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Persephone
Περσεφόνη

Persephone. 5621: Perséphone. Tarente. Terre cuite polychrome. Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Genève.

Odysseus: "Mother … why do you avoid me when I try to reach you, so that even in Hades we may throw our loving arms around each other's necks and draw cold comfort from our tears? Or is this a mere phantom that grim Persephone has sent me to accentuate my grief?"
Anticlia 1: "My child, my child! … This is no trick played on you by Persephone … You are only witnessing here the law of our mortal nature, when we come to die." (Homer, The Odyssey 11.210).

"It is also said that on reaching old age a vision came to Pindar in a dream. As he slept Persephone stood by him and declared that she alone of the deities had not been honored by Pindar with a hymn, but that Pindar would compose an ode to her also when he had come to her. Pindar died at once, before ten days had passed since the dream. But there was in Thebes an old woman related by birth to Pindar who had practised singing most of his odes. By her side in a dream stood Pindar, and sang a hymn to Persephone. Immediately on waking out of her sleep she wrote down all she had heard him singing in her dream." (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.23.3).

"They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness. For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again …" (Plato, Meno 81b).

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.

(Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837-1909, The Garden of Proserpine).


Persephone is Core, the Maiden, "the goddess of twofold name". She became queen of the Underworld after being abducted, while she was gathering flowers, by Hades, who had fallen in love with her.

The occasion of the abduction

It is told that Hades asked Zeus to give him Persephone in marriage; and since Zeus deemed that Demeter would not allow her daughter to live in the gloomy Underworld, he told his brother to seize her as she was gathering flowers. So Hades did, near Mount Aetna or near Henna (i.e. Enna, where a temple of Demeter was built), or near Syracuse in Sicily—a favorite home of Demeter for its fertility—on the occasion when Arethusa 3, one of the NYMPHS, had invited the goddesses to a banquet. They came with their daughters, whom they left to roam unguarded through the meadows, where the girls started filling baskets with marigolds, and violets, and poppies, and hyacinths, and everlasting amaranths, and roses, and all kinds of bright flowers, some of them without a name. Persephone herself, they say, plucked crocuses and white lilies or violets, but while plucking and gathering, she strayed far so that none of her companions followed her. It was then that Hades seized her, and bore her into his own realm.

Cyane 1

While he galloped through lakes and springs, the naiad Cyane 1, standing forth from her pool, shouted at him:

"No further shall you go! … The maiden should have been wooed, not ravished …" (Cyane 1 to Hades. Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.414).

But Hades smote the pool to its bottom, opening a road to the Underworld; and that is why some say that it was the god who caused the fountain named Cyane to gush forth in the neighborhood of Syracuse. In the meantime, Cyane 1, having failed to stop the god, dissolved away in tears because of her pain, and melted into her own waters. Later, when Demeter came to the fountain looking for her daughter, there was no naiad to tell her what had happened; but still the goddess could see Persephone's girdle floating on the surface of the pool.

Cries in all directions

When Persephone was seized, she cried out:

"Ho dearest mother, they are carrying me away!" (Ovid, Fasti 4.447).

… for that is the proper thing to do for an abducted girl. But the god, having taken Persephone away in his chariot, cleft the earth and descended with her to the Underworld. As often happens, she was missed though too late, and those who first called her nicely:

"Persephone, come to the gifts we have for you." (Ovid, Fasti 4.452).

… ended up filling the mountain with shrieks and smiting their own bosoms with their hands. Some of them, it is told, became the SIRENS, after having sought Persephone in vain through many lands. There are those who say that Persephone, when she was abducted, was accompanied by Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena; but others have mentioned several OCEANIDS among her playmates: Electra 1, Ianthe 1, Rhodia 1, Callirrhoe 1, Melobosis, Tyche, Ocyrrhoe 1, Chryseis 1, Ianira 1, Acaste 1, Admete 1, Pluto 1, Calypso 2, Styx, Urania 1, and Galaxaure.

Hades ravishing Persephone. 4724: Joseph Heintz der Ältere, 1564-1609: Der Raub der Proserpina, um 1595. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

Demeter distressed

Most distressed was the girl's mother Demeter, who went about seeking her child all over the earth, by night and day with torches kindled in the craters of Mount Aetna, crying "Persephone", and "Daughter", and asking whoever she met the one question:

"Did a girl pass this way?" (Demeter to anyone. Ovid, Fasti 4.488).

This was Demeter's darkest moment; and she tore her locks and smote her breast; and reproaching the whole world, she broke in pieces the plows, destroyed farmers and cattle, made barren the plowed fields, and blighted the seed.

Because of Love

And yet, they say, it was Love who caused everything. For Aphrodite feared that Persephone, following Athena and Artemis, would also remain a virgin. That is why she instructed her son Eros to join the young girl to her uncle. And Eros, who rules the gods and controls all deities, selected the sharpest among his many arrows, and with it smote Hades through the heart; and since when this happens nothing can be done, Hades abducted Persephone when she, not far from the city of Henna (as some say), was playing and gathering flowers in a grove. At the time, she was so girlish and innocent that she is believed to have felt more pain for the loss of the flowers that fell out of her loosened tunic when Hades seized her, than fear for being captured; but she nevertheless called on her mother and companions while Hades galloped away.

