AskDefine | Define elysian

Dictionary Definition

elysian adj
1 relating to the Elysian Fields
2 resembling paradise; causing happiness; "elysian peace"; "a paradisal place without work or struggle"; "paradisial isles"; "an age of paradisiacal happiness" [syn: paradisiacal, paradisiac, paradisaical, paradisaic, paradisal, paradisial]
3 of such surpassing excellence as to suggest divine inspiration; "her pies were simply divine"; "the divine Shakespeare"; "an elysian meal"; "an inspired performance" [syn: divine, inspired]

Extensive Definition

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 sometimes Elysian plains, were the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous. It is associated with the Christian Heaven.


Elysium is an obscure and mysterious 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 instead derive 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:
''And those that have three times kept to their oaths,
Keeping their souls clean and pure,
Never letting their hearts be defiled by the taint
Of evil and injustice,
And barbaric venality,
They are led by Zeus to the end:
To the palace of Kronos
Other authors claim that Kronos remained in Tartarus for all eternity, and the judge was another, sometimes Rhadamanthys.

In 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:
"down the dank
mouldering paths and past the Ocean's streams they went
and past the White Rock and the Sun's Western Gates and past
the Land of Dreams, and soon they reached the fields of asphodel
where the dead, the burnt-out wraiths of mortals make their home"
(Odyssey 24.5-9, translation by Robert Fagles).
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 Isle, which may refer to Mount Teide on Tenerife, whose volcano is often snowcapped and as the island was sometimes called the white isle by explorers, and becomes the Ruler of the Black Sea, and Diomedes becomes the divine lord of an Adriatic island."
Pindar makes it a single island:
''And those that have three times kept to their oaths,
Keeping their souls clean and pure,
Never letting their hearts be defiled by the taint
Of evil and injustice,
And barbaric veniality,
They are led by Zeus to the end:
To the palace of Kronos,
Where soothing breezes off the Ocean
Breathe over the Isle of the Blessed:
All around flowers are blazing with a
Dazzling light:
Some springing from the shining trees,
Others nourished by the water from the sea:
With circlets and garlands of flowers they
Crown their hands,
Ruled by the steadfast councils of
The great Judge,
Whom the Father,
The husband of Rhea,
Whose throne is higher than all:
The great Father keeps him by his side,
His loyal advisor.
Peleus and Kadmos both are there,
And Akhilleus, brought there by his mother,
After she had conquered the heart of Zeus with her
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).

In 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 Paris, the Champs-Élysées 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 French palace of the Tuileries.
After the Renaissance, as images of Valhalla entered the popular European imagination, 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.")
The New Orleans 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 Middlesex, John Betjeman describes how the heroine Elaine hurries "... Out into the outskirt's edges, Where a few surviving hedges Keep alive our lost Elysium - rural Middlesex again". The poem, considered by many to be one of his best, harks back to a time when the suburbs of modern London (Perivale and Harrow-on-the-Hill, 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 Dublin's St. Stephen's Green park. "Very slowly solitude slips round me / in St. Stephen's Green. I rest: / see pale salmon clouds blossom. / I'm back in the fields of Elysium."
In Los Angeles, California, "Elysian Park" is the name of a 600-acre public open space area -- the second largest park in Los Angeles -- 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 prehoistoric 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 Tucker Max's story "The Austin Road Trip", when he and his friends visit a strip club with full nudity and very cheap drinks, Max says that "At age 24, this was my Elysium."

In science

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

In classical music

  • Elysium is referenced in the Schiller poem which inspired Beethoven's Ode to Joy (9th symphony, 4th movement)
Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium, wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum! Deine Zauber binden wieder, was die Mode streng geteilt: alle Menschen werden Brüder, wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Appx. English Translation:
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, Daughter of Elysium, Touched with fire, to the portal, Of thy radiant shrine, we come. Your sweet magic frees all others, Held in Custom's rigid rings. All men on earth become brothers, In the haven of your wings.

In contemporary music

  • "Elysian Fields" is the title of a song by the metal band Megadeth from the their album Youthanasia. It is about souls sentenced to eternal damnation fighting to storm heaven.
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter's album 'Between Here and Gone' contains the song 'Elysium', where, following a long personal journey, paradise is found in the heart of her soulmate.
  • Elysium is the title of a dance and happy hardcore music track by Scott Brown (DJ). The chorus line lyrics have potential links to interpersonal, spiritual, and higher-order concepts or ideologies.
  • Portishead has a song entitled Elysium on their 1997 self-titled album.
  • In the movie Gladiator, "Elysium" is the name of the song played during Maximus's death. The film shows the character walking through fields of crops. It is ambiguous whether this is supposed to be Elysium or his family farm, it is likely that it represents both.
  • The video to the song "It Means Nothing" by the Stereophonics shows the spirits of the dead in white robes walking through fields of crops to be taken away in hot air balloons
  • Hardcore band named Elysia from Sacramento, CA
There is a death metal band named Elysian Fields


elysian in Bulgarian: Елисейски полета
elysian in Catalan: Camps Elisis
elysian in Czech: Elysium
elysian in Danish: Elysion
elysian in German: Elysion
elysian in Estonian: Elysioni väljad
elysian in Modern Greek (1453-): Ηλύσια Πεδία
elysian in Spanish: Campos Elíseos (mitología)
elysian in French: Champs Élysées
elysian in Italian: Campi Elisi
elysian in Hebrew: שדות אליסיום
elysian in Georgian: ელისეს მინდვრები
elysian in Hungarian: Élüszion
elysian in Dutch: Elyzeese velden
elysian in Japanese: エーリュシオン
elysian in Polish: Elizjum
elysian in Portuguese: Campos Elísios
elysian in Russian: Элизиум
elysian in Finnish: Elysion
elysian in Swedish: Elyséiska fälten
elysian in Ukrainian: Елісій

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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