While many people tend to think of Hades as a place of punishment, Greek mythology has a completely different application for the term. Traditionally, he is understood to be the Greek god who eventually won the right to be named the god of the underworld, and the chief caretaker of the abode of the dead.
According to the legends of the Greeks, ancient beings known as the Titans were originally in control of all known creation. Three brothers — Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades — challenged their sovereign rule, and determined that they were to be the rightful rulers of the underworld, the sky, and the sea. The brothers engaged in war with the Titans, eventually defeating them. At this juncture, the victors chose to assume specific areas that each brother would oversee. Hades chose the task of overseeing the underworld, and ruling over the spirits of those who had died and crossed over into the next life.
Hades has sometimes been portrayed as a fearsome figure, designed to strike terror into the hearts of men. Within this version, the god is one who is ready to punish the wicked for the lightest infraction, and delights in administering justice that is not tempered with mercy. Often, this concept was used to bring people who were involved in activities that were considered on the fringe of acceptable traditions and morals to abandon those practices, and engage in rites that were meant to win the favor of all the gods.
At other times, Hades has been portrayed as the merciful and just ruler of the underworld, seeing to the needs of both those dwelling in a state of happiness and paradise, as well as those who have been damned. This concept is sometimes attributed to reading between the lines in the tales of Greek mythology, especially in instances when the god appears to offer persons a chance to step back and reverse a wrong action taken.
Generally feared but often considered among the most powerful of all the gods, Hades was worshiped by many people, often with an eye to appeasing the god and ensuring a more pleasant place in the world to come. To this end, families often established an altar in the home in order to honor him, as well as gathering in temples to offer appropriate offerings to the god.