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Chris Mackie does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any firm or organization that would advantage from this article, and has expose no pertinent affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

You are watching: What natural event does the myth of demeter and persephone explain?

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Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan, 1906. Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Greek word because that “mother” is actually installed in Demeter’s name. The Hymn defines the primordial maternal power brought to bear upon the masculine sky-god Zeus, who had secretly (ie without Demeter’s knowledge) offered over his daughter Persephone to a marriage with his brother Hades.

Demeter is among the “older” generation of Olympian gods. She siblings are Zeus, Poseidon and also Hades ~ above the masculine side, and Hera and also Hestia ~ above the female side. Zeus, the skies god, has sexual connections with two of his sisters - Hera, that is a type of long-suffering queen of heaven; and also Demeter, that is much more earth-focused. In a renowned passage in Iliad 14, Zeus recounts come Hera herself some of his sexual exploits, and also he names Demeter in his long list that amours.

Persephone is not pointed out in the passage as the product the this specific sexual encounter, however that is certainly the idea. Demeter and also Persephone are frequently thought of with each other as “The 2 Goddesses”. This surname helps to emphasise the power of their bond, and also the gravity of Zeus’s action in violent separating them.

The Hymn tells the story of Persephone and also other young girls gathering flowers in a meadow. Together she bends under to pick a beautiful flower, the earth opens up and also Hades increase on his horse-drawn chariot. She offers out a scream, however he carries her off into the depths of the earth.


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Hades abducting Persephone, fresco in the small royal dig at Vergina, Macedonia, Greece, circa 340 BC. Wikimedia Commons

A blight on the land

Her mom hears her cry, and also begins a search for she throughout the totality world. Whilst ever before Persephone is missing Demeter create a blight top top the soil in which nothing germinates and also nothing grows. She would certainly have damaged humanity altogether if Zeus hadn’t taken notice, and acted accordingly.

A human genocide is plainly not in the gods’ interest. It would certainly deprive lock of the honours that they obtain from mortals. Their presence without honours from human beings would it is in intolerable, and also Zeus, as leader of the world, can’t permit it come happen. But Demeter will certainly not let go of her rage at the loss of her daughter. She won’t walk to Olympus, the house of the gods, and also she i will not ~ let the fruit prosper on earth until she sees Persephone again.

Zeus is compelled to relent and also sends the messenger Hermes to the Underworld to gain the girl back. But, just as she is going, Hades prevails on her to eat the seed of a pomegranate to protect against her from remaining with her mother over the earth all she days. Persephone is therefore forced to spend one-third of yearly under the earth with Hades, and also two-thirds v her mother and also the community of gods on mount Olympus.

Persephone’s change from the feminised world of a flowery meadow to the unrelenting male people of Hades could scarcely be an ext fundamental.

The male gods that perpetrate the deed, Zeus and Hades, have no redeeming features everything in the Hymn, and also they are really undone through the sheer pressure of Demeter’s love for her daughter. The main narrative of the Hymn has actually some similarities to Achilles’ response to the ns of Patroclus in the Iliad, but Demeter’s wrath is universal v a sort of cosmic maternal power to it.

A brand-new cycle the life and death

Persephone’s eat of the pomegranate seed way that a deteriorate is collection up, in i beg your pardon the world transforms forever. Whereas she can have supposed an immortal existence with her mom on Olympus, Persephone i do not care the main figure in a brand-new cycle of life and death.

She is both queen that the Underworld, as wife of Hades, and also associated with the new life that rises with the spring. Death and also life space no much longer mutually exclusive, yet co-exist in both the upper and also lower worlds. Over there is life in death, and also death in life.


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freder Leighton, The Return the Persephone, 1891. Wikimedia Commons

The Demeter Hymn has the structure myth of the Eleusinian Mysteries - renowned religious rites which took place at Eleusis, near to Athens. Initiation into the Mysteries held out the possibility of making fatality less threatening.

The facility of Persephone as a feminine existence in the Underworld, as explained in the Hymn, coincides to the notion that fatality is not as terrifying as it might have been had actually Hades alone been present as leader in the world of the dead.

Like countless Greek myths the story that Persephone’s descent right into the kingdom of Hades, and her emergence from it, has actually resonances in contemporary arts, most especially the concept of death and rebirth.

One parallel worth noting is the Phantom that the Opera in the variation by Andrew Lloyd-Webber (et al.) in i beg your pardon Erik leads Christine down right into the cellars of the opera residence on come a watercraft and across a subterranean lake.


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Emmy Rossum and also Gerard servant in The Phantom of the Opera (2004) Warner Bros., Odyssey Entertainment, Really valuable Films

Erik climate sings come Christine that the attractions of his isolated world of darkness and night:

Slowly, gently night unfurls the splendorGrasp it, feeling it, tremulous and also tenderTurn your confront away indigenous the garish light of dayTurn her thoughts away from cold, unfeeling lightAnd listen to the music that the night

The plea that Hades come Persephone is quite different in the Hymn, yet the desperate loneliness of the 2 males in your dark realms is something that they have in common.

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It is precious noting, finally, that phrases favor being “carried turn off by Hades” or “marrying Hades” were supplied as metaphors an ext broadly to define the deaths of young girls. This again shows how far-ranging the myth of Demeter and Persephone remained in the lives of women and girls in Greek antiquity.