Δευτέρα, 24 Νοεμβρίου 2008

Persephone






There is an archaic role for Persephone as the dread queen of the Underworld, whose very name it was forbidden to speak. In the Odyssey, commonly dated circa 800 to 600 BC, when Odysseus goes to the Underworld, he refers to her as the Iron Queen. Her central myth, for all its emotional familiarity, was also the tacit context of the secret initiatory mystery rites of regeneration at Eleusis, which promised immortality to their awe-struck participants—an immortality in her world beneath the soil, feasting with the heroes who dined beneath her dread gaze.


In the later Olympian pantheon of Classical Greece, Persephone is given a father: according to Hesiod's Theogony, Persephone was the daughter produced by the union of Demeter and Zeus. "And he [Zeus] came to the bed of bountiful Demeter, who bore white-armed Persephone, stolen by Hades from her mother's side".
Unlike every other offspring of an Olympian pairing of deities, Persephone has no stable position at Olympus. Persephone used to live far away from the other deities, a goddess within Nature herself before the days of planting seeds and nurturing plants. In the Olympian telling, the gods Hermes, Ares, Apollo, and Hephaestus, had all wooed Persephone, but Demeter rejected all their gifts and hid her daughter away from the company of the Olympian deities. Thus, Persephone lived a peaceful life before she became the goddess of the underworld, which, according to Olympian mythographers, did not occur until Hades abducted her and brought her into the underworld. She was innocently picking flowers with some nymphs—, Athena, and Artemis, the Homeric hymn says—, or Leucippe, or Oceanids— in a field in Enna when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth; the nymphs were changed by Demeter into the Sirens for not having interfered. Life came to a standstill as the devastated Demeter, goddess of the Earth, searched everywhere for her lost daughter. Helios, the sun, who sees everything, eventually told Demeter what had happened.


Finally, Zeus, pressured by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, could not put up with the dying earth and forced Hades to return Persephone. But before she was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, (seven, eight, or perhaps four according to the telling) which forced her to return to the underworld for a season each year. In some versions, Ascalaphus informed the other deities that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds. When Demeter and her daughter were united, the Earth flourished with vegetation and color, but for four months each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm. This is an origin story to explain the seasons.
In the earliest known version the dreaded goddess, Persephone, was herself Queen of the Underworld.
In some versions, Demeter forbids the earth to produce, in others she is so busy looking for Persephone that she neglects the earth, or her duties as the Earth which she represents, and in some the depth of her despair causes nothing to grow.
This myth also can be interpreted as an allegory of ancient Greek marriage rituals. The Classical Greeks felt that marriage was a sort of abduction of the bride by the groom from the bride's family, and this myth may have explained the origins of the marriage ritual. The more popular etiological explanation of the seasons may have been a later interpretation.


In one version of the myth, Persephone, as Queen of Hades, only mercifully relinquished a subject once; because the music of Orpheus was so hauntingly sad, she allowed Orpheus to bring his wife Eurydice back to the land of the living, as long as she walked behind him and he never tried to look at her face until they reached the surface. Orpheus agreed, but failed, looking back at the very end to make sure his wife was following, and he lost Eurydice forever.
Persephone also figures in the story of Adonis, the Syrian consort of Aphrodite. When Adonis was born, Aphrodite took him under her wing, seducing him with the help of Helene, her friend, and was entranced by his unearthly beauty. She gave him to Persephone to watch over, but Persephone also was amazed at his beauty and refused to give him back. The argument between the two goddesses was settled, either by Calliope, or by Zeus, (depending on the antiquity of the myth), with Adonis spending four months with Aphrodite, four months with Persephone and four months of the year on his own. This later myth placed a god into the position of a goddess in the cycle of the seasons.
When Hades pursued a nymph named Minthe