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Mythologically Speaking: Persephone & the Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Mythologically Speaking: Persephone & the Homeric Hymn to Demeter


We do our best to research as much as we possibly can to write these posts. We're human, not gods - there may be mistakes. Please correct us nicely and we will change it. We do thorough research, but sometimes miss a detail. 

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Cover photo: Ashley Cotto photographed by Sasha Kay for The Maiden product shoot
Hair: Georgina Santacroce & Marianna Magana

The story of Persephone is one that I hold near to my heart. As basic as it may sound, it's probably one of my favorites in Greek Mythology. If you have not heard at least some form of the origins of Persephone, then I must ask:

How does it feel to be under that rock, Patrick Star? (she questions, lovingly)

And with the return of Spring having just begun and the weather getting warmer, it only feels right that we talk about the Goddess of Spring and her origin story of the seasons. 

I want to make something very, very clear: 

Narcissus Beauty does extensive research on the mythologies we post, write, and make products about. We try our best to make lighthearted, satirical content about the deities and stories we read. We always leave a satirical content warning in our captions. Our intention is never to offend or cause controversy. 

Over the last three years, we have seen several comments arguing with us and others over the story of Persephone and Hades. 

I will fully admit to making jokes centric to a more modern ideology of Persephone waltzing into the Underworld and claiming ownership of it and disliking her mother, but it's not the one that I, or many practitioners, believe in. I am an avid enjoyer of modern retellings of Hades and Persephone for entertainment purposes, but to take them as fact and accurate storytelling would be doing myself, my business, and our clientele a disservice. 

There was a great Instagram story put out by a friend of the brand and Persephone devotee, Suzee, where she puts a modern look at Persephone into perspective. To say that Persephone hates her mother and hates being with her during the Spring and Summer, or hates Hades and dreads being with him in the Winter and Fall months, is diminishing to the whole identity and story of the Goddess. It's a complicated story, but one that explains a balance of identity, the love of a mother to her child, and the origins of her duty as a Queen. 

If you're interested in hearing more about Persephone and other Hellenic deities from devotees we trust, I recommend you follow these creators: Keys, Calla, Suzee, & Alyssa

Everything I am referencing today about the story of Persephone is from the Homeric Hymn to DemeterIf you have not read it in its entirety, I suggest you do so, but if you don't, I'll try my best to give the an accurate, but fun summary of it.

Enough yapping. Let's get into the story. 

  ִֶָ 𓂃˖˳·˖ ִֶָ ⋆★⋆  ִֶָ˖·˳˖𓂃 ִֶָ

Right off the bat, and I don't know if this is a translation mistake, but Persephone is described as "the one with delicate ankles." I know this is a testament to the time it was written, but it makes me giggle. I just had to mention that. 

Zeus decided it was fine and dandy to give Ms. Tiny Ankles away to his brother, 'cause his brother thought she was cute. Demeter had literally no hand in this decision making. Actually rude. 

Persephone was just having a grand ol' time in her garden, picking Crocuses and Roses with the daughters of Okeanos**.

** Okeanos is the oldest of the Titans and child of Uranus and Rhea. Remember like...the Titanomancy.

The daughters are described as wearing their "girdles slung low," which basically is kind of like wearing a bralette or like a shirt with no bra - just letting it all breathe. It's casual and comfortable, basically. The girlies are out and playing, okay?

So, Persephone is skipping along, picking her flowers and then she sees...

A Narcissus Flower.

Are y'all getting why we picked our name now or...?

This flower was placed there as a ruse to get the beautiful Goddess to go to it, be lured in by its beauty, and pick it, as she had picked the others. Sneaky, sneaky. Tsk tsk. 

And as soon as she reached to pick the budding flower on the Plain of Nysa, the world cracked open like an egg. Out of the crack, Hades, riding on a golden chariot pulled by immortal horses (ok, kind of a badass flex, I guess), scoops her up and yoinks her down into the Underworld. 

