tended to outshine its formerly dreary pagan reputation; the Elysian Fields borrowed some of the bright allure of paradise. In Parismarker, the Champs-Élyséesmarker retain their name of the Elysian Fields, first applied in the late 16th century to a formerly rural outlier beyond the formal parterre gardens behind the royal Frenchmarker palace of the Tuileriesmarker.

After the Renaissance, an even cheerier Elysium evolved for some poets. Sometimes it is imagined as a place where heroes have continued their interests from their lives. Others suppose it is a location filled with feasting, sport, song; Joy is the "daughter of Elysium" in Friedrich Schiller's ode "To Joy".

When in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night shipwrecked Viola is told "This is Illyria, lady.", "And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium." is her answer: "Elysium" for her and her first Elizabethan hearers simply means Paradise. Similarly, in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, Elysium is mentioned in Act II during Papageno's solo while he describes what it would be like if he had his dream girl: "Des Lebens als Weiser mich freun, Und wie im Elysium sein." ("Enjoy life as a wiseman, And feel like I'm in Elysium.")

In John Ford's 1633 tragedy 'Tis Pity She's a Whore Giovanni, after sealing his requited love for his sister Annabella with twin oaths, states' "I would not change this minute for Elyzium."

The New Orleansmarker neighborhood of Elysian Fields in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire is the declassé purgatory where Blanche Dubois lives with Stanley and Stella Kowalski. New Orleans' Elysian Fields provides the second act setting of Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine.

In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, the Elysian Undying Lands, the home of the gods, elves, and a select few others, can only be reached by crossing the western sea, much as one would have to cross the stream of Oceanus to reach the Fortunate Isles.

In his poem Middlesexmarker, John Betjeman describes how the heroine Elaine hurries"... Out into the outskirt's edges,Where a few surviving hedgesKeep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesexmarker again".The poem, considered by many to be one of his best, harks back to a time when the suburbs of modern Londonmarker (Perivalemarker and Harrow-on-the-Hillmarker, for example) were fields and meadows, with all the pastoral imagery that they convey.

In Spring and All, William Carlos Williams describes a dying woman's "elysian slobber/upon/the folded handkerchief".

In his poem An Old Haunt, Hugh McFadden sets an Elysian scene in Dublinmarker's St. Stephen's Greenmarker park.

In David Gemmell's Parmennion series (Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince) and his Troy trilogy, his characters refer to Elysium as the "Hall of Heroes," a Valhalla-like connotation.

In Siegfried Sassoon's "Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man", Sassoon writes "The air was Elysian with early summer". Its use in this context could be prolepsis, as the British countryside he is describing would become the burial ground of his dead comrades and heroes from World War I.

In Jean Genet's The Balcony, the Judge, who is equating himself with Minos during his session at the brothel, cites that some souls he "consigns to the boredom of the Elysian fields" while others to the flames.

Modern Place Names

The Avenue des Champs-Élyséesmarker, the most prestigious avenue in Parismarker and one of the most famous streets in the world, is French for "Elysian Fields." The nearby Élysée Palacemarker houses the President of the French Republic, for which reason "l'Élysée" frequently appears as a metonym for the French presidency.

In Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, Elysian Park is the name of a public open space area -- the second largest park in Los Angelesmarker -- established in 1781, the year of the city's founding. It retains much of the idyllic natural chaparral and coastal sage scrub present in the area since prehistoric times, in addition to hiking trails, picnic areas, barbecue pits, a small man-made lake, a children's play area, and baseball diamonds referred to as, "The Elysian Fields".

In Mexico Citymarker, Campos Eliseos (Spanish: Elysian Fields) is a street in the Polanco neighborhood where several of the city's embassies, luxury hotels and restaurants are located.

Elysian Fields is a street in Lakefront, a suburb of New Orleans, where the University of New Orleans, and Ben Franklin High School are located.


  • Elysium is the name given to a volcanic region of Mars and one of its volcanoes.
  • Elysia is a genus of sea slugs.
  • Elysian is the name of an inter departmental multi-art form competition held at an Engineering College, Pune Institute of Computer Technology (PICT), in Punemarker, Maharashtramarker, Indiamarker.

Classical music

Approximate English Translation:

  • Elysium is also referenced in Mozart's well known Opera "Die Zauberflöte" (The Magic Flute). It is in Act II when Papageno is feeling very melancholy because he doesn't have a sweetheart or wife and he is drunk singing the song that could be called "Den Mädchen" (The Girls). The lyrics in German for the verse referring to Elysium are:
In English:

  • Elysium is the name of a female vocal ensemble for medieval music. Elysium Most well-known for their cross-over CD "Auvergne Chants" Decca 2000

Samuel Barber set part of the text of American poet James Agee's Description of Elysium to music in the well-known piece Sure on this Shining Night. The excerpted text of the Barber piece is as follows:

Sure on this shining night

Of star-made shadows round,

Kindness must watch for me

This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.

All is healed, all is health.

High summer holds the earth.

Hearts all whole.

Sure on this shining night

I weep for wonder

Wandering far alone

Of shadows on the stars.

See also


  1. Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, 1985. p. 198.
  2. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1948.
  3. Carl A.P. Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.
  4. Hugh McFadden, Cities of Mirrors (Beaver Row Press, Dublin), 1984.


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