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Persephone and Hades

Ankana Dey Choudhury Jul 27, 2020
One tale that makes for a grand read in Greek Mythology is that of the abduction of Persephone by Hades, God of the Underworld. But what predicament did follow after the heinous and coercive crime was committed by Hades? Read this story to find out all about the tale that entangled Persephone and Hades with all its intricacies and myriad versions.
"But all the while Persephone knew how brief that beauty was: fruits, flowers, leaves, all the fair growth of the Earth, must end with the coming of the cold, and pass like herself into the power of death.
After the lord of the dark world carried her away she was never again the gay young creature who had played in the flowery meadow without a thought of care or trouble." - Edith Hamilton in 'Mythology'.
The tale of Persephone is one of the most distressing tales that has been etched in the realms of Greek mythology.
I say this because it echoes with the heartrending cries of a mother in pursuit of her lost daughter, Persephone, who happened to be abducted sheerly because her beauty had worked up the lust in a male deity who had the ability to overpower the fragile little maiden.
What struck me most about the plight of Persephone, the Roman Proserpina, was the fact that her mother was an all-powerful Goddess, and yet somehow Hades, the Greek God of the Underworld still got his way.
Even mythology does not make concessions, I guess, to allow maternal victory so as to not disrupt the paternalistic mindset to which the cosmos has been so used to for a great duration of time now. So, let's see what really happened between Persephone and Hades in order for the Earth to get bestowed by seasons.

The Persephone and Hades Myth

How it all began...

There exists two particular versions about the parentage of Persephone. While in other versions, Demeter, the goddess of fertility and bounty, along with being the protector of the sanctity of marriage in ancient Grecian mythology, is decidedly the mother of Persephone.
The former accounts believe that Demeter, the Roman Ceres, had procreated Persephone asexually, while later classical myths portray her to be the offspring of Demeter and her sibling Zeus.
Hades, or the Roman Pluto, on the other hand, was not only the lord of the underworld, he also happened to be the brother of Zeus and Poseidon as well. He was known to traverse on an aureate chariot pulled by four black and strong equines, and visited the world above only to quench his venereal desires.
Generally, myths about Hades indicate that he established his sexual relations with divinely beautiful maidens called nymphs, and did not really seek to make them last. All he sought was pleasure from them, and this also provided him with a pleasant break from the bleak surroundings.
Our story begins from the fateful day on which the beautiful Persephone was playing in the garden of Enna with nymphs called Athena and Artemis. Homer, however, stated that it was Leucippe and the deep-bosomed daughters of Okeanos and Tethys called the Oceanids who were the playmates of the beautiful Persephone that day.
Together they played, danced, and sang while enjoying the beauty of nature. Demeter was some distance away from her and was busy imbuing flowers with vibrant shades.
Hades had seen Persephone earlier, and the moment he had set his eyes upon the fresh, pristine and nubile beauty, who Hesiod had addressed as 'white-armed Persephone' in his work Theogony, unscathed by the convolutions of the corrupt world, Hades had instinctively felt the urge to establish a lifelong companionship with Persephone.
Smitten by the golden cascade of soft hair and her peach-tinged fair complexion of 'the maiden of the beautiful ankles', he knew that he would have to coercively snatch Persephone, as Demeter, his sister, would never allow such a match to be shewed.
So, it was on this day that he chose to rise from a fissure on the surface of the Earth, which grew into a deep chasm as Hades the Greek god of the underworld arose from his domain. He caught hold of the fragile Persephone, whose delicate protests where no match for his strength, and descended to the abysmal depths of the underworld.
All the frail Persephone could do was wail with all her might, pleading with Hades, who, in soothe, was her uncle, to have mercy upon her, and relieve her from the trauma that he plied on her.

