Tartarus is a place lower than Hades in the earth. It's worse than Hades so I'm wondering if this could relate to Dante's levels of hell? Not that we'll know where he got the idea but this is the first I've heard of more than one layer predating Dante.
Dante was very influenced by the poet Virgil, which is why he is the one guiding Dante through Hell.
In Virgil's Aeneid, the dead are in one of two places: Elysium or Tartarus.
The first is a type of heaven and the second a type of hell with extreme torment.
Both places are in the underworld, which Aeneas finds access to with the help of the sybil.
There was actually a good episode on the History Channel called...I believe either... Layers of the Underworld, Clash of the Gods, or Gates of Hell. It explained, in detail, the several layers of Hades and their purposes.
-Hades (domos Aidaou) was the land ruled by Hades. Every soul eventually found it's way to Hades and was then sent to their eternal home, good or bad.
-Tartarus was the realm originally meant to hold the Titans, but later the place for all the damned souls meant to be tortured for eternity.
-Erebus was the personifaication of darkness; sometimes seen as a place and sometimes a god. From Erebus was birthed Nxy, Styx, Tanatos, and several others. It was the region souls had to walk through immediately after death. The same realm mention in the myth of Orpheus.
-Asphodel Meadows was the place for souls who lived average lives, having done an equal amount of good and bad. The place was filled with Asphodel flowers which, apparently, was a favorite food amongst the dead. Sometimes it's described as a type of limbo. No pain, but no pleasure. No fear, but no joy. No hate, but no love. No cold, but no heat...etc.
-Styx, the river of hate, was the boundary between Earth and Hades; it circled the realm of the dead nine times. Phlegethon, Acheron, and Cocytus are all said to meet in the center of Hades in a great pool also called Styx. The river Styx is what the gods swore by. If a god swore on the river Styx and broke their word Iris would fetch a cup of water from the river and the god would have to drink it and go one year without ambrosia. The water was pretty toxic and without the ambrosia they lost, I believe, their god-powers for a year or either the ability to speak. Achilles was dipped in the Styx as an infant and was granted immortality (except on his heel which his mother failed to soak).
-Acheron was the river of woe.
-Cocytus was the river of lamentation.
-Phlegethon was the river of fire.
-Lethe was the river of forgetfulness.
-The Elysian Fields was a place meant for heroes and those chosen by the gods to be rewarded for specific deeds. It was a place of enjoyment. Whatever pleasures they enjoyed in life they were able to enjoy in death.
You give an excellent all around interpretation, Nadai. I would love to see the show you mention from the History Channel. It still amazes me that people over time made all this stuff up, basing it on their growing knowledge and experiences. Can you imagine a river of fire?
Interestingly enough, Abaddon, the Angel of the Abyss in Christian lore, (Apollyon in Greek), is also, according to some sources of Hebrew lore, the name of a location thought to exist either in the Inferno or in Heaven where the evil are punished—a sort of parallel to Tartarus.
Furthermore, I seem to remember reading how the Titans were bound in (brass?) chains and sealed within Tartarus after they were apprehended; this parallels the scanty Biblical information of the Nephilim, specifically, a couple of verses in Jude:
Jude 6: "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day."
Jude 13: "Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."
It appears there is very possibly a common origin. Also interesting to note is the mention of the sea in verse 13; Christian tradition (and presumably Hebrew before Christianity) tells how in the Apocalypse, when it is written that "the sea gave up her dead," this refers to the Nephilim who were killed by the Deluge and buried beneath the ocean's floor.
Granted, the Nephilim are mentioned at length in the pseudepigraphic books of Enoch* and Jubilees, but I cannot comment on these passages since I have not yet read them.
* The Book of Enoch being mentioned in Jude as well.
Taciturn Scholar, you give such a deep interpretation that sets me thinking. The image of the sea giving up all those people from the Deluge boggles the imagination. Then I remembered all those people who met their deaths in the ocean, from ancient Viking ships to seasoned galleons to ships reaching Titanic proportions. What incredible imagery you conjure up.