Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. She is sometimes referred to as Kore and often personifies the maiden aspect of the arcane worship of the triple goddess, i.e., maiden, mother, crone.
Though Persephone played an active role in the fertility rites at Eleusis, it is her abduction by the god Hades that is most commonly recognized amongst readers of the ancient tales.
One sunny morning Persephone and a gathering of sea nymphs known as the Oceanids were busy collecting flowers in a meadow near the city of Henna. As she was busy filling her basket the young maiden caught a glimpse of a beautiful narcissus blossom peeking out from the center of a nearby thicket.
Wanting to get a closer look at the elegant bloom, Persephone quietly wandered away from the group and breathlessly approached the beckoning treasure.
She lightly parted the surrounding foliage, but just as she reached out to pluck the blossom from its stem the ground began to tremble beneath her feet. With a thunderous roar the earth was suddenly split open and from the gaping chasm sprung the god Hades and his formidable chariot of bronze.
In a flash the lustful god seized the frightened maiden and then quickly disappeared leaving only Persephone's frantic cries for help echoing across the surrounding hills.
When the other maids came to see what was causing the disturbance, to their surprise they found no trace of their beautiful young companion. All that remained of Persephone was her basket and a lovely trail of flowers haphazardly strewn atop of the vast green meadow.
The sounds of Persephone's defenseless cries soon permeated the divine halls of Mount Olympus. The bellowing sobs drifted through the many corridors of the palace until finally reaching the bed chamber of Demeter, who was peacefully enjoying a midday nap.
Recognizing the voice to be that of her daughter, the goddess quickly wiped the slumber from her eyes and sped off to see whatever could be the matter. She first sought out Persephone's companions, but after questioning them found their recollections of the day to be quiet useless.
It seems that none of the girls had witnessed their friend's abduction and could only assume that Persephone merely strolled away and vanished. According to some accounts Demeter was so displeased with the nymph's unwillingness to help, that she grudgingly changed them into sirens before continuing on her way.
The goddess aimlessly raced across both land and sea, looking everywhere for her missing daughter. Demeter was so overcome with grief that she declined all offerings of food and drink and even refused to bathe.
With a heavy heart she blindly wandered the earth searching for her beloved Persephone. On the morning of the tenth day the grieving mother paid a visit to the goddess Hecate to see if she could possibly add light to the mystery.
Hecate was a very powerful underworld deity and reigned over all forms of the dark arts. Though the crone was able to positively confirm that Persephone had been taken against her will, she was unable to disclose the name of her kidnapper, for the culprit had successfully kept his face hidden from her sight.
Hecate added that though she had been shielded from the truth, quite possibly the all-seeing eyes of Helios had been privy to the event. With this bit of hope to cling to, the goddesses traveled to the palace of the sun to see if Helios had indeed been a witness to the shameful act.
With certainty the sun god recounted the day in question, stating that as he made his daily trek across the midday sky he saw the maiden Persephone being carried off by none other than Death himself!
Not wanting to appear as a busybody, Helios then tried to rectify the situation by reminding Demeter that as the brother of Zeus, Hades would make more than a suitable husband for her daughter. The angry goddess would hear nothing of it and to show her discontent refused to return to her home on Mount Olympus.
Demeter disguised herself as an old woman and sadly wandered from town to town. Upon reaching the city of Eleusis, the weary goddess decided to pause a moment and rest herself beside the edge of a stone well.
As she cooled herself in the gentle breeze she was joined by the four daughters of King Celeus who were out seeking water for the evening meal. Not recognizing the old woman as a goddess, the girls engaged Demeter in conversation, collectively asking questions about her homeland and her present-day journey.
Demeter dolefully explained that in order to avoid being sold into slavery she had been forced to flee from her home in Crete.
The sisters took pity on the old woman and offered to provide her with a hot meal and a comfortable place to spend the night. Demeter graciously accepted the invitation and accompanied the girls back to the palace of the king.
Queen Metaneria took an instant liking to the gloomy old woman and swiftly adopted her as the caretaker of her infant son Demophon. Because Demeter was still grieving the loss of her daughter, she happily focused all of her attention on the baby prince.
