The myth of the Greek Goddess Persephone

Greek History & Archaeology

The myth starts with Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of harvest and fertility. She grew up to attract the attention of quite a lot of gods but her mother, Demeter was very protective of her and wouldn’t agree to any match.

Pomegranate; one of the symbols of Persephone Photo Credit: Negin A

Among all the hopeful suitors, Hades, God of the Underworld, proved to be the most persistent. Upon seeing Persephone, he fell in love with her. His desire to marry her however, remained unfulfilled as Demeter did not give her consent.

He decided, nevertheless, to pursue her, and one day while Persephone was picking flowers in a valley, he opened up the earth beneath her and abducted her before she could even react. He took her down to the underworld. The whole incident was witnessed by Zeus, father of the maiden and brother of the abductor, as well as by Helios, god of the Sun.

Barley; one of the symbols of Persephone Photo Credit: Christian Schnettelker

Zeus decided to keep silent about the abduction in order to prevent a fight with his brother while Helios chose not to become involved with the incident. Demeter, on the other hand, was inconsolable and couldn’t accept her daughter’s sudden disappearance.  Hecate, goddess of wilderness and childbirth, advised Demeter to seek the help of Helios who, relenting finally revealed to her that Persephone had been kidnapped by Hades.

Demeter became enraged at this insult and wanted to take revenge. She would never believe that Hades, who presided over the dead, would ever be a suitable husband for her sweet daughter. She was also angry at Zeus for not having revealed the truth to her. She decided to wreak her revenge by neglecting her duties as the goddess of the harvest which resulted in the earth becoming arid and infertile, animals dying and famine spreading all over.

Flowers; one of the symbols of Persephone Photo Credit: Tony Donnelly

The suffering of people led Zeus to decide he needed to restore normalcy and thus find the middle ground between the opposing sides: he promised Demeter to bring back Persephone, who despaired of ever coming up from the underworld, to her if she accepted that their daughter would be the wife of Hades.

Hades learned of this agreement and gave Persephone a few seeds of pomegranate, a fruit of the Underworld which supposedly made anyone who tasted it; want to return back to this land. That is the reason behind Persephone’s public declaration of wanting to live with her husband in a gathering of all the gods involved. Upon hearing this, Demeter became infuriated and accused Hades of tricking her daughter.

Deer; one of the symbols of Persephone Photo Credit: David Baron

The great fight that followed ended  when Zeus decided that Persephone would spend half of the year with her husband in the Underworld and the other half with her mother. And just like the progression of the myth, in the fall, seeds—like Persephone herself—are buried underground but in the spring, Persephone and the earth’s crops come out into the sun once more. Persephone is the Goddess of the Underworld as well as goddess of vegetation. Her return above the earth each spring symbolizes immortality. Her symbols are the pomegranate, seeds of grain, flowers and the deer.

Cover Picture Credit: Rachel.Adams

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