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Myths and Legends - Yearly Agricultural Cycle

Myth of the Abduction of Persephone.


Rape of Persephone, by Luca Giordano. 1684-1686.

Rape of Persephone, by Luca Giordano. 1684-1686.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Demeter, the goddess of the crops and harvest, and Zeus, the king of the gods, had a daughter, Persephone. One day while Persephone was gathering wild flowers she was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld where the dead live.

Distraught when she cold not find her daughter, Demeter wandered over the face of the earth trying to find out what had happened to her. She came to Eleusis disguised as an old woman, and was taken in by the king and queen to be the nurse for their son. Each night, while the palace slept, she placed the baby prince in the fire. One night the queen peeked and saw what the goddess was doing. Not unnaturally she snatched the baby out of the fire, and had hysterics. The goddess revealed who she really was and informed the queen that if she had not interfered, the baby would have been made immortal, all the mortal parts of him having been burned away.

Demeter met Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, who told her that she had heard Persephone calling out one day, and suggested she ask Helios, the Sun, if he had seen what had happened in his daily course across the sky. Helios told Demeter who had abducted her daughter, and Demeter went off to complain to Zeus, who was not only Persephone's father but Demeter and Hades' brother. Zeus refused to intervene, so Demeter withdrew from her role as goddess. Without her no crops could grow, and the resulting famine threatened the extinction of the human race.

Eventually Zeus said that Hades would have to let Persephone go. When Persephone was reunited with her mother, Demeter asked if she had eaten anything while she was in the underworld. Persephone admitted she had eaten a pomegranate seed. Because of this, she now spends one-third of each year in the underworld as the wife of Hades, and two-thirds of the year with her mother. While Persephone is in the underworld, her mother mourns and refuses to allow crops to grow until she gets her daughter back again.

This myth obviously explains the yearly cycle of growth, harvest, and winter. The version of the myth found in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter also gives an explanation for some of the details of the mystery religion of Demeter. Another more literary version of the myth can be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses Book 5, lines 341-572 where the characters have Latin names rather than Greek (Demeter = Ceres, Zeus = Jupiter, Persephone = Proserpina, Hades = Pluto).


Introduction to Myth

  1. Who's Who In Greek Legend

    What Is Myth? | Myths vs. Legends | Gods in the Heroic Age - Bible vs Biblos | Creation Stories | Olympian Gods | Olympian Goddesses | Five Ages of Man | Philemon and Baucis | Prometheus | Trojan War | Myths & Religion |

    Collected Myths Retold

    Bulfinch - Retold Tales From Mythology | Kingsley - Retold Tales From Mythology | Golden Fleece and the Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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