Persephone

Persephone was the wife of Hades, which would make her queen of the underworld in Greek mythology. Ironically, she was also the goddess of spring. Greek myths attempted to explain natural events through stories about powerful gods that ruled nature. The paradox of Persephone being both queen of the underworld and goddess of spring becomes clear when her story is told.

The mother of Persephone was Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Her father was Zeus. Persephone brought about new plant growth and revival. She loved to gambol and play with her nymphs in the open fields. One day when she was going about this pleasant business, she was abducted by the god of the underworld, Hades. He executed this maneuver by opening a crack in the Earth, and rising suddenly up to grab her. He quickly sealed the crack in the Earth and brought her to his domain. He intended to make her his wife.

The loss of Persephone was understandably upsetting to Demeter. Along with Hekate (and a lamp) they searched the world over for the young maiden. In the course of her investigation, Demeter found out that Zeus, king of the gods, had helped Hades in his designs. This spurred her anger. She then refused to allow fruit to develop on Earth until her daughter was returned to her.

Meanwhile, in the underworld, Persephone was held captive. She knew that as long as she did not eat anything from the hand of Hades that she might still be free. But, at length she grew hungry and ate a few pomegranate seeds. Zeus then ruled that she must become the wife of Hades. However, as a compromise, she would be able to spend much of the year with her mother. When she went to the underworld, the climate on Earth became cold and barren. When she returned to her mother, the fields could again grow food.

Persephone appears in the myths of some other characters of the ancient Greeks. She was supposed to be in love with Adonis. Bitter about her own husband's infidelity, she turned a maiden, Minthe, into a mint plant. In the story of Orpheus and Euridyce she was the "iron goddess" of the underworld who was beguiled by the music of Orpheus, allowing him to take his wife back to the land of the living, but only as long as he did not turn to look at her face before leaving the underworld. Of course, he turned to look at the last minute.

Persephone is an interesting character because she can be viewed as both a delicate maiden and an austere queen. She is a figure that grew and was surrounded by mystery. The ancient cults which worshiped her believed in a long afterlife.

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