Other names: Persephonia, Phersephone, Persephassa, Phersephatta, Persephone Soteira and Persephone Despoena, Proserpine, Proserpina.
Persephone means either "Dazzling Brilliance" or "Destroyer of Light"
Also Called: Kore, the Maiden, the Mistress, the Iron Queen, the Pale Queen, etc.

Persephone's story is a bittersweet one, and is recounted as The Rape of Persephone. The story goes:
Hades, the lonely, brooding god of the Underworld gains a wife in Persephone, daughter of the harvest goddess, Demeter. In a fit of longing, Hades espies Persephone and abducts her to his Underworld lair. Demeter, the mother of Persephone, searches the world over for her missing daughter and in so doing, forgets her duties and abandons the world to winter or drought. Persephone is eventually found but not before she has eaten a few pomegranate seeds from the Underworld. It is divine law however that those who have partaken of the food of the Underworld may never leave, even if they are immortal. A compromise is reached where Persephone must spend a part of the year in the Underworld with her new husband Hades in which the world becomes barren during Demeter's suffering, but Persephone is returned in the other part of the year and all the world rejoices with Demeter with the coming of spring.

In this myth, Hades, Persephone and Demeter are used to explain the seasonal changes of the year, a myth common to many other mythologies. Likewise, this myth links two cthonic gods together in Demeter and Hades and may be indicative of an intermixing or adaptation between older pre-Greek gods and younger gods. In many myths thereafter, Persephone is commonly depicted as the compassionate queen ruling beside her dark, brooding husband-king.

Dead Can Dance recorded the song Persephone (The Gathering of Flowers) for the album Within the Realm of a Dying Sun.

In Greek mythology, Persephone became the goddess of the underworld when she was abducted by Hades, who was so taken with her beauty that he needed to possess her. Persephone's mother Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, was so enraged by her daughter's disappearance that she withdrew in her misery and all fertility on earth ceased. Zeus, Persephone's father, sent Hermes down to Hades to make him release Persephone. Hades agreed, but before sending her home, he gave Persephone a pomegranate to eat. Had she refused the pomegranate, Hades possesion of Persephone might have ended there. But because she ate a single seed of the fruit of the underworld, she remained in his possesion for one third of each year -- the rest of the year she was allowed to remain with her mother. Demeter decreed that while Persephone dwells in the underworld, nothing on earth can thrive - thus winter began.

This story leads me the following question: if you were about to be excecuted and were asked for your final meal request, what are the chances that you'd choose a pomegranate?

