The myth of Hades and Persephone - Iseult Gillespie
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As the goddess of agriculture and grain, Demeter tended to Ancient Greek farms and food. You can find more details about classical farming practices here and here.
With her beloved daughter Persephone in tow, Demeter swept through fields ensuring healthy harvests and gleaming grain. But when the God of death and the underworld Hades stole Persephone away, Demeter refused to perform her duties. Farms grew fallow and crops failed, and the Ancient Greeks began to starve.
Persephone knew that she would be doomed to the underworld forever if she ate even a morsel of the dead’s food. But as time wore on, she was forced to sneak six seeds of the pomegranate. You can learn more about the symbolism of the pomegranate in this article. The pomegranate is highly symbolic across many cultures – you can find more information about this, as well as some art inspired by the pomegranate, here. Eavan Boland’s famous poem, “The Pomegranate,” offers a modern reflection on the myth.
The Gods ultimately reached a compromise: as punishment for the six seeds, Persephone would remain in the underworld for six months of the year. Thus the myth of Persephone acts as an explanation for the seasons, with her time in the underworld bringing a quiet period for Demeter and nature itself.
To ensure the safe return of Persephone and the turn of the seasons, the goddess and her mother were highly celebrated. The cult of Demeter held the Eleusinian Mysteries, a secret ceremony, while the Thesmophoria was celebrated by women to encourage fertility. In this way, the myth of Persephone and Demeter resonated with farmers, families and all who celebrated the changeable cycles nature in Ancient Greece.
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