For Real Friday: Persephone


There’s been this thing going around online where Mom’s take pictures of their houses in whatever shape they happen to be in and post it as For Real Friday. It’s to combat the unrealistic expectations of perfect super moms. It’s awesome. But I wanted to put my own twist on it by discussion the real issues reflected in the myth of the week. Myths, stories, they do that. They both inform and reflect the culture around them. Stories have always confirmed our worst fears, or worst faults, and our values.

These For Real Fridays are going to talk about the reflection of modern culture in modern retellings of the myth for a couple different reasons. First, I’m interested in how the myths resonate with us now. The now is why we’re still retelling the myths, reshaping them to match our worldview. Secondly, I’m not an expert on Greek culture. I know a lot about the mythology and a passing bit about the culture but not enough for an informed piece of writing by any means. If you’re interested in learning all the potential readings of the Persephone myth and the culture they reflect, I highly encourage you to read the book Life’s Daughter/Death’s Bride. It’s amazing and incredibly informative.

Monday, I told the original (and take that word with a grain of salt. Myths work like the telephone game. They change a bit with each retelling)  Persephone myth. I also discussed how I think this particular myth inspires so many retellings because it feels incomplete. It’s missing Persephone’s voice. On Wednesday, I listed off several modern adaptations of the myth that more or less addressed that issue.

Part of the reason I feel the Persephone myth feels off to modern readers, why Persephone isn’t given a voice, is because she’s treated like an object not a person. She’s a prize for Hades, something to be given away by Zeus, something to be stolen from Demeter. Unfortunately that world view isn’t limited to ancient Greece. Women are constantly objectified in the media. There’s a great Ted Talk that goes into the realities and consequences of that fact far better than I ever could. One of the consequences of this type of objectification is that it encourages rape and rape culture.

Rape is the obvious real world issue presented in the Persephone myth.

When I started outlining Persephone, I knew I wanted Hades to be the good guy. To do that, the mere implication of rape had to be removed from his part in the myth. He couldn’t be a good guy if that was part of his character. But beyond that I struggled. Did I want to completely remove the threat of rape from the story? On the one hand, yes. Rape and threat of rape is used to raise the stakes in almost every major plot line be it TV, movies, video games, or books. The way it’s portrayed in most cases is a problem because it glorifies it. Rape shouldn’t be an exciting plot twist that resolves within an episode or two. It also shouldn’t be presented as an inevitable reality.  But on the other hand rape is a reality.  One in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes which in’t surprising given that one in three men admit they would rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it. As rape is a very under reported crime, it’s likely that particular statistic is not an exaggeration.  One in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes which in’t surprising given that one in three men admit they would rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it. . Adding insult to injury, victim blaming and cover ups are prevalent with rape. Rape is a very under reported crime. Victims are silenced and shamed either by their abuser or by society or both. I didn’t want to be a part of that silence either.

There’s a lot out there saying that Persephone wasn’t really raped because the culture viewed rape differently, pretend abductions were part of ancient Greek marriage rites and she was a willing participant, or the word rape meant something else entirely (to seize, snatch, or carry off) in the original Greek, but the Roman interpretation put the sexual spin on it. To me, that felt a lot like the way real life rape victim’s accounts are rewritten to show that they actually did consent. If they hadn’t wanted it, why would they have been there, drinking that or wearing this. Why wouldn’t they have said x or y? Clearly she was asking for it.

***Disclaimer*** As someone who studies this stuff I have to point out there is merit to the theory that Persephone was not actually raped but willingly married. More than merit actually. There’s few bits of the myth that could be interpreted to mean Persephone went to Hades of her own volition (brilliantly reimagined in the novel Radiant Darkness) and ate the seeds on purpose. I’m not trying to say that those bits of facts are victim blaming, but that to me, a modern reader living in a modern culture, they made me think of that, so I wasn’t comfortable writing that version of the myth either. ***

So, I took the middle road. There’s a threat, but it’s not from Hades. That threat doesn’t function as an exciting bit of pacing, it alters my character and her view of the world, and the character responsible for the threat is not treated with moral ambiguity. As the series progresses there’s a lot more implications of, direct threats of, and featured characters who are victims of rape. At no point are these portrayals meant to be exciting. I’m writing about Greek mythology, rape is a pretty central theme and sugar coating that is just as harmful as using it as an exciting plot point.

Rape, objectification, and rape culture are just a few of the for real issues brought up in the myth of Persephone. Can you think of anymore? Or can you expand on the way something in the myth touched on these real world issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

One thought on “For Real Friday: Persephone

  1. Pingback: For Real Friday: Boreas | Kaitlin Bevis

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