Hades And Persephone: A Story Of Love, Power and The Cycle Of Life
My fascination with theology and mythology was born years ago and it has only grown since. Initially, I felt more connected with Hindu mythology but as my interests grew, so did my knowledge of the Greek myths.
One such story that I have been devouring for some time now is that of Hades and Persephone. Their story is one of the most widely adapted in pop culture, which has led to further interest and glorification of the actual myth. Let’s get through the story first and then we’ll talk about what it means.
Hades, thanks to pop culture, we all know, is the God of the Underworld. He rules over the dead. He’s the God who decides over the fates of the dead souls. Naturally, not many want anything to do with him because, hey, it’s not like it’s a picnic going on down there.
Persephone, Goddess of the Flower and the daughter of Demeter (Goddess of Harvest and Agriculture) is a quintessential good girl. She’s beautiful and full of life.
One day she was roaming the fields when the earth opened up and in came Hades, on his chariot of jet-black horses. He immediately picked up Persephone and with her, fled to the Underworld immediately. Nobody knew what had happened to Persephone.
Persephone’s mother, Demeter, was distressed, to say the least. She was devastated, desperate to find her beloved daughter but nobody could tell of Persephone’s fate. Then somebody suggested to her that she go to the Sun God, Helios since he is ever-present and sees everything.
Holding on to that thread, Demeter asked Helios if he had seen Persephone the day she disappeared. He told her that the Lord of the Underworld had taken her with him. Demeter was in anguish when she heard this. Thinking to soothe her fears and to act as a marriage counsellor (because why not!), Helios told Demeter that she should not worry and instead be happy that her daughter has made such a match. He said that Hades is a powerful God as he rules 1/3rd of the universe and her daughter would have one of the most powerful Gods as her husband.
But Demeter was not happy. (Thank God for that!)
She mourned the loss of her only child and neglected her duties as the Goddess of Harvest and Agriculture. She wanted her Persephone back. As Demeter was suffering, so was the earth. The earth grew cold and the land that was once fertile became barren. There was no food and nourishment left and soon, mortals began to die.
Seeing this, Zeus had to intervene. Well, I don’t trust this guy to make things better by intervention anywhere, but surprisingly, in this case, he did some work. He sent Hermes (Messenger of the Gods) to the Underworld to tell Hades to release Persephone this instant. If Zeus’s idea was surprising, then Hades’ next step would seem like a shock.
He agreed to let Persephone return to her mother. But our boy Hades here was in love and used a bit of cunning to make sure that Persephone was forever his. He offered her a pomegranate as a parting gift. Persephone hadn’t eaten anything in the Underworld until then, whether out of fear, stubbornness, or anger, we don’t know. The thing is that if you eat the food of the Underworld, you’re forever bound by it. And so was our dear Persephone. Then Zeus asked Rhea (Mother of Zeus and 5 other Olympian Gods) to strike a deal with Hades, that Persephone will stay 1/3rd of the year (or sometimes 6 months, since different versions have different timelines) in the Underworld with him as his Queen and the rest with her mother. It was essential that Demeter be pleased so that life could return to earth.
She returned to her mother and Demeter rejoiced at the sight of her daughter. Even though Persephone couldn’t stay with her forever, she still reveled in the happiness of their time together. The earth bloomed, the land became fertile again. Flowers and grains grew. Spring had arrived.
When Persephone sealed her fate with that pomegranate, she set in motion a cycle on earth to which we bear witness even today. The Seasons. When Persephone came back to her mother, Demeter brought spring in her wake and when it was time for Persephone to go back to the Underworld, Demeter went into mourning and the earth once again became dried and cold, bringing the harshness of winter along with it.
Each year, Demeter would be united with her daughter at the onset of Spring and witness her death at the end of their time.
As time went on, Persephone fell in love with Hades and they built an empire which they ruled together as equals. She would become the young, naïve daughter when she descended on earth and rise to the position of the fearsome Queen of the Dead when she ruled alongside her husband.
Like most people, I tend to ignore the fact that Hades kidnapped her and their story had a rocky start. But unlike what we think of “kidnapping” now, in the original myth, Persephone’s abduction wasn’t violent. He simply stole her to the Underworld. I know, it’s still not that convincing but hey, Hades did prove to be quite a faithful and loving husband. He never took another wife and seldom do we find accounts of his infidelity.
Persephone represents the cycle of death and rebirth. Persephone’s persona changes in tandem with the seasons. She takes on the role of a young, careless daughter when she visits her mother, similar to spring and summer when nature’s energy is light and vibrant. She shifts to the level-headed, wise yet fearsome Queen of the Underworld when she resides with her husband, mirroring winter when nature is calm and mature but is not to be underestimated for its powers.
It is said that after her marriage to Hades, she is obligated to return, now Persephone doesn’t have that lightness to her feet that she had earlier. Even though she’s happy when she’s on earth, there’s a certain change in her. The way I see it, Persephone also represents the transformation of a woman from a girl when she gets married. She has changed irrevocably. Even when she’s free to roam the fields and play with the nymphs, she has a sense of burden and responsibility that accompanies a woman once she’s married and has a house of her to run. In her case, it’s a kingdom full of dead people so she ought to be stressed if you ask me!