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Stories of living people that journeyed into the underworld and back?

This is inspired from: What items are necessary for a mortal to travel safely in the underworld?

Which living people made it into the underworld and back? What are their stories, and what characteristics do these stories share?

Mythology & Folklore Asked on August 29, 2021

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One Answer

When a hero takes a trip into the underworld, it's referred to as katabasis. I've included immortals in the listing. The following are but five of many such stories in Greek myth.

The god Dionysus rescued his mortal mother, Semele, from Hades. He does so by facing down Thanatos himself. Afterward, he gives Semele part of his divinity, making her immortal.

Heracles (pre-immortality) rescued Theseus (who had previously tried and failed to abduct Persephone) during his twelfth labor. He did so by persuading Persephone to forgive Theseus. On a separate occasion, rescued Alcestis (who had chosen to die in her husband's stead) from Hades by wrestling Thanatos, until the god of death agreed to free her, in return for her husband's previous generous hospitality.

After Persephone was taken by Hades, Hermes entered the underworld at the behest of her mother Demeter, in an attempt to bring her back -- but, as Hades had fed her a pomegranate there, she was required to live the winter in the underworld.

After his oak nymph wife Eurydice was killed by a viper's bite, Orpheus played a mourning song so sad that the deities told him where to find her: in the underworld. After Orpheus descended into the underworld, he put the guardian dog Cerberus to sleep with his magical music. Hades was so moved by his music that he made a bet with him: if he could silently lead Eurydice back to the surface without looking back to see her, he could keep her. When Orpheus was nearly to the surface, he looked back and lost the bet.

In one Greek/Roman myth, Psyche, a princess too beautiful that people believed her to be Aphrodite/Venus's daughter, was targeted by the jealous goddess and, when her son Eros/Cupid joined the princess, put her to trial. One trial was to take a box into the underworld to retrieve an extract of Persephone/Prosperina's beauty. Psyche, after despairing and attempting suicide only to be guided to a safe passage to the underworld by the tower she was going to throw herself off of, enters the underworld with cakes to feed Cerberus and coins to give to Charon, paying for her return trip. Upon returning to the light, she opens the box out of curiosity and is struck into a deep sleep. She is later rescued by Eros/Cupid.

Correct answer by Plumbing for Ankit on August 29, 2021

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