There are better ways of asking a girl out, dude. We promise talking really helps sometimes. Flirting. Courting. Forcefully removing her from her home isn't really the vibe, King. 

Obviously, our Tiny Ankle girlie is crying.

She didn't ask for this. She's terrified, as she should be. This isn't like a...normal thing she's been exposed to.

She's screaming and crying, but no immortal or mortal, could hear her high-pitched pleas...

Except Hekate and Helios, who went to her father, Zeus, and begged him to help her. He was too busy taking up offerings from humans to really care, nor did he really want to help. She was his sacrificial lamb that he offered to his brother without a second thought. Why would he have taken her back?

I want to note that Hades is referred to a lot in this text as "The One Who Takes Many Guests" and it took me a bit to understand why because he's literally in the pits of the earth. I realized it's because everyone dies and has to see him in the afterlife. That is actually the coolest way to explain his job. 

The world closed above Persephone, but what got her through her distress was a sense of hope that she would see the sun, the stars, and her mother again. 

Remember how we said no one could hear her? That wasn't entirely true. The mountains and the seas resounded her cries, finally letting it hit the ears of Demeter, who became struck with an unbelievable grief at the loss of her daughter. 

Demeter removed her headband and wrapped herself in a dark cloak, begging anyone she saw to tell her where her daughter might be. No one could or wanted to answer her. The birds, who were seen as carriers of the truth, wouldn't help her. 

She wandered for nine days, land and sea, looking for her daughter. She didn't drink ambrosia, bathe, or enjoy any pleasantries during this time. She was in the deepest despair a parent could have - losing their child. 

Hekate finally popped up with a torch in her hand, though. She's like, "Hey, girl. So, I think I heard your daughter get snatched. I didn't actually see her, but someone probably did. I just wanted to tell you the truth since no one else did and also help you find her."

Demeter was in no state to answer, but took her up on the offer to help find her daughter. That's when they went to find Helios, you know - the God of the Sun who sees everything all the time?

Demeter's begging him with respect to herself and him, pleading he tells her which human being took her daughter away from her. 

Helios is like, "Babe, I'll help you out because you have gorgeous hair and I respect you a lot and, honestly, I feel bad your daughter got snatched. I'm gonna be honest, though, it wasn't a human. It was actually Hades who stole her, but like not actually stole because he was given permission by his brother and 'Seph's dad Zeus."

And Demeter's like, "HUH?"

Then Helios hits her with the, "But don't worry 'cause Zeus and Hades are like actually from the same seed and are for realsies brothers, so like she might be in the underworld with all the souls of the dead, but he's loaded. Plus, he's the one you'd actually want as a son-in-law and like super honorable, so she's fine. Stop crying."

Demeter was actually way more upset than they thought she'd be - so much so, her wails could've been mistaken for the howls of Cerberus and she decided she was literally going to isolate from everyone (same, girl), human and immortal, and shade herself so much that no human or the daughters of Okeanos would recognize her. 

Girl literally shut off the sun and changed her appearance. That's an intense type of love. 

Demeter is described as sitting under an olive tree near the well called Parthenion, looking like an old woman "depraved of childbirth and gifts of Aphrodite." 

DEPRAVED OF CHILDBIRTH AND GIFTS OF APHRODITE. That is an unbelievable way to describe an old person; just call her haggard, ugly, and barren.

Anyway, these four girls, Kallithoê, Kallidikê, Kleisidikê, and Dêmô lived near where Demeter sat and they were going to that well. They saw her and were like, "Old lady, why don't you come to our palace? You're so close, but so far! What's up? We have people who would love you there!"

And Demeter's response is, "You pretty little girls...I'm not like you, but I do wish you all happiness and pleasure from our relationship." And she makes up this incredible story about her name being Doso. She was a woman from Crete, captured by cruel pirates and was forced to travel by sea. She says that once they docked in Thorikos and women from the land boarded, she escaped. 

She wishes them great husbands and the ability to bear their family many children, as their parents would want for them. She also asks the girls to pity her and give her the name of a home with a child that can be raised by her, as she missed being a mother. 

