Persephone - The Queen of the Dead

How the underworld fills us with the joy of Spring

Persephone by Dante Rossetti

The tales of ancient mythical Greece tell of times free from a winters chill, where flowers budded and blossomed without respite; albeit until a certain young Goddess caught the attention of a very powerful admirer, and their turbulent union would change the fate of nature forever.  It is the story of Persephone, Queen of the Dead. 

It all began when Zeus married Demeter, the Goddess of Bountiful Harvest, who also happened to be his sister - I guess the Mighty King of Gods can do as he pleases.  This was Zeus's fourth marriage and resulted in the birth of a beautiful daughter named Persephone.

Under the nurturing wing of her loving mother, whilst having the delightful companionship of Aphrodite and Athena, (siblings from daddy's previous marriage), Persephone had an idyllic childhood.  But over time, as her childlike looks gave way to womanhood, Persephone had unknowingly attracted the gaze of one of her father's brothers: Hades, Ruler of the Underworld

In his dark underground kingdom, with only the dead to keep him company, the beautiful Persephone was a breath of fresh air to Hades.  So being intensely smitten, Hades skipped all graces and went straight to his brother Zeus to ask permission for his daughters hand in marriage.  The request was granted: Hades made his move.

And so it was, on a particularly charming sunny day whilst away from her companions, Persephone stopped to pick the narcissus flower, (also known as the daffodil), when all of a sudden the ground opened up and there appeared Hades, Ruler of the Underworld, who simply snatched the young Goddess and whisked her away to his kingdom of darkness.  Her old life was stolen: now she was Queen of the Underworld.  

Her mother, Demeter, was devastated - and we know that ancient Greek mothers are not to be messed around. The grief for her missing daughter was felt no more so than in the world of man, who suffered great floods and droughts as a consequence; needless to say there was no harvest that year.  Now despite being all for living with the consequences of your actions, upon seeing the peril of mankind, Zeus sent the God Hermes on a mission to rescue Persephone from the Underworld.  

Respecting Zeus's wishes Hades stood aside, but just before Persephone was due to leave with Hermes, Hades offered his wife a pomegranate to eat.  His wife knew all too well that if anyone was to eat even a morsel whilst in the Underworld they would never be allowed to leave, but despite missing her mother, Persephone had actually grown to love Hades, and so being torn between two worlds, unwilling to totally let go of her new love and acquired queenly status, Persephone ate the seeds of the fateful fruit.

Hades and Zeus were now at loggerheads, but with Hermes acting as diplomat, a deal was struck to suit both parties.  For eight months of the year Persephone was to be reunited with her mother, and for the remaining four months she would go back in to the darkness, to take her place beside Hades as Queen of the Dead.  

Alas, every time Persephone leaves, her mother grieves, and us mere mortal folk have winter to contend with: but on her return, alleviating Demeter's sorrow, Persephone brings us Spring!          

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Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Proserpine, 1874 

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