Greek mythology has probably always been my favorite mythology, and this might be my favorite stories of all time. It’s also one of the most famous love stories ever told. Because the myth of Hades and Persephone, sometimes referred to as the “Abduction” or “Rape” of Persephone is a love story… just not necessarily a happy one. Sorry this is long, but I had to tell it right.
Once upon a time, Zeus, the King of the Gods, was having an affair with the goddess of the harvest, Demeter. They conceived a beautiful goddess named Persephone, who was loved by all for her lighthearted kindness. Demeter was very protective of her daughter, keeping her naive to the ways of the world and dressing her as a child, even as she grew into a women. She meant to keep her innocent and virginal forever, always by her mother’s side.
One day Hades, the God of the Underworld, happened to glance up at the world above and noticed Persephone playing with a group of nymphs in her fields. Now, the underworld was a dark, isolated place, and since it was Hades’ job to judge the souls of all the dead, there was so much work to be done and he hardly ever was able to see his family up above. The other gods had grown to fear him, and the mortals hardly dared to utter his name. Hades was a just god, but he grew lonely and cold as he carried out his duties over the centuries. But as he observed Persephone, he was struck immediately by her beauty and her tenderness towards the nymphs. He ended up going back to watch her every so often, feeling his old heart soften each time. Finally he roused himself to go to Olympus and ask Zeus for Persephone’s hand in marriage. Zeus was pleased with this turn of events: Hades was the richest and most stable of all the Gods, not to mention powerful. He gave his consent to the marriage. However, Hades knew Demeter would never allow the union, so he decided to spirit Persephone away.
One day when Persephone was alone in her fields, the ground suddenly split open, and out sprung a huge chariot being pulled by black horses. Hades leaned over the side and scooped Persephone up, and before the girl could even scream, plunged back into the earth. Demeter quickly noticed her daughter was gone and searched frantically for help. Eventually she found a farmer who had witnessed all of it, and Demeter grew livid, vowing that the ground would never produce a stalk of wheat until Persephone was returned.
Down in the Underworld, Persephone was distraught. Hades was kind to her and showered her with gifts, but she missed her mother and the world above. Hades was saddened, but he was also patient. He put Persephone’s thrown right next to his and, unlike the other Gods, allowed her equal rule along side him. He treated her not as property, but as someone who could eventually become a friend. When Persephone suggested that another realm be made for the best mortal souls to go to, Hades made it for her. It was called Elysium–the Underworld’s heaven. Persephone felt conflicted. She missed her mother, but Hades was the only person who’d ever treated like an adult. She was beginning to fall in love with him.
One morning Persephone went into the Underworld’s garden, and was offered a pomegranate by the gardener. Up until that point, Persephone had resisted eating anything offered to her–she knew that if she ate any food from the Underworld, she would be bound to it forever. But that morning, Persephone was so hungry, she took the pomegranate and ate six of its seeds. Then abruptly, Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, appeared before her. He told her that Demeter had caused the earth to freeze, and that no crops would grow. Mortals were dying in droves, and the only thing that would stop her was Persephone’s return. Persephone reluctantly allowed Hermes to take her to Olympus, where Zeus and Demeter were having it out. Zeus had promised his daughter to Hades without her consent, after all.
Persephone tried to convince Demeter that she was all right and that Hades had been kind to her, but Demeter insisted that she had to come home, or else she would let every mortal on earth die of famine. Suddenly the throne room darkened and the Gods turned as Hades stepped out of the shadows. He was holding the partially eaten pomegranate in his hand.
“Persephone has eaten the fruit of the Underworld,” Hades said cooly, “she must return and rule it with me.”
While Demeter resumed her tantrum, Zeus considered Persephone quietly.
“How many seeds did you eat, daughter?” he asked.
Persephone told him, “Six.” Zeus stood up from his throne and the assembly quieted.
“Since Persephone has eaten six seeds of the pomegranate, I rule that she will spend six months of each year in the Underworld with her husband, and six months tending to the mortal’s fields with her mother.”
Neither Demeter nor Hades were completely happy with this agreement, but Zeus had made it so. Every year Persephone returned to the fields and restored them with Demeter, and when the time came, Hades would come to her and escort her to her throne in the Underworld. Each time she left, Demeter mourned and all vegetation died. and each time Persephone returned, the earth warmed and became fertile once again. This is how the Greeks explained the earth’s seasons, and how a goddess of life fell in love with the Underworld.
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