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  • Writer's pictureAnca

Hades and Persephone

In the days of Gods and heroes, our world was fertile and bountiful, as a generous mother to mankind. Men, women, and children freely enjoyed the Earth's  offerings, the fruits of the trees and the grains of the fields, the fish of the waters, and the beasts of the land, without the weight of toil or labor. 

Demeter, the Goddess of fertility and harvest, graced our world with her divine favor. Hunger and deprivation, if they reared their heads, could only be ascribed to human cruelty and the malevolent creatures unshackled from Pandora's ill-fated box.  

As gentle Demeter unreservedly offered her blessings to the world, she got blessed herself with a daughter named Persephone. She was beautiful and pure, as fresh and delicate as spring, as lovely and warm as summer. 

 Gods and humans alike were drawn to her. But no man or God alike was worthy to possess the innocent Persephone in the eyes of her mother.  Demeter would have her daughter as chaste as Athena and as free as Artemis.  And so she kept Persephone hidden from the world and guarded at all hours of the day and night.

But there are more things on heaven and Earth that Demeter can see, so even when sheltered in the heart of nature, the world was not ready to let Persephone go. 

As her mother, Demeter, the young girl found joy and purpose in the midst of nature and her favorite pastime was chasing butterflies across the blossomed fields. As she did that, she often left her companions behind. 

One golden and warm day, going about as she usually did, she found herself in the middle of the field. She turned around to look for the others but they were nowhere in sight. No sooner had she realized she was on her own, that a deep rumbling thunder shattered the silence of the sun drenched meadow. The Earth quaked and fractured before her and from the chasm, a magnificent chariot thundered forth. Before a gasp of surprise could leave her body, the maiden was snatched into the chariot and disappeared into the fissure without a trace.  

In vain have her companions searched and called for her, Persephone was nowhere in this world. 

As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Demeter was overwhelmed by anguish and desperation for she had no sign of her daughter. But that would not stop her. If it were to take an eternity to find Persephone, then an eternity is what would take and she will still not stop her search. 

Together with Hecate, a female Titan, to be the owner of the twin torches which had the power of illuminating the hidden corners of the Earth, Demeter went on her relentless search.  Weeks and months have passed and they went over the dark corners of the world a thousand times over and still they were no further than when they started. 

When the goddess of fertility is consumed by other matters, the harvests and crops wither away, leaving the Earth barren and desolate. People were famished and their cries reached mount Olympus and the ears of Zeus. The wailing of the mortals and the gloom of the world were not pleasent to Zeus. He wanted to put a stop to it. But he knew Demeter. The only way he could ever appease her was to find her daughter. 

Zeus called for a nocturnal assembly of the gods and the titans. And he asked them if they had any knowledge of the fate of poor Persephone. The gods were looking at each other as if to find the answer from one another but no one knew. And truth be told, not many cared. Taken away from their preocupations, they were now suspiciously eyeing one other. Zeus did not like to have this hoard of mighty olympians in confusion and close proximity with each other. Such a mighty concentration of power and conceit needed a skillful orchestration.

As no one came forward with news,  he addressed directly the Gods and titans who most roam the Earth. He asked Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, but Hermes was disappointed himself for he had himself his eyes on the fair maiden. Next, Zeus asked Apollo who begrudgingly admitted he also did not know and felt quite cheated in his chances to pursue the young goddess. 

From the back of the room, a voice interrupted Zeus interogation. It was Helios, the sun Titan. He moved to the centre of the room, his light overwhelming the crowd of divine beings. He had seen all that had passed on Earth, and he told them how the earth opened , the chariot appeared and the driver, no other than God of the Underworld, Hades, snatched Persephone and vanished without leaving any trace. 

Zeus grunted at hearing this story and without delay he closed the assembly and summoned his brother Hades to Olympus. Bound by the world order that put the realm of the living above the realm of the dead.

Hades came and was now standing in front of Zeus reclined on the throne. 

"Lord of Hell, brother, you hold the maiden Persephone in your realm. You will return her to the light. She does not belong among the shadows." 

 

"She remains with me" stated Hades " as my queen."

Zeus, surprised at this answer, sat straight on the throne and fixing Hades he said in a thunderous voice "You dare defy me, brother?"

But Hades was unshaken: "You are my younger brother, in fact, my youngest sibling. You have always obtained everything you desired. I demand the right to retain the affections of the girl I love. Do not use your authority to deny me."

"There is a greater matter at stake than our brotherhood. The world languishes in famine, the cries of famished mortals are echoing all the way here. Persephone needs to return to the world of the living. Refuse to return Persephone, and you shall see the magnitude of my wrath. Hermes shall convey no more departed souls to you. Not a single spirit shall be consigned to your realm. They shall either discover a new paradise or never taste death. Hades shall be rendered a desolate realm, bereft of power and majesty. Your name will be the subject of ridicule." ended Zeus disdainfully.

The two brothers, locked eyes in a steadfast standoff, as a tableau of unyielding defiance. Hades, after a prolonged silence, finally capitulated.

"Very well," he grumbled, "grant me one additional day with her, and then dispatch Hermes to retrieve her."

Zeus blinked his eyes in approval and Hades went back to the Underworld. 

Next day,  Hades, in a manner unusual of his lordly stature, knocked on Persephone's chamber.

He was surprised himself that  he resorted to knocking, but in the dignified presence of the young maiden, even the lord of the Underworld found himself uncertain and almost bashful. He adored her with all the ardor of his heart,  and although he had conceded the battle of wills to Zeus, he remained confident that he could not let her depart. 

Did he feel a glimmer of affection emanating from her, an ember of returned love, perhaps? He moved with soft steps until he was standing in front of her. 

"My dear," he began, his tone touched with a gentleness that would have astonished anyone familiar with his more usual form of address, "Zeus has prevailed upon me to send you back into the world of light."

Persephone gazed back at him. Hades, in a soft and vulnerable voice continued "I hope you do not bear any ill sentiments toward me."

Persephone was silent and sighed deeply, letting her head down. Hades gently took her hand in his, he opened her palm and offered the maiden six pomegranate seeds as a symbol of reconciliation. 

Persephone retracted her hand softly from the grasp of Hades but took the seeds and ate them. 

Later, when Hermes arrived to take Persephone back to the world of light, Hades, once more intervened, but this time from the authority of the tradition and divine law. 

"Persephone has consumed the fruit of my dominion. It is decreed that those who eat the fruit of the underworld's belong in it and must return. The six pomegranate seeds mean that she will return to me six months of each year."

Hermes narrowed his eyes at the clever trick of Hades. But he accepted the authority of the divine law that Hades was invoking with a sly nod of the head. Then turning to Persephone, he took her by the hand and and led her out into the light and in the arms of her loving mother Demeter. 

How to describe Demeter's happiness! Flowers bloomed and animals bore healthy offspring. Birds were chirping and the grass was green. It was a giant celebration as spring and summer unfolded. And after half a year, Persephone would descent in the Underworld, living in harmony and bliss besides Hades, as his loving wife and queen. 

And every half a year, Demeter's sadness made the leaves of the trees go yellow and fall, the nights were longer and cold and the days were short and barren during fall and winter. 

And this was the new rhythm of the world, a cycle of birth and growth followed by ripening and death. It is a cycle we still have to this day, and will go on into eternity even long after we have forgotten the story of gentle and fair Persephone. 



classical painting of man restraining woman
The kidnapping of Persephone


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