Her cries did not soften the stone-hearted Hades, but it did reach the ears of her loving mother Demeter.
Before I progress any further with the Hades and Persephone story, it is important that I narrate another version of this portion of the Persephone and Hades myth.
According to this variation, it is said that after beholding the breathtaking Persephone, Hades confided in his brother Zeus about his desire to take his young niece into matrimony. Zeus, on hearing this, instantaneously expressed his consent for the match.
But, he clearly told his brother that Demeter would decisively put her foot down when it came to validating such a match, and so the only way in which Hades could have Persephone was through coercive abduction and instantaneous descent into the underworld.
So, Zeus wove an intricate design to aid his brother's pursuit, and asked Gaia, the goddess of the Earth to grow a conspicuous blossom that could mesmerize anybody who set their eyes upon it.
So Gaia grew a beautiful and breathtaking yellow-hued blossom called the 'narcissus' upon her bosom, in the valley of Nysa, which was already adorned with magnificent blooms of roses and hyacinths and tri-petaled irises and white, yellow, and purple crocuses along with vibrant violets.
Then came the unfortunate morning when Demeter descended on Earth with her little damsel Persephone, and left her to play with the sea nymphs called Nereids and the naiads who were freshwater nymphs of the lakes and springs and rivers and fountains. Demeter then went to supervise and tend to her bountiful crops.
As Persephone engaged in play and frolic with her aides, her attention fell upon the potently fragrant valley nearby and she couldn't take her eyes of the yellow narcissus. She called upon her playmates to accompany her, but they couldn't possibly go with her as leaving the side of their water bodies would result in their death.
So, Persephone danced her way to the garden alone, and tried to pluck the narcissus from the bosom of Gaia. It drained her energies, as the narcissus only came out after a lot of vehement pulling and ardent tugging. But finally it gave away and Persephonē tried to catch her breath.
But suddenly, to her utter fright, she saw the tiny hole from which she had drawn out the flower shaft, began to grow rapidly until it started to resemble a mighty enormous chasm. From it came the vigorous galloping sounds of multiple horses and such sudden happenings only froze the frail beauty to her feet.
Out of all her friends only the naiad Kyane tried to rescue the crying Persephone, but she was no match for the powerful Hades. Bereaving her friend's abduction, Kyane melted into a pool of tears and formed the river Ciane at the spot.
Suddenly, the chariot of Hades emerged from the void in front and he forcefully picked up Persephone and left for his world of the dead again. The wailing child, however, managed to draw the attention of her mother as she left the mortal world.
One version of the myth also alleges Hades to have cursed Kyane into becoming a water body, when the naiad tried to help Persephone.

On setting foot into the underworld, Hades got his slaves to attire Persephone in an ornate gown spun out of gold and silver, and then married her in the holy shrine of Tartarus.
The search of the bewildered mother...

Demeter rushed back to where she had left her daughter and found only the Ciane river there with the other nymphs weeping. Flummoxed and worried she asked all as to the whereabouts of her beloved daughter.
Nobody could tell her anything at all, and furious that they couldn't protect her child, she cursed all the nymphs into becoming heinous women with plumed bodies of avians and scaly feet, called sirens. It was only the river Ciane who helped her by washing over the belt of Persephone at the goddess' pedes to pointed that something gravely wrong had happened.
Demeter went mad and hunted for her daughter in every nook and cranny of the Earth. She even guised her herself as an aged lady and with lighted torches in her hands roamed the Earth for nine long days and nine long nights. Her feet tired and moss-adorned, she looked for her daughter in land and sea.

Finally, she met Hekate, the deity of magic, witchcraft, spirits, and crossroads, at the dawn of the 10th day, who took pity on her dismal condition, and asked her to seek help from the all-seeing Helios, the Sun god. Helios told Demeter all about how Hades had dragged Persephone into the underworld and emphatically made her his consort.
According to certain versions, Demeter, fatigued from her failure to trace her offspring, retired to the altar of Eleusis where she was discovered by four youthful damsels, cavorting by a fountain nearby.
They took her to be an old helpless and carried her home where their parents were more than happy to offer the old lady sanctuary. Content with how she had been treated, she wished to bless the family by rendering the male infant of the couple immortal. But for that she held him over cackling flames each night.
One the last day of this practice, when the child was almost immortal, his mother caught Demeter in her act and admonished her for her behavior. The couple then asked her to vacate their abode immediately. Seeing this, the passions of a mother were rekindled in the heart of Demeter, who then revealed her true avatar.
She explained her intentions to the couple who in turn begged pardon. Demeter asked them to then build a shrine in her glory, and propagate her 'secret to immortality' to entire humanity. Soon an altar was constructed on slopes of a hill and Demeter then continued on her sojourn.
It was then that she met Hecate who asked her to speak to Helios. Helios then told the goddess all about the plot hatched between Zeus and Hades.
On hearing this, Demeter returned to Mount Olympus and urged Zeus to order Hades to return her daughter to her. Zeus stifled her pleas and subsequently drew the wrath of an extremely tempestuous mother. Demeter killed all vegetation and caused all natural bounty to shrivel up and perish.
A yearlong famine struck the earthlings and human kind was at the verge of extinction, when Zeus frightened that none of his worshippers would survive, first sent nymph Iris, the messenger of Gods and then the 'Moirae' or the three fates, called Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos to appease Demeter.
When they failed, Zeus sent all the Greek gods and goddesses to her. But Demeter heard none of what they said. Scared of her perseverance Zeus finally approached his brother Hades and asked him to release Persephone.
A compromised ending...