Determined to make the boy immortal, each night the goddess gently anointed him with ambrosia and then placed his tiny body upon the flaming embers of the hearth. One evening Metaneira's curiosity got the better of her and she decided to check up on the old nurse.
As she peeked through a crack in the door, the queen was horrified to see Demeter place the sleeping child upon the fire. Metaneria let out a shriek and along with her daughters frantically raced over the threshold and entered into the dimly lit bed chamber.
Demeter angrily cast the baby to the floor and with a powerful wave of her hand returned to her true and radiant form. The women stared in disbelief as the goddess chastised them for their doubting behavior.
She then sternly declared that in order to make amends, it was imperative for the people of Eleusis to erect a great temple and dedicate it in her honor. Celeus obeyed the commands of the goddess and a glorious sanctuary was built.
Here the goddess Demeter was worshiped and revered above all others. Though Prince Demophon never gained immortality, Demeter looked favorably upon the child and kindly blessed him with a life full of happiness and good fortune.
She then left the city of Eleusis and did not return again until her temple was completed. Despondent and alone, the grief-stricken goddess sequestered herself inside of the shrine, subsequently abandoning all of her worldly obligations.
As Demeter's sorrow deepened so did her feelings of contempt for all mankind. The angry goddess cursed the earth causing all that grew upon her to wither away and die. Zeus desperately tried to persuade her to release the world from its suffering but it was no use, the lamenting goddess remained unmoved.
Just when it seemed that all of creation would surely perish, Zeus had no other choice but to send his messenger Hermes to retrieve Persephone and return her to the arms of her anguished mother. Before descending into the underworld, Hermes first promised Demeter that she would be reunited with her daughter providing that Persephone had not tasted the food of the dead.
After leaving Eleusis, the winged messenger sped off to collect Persephone. Because the young maiden had refused to touch even the smallest crust of bread, Hades was obligated to deliver his unhappy bride into the hands of Hermes.
As the two were preparing to depart, a gardener by the name of Ascalaphus stepped forward and with a loud bellow proclaimed that he had watched Queen Persephone as she nibbled on a handful of pomegranate seeds.
Pleased by this unexpected outburst, Hades coolly ordered Ascalaphus to hop upon the chariot of Hermes and accompany the unsuspecting pair back to Eleusis. Seeing Demeter waiting anxiously outside of the temple, Persephone swiftly dismounted the golden carriage and joyfully ran into her mother's arms.
However elation soon turned to despair, for just then Ascalaphus proudly described all that he had witnessed. Demeter wept as she listened to the gardner expose the secret of the pomegranate seeds, as she knew this meant Persephone must once again return to the realm of the underworld.
The anguished goddess clutched her chest and vowed that like her heart the earth would be left in a cold and barren state. Its once rich soil would remain hard and unyielding and all that had once flourished upon her would surely die.
Zeus knew that he must take immediate action lest all life on earth would be destroyed. In hopes of solving the crisis, he asked his mother Rhea to intervene and meet with Demeter.
After much effort and a good bit of persuasion on the part of Rhea, a compromise was finally reached between the two. It was decided that because Persephone swallowed a total of six pomegranate seeds, she would reside in the underworld for six months; one month for every seed consumed.
She would then be returned to Demeter for the remaining six months of the year. During the time that Persephone was living with her husband Hades, the mournful goddess chose to withhold all blessings from the earth.
For six months the crops withered and died and the soil turned hard and became void of life. When it was time for Persephone to reappear above ground, Demeter celebrated her return by allowing the earth to once again become green and fruitful.
This is why the crops do not bear fruit during the winter months, but sprout new again in the spring. According to the ancient texts this brought about the phenomenon that we now call the change of seasons.
Though her time in the underworld was brief, it was enough to forever change Persephone's view of the world. No longer could she look upon a flower and see the beautiful bloom without seeing a withered stem just beyond it.
For her, there were no more endless summer days filled with lighthearted laughter, for the reality of nightfall was now within her reach.
As for Ascalaphus, Demeter punished the loose-lipped gardner by pushing him into a deep hole and covering him over with an enormous rock. He was later set free by the hero Heracles, but was immediately changed into a screech owl by the unforgiving goddess.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2016.