August 15th, 2009 by sabrina

See! I promised Persephone and here she is (better late than never).


Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee) is the Greek Goddess of the Underworld and of the growth of plants in spring. She is the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Earth, and Zeus, King of the Gods. The name Kore is also used for Persephone, originating from the belief that it was taboo to utter the name of the Queen of the Underworld, but that it was acceptable to use the name of her maiden persona (Kore literally means “maiden”). The most famous myth involving Persephone is that of her abduction by and marriage to Hades, God of the Underworld. (Many retellings of the story refer to it as rape, but others see it as a true consensual marriage, and there are elements of the story that support both interpretations.) When Hades decided to take a wife, he wanted one who would be worthy of him, and he asked his brother Zeus for one of his daughters. Persephone was very beautiful and unmarried, so Zeus agreed that Hades should take her as his wife. However, Zeus knew that Demeter was very protective of her daughter and would likely not agree to the marriage, since it would take Persephone away from her and to the Underworld. Zeus told Hades that he would have to catch Persephone unaware and take her to his kingdom by force.

One fine spring day, Persephone was out picking flowers with a group of nymphs and the other virgin Goddesses, Artemis and Athena. (In the versions where the marriage was consensual, this outing was actually the preparation for the wedding–Persephone’s bachelorette party, so to speak.) Persephone wandered away from her companions, and when she leaned down to pick a narcissus, the earth opened up at her feet and Hades took her to the Underworld. The only witness to the abduction was Helios, God of the Sun.

Back in the meadow, the nymphs realized that Persephone has disappeared and ran to tell Demeter. Demeter started searching for her daughter, but she couldn’t find her. Finally, she asked Helios if he had seen her, for she knew that could see all from his place in the sky. Helios told her that he had indeed seen Persephone, and that he had been taken by Hades to be his bride. He also told Demeter that it was Zeus who had given Persephone to Hades and had told him to take her by force.

In grief and anger, Demeter hid herself away from the Gods and, after wandering the world as an old mortal woman, she took refuge in one of her temples. She had stopped doing her job as Goddess of the Earth–all across the world, plants withered and died. This caught the attention of the other Gods, because the mortals could no longer offer them gifts and sacrifices. Zeus sent Iris, Goddess of the rainbow, to persuade Demeter to return to Mount Olympus and her duties, but Demeter refused. One by one, the other Gods went to her, offering gifts and favors, but Demeter would listen to no one, saying that she would remain there until she saw her daughter.

Persephone2Zeus sent Hermes, messenger of the Gods, to the Underworld to ask Hades to release Persephone. Persephone had been well-treated in the Underworld, acknowledged as its Queen, but she still wanted to go back to her mother. Before she left, Hades gave her the seeds of a pomegranate to eat (the “rape” versions say he tricked her into eating them, and the “consensual” versions say she ate them on purpose). The pomegranate seeds complicated matters, since anyone who had eaten the food of the Underworld would not be able to leave it. Hermes, who was not only a messenger but the God of cunning and contracts, negotiated a deal between Hades and Demeter where Persephone would spend a portion of the year with each of them. This explains the seasons of the year, with spring beginning when Persephone returns to the world above and everything begins to grow, and autumn beginning when she return to the Underworld and her mother grieves for her absence.

Persephone’s name, which means “to bring death,” is also seen as Persephoneia, Persephassa, Phersephassa, Phersephatta, and Pherrephatta. Epithets associated with her include:
Persephone Agaue (noble)
Persephone Azesia (one who is sought)
Persephone Brimo (terrifying)
Persephone Daeira (knowing one)
Persephone Deoine (daughter of Demeter)
Persephone Despoina (mistress)
Persephone Eleusinia (from Eleusis)
Persephone Epaine (awesome)
Persephone Hagne (pure)
Persephone Herkyna (of the stone enclosure)
Persephone Kallisphyros (trim-ankled)
Persephone Karpophorus (bringer of fruit)
Persephone Khthonia (of the earth)
Persephone Leptynis (destroyer)
Persephone Megala Thea (great Goddess)
Persephone Melitodes (sweet as honey)
Persephone Praxidike (exacter of justice)
Persephone Protogone (first-born)
Persephone Soteira (savior)
Persephone Thesmia (of the laws)

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