An Unorthodox Retelling

Persephone Bib0un (Deviantart)

Persephone Bib0un (Deviantart)

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time, off and on for a couple of years now, meditating on the Persephone myth.

If the traditional way the story is told, with Persephone being tricked into eating the seeds works for you-work with the version that makes you happiest and gives you the most connection with that goddess. I just never clicked with her until I gave this some serious thought-and discovered that in a lot of ways my version of the story works with the classical image of a goddess so terrifiying that a lot of people just called her the Maiden.

This is my understanding of the myth-

Persephone was young, and unmarried, much to do with the intercession of her mother Demeter. Several gods had already come courting her but Demeter refused their offers, finding them to be an unsuitable match. One of the gods that had his eye on Persephone was Hades, king of the underworld [or one of them, depending on where you stand on Erebus but that’s a different entry]. However, Hades decided that he needed a much more direct approach than the one that Hermes and other gods had taken which was to go through Demeter to get to her daughter.

Persephone and her handmaidens were out picking flowers in a field. At this point most every day was at least warm and pleasant, if not high summer, and there were lots of flowers. Hades with his control over the underworld and things that go on underground, made sure that a seed sprouted a nice, happy, pretty flower that Persephone would be sure to pick. And according to plan, Persephone picked the flower-and Hades dragged her into hell.

And this is where, to use a deliberate cliche, all hell broke loose. Demeter realized that something was wrong and in her mourning refused to let things grow. The world fell into sterility and coldness. Basically, winter came. After awhile the gods, each for a number of their own reasons, approached the goddess to cheer her up. No one was able to do it, at least, not enough to get her to let the crops grow again. Eventually Zeus turned to Hecate, psychopomp and mistress of the dead and dying, and asked her to go into hell on Demeter’s behalf.

Hecate agreed and went into hell, where even Hades admitted her power. While there Hecate told Persephone that she could go home provided that she didn’t eat anything while she was down there.

…And this is where I have problems with the myth. This is where I had to spend a lot of time thinking about this to make it work to a point where I frankly didn’t find it insulting to this goddess.

According to more traditional retellings, Hades managed to trick the maiden goddess into eating a number of pomegranate seeds. This meant that she was now tied to the underworld and effectively making her his wife. Eventually the other gods managed to work out a deal with Hades so that Persephone would spend roughly half the year with her mother so her mother would let the plants grow-so long as she returned for a month for each seed consumed. And they all lived happily ever after and we have winter.

So my issue with this isn’t even a matter of feminism, though I do find a lot of problems with the idea of ‘it’s okay to steal women so long as they can go home to mom and besides they’re now a queen.’ Or maybe it is, but in a roundabout way. This is a deity that the classical literature makes out to be pretty flipping terrifying-and exceptionally intelligent. One of her roles was to judge whether or not a curse should stand and take action accordingly. She was certainly Hades’ equal. So how could she not understand something as pretty basic as ‘don’t eat this fruit’? No, really, how does she not come to a basic understanding about not eating a pomegranate-whatever the pomegranate actually stands for.

I guess I fall on a darker side of Persephone-I don’t think that she necessarily went willingly but I think that she knew what she was doing eating that fruit. I’m not even going to try to romanticize it and have her falling for Hades. I think that it was a power play-and I think we do her a lot of disservice to try to tone her down. It’s like when we made all the faeries small because they’re nicer that way.

…At least they didn’t take all the teeth out of her like Deviantart keeps wanting to do with Hades.

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