Persephone

Greek Gods
Fast Facts:
  • Pronunciation: per-SEH-fone-ee
  • Origin: Greek
  • Role: Goddess
  • Symbol: Flowers
  • Husband: Hades
  • Other Name: Proserpine

Who Is Persephone?

Persephone was the goddess of vegetation but eventually became the Queen of the Underworld. She was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Her myths explain the change of the seasons, making her a very important part of Greek culture.

Origins

Persephone was the result of one of Zeus’ love affairs. Her mother was Demeter and the young girl was described as shy and beautiful. She spent her days frolicking in the fields and playing in fresh streams. She was also known as Kore, which means “the maiden”.

Legends and Stories

The main myth of Persephone tells how she became the Queen of the Underworld. It can be dived into several parts, which go as follows.

The Abduction

Persephone was a beautiful young lady, just entering womanhood. Hades found himself madly in love with her. He asked Zeus for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Zeus agreed but told him that the girl’s mother, Demeter, would never approve. But Hades wouldn’t accept her disapproval. Instead, he devised a plan to capture the young maiden and make her his wife.

One day, Persephone was out in the meadow with her friends. They were picking wildflowers and enjoying the beautiful weather. Persephone stumbled upon a narcissus. It was the most beautiful flower she had ever seen. She stooped down to get a better look when suddenly, the earth beneath her opened. Through the gap, Hades appeared with his chariot and black horses. Before she could react, Hades grabbed the goddess and just as quickly as he had appeared, disappeared back into the earth with the girl.

The Search

Persephone’s abduction happened so quickly that none of the other girls even noticed she was gone. When it did become clear that she was missing, a frantic search began. Zeus, however, had seen the entire incident unfold before him. Helios, the god of the Sun, also saw what had happened. Zeus decided that it was best to remain quiet so that he wasn’t caught in the middle of his brother Hades and his lover Demeter. Helios decided it was best to also stay quiet as the matter didn’t concern him.

Demeter was falling apart. She was completely heartbroken and distraught over her missing daughter. She was searching everywhere she could think of. Eventually, Hecate approached her and told her to ask Helios for help. Demeter listened and approached the god. Helios felt sorry for the mother and told her what he had seen. Once she learned where her daughter was, Demeter was filled with rage. Helios tried to calm her down and suggested that maybe this wasn’t the worst fate for her daughter.

The Solution

Try as she may, Demeter was unable to accept her daughter’s fate. She remained furious and knew in her heart that Hades was not the best husband for her daughter. She was also upset with Zeus for not preventing this. Demeter decided she had to punish the gods and abandoned her duties as a goddess. She no longer attended to harvest and fertility. The consequences were devastating. Crops began to wither and harvests began to fail. Plants stopped producing fruit and animals were dying without nourishment. Famine spread throughout the earth.

Zeus heard the cries of the people. They were hungry and scared. Zeus knew he had to do something to calm Demeter or else the entire world would perish. But he knew his solution had to please both Demeter and Hades. So, he promised Demeter that he would bring Persephone back if she was able to prove that she was being forced to stay against her will. If this couldn’t be proven, Persephone would stay with Hades.

Hades knew about the agreement and decided he needed to trick Persephone, as she would certainly say she was being kept against her will. There are many variations to this part of the myth but somehow, Hades got Persephone to eat a few pomegranate seeds. The pomegranate was the food of the Underworld and if its seed were consumed, they would change a person into loving the Underworld.

The time came for Hades, Persephone, Zeus, and Demeter to meet. When asked where she wanted to stay, Persephone said she wanted to stay with her husband. Demeter knew that Hades had tricked her daughter somehow but was unable to prove it. There was a terrible fight after this and Demeter threatened to make the entire earth unfertile and doom the entire population to a certain death. It was then that an agreement was made. Persephone would be allowed to leave Hades for half the year and stay with her mother. The remaining half she would stay in the Underworld. This is the explanation for the change of seasons. When the earth becomes barren and cold, Persephone is with Hades and her mother is too distraught to keep up with her duties.

Family

Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was married to Hades but together, they had no children. She was a faithful wife though and in turn made sure that her husband was faithful as well. When Hades fell in love with the nymph Minthe, Persephone turned her into a mint plant so that her husband wasn’t able to have her as a lover.

Appearance

Persephone is depicted as a beautiful young maiden with fair skin. Her face is the epitome of young beauty. She is often shown in long, flowing clothing with a wreath of flowers around her head. Having the title of the Queen of the Underworld leads some to believe her appearance is unattractive when the opposite is actually true.

Symbology

One symbol associated with Persephone is the pomegranate. In some versions of her myth, it is said that because she consumed the seeds of a pomegranate fruit found in the Underworld, she was forced to stay there for several months of the year, resulting in cold weather and soil unable to grow crops in.

She is also associated with many aspects of nature, both because she was the goddess of vegetation and because of her love of the outdoors. These symbols include flowers, reeds, waterfalls, springs, and rivers.

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