The Myth of Persephone

Perephone, Queen of the Underworld

Persephone was the only daughter of Demeter, the goddess of grain, agriculture and fertility.

Unfortunately for her, Hades,the ruler of the Underworld, had dreadful plans for her: He would steal her innocence and virginity and turn her into his dreaded queen.

The abduction

Hades abducts Persephone
Hades abducts Persephone

Hades, god of the underworld, fell in love with Persephone and wanted her as his bride. Despite his brother Zeus's reservations when he sought his approval, he decided to abduct her. Zeus was concerned about the reaction of her mother Demeter, who would certainly would not consent to the prospect of her beloved daughter becoming queen of the Underworld.

The abduction of the innocent maiden was quite spectacular: She was gathering flowers in a plain somewher in Sicily, when Hades suddenly appeared, thundering across the plain in his four-horse chariot.

Before any of the girl's companions realized what was happening, the god swooped down swiftly and snatched the poor girl from her arm.

Despite her screaming and pleas, no one else could hear her. The earth opened up before Hades's chariot and the powerful horses drove down into the chasm. As they both disappeared into the dark depths, the hole closed up behind them.

Demeter's desperate search for her daughter

A Renaissance painting depicting the abduction of Persephone
A painting depicting the abduction of Persephone

When Demeter came to collect Persephone, she soon realized that no trace of her could be found.

Distraught and desperate, she searched high and low for her daughter. She traveled to the farthest corners of the earth, searching for nine full days and nights without ever stopping to eat, drink, bathe, or rest. As she was roaming the lands, she destroyed crops and livestocks, threatening to make the earth barren for ever and thus destroy all of humankind, in case she would not find her daughter.

Finally, on the tenth day, goddess Hecate told the grief stricken mother that Persephone had been carried away, but she did not know the identity of her abductor.

To find the answer as to who was the culprit, Demeter went to god Helius, who saw everything that happened on the face of the earth. Helius indeed told her what happened, but, on the other hand, he tried to convince her that Hades would not be an unfit husband for her daughter.

Enraged to find out about the truth, Demeter remained relentless in her pursuit, horrified at the prospect of Hades taking away her daughter. Realizing that Zeus was a possible accomplice in the abduction, she refused to return to Olympus. Instead, she roamed the earth in the guise of a mortal, forbidding the trees to bear fruit and the earth to nurture vegetable and fruit.

A full year passed by and Zeus became restless that, if he let Demeter persisit in her pursuit, all humankind would starve to death. So, he decided to send to her all the gods and goddesses of Olympus to beg her change her mind.

After he realized that all his efforts were made in vain, the almighty ruler of Olympus promised to Demeter that he himself would make sure that Persephone would return to her.

A deal is struck

Persephone eating the pomegranate
Persephone eating pomegranate

God Hermes, summoned by Zeus, raced down to Hades to fetch Persephone. Hades immediately complied, but before he let the girl go, he urged her to eat a pomegranate seed. Alas, this apparent act of kindness was in reality a devious trick: Anyone who tastes the food of Hades, must remain in the Underworld!

The deed having been done, Rhea, the mother of Zeus, Demeter and Hades, proposed a compromise which her children accepted: Persephone would have to stay with Hades in the Underworld for six months each year. The rest of the year, she would be allowed to ascend to earth to stay with her mother.

After agreeing with the deal, Demeter restored earth's fertility and returned to Olympus with her daughter. But, when the time came that mother and daughter would part, the earth became colder and less fertile, until the maiden's reemergence six months later.

The cycle of Persephone's descent to the Underworld and her subsequent ascension to earth, signify the progression of seasons, Fall and Winter succeeded by Spring and Summer. In the Fall, seeds were buried underground. But in the Spring, crops come out into the sun once more.

Queen of the Underworld

Persephone leaving her mother Demeter to enter the Underworld
Persephone entering the Underworld

Although she spent only half of her life in the Underworld, little is known about Persephone's life above ground after her abduction. Below ground, however, she was dreaded forever afterwards as the goddess of the Underworld. So feared was she, that mortals often invoked her name in curses.

The Queen of the Underworld had no children by Hades, but remained faithful to her. On the other hand, when he tried to have extramarital affairs, she made sure that her adversary would be punished.

Such was the case, when her husband tried to seduce Minthe, who was a nymph: She reacted by turning her husband's potential lover into a fragrant mint plant!

Similarly, she turned the nymph Leuce into a white poplar tree, when Hades again tried his charms on her.

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