The girls turned around and said that they actually had a newborn brother who needed help being raised, so they brought her back and Demeter would raise Demophon, future King of Athens. 

Everyone was scared by this woman because it seemed like everyone knew it was Demeter, but no one said anything because they were like GET HER HERE NOW. WE'LL PAY HER WHATEVER

Demeter raised him like her own, giving him Ambrosia and everything he would need to basically come out being like her kid. He would've been a full immortal, too, if his mom Metaneira didn't stumble in and see her holding her son in a fire, trying to make him immortal. 

Theoretically, I get it. This strange lady is putting your kid in a fire...I'd freak out, too. 

Demeter shifted into her goddess form and Metaneira freaked out, Demophon is sobbing, and his sisters come rushing in and they're all freaking out and praying. 

Fast forward a little, Zeus is seeing the suffering going on and sends Iris and a bunch of other gods to offer Demeter things to get her to stop the mortal suffering, but she said no. All she wanted was to see her daughter. 

Now, Zeus is all annoyed because she said no to everything. He sent Hermes to talk to Hades and see if he'll let Demeter see Persephone. 

Hermes goes down to the Underworld and sees the couple sitting together on a funeral seat for a throne (I want one). 

Hermes says something along the lines of: "Heeeeey, Hades! Buddy...Pal...your brother, you know, King of the Gods Zeus...he sent me! Yeah, he wants you to uh...let sweet ol' Persephone see the sun again? Please? Her mom's suuuper bummed that you kidnapped her daughter and is basically leaving the humans to perish slowly and painfully. She's refusing to talk to any of us until she sees 'Seph. So, like, can we have her back maybe?"

And, okay, Hades seems to be pretty reasonable about all this, seeing as he just grab and go'ed a wife, but he's really chill. He tells Persephone with a smile, "Look, I'm not going to be a bad husband. I'm not going to be an awful person to the other gods and mortals, so go see your mom. But, please, remember that if you're here, you will be a ruler over everything that moves here. Anyone who violates the moral order you so assign will be punished as such. Those who view you as less and do not sacrifice with rituals and offerings will be punished."

Persephone was so excited to go, she really was. 

But, Hades was not a dumb man. He had been around for some time. He did not want his wife to leave for a long time. He barely wanted her to leave at all. So, he snuck the honey-sweet pomegranate seeds into her mouth before sending her off in the golden chariot with Hermes. 

When Demeter finally saw her daughter again, she rushed forward and encapsulated Persephone in all the love she could imagine. 

Demeter asks what ruse did Hades use to get you down there?

Persephone tells her mother everything - who was there before her kidnapping, what they were doing, and how it happened. She also admits that Hades did force her to eat pomegranate seeds before she left, so she will have to return to him.**

**There are many that say "eating pomegranate seeds" is a metaphor for for r*pe, but I'm going to be honest, I don't know how much I agree with that. I have seen associations in Greek myths that tie pomegranate seeds to fertility, but I don't think it's connected with that forceful action. He did force her to eat the seeds, but I personally think it represents the semi-permanent change in her identity: a version of her with her mother, above ground, and one with her holy husband below. 

Here's the thing that debunks the "Persephone hates Demeter" theories: the two of them spent the entire day together in gladness. They had the same love, the same heart. They received joy from being with one another. That is not a duo that hates each other. 

Anyway, Hekate shows up and I guess they all got along really well. They decided that Hekate would be Persephone's attendant and subsequent Queen of the Underworld when Persephone was not there. 

Zeus sent Rhea to the trio and declared that Persephone would spend one-third of the year in the Underworld with Hades and two-thirds of the year with her mother in the mortal realm/Olympus. 

Demeter decided that, with this decision, she would allow the mortal realm to be fertile with harvest again. 

And that is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. This took me the entire day to summarize. 

I hope that helps to clear up some of the confusion. I know there's different versions of each story, but this is the one with the most backing. It's the one we base our identity of Persephone off of. 

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