Rape of Persephone

The Cultural Reinvention of Persephone: From Maiden to The Dreaded One

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Because so many original written sources have been lost and because of the oral nature of myths, there are often varied versions of major stories. That, combined with our modern interpretation, has led the gods of many mythologies to mean whatever the current climate needs them to mean. Christianity, feminism, paganism, Percy Jackson, have all changed the way we have viewed the Greek Gods. One of the female deities that have taken multiple forms in the past few years is Persephone, with the most common change being her relationship with husband/uncle, Hades.

Growing up I read several different versions of the “Rape of Persephone” as it is often called (rape in this context is synonymous with abduction, rather than the sexual act, which is often called “ravished”). Here is how it usually goes:

Uncle Hades sees his beautiful niece, Persephone, and thinks “she’s the one” so he goes to his brother, Zeus, who is Persephone’s dad, and asks for Persephone to be his bride. Zeus knows that this will make Demeter, Persephone’s mother/Zeus’ sister, very upset and therefore softly consents to it, without telling anyone.

Hades then decides to then burst from the ground with a chariot while Persephone is minding her damn business picking flowers with some nymph friends (relatable), snatches Persephone and drags her down into the underworld. Not the best first impression.

What follows is very Disney’s Beauty and the Beast-esque, Hades tries to woo Persephone with all the glitz and glamour of being first lady of the underworld. Hades is the god of wealth after all. However, kidnapped gold is not at shiny as freedom gold.

Demeter was not happy that Zeus would not return Demeter to her and being the goddess of the harvest, she played her trump card: starvation. After hearing people complain long enough, Zeus sent Hermes out to reclaim Persephone.

Hades, deciding that he called dibs and wasn’t giving up his lady, tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds which forced Persephone to stay in the underworld for six months out of the year (and that’s why we have the seasons, yay).

It varies in who does the tricking. Sometimes it’s Hades, sometimes it’s Hermes and sometimes it’s some underworld creature, but…sometimes it’s Persephone who makes the decision to eat the seeds herself.

And that question of choice has led to many “alternative character interpretations” about Persephone, her relationships with Demeter and Hades, and how much autonomy she really has before and after her kidnapping.

**The following gifs examples do not represent my actual feelings on Gilmore Girls characters**

Demeter is Emily Gilmore with Goddess Powers


Demeter is Lorelai Gilmore with Goddess Powers

Somehow, even with Hades abducting Persephone, Demeter is kind of the one who gets dragged through the muck for her grief.

I mean, I hate winter too, but considering that her daughter was kidnapped by her brother and her brother/lover won’t help out and if I could cause worldwide famine … I’m just saying you play the cards you are dealt.

Overbearing!Demeter is probably also based on the fact that Apollo and Hermes both tried to “woo” Persephone and Demeter turned them all down and hid Persephone away.

Now yes, is it terrible to hide your daughter away and not allow her to make decisions in her future husband, yes? But in Demeter’s defense … almost every man in her family is a rapist.

I wouldn’t want my daughter around them either.

We are given very little backstory on Demeter and Zeus’ relationship, but considering it’s Zeus probably didn’t end well and he’s also a terrible father. However, because its Zeus no one expects any better.

Hades is a Sad Boy with Money


Hades is an Abusive Husband with Money

I know most people reading this probably already know this, but for those who may not, let’s be clear: Hades is not the worst guy in Greek mythology. Which is both not saying a lot and saying a lot.

Hades, compared to his brothers, cousins, nephews, etc., does not go out raping women/men, doesn’t really mess around with mortals. He just sits in the Underworld enjoys his wealth and all his subjects. But, because he rules over death (not the God of Death that’s this dude), he is one of “The Dreaded Ones” and is seen as creepy to most.

In addition to not being malicious towards people, he also is one of the few deities to not cheat on their spouse, although some have tried (R.I.P Minthe).

Still, that does not erase the fact that he violently kidnapped Persephone in an action that could easily be seen as traumatic. Fidelity can only get you so far.

Because Hades is only depicted as a predator in this myth, there is this desire to “redeem” him and pain his actions as a result of sorrow or a misunderstanding. However, in every version of the story, Hades kidnaps her—violently, and that is abusive, even if she forgives him for it.

Persephone the Feminist icon


Persephone is a Victim

With Persephone, the desire to reinvent or re-examine the character in part comes from Persephone’s own history as a goddess.

For one, Persephone was kind of a big deal. The Eleusinian Mysteries were one of the biggest and most well known secret religious rites of ancient Greece, which initiated people into the Cult of Demeter and Persephone. The cult’s origins are thought to go back as far as the Mycenean period, the period where a lot of myths “take place”. Because of the agrarian nature of early myths, the story of the seasons was an important one and Demeter/Persephone occupied an important place. Not to mention the image of Persephone being taken by Hades is also viewed as the male gods taking power away from older, female deities.

So why would people want to turn Persephone into a feminist icon and why has there been this turn away from seeing Persephone’s abduction as purely a violation into a weird Bildungsroman

In my opinion, it starts with the fact that Persephone only becomes “Persephone” after the abduction. Before it, her name is Core/Kore which means “maiden.” Her entire identity is based is based on her maidenhood, her innocence, and her beauty. She is tied to her mother completely and there is a sense that Demeter would want to keep her in perpetual childhood.

In contrast to “Core,” the name “Persephone” means “to bring destruction” which is, objectively, a much cooler name. In Homer, he often refers to her as “dread Persephone” and is described as being a powerful bad-ass who helps cure men who have been damned by the gods. Persephone, as we know her in Greek myth, does not exist until she becomes Queen of the Underworld.

Persephone comes into herself as a woman and as queen through this story and instead of framing it as a violation on top of a violation, there is a desire to transform Persephone into more than just a victim. Allowing Persephone to take control of her own destiny is a better ending to that story than her just being tricked. (Just like the fan theory that Princess Peach and Bowser are in love and kidnapping is their kink.)

Considering how sexist a lot of the myths are written, it makes sense that female writers would want to re-examine them. Instead of a victim, Persephone, much like Belle, finds herself in a bad situation and makes the most of it. She is the dreaded one, the Queen of the Underworld. The goddess of Spring and maybe she wanted to eat the damn seeds. 

(image: Gian Lorenzo Bernini /Wikicommons)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.