Once upon a time (because that’s how these sorts of stories are supposed to start), there was a girl. A fairly pretty girl, in fact. Aren’t they all, in these sorts of stories?
This fairly pretty girl was gleefully skipping through a meadow, picking flowers, without a care in the world. And, really, she didn’t have many cares to worry about – this fairly pretty girl was Persephone, the teenaged daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. It’s a good life, being the daughter of a goddess, especially if you like gleefully skipping through meadows and picking flowers.
Unfortunately for Persephone, her life was about to get a whole lot less gleeful. As it so happens, Hades was wandering by at that very moment. The god of the underworld was lonely. Zeus had Hera, lots of kids, and mortal women willing to indulge some of his stranger kinks. Poseidon had a wife as well as lots of somewhat odd children. Hades didn’t really have anyone. Except the dead. He had lots of the dead. They got kind of dull after a while, though. The conversation was pretty lifeless.
He’d recently been complaining to Zeus about this, but his brother didn’t seem to care. As long as Zeus was getting laid regularly, he didn’t care that his cursed brother wasn’t. Hades was kind of bitter about that. His realm was dark and gloomy and he wasn’t getting any. Zeus had all the luck. Plus, he was kind of a prick about it. At least Zeus had agreed that Hades could try to find himself a wife, and he wouldn’t complain.
The first moment Hades saw Persephone, his jaw dropped. She was, after all, fairly pretty. She was like a ray of bright, fairly pretty sunlight, and that was a rare thing for the god of the underworld. His cold heart beat quickly. His eyes widened. His… well, let’s just say that he felt a bit more understanding of Zeus and leave discussion of Hades’ body parts at that.
He had to have her.
In Ancient Greece, consent wasn’t really something that mattered, at least, not if you were a guy. Certainly not if you were a god. Besides, Hades figured, if Zeus was able to lure so many women in to his bed with the fact that he was a god, why would this woman protest to being with him? He was a god, too… lord of the dead. That had to count for a little nookie, didn’t it?
He rushed out in to the meadow, and before Persephone could do more than shriek, Hades had grabbed her and taken her down in to the underworld to be with him.
Now, as mentioned, Persephone wasn’t just any young maiden skipping gleefully through a meadow. She was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, a goddess in her own right. When she shrieked, Demeter heard her. She rushed to the meadow, only to find that her daughter was gone – the only trace of the young woman was a discarded basket of flowers.
Demeter was distraught – and when you have the goddess of the harvest distraught, there are repercussions. Those repercussions often involve around famine. Plants died, trees lost their fruit, and fields became fallow. Nothing grew as Demeter searched everywhere for her beloved daughter – all to no avail. Demeter pleaded with the gods and mortals alike for word of Persephone, but no one was talking, and the famine grew worse.
It got so bad that Zeus started complaining. After all, with no grain to feed the animals that were given as offerings to the gods, they were kind of pathetic. Zeus didn’t want pathetic offerings, he wanted good ones. He wanted the best ones. Demeter was messing up his nice, cushy, great offering-laden lifestyle with her grief.
So, Zeus sighed and decided to tell Demeter the truth about where her daughter was. To say that Demeter was pissed would have been an understatement. Demeter demanded Persephone’s release, and vowed that nothing – not a single plant – would grow until her daughter was by her side again. Zeus really liked his offerings and didn’t want to listen to the starving whines of mortals. He promised to talk to Hades
Meanwhile, Persephone wasn’t all that happy in the underworld. Aside from the whole consent-didn’t-matter-to-the-Greeks thing, Hades had treated her pretty well – at least, he tried to. He gave her a nice place in his palace, pretty clothes and lots of food to eat. She didn’t touch any of it. She wanted nothing to do with Hades and only wanted to go home to her mother.
Hades was getting a bit tired of Persephone rejecting his hospitality. He didn’t understand what he was doing wrong and why she didn’t like him the way Zeus’ women fawned on the King of the Gods. He was kind of relieved when Zeus came to have a chat about Persephone, though that relief changed to annoyance when he realized Zeus was there to take Persephone back. Just like his stupid brother to rub it in his face that Hades couldn’t keep his own wife happy!
Hades agreed, but on his way to Persephone’s room, he picked up a pomegranate. With a kind smile, he told Persephone about her mother’s grief and that Zeus was there to take her home. Persephone leapt up from her chair, grateful that she could go home and see her mother at last!
“Hold on…” Hades said, offering her the pomegranate. “You haven’t eaten a thing since you’ve been here. You don’t want to go to your mother starving, do you? At least have this pomegranate… for your own sake.”
Persephone was pretty hungry… she took the pomegranate gratefully and ate about half of it. Little did she know that there was a rule that those who tasted the food of the underworld were doomed to stay there forever – Hades wasn’t about to let stupid perfect Zeus win this round! Hades was kind of a prick, too.
Zeus was pissed. Demeter was pissed. Hades was smug. Persephone was homesick.
There was much heated debate. Eventually, a compromise was struck – since Persephone had only eaten half the pomegranate, she would remain with Hades as his wife for half the year, and then spend the other half of the year with Demeter. Everyone agreed that this was fair.
Persephone left with Demeter, and spent a gleeful spring and summer in the warm meadows as the land grew and the harvest were plentiful. In the fall, she went down to be with Hades, and Demeter spent fall and winter sad and the crops withered and died until Persephone returned to her side again.
I think Demeter really needs to learn to let go…