Throughout my adult life, I’ve been fascinated with the Persephone myth. There are so many interpretations and translations, it is impossible to tell what truly happened. Then, I don my 20th-and 21st-century glasses and the picture gets even more murky. Mythology is like that.
As a girl and as a newly-minted woman, I related to her. The not-a-care-in-the-world of youth wandering through fields of flowers-some interpretations assigning her the solitary task last of painting all the flowers on earth. Then, BAM! she gets kidnapped by Hades and dragged to hell because he wants her for his bride. Rape and love live in the same house at that point.
As a mother who has lost a child, I have found myself relating to Demeter. All her grief over her kidnapped daughter, her anger stopping the seasons and any growth at all; the eventual outcome being the end of life on Earth. A mother’s grief is like that. Both me and Viv would have done the same thing if we could.
Zeus intervenes of course, because if there are no mortals there are no offerings to Gods and Goddesses. He’s a pretty egotistical god. I doubt it’s compassion because Hades gets to “consent” to the agreement (much like the Jewish concept of a gett).
The terms? If Persephone had eating any food while at the “house of the dead” Hades wants takes precedence over Demeter’s. Well, Persephone had eaten three pomegranate seeds-some interpretations say Hades forced her to eat them-so Demeter gets her on earth for only a quarter of the time.
Here I have to mention that pomegranate seeds have been used for contraception since Medieval times. They are commonly associated with midwifery, which was as much about birthing babies as it was about contraception. I am unsure if it worked for goddesses the same way it worked for mortal women, but the association is strong. She did not (or he did not) want children from this union. So, Hades could have done the same thing Demeter tried to do-stop life from happening.
Did anyone ask Persephone? Where is her voice about her own life in all of this? Nope. This spirited and independent woman is rendered mute in the battle between her mother and her husband.
The part of it that speaks the most to me though is that at the end of Demeter’s pleading and actions she gets her daughter on earth for only a quarter of the time. It seems like a raw deal for a goddess who could stop the seasons!
Hades gets her for a quarter of the time, too. So half of Persephone’s time is spent with her mom or her husband AND a quarter of her time is spent in hell!
That’s the part I related to when I was a younger. The whole myth felt like a parable for depression. When you have it, it feels like you get dragged to hell. When you escape it, you feel like you are experiencing earth for the first time.
Lately, though I have realized that Persephone really gets half the year to herself. As she travels from earth to hell and from hell to earth she is alone. She is autonomous. She can do whatever she wants. She can show up early or late. She is an agent of change and not just a vessel for her husband or her mother. She finally has some choice!
For me, this has been an astounding insight. Life is not black and white, it is not Mount Olympus and Hell. Half of it is the journey between the dark and the light and the light and the dark.
This is where women discover who they are. This is where we reconcile our duality. This is where we find ourselves.