Ancient history


In Greek mythology, Persephone (in ancient Greek Περσεφόνη / Persephónê, in Homer Persephóneia) is a goddess, daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was first known by the simple name of Coré (Κόρη / Kórê) "the maiden", or even "the daughter", as opposed to Demeter, "the mother" (hê mêtềr).

She is likened to Proserpina (Latin Proserpina) in Roman mythology.

Persephone is one of the main chthonic deities of the Greeks. Her story is told in particular in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

Persephone is of rare beauty, and her mother Demeter raises her in secret in Sicily, her favorite island, where the young girl is safe. In the woods of Enna, Persephone entertains herself with the Oceanids. One day, while they are busy picking flowers, Persephone leaves the group to pick a narcissus. There she is noticed by the powerful Hades, her uncle, who wishes to make her his queen. He kidnaps the young girl who with a cry alerts her mother but she arrives too late. The scene would have taken place near Lake Pergusa, in Sicily. No one having seen anything, Demeter will go in search of her only daughter for nine days and nine nights before declaring:“The Earth will be hungry until I find my daughter. The sun will then decide to reveal to Demeter that it was Hades who kidnapped her daughter. The goddess will go to the Underworld to seek her but Hades will refuse to return her. The case is brought before Zeus.
Triptolemus and Korah, Attic red-figure cup, c. 470-460 BC.
Triptolemus and Korah, Attic red-figure cup, c. 470-460 BC. AD

Zeus is unable to make a decision because he does not want to offend Demeter or her brother, Hades. Noting that Coré has eaten seven pomegranate seeds, the fruit of the dead, Coré must stay in Hell. However Zeus decides on a compromise. The young girl will spend six months in Hell as Persephone alongside her husband, whom she ends up appreciating and loving. The rest of the year she will return to Earth as Kore to help her mother for the spring and summer. Thus the winter period is the period when Persephone lives alongside her husband. His mother being sad, she dries up the Earth.

Persephone seems to have accepted her role as Queen of the Dead because, in the legends, she always acts in agreement with her husband. She is even tough and inflexible. However, some authors do not recognize her as the daughter of Demeter, but as that of the Styx, and according to them Persephone has always been the goddess of the Underworld.

She also passes for the mother of Zagreus, conceived with Zeus metamorphosed into a snake.

Persephone intervenes little in the legends (see however Adonis and Pirithoos).

Persephone figures prominently in the cults of many cities, especially those of Eleusis, Thebes, and Megara, as well as in Sicily and Arcadia.

An infernal deity, she is also originally a goddess of wheat, like her mother. Among the Greeks, the fertility of the soil was closely linked to death, and the seeds were kept in the dark during the summer months, before the fall sowing. This return of life after burial is symbolized by the myth of Persephone, kidnapped, then restored, and gives rise to the rites of the Eleusinian mysteries. For the faithful, the return to earth of the goddess is a formal promise of their own resurrection.

The myth of Persephone is also celebrated at the mysteries of Samothrace, where she is identified with the goddess Axiokersa.

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