Hades was quite reluctant to let go of his divinely beautiful consort, and conspired to play a trick on Zeus so that he didn't have to let go of Persephone entirely.
What he told his brother was that since her descent into the underworld, if Persephone had refrained from eating anything at all then she could return to her mother immediately.
It was known to Zeus that anybody who tasted even the tiniest morsel of food in the underworld was bound to return there. But he knew that stricken with grief Persephone had indeed touched nothing to eat.
Sadly, what he wasn't aware of was the fact that Hades had been informed by his sly gardener that Persephone had indulged herself to 6 or 7 pomegranate arils to quench her burning hunger surreptitiously. But the gardener of Hades saw it and informed his master.
Some say that it was not a gardener, but rather the son of Acheron and Orphne, Ascalaphus, who informed Hades that Persephone had eaten the arils. A second variation narrates that it was after he negotiated with Zeus, Hades himself offered Persephone pomegranate arils so as to vanquish her hunger before she saw her mother again.
Zeus then sent Hermes, the messenger Greek god to escort Persephone back to her mother. Naturally, having eaten, Persephone couldn't return to Earth forevermore. So, Hades agreed to reach a compromise with Demeter as per which Persephone could spend eight months of an annum with her beloved mother.
But for the next 4 months, she would have to visit her husband's bleak abode. It is said that the gardener who told Hades about Persephone's secret was cursed by her and transformed into a screech owl who was then buried under an enormous boulder by her mother.
And therefore, with the arrival of Persephone, the Earth rejoiced with the onset of spring and with her departure it became a cold, black place engulfed by winter.
There are some authors who have managed to give this Persephone and Hades myth a romantic angle, and in the process making it a love story, wherein they believe that when she did reach the underworld, Persephone was depressed and vapid for quite some time.
There are some authors who have managed to give this Persephone and Hades myth a romantic angle, and in the process making it a love story, wherein they believe that when she did reach the underworld, Persephone was depressed and vapid for quite some time.
But gradually with her husband bestowing priceless jewels on her and honoring her as the queen of the underworld, Persephone began to enjoy her seat on the ivory throne. And so she knowingly ate the pomegranate arils so that she could in some way remain attached to the underworld without having to return to the world above completely.
There are accounts of archaic mythologists who believed that on reaching the underworld, Hermes was actually astounded by the love that he saw thriving between Hades and his queen.

So, it was he who had proposed to Persephone to quickly eat something so that nothing could keep her away from Hades forever.
Strangely, these facts about Hades indicating his possessiveness and passion for his wife justifies his actions in this extension to the Persephone and Hades myth.
When in Olympus, Persephone was a much sought after maiden by suitors by the likes of Hermes, Ares (Greek god of war), Apollo (Greek god of light) and Hephaestus (the lame god of fire and metalworking) but Demeter always got rid of them and disposed of their myriad gifts to lure Persephone.
But there were two friends, Theseus and Pirithous, who had sworn to take into holy matrimony the daughters of Zeus. Having chosen and achieved Helen for himself, Theseus left his beloved with his mother, and traveled to the underworld with his friend to fetch Persephone, who was much coveted by Pirithous.
When they arrived in the domain of Hades, who was well aware of their intentions, both were cordially invited by the lord to dine with him. But as soon as they sat on their stone chairs, their seats sprang to life and shackled them in a way that release was impossible.
t was only when Hercules, the Grecian warrior came to fetch Cerberus as his last task, did he see the two helpless souls and agreed to help them. He managed to pull Theseus away even though his lower body remained sticking to the chair given the complexity of the spell, Pirithous, however, could not be saved.
Another myth has it that once her husband Hades had the audacity to pursue a nymph by the name of Minthe, and Persephone magically transformed her into a mint plant.
With that I come to the end of the tale of Persephone and Hades. Indeed, the myth extends to entangle itself to stories related to other Grecian deities and warriors. But those tales I shall recount some other time. Until then I hope you have enough to reflect upon.