Demeter, goddess of agriculture, often employed the help of her daughter Persephone in her work of seeding the earth. One day however Persephone wearied of her labour and decided to spend the day with her maidens in playful recreation gathering flowers, unaware that her innocence and laughter had caught the attention of the passing god of the underworld Pluto who drew up in a dark chariot pulled by four fiery black steeds. Enchanted by Persephone's beauty he watched her through the foilage, convinced he must have her; yet he recalled the vow that he had made upon the refusal of all of his past entreaties to many goddesses to share his dark throne, a vow never again to ask and have his heart broken by rejection. With this in mind, he resolved to capture her, and strode through the grass toward her. Frozen in fear, Persephone and her maidens could do little to stop the mighty god as he grabbed her in his grasp of iron and took her to his chariot.
'Tis he, 'tis he: he comes to us
From the depths of Tartarus.
For what of evil doth he roam
From his red and gloomy home,
In the centre of the world,
Where the sinful dead are hurled!
Mark him as he moves along,
Drawn by horses black and strong,
Such as may belong to Night
Ere she takes her morning flight.
Now the chariot stops: the god
On our grassy world hath trod:
Like a Titan steppeth he,
Yet full of his divinity
On his mighty shoulder lie
Raven locks, and in his eye
A cruel beauty, such as none
Of us may wisely look upon
- Barry Cornwall
He sped away, desperate to outrun her maidens who were now crying out after their beloved mistress, afraid that he may draw the attention of Demeter. Upon coming to the large Cyane River, Pluto realised that he could not hope to cross, and turning back would present the risk of an encounter with Demeter, so he raised his pronged fork and thrust it into the earth, renting open a crevice which allowed him entry to the underworld. However, unknown to Pluto, Persephone hurriedly cast off her girdle into the river, calling to the water nymph to carry it to her mother. It was not long before Demeter noticed the absence of her daughter and began searching everywhere, rushing from place to place calling her name, but as the day wore on her efforts were clearly in vain. Yet still she continued, and as she hurried about, her duties were all neglected; flowers began to die, grass perished and the rain no longer refreshed the grain.
"What ails her that she comes not home?
Demeter seeks her far and wide,
And gloomy-browed doth ceaseless roam
From many a morn till eventide.
'My life, immortal though it be,
Is naught!' she cries, 'for want of thee,
Persephone - Persephone!'"
- Jean Ingelow
Eventually, heartbroken and overwhelmed with grief, Demeter stopped and sat down to weep near the city of Eleusis in the guise of an aged woman, where the daughters of the king Celeus took pity on her cries of anguish and invited into the palace. In an effort to soothe her broken heart, they gave her charge of their infant brother Triptolemus, an offer she gladly accepted. At her touch the boy became radiant and rosy, amazing the royal family and court, and she sat with her new charge all night. Soon realising that the gift of immortality would be an even greater blessing for the child than her constant presence, she annointed his limbs with nectar, spoke a powerful charm and placed him upon hot coals to consume all perishable elements left in him. However, the queen, Metaneira had stolen in silently, concerned for her son alone with the stranger, and with a shriek snatched her child out of the flames. After ascertaining he was unharmed, she turned to the careless old lady to scold her, and instead was faced with the radiant goddess, who reproved the queen before leaving to continue her wandering.

Eventually, whilst Demeter wandered along the river banks she saw the waters wash up some glittering thing at her feet. She at once recognised her daughter's girdle and was again filled with hope, hastening onward until she came to a fountain and sat down to rest, overcome with fatigue. After some time Demeter realised that the fountain's murmuring had become louder and louder until she was sure she could hear it speak words. The fountain told of how it used to be a nymph in Diana's train called Arethusa until Diana had changed her form to that of water in response to a cry for help when the river god Alpheus would not relent his pursuit of her. When Alpheus saw what she had become he still would not cease, and Arethusa rushed through a crevice opened by Diana to provide escape, and glided deep into the earth until she passed through the depths of the underworld, where she saw Persephone enthroned beside Pluto.

Unfortunately, Demeter's joy at discovering the whereabouts of her daughter did not last as she realised that Pluto would never relinquish her. Once more overcome with grief, she withdrew into a cave to mourn, whereupon, because of her neglect, a great famine spread throughout the land causing the people to entreat her to once more let things grow. However she vowed that nothing on earth would grow so long as her daughter was imprisoned in Pluto's dark realm. In desperation, the people then begged Jupiter himself to grant Persephone access to the upper world so that Demeter would give them their food. Upon hearing of this, Demeter joined in the pleas to Jupiter until, weary of their cries, he consented to her return upon the condition that she had not touched any food during her stay. Demeter herself descended to take Persephone away, but the spirit Ascalaphus declared that she had eaten some pomegranate seeds that very day. Unable to deny this, Persephone was condemned by Jupiter to spend one month each year in her husband's abode for every seed she had eaten, and thus spent half half of each of the rest of her years there. Mercury was chosen to lead her to and from the underworld, and upon her arrival on the earth each year there would be celebration, sunshine and growth. However once her six months were over and she returned to Hades, Demeter once more retired to her cave and let the world fall into coldness and death. Thus were born the unfailing seasons of summer and winter year after year.


Information and poetry extracts from everything2 and Myths of Greece and Rome by H A Guerber

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