Demeter demands her daughter

Some have asserted (but see also Demeter) that it was Arethusa 3—whom the river god Alpheus loved—who first reported to Demeter that Persephone was in the Underworld. For she had seen her when herself glided beneath the earth. Persephone, she said, seemed sad and perturbed with fear, but on the other hand, she had become a queen. On hearing this, Demeter set forth in her chariot to heaven and asked Zeus the restoration of their daughter, saying:

"… That she has been stolen, I will bear, if only he will bring her back; for your daughter does not deserve to have a robber for a husband." (Demeter to Zeus. Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.520).

Yet Zeus replied:

Hades and Persephone banqueting. 8319: Red-figured kylix (drinking-cup): Pluto and Persephone banqueting. Athens c. 440-430 BC. British Museum, London.

"… If only we are willing to give right names to things, this is no harm that has been done, but only love … But if you so greatly desire to separate them, Persephone shall return to heaven, but on one condition only: if in the lower-world no food has as yet touched her lips. For so have the MOERAE decreed." (Zeus to Demeter. Ovid, Metamorphoses 5.524).

The seeds of pomegranate

But the girl, given to plucking even in the Underworld, had already taken a pomegranate and eaten one seed or seven of its seeds, as Ascalaphus 2, the son of the infernal river Acheron and only witness, could testify. And because of his tittle-tattle, Persephone's return to the upper world was thwarted. Now, some may reason that Ascalaphus 2's gossip is unimportant, and may argue that the MOERAE's decree could not be changed, with or without gossip; but by arguing in such a way they only prove that they ignore how fate works. But Demeter knows, and that is why she turned Ascalaphus 2 into a short-eared owl, showing what a tattling tongue may cause to his/her owner. And she also knows because the MOERAE themselves persuaded her to lay aside her wrath and moderate her grief; for at the time, Demeter the Black, as the Phigalians of Arcadia surnamed her because of her attire, was letting all the fruits of the earth perish, and the human race die through famine.

The year parcelled

Since that condition, which Zeus had mentioned, could not be fulfilled, Persephone remained in the Underworld, married to its lord Hades. Yet Zeus did not wish to break the balance between his brother and his sister, and that is why he divided the year into two equal parts, so that Persephone spends half of the time with her mother, and half with her husband. Others say, however, that he ruled that Persephone should go down to the Underworld for the third part of the year, but for the two parts should live with her mother and the other gods in Heaven, in a similar way as it was later ruled in Adonis' case. For when Adonis was still a child, Aphrodite hid him in a chest because of his beauty, entrusting it to Persephone. But when Persephone saw him, she would not give him back; such was his beauty. Also this case was tried before Zeus, who divided the year into three parts, so that Adonis should stay by himself for one part, with Persephone for another part, and with Aphrodite for the remainder. This was done as the lord of heaven ruled, but Adonis gave to Aphrodite, whom he loved, his own share in addition.

Queen of the Underworld

Orpheus: Persephone loved his song. 7217: Angelo Scetta: Orfeo all'Inferno (1845 circa). National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

This is how Persephone, who loved to gather flowers, became the queen of the Underworld, having there a grove, with tall black poplars and willows, called after her. And she was comforted by Hades, who told her:

"… I shall be no unfitting husband for you among the deathless gods, that am own brother to father Zeus. And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves and shall have the greatest rights among the deathless gods: those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings, reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be punished for evermore." (Hades to Persephone, Homeric Hymn to Demeter 2.363).

Helps Orpheus

And when Orpheus came to the Underworld looking for his wife, Persephone was the first to be entranced by his song, which persuaded her to help him in his desire to bring back to life his dead wife.

Pirithous loved her

Later Pirithous, a friend of Theseus, wished to marry Persephone; and with that bizarre purpose in mind, he descended to the Underworld. But for that attempt he sits forever in the Chair of Forgetfulness on which he is held fast by coils of serpents, although some say that Heracles 1 asked Hades for him, and brought him up unharmed.

Helps Heracles 1

It was by her favor, some say, that Heracles 1 received Cerberus 1 in chains; and when Menoetes 1, the Herdsman of Hades, challenged Heracles 1 to wrestle and had his own ribs broken, he was let off by Heracles 1 at the request of Persephone (see also HERACLES 1'S LABOURS).

Helps Tiresias

And when the seer Tiresias came to the Underworld after his death, Persephone granted that he alone among the shadows of the dead should keep understanding. Such is her power, and that is why the Underworld may be referred to as the "sunless house of Persephone", or the "sacred floor of Persephone", or "the couch of Persephone", or "Persephone's gloomy roof", or "the dark-walled home of Persephone"; and the dead as "the portion of Persephone". And some, fearing Death, call Persephone awful or dread, but others call her the "fair young goddess of the nether world."


Family 

Parentage (two versions)

Mates

Offspring

Notes

Zeus & Styx

 

Styx is a river in the Underworld.


Hades

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Zeus

Zagreus

For Zagreus see Dionysus 2.


Related sections

Demeter, Hades, Underworld
Persephone in GROUPS: OLYMPIANS, ZEUS' OFFSPRING

Sources
Abbreviations

AO.1192; Apd.1.3.1, 1.5.1; Hes.The.912; Hom.Dem.2.405ff.; Hom.Od.10.495, 10.509; Hyg.Fab.146, 167; Nonn.5.565, 6.140, 6.155ff.; Ov.Fast.4.420, 4.483,4.605; Ov.Met.5.365ff., 6.114; Pau.8.31.2, 8.42.1, 10.30.6; Stat.Theb.8.61; Strab.6.2.6.

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