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Persephone and the Seasons

September 1, 2017

 

The first day of spring, also known as the vernal equinox, is a time of growth and rebirth. In ancient Greece, mythologies were developed to explain why things in the world occurred. The myth of the Abduction of Persephone by Hades explained the seasons. To the ancient Greeks, spring and summer signified the six months when Persephone returned from the Underworld, and her mother Demeter made the earth bloom and grow bountiful after her absence. When Persephone left the company of the gods and returned to the Underworld, Demeter’s loss was expressed in the barrenness of autumn and winter.

 

The myth begins with Hades’ desire to possess Persephone and make her his wife, knowing that Persephone’s mother Demeter would never agree to the union. While Persephone was gathering flowers in a meadow Hades burst from the Underworld on his black chariot and abducted her. Demeter searched in vain for her daughter until Hecate told Demeter that Persephone had been carried away, but she did not know by whom. The two goddesses went to Apollo, the god of the sun, who saw everything that happened on Earth. Apollo told Demeter what had happened, but also tried to persuade Demeter that Hades, as Zeus's brother and ruler of one third of the universe, was not an unfit husband for Persephone.

 

Demeter refused to accept Hades as a suitable spouse for her precious daughter. Enraged by the news of Persephone's abduction (and Zeus's possible complicity), she refused to return to Mount Olympus. Instead she roamed the earth in the guise of a mortal, forbidding the trees to bear fruit and the earth to nurture vegetables and herbs.

 

 Demeter threatened to make the earth barren forever and thus destroy all of humankind if she did not get Persephone back. Zeus realizing that if he allowed Demeter to persist, all of humankind would starve sent Hermes the messenger god, to demand that Persephone be returned to her mother. Hades agreed to let her go. But before she left, Hades urged Persephone to assuage her terrible hunger, she had not eaten a single thing since her arrival in the Underworld, by eating four pomegranate seeds. Sadly, this apparent act of kindness was a ruse, as anyone who tasted the food of Hades was condemned to remain in the Underworld forever.

 

A compromise was struck in which Persephone would return to Hades for four months of the year and the rest of the year above ground with Demeter.

Demeter reluctantly agreed to the deal, restored Earth's fertility and returned to Olympus with Persephone. But when the time came for Persephone to return to the Underworld, the earth became colder and less fertile until her re-emergence months later.

 

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