My favorite goddess is, of course, Persephone. Though Aphrodite is growing on me. So, giveaway time, in honor of this blog hop. Comment the answers below for a chance to win an ecopy of Persephone, or any other books I have written. I’ll choose a random winner and announce it on June 9th.
*Myths were passed on and adapted through oral retellings through multiple cultures, and retold by a variety of authors. Homer, Ovid, Virgil and many other classical writers each put their own spin on the myths to suite their stories, just as I altered the myths to fit the plot of Persephone. I pulled from a variety of sources, combining the elements of multiple versions, so please be aware that the myths you read below are by no means the “official” or definitive versions of the myth. If you hear or read an alternate version somewhere else it is not wrong or inaccurate. It is simply a different telling.
The rape of Persephone:
Kore, the goddess of Spring, was a beautiful goddess and would have had many suiters had her mother, Demeter, goddess of agriculture, not kept her hidden away from the other gods. One day Kore went to a meadow to pick narcissus flowers, lilacs, poppies, or some other flower depending on the source with some nymphs when Hades, God of the Underworld spots her and decides he wants her for his wife. He bursts through the earth (in some versions, Gaia, goddess of Earth assists him) in his creepy black chariot of death, and drags Kore into the Underworld. After her rape/marriage, Kore becomes known as Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld.
Demeter, goddess of Agriculture and Persephone’s mother, searches frantically for her daughter, neglecting her duties as a goddess and plunging the earth into famine. Helios, god of the sun, or in some versions Persephone’s nymph friends, tell Demeter what happened and she begs Zeus to rescue her daughter.
At first Zeus tells Demeter she should be pleased to have such a high ranking son in law, but eventually relents since too many people are starving to worship him properly, and sends Hermes to liberate Persephone so long as she has not consumed food or drink in he Underworld.
Meanwhile, Persephone is tricked into eating 3-7(depending on the version) pomegranate seeds by the god Ascalapus, Hades’ gardener. He is turned into a screech owl in retribution for his crime, and Persephone is forced to return to the Underworld for a month every year for each seed she ate. While she is home with her mother, plants grow, but during her time in the Underworld every year they die. This myth is considered an explanation for winter.
Changing a gods name to reflect a change in their divine role was not uncommon. In Persephone’s case she doesn’t even get a name until she’s important. Kore translated to girl, or maiden.
Persephone has a variety of other names and titles within her cult the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The pomegranate is known as the fruit of the dead as well as a symbol for fertility, and thanks to the little crown on the top of a pomegranate is a symbol of royalty. So it’s easy to see why it was chosen as symbol in the Persephone myth. You’ve got royalty for the new Queen of Spring/fertility of the dead. When you cut it open is naturally divided into three to six sections depending on the fruit. It is full of tiny little seeds covered in a blood red juice.
While the Persephone myth is the most well known example of using a Pomegranate for symbolism, way back when, this weird little fruit found its way into a variety of stories across cultures.
The flower chosen in the myth kind of sets the tone for the whole story. The narcissus flower for instance is commonly seen as a phallic symbol, and a symbol of unrequited love, and as a portent for death, so you’ve got some foreshadowing, and loss of innocence going there. Other flowers symbolize different things that the story teller may be trying to get across.
In my version of the story Hades was actually rescuing Persephone. The idea that Hades may not have been the bad guy has been toyed with in popular culture throughout my entire life (Beauty and the Beast anyone?) so it’s logical, and certainly not original, to consider that Hades may have just been misunderstood.
That myth has never really vanished or fallen out of fashion. It resonates with us for some reason. If you studied any mythology at all in school, you learned the Persephone myth. I think part of it is if you take the myth at face value, it’s unspeakable, so we want to fix this poor girls fate. But another part of it is that it seems incomplete. In most myths you get a bit of characterization. Zeus’s personality and wants and needs come across crystal clear in every single myth he’s a part of. Hades and Persephone both are ambiguous in this myth. Instead we learn a lot about Demeter, and her devotion as a mother. I wanted to know what happened down there. So I wrote my own version.
So my questions:
Why did Persephone’s name change?
Why a pomegranate?
Why did I change the myth?