Demeter And Persephone

When Hades abducts her daughter, Demeter (the goddess of agriculture) makes the earth turn cold and barren, until Persephone returns from the underworld each spring.

DEMETER--in Greek mythology, the goddess of agriculture, of the harvest, and of grain; a type of the earth goddess and the mother goddess. Her Roman cognate is CERES, the Roman goddess of grain, from whose name we derive the word "cereal."

PERSEPHONE--the daughter of Zeus and Demeter; the Maiden of Spring. Her Roman cognate is Proserpina.

HADES--the Greek god of the Underworld, who rules over the abode of the dead. His Roman cognate is PLUTO, also known as DIS.

EROS--the Greek god of love; son of APHRODITE, the Greek goddess of love. His Roman cognate is CUPID; hers is VENUS.

According to Greek mythology, the earth once enjoyed an unending season of temperate weather, perfect for the growth of all plant life. Because trees were always green and flowers always bloomed, the world was filled with life and beauty. Human beings lived amidst plenty, for crops always grew in abundance, and the gods were pleased to have so many worshipers.

The goddess responsible for the earth's bounty was Demeter, the goddess of the grain and the harvest. Her sweet and lovely daughter Persephone, the Maiden of Spring, gladdened Demeter's heart, and Demeter's love and happiness kept the earth in bloom.

Demeter and Persephone were seldom far from each other, but occasionally Persephone would wander out of her mother's sight while picking flowers. One day as Hades, lord of the Underworld, watched the lovely maiden collecting blossoms, Eros, the mischievous god of love, shot an arrow from his bow straight into Hades' heart.

Hades immediately fell in love with Persephone and determined that she must marry him and become queen of the Underworld. As the maiden bent to gather more flowers, the ground beside her opened wide. Out from the gaping hole in the ground came Hades, in a chariot drawn by a team of mighty black horses. Hades seized the terrified girl and dragged her into his chariot. Then he turned his horses' heads and raced back down into the shadows with his prize.

Persephone cried out to her mother, but it was too late. The earth closed above her, shutting out the sunlight and the beautiful meadow. At the end of the dark journey, Persephone found herself in the kingdom of the dead, where Hades ruled, and where he intended that she should rule beside him.

Meanwhile Demeter, having heard her daughter's cry, rushed to find her, but Persephone had disappeared.

Overcome by grief, Demeter searched for her daughter. Finally she asked Apollo, the sun-god, who could have taken Persephone away from her. Apollo replied that Persephone now ruled over the kingdom of the dead with Hades, who had taken her for his bride. The thought of her precious, lively daughter trapped in the shadowy wasteland of Hades broke Demeter's heart. She left her home on Mt. Olympus and wandered the earth dressed as an old woman. No one recognized her in her mourning.

For an entire year Demeter refused to allow the earth to bloom. She did not bless the crops or look with favor on the harvest. Every growing thing withered and died; the once green earth turned brown and barren. All over the world people starved.

Concerned that the mortals would all die out, leaving no one to worship them, the other gods begged Zeus to talk to Demeter and recall her to her duties. But his efforts were unavailing. Until her daughter was returned to her, she vowed, the earth would never bloom.

Finally Zeus sent Hermes, the messenger god, to demand that Hades return Persephone to her mother. But through much cajoling during the past year, Hades had managed to persuade the miserable girl to eat a seed from a pomegranate--the food of the dead. He obeyed Zeus's order and allowed Hermes to take Persephone away, but he knew his bride would have to return to him, for anyone who has tasted even the smallest morsel of the food of the dead while in the underworld is doomed to return there.

When Persephone and Demeter were reunited, they wept tears of joy. Persephone told her mother how Hades had abducted her from the sunny meadow and carried her down into the dark Underworld to make her his queen. She described how she pined for the sight of the sun and the beauty of the earth and the sky. She had been so unhappy, she said, that she ate nothing the entire year, despite Hades constant attempts to get her to eat, until finally, so that he would leave her alone, she had eaten one, just one, pomegranate seed.

Hearing this, Demeter recoiled in horror, for she knew this meant her daughter was lost after all. But Zeus took pity on the mother and daughter. Since Persephone had eaten only one seed, and had done so unwillingly, he decreed that she would not have to stay in the Underworld for the entire year. Instead, she would stay there for only half of each year, and then in the other half of the year she would be allowed to return to her mother.

Each year, during the months when Persephone returns to her, Demeter makes the earth green and blesses the harvest. But during the months when Persephone has to stay in the Underworld, Demeter mourns, and in her grief and loneliness she makes the earth turn barren and cold. Nothing is allowed to grow during these seasons of grief. The world waits with Demeter for Persephone's return each spring, when the earth will turn green and warm once more.

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