Greek Myth 4 – Persephone

English’s Docs Intermediate High to Advanced Greek Myth 4 – Persephone

Persephone was a Greek goddess. Her mother was Demeter, the goddess of earth’s fertility and harvest, and her father was Zeus, the king of all the Olympians. Her mother’s role was to take care of the earth and all the living things in it – too nurture them. She was a deeply nurturing mother, too. She cared as deeply for her daughter Persephone as she did the earth. Persephone lived a happy childhood, playing with the other Olympian children and spending time in the gardens of Olympus.

One day, however, as Persephone was picking the flower, narcissus, with a group of her favourite nymphs, the earth suddenly opened up. Out of the deep, dark blackness emerged Hades, the king of the Underworld (the place where people go when they die).

From his place in the Underworld, he had watched Persephone grow up. He was enchanted with her innocent beauty, which was now as bright as the sun. He desperately wanted her to be his Queen of the Underworld. So, one day he approached Zeus, asking for permission to marry Persephone and to make her his Queen. Zeus was often thoughtless and careless. He agreed to Hades’ request, without thinking how Demeter, her mother, would react.

When Hades emerged into the gardens of Olympus, he was overjoyed with the sight of Persephone’s natural but rich beauty. He softly took hold of her and carried her gently down with him to the Underworld. Persephone cried out for her dear mother Demeter, but it was no use. Now in the Underworld, Persephone was under Hades’ control.

Demeter became worried when Persephone did not return home so she visited the gardens where her daughter usually played with the nymphs (minor female gods), but she could not find her anywhere. She found one nymph, however, who usually wore lovely morning glory flowers in her hair, crying; the flowers lay scattered on the grass. Demeter gently asked her where Persephone was. The nymph, in anguish, would not answer.

Heartbroken, Demeter searched every corner of the earth in search of her daughter. Her great sorrow caused the earth to grow dark, cold, and barren. Meadows that were once lush and green turned yellow. The trees curled up and lost all their leaves. The rain stopped.

After searching the entire land of the living, Demeter finally contacted Zeus. He informed her of Persephone’s marriage to Hades in the Underworld. Demeter got angry like only a mother can. She demanded that Zeus return Persephone to her care. But Zeus refused.

Demeter left Olympus and watched as the earth began to decay without her nurture. She wanted to punish Zeus for betraying her and their daughter. The now yellow meadows blackened and turned to dust. The trees began to shrink into the hard ground. The rivers dried up, and the lakes froze over.

Zeus had no choice but to agree to Demeter’s demands. He told Hermes, the messenger, to bring Persephone back up to the world of the living, to Demeter’s care.

In the Underworld, Persephone had grown to love Hades, who treated her with compassion and loved her as his Queen. She remained eternally beautiful in the Underworld, just as she would have if she had remained in Olympus. Hades loved her kind and nurturing nature. However, Persephone missed her dear mother very much and wished to spend time on earth with her.

When Hermes reached the Underworld, he asked that Persephone come back to earth with him to rejoin her mother and father. Hades knew he could not refuse the commands of Zeus, but he also could not live without his beloved Persephone.

Before she departed from the Underworld, Hades gave Persephone a pomegranate as a farewell gift. This was, however, part of Hades’ cunning plan. All the Olympians knew that if anyone ate or drank anything in the Underworld, they would be have to stay there for eternity. Even Demeter had warned Persephone of this fate and told her never to eat or drink anything in the Underworld.

Thinking about what her mother had said, Persephone decided not to eat the pomegranate. However, in order to show her love to Hades, she decided to eat just a few small seeds of the pomegranate – thinking that this would not count. Persephone did not know that this was exactly why Hades had given her the pomegranate. After eating six of the seeds, Persephone was told by Hades’ servants that she would forever remain in the Underworld as Hades’ Queen.

Hermes sadly went back up to Zeus and Demeter, who anxiously sat awaiting her daughter’s return. When she saw Hermes returning alone, Demeter went started crying uncontrollably. She knew that Hades must have tricked Persephone to keep her in the Underworld.

Zeus realized he had made a mistake, because the earth was now black, cold, decayed and barren. Being the mighty king of all gods, he could not allow this to happen, so he met with Hades himself. With the help of Hermes, an infamous deal was made.

Because Hades had tricked the young Persephone into eating the pomegranate, Zeus commanded him to allow Persephone to visit her poor mother in the world above. In return, Zeus promised that Hades could keep Persephone for a month for each pomegranate seed that she had eaten. So, for half of each year, Persephone was to sit on the throne of the Underworld beside Hades and for the other half, she would spend time with her beloved mother on Olympus.

During Persephone’s six months on earth, the land was beautiful, warm and fertile. The meadows were lush and of the deepest green. The trees were tall, strong, and produced delicious fruit. The rains came often and there was never a drought.

However, when Persephone left the land and entered Hades’ Underworld, the earth experienced a cold, dark period with no growth. Demeter grieved for her missing daughter and had little time to nurture the land.

In this way, according to Greek mythology, the seasons were created – the autumn and winter months were when Persephone sat on the throne of the Underworld beside Hades, and the spring and summer months were when Persephone was reunited with her dear mother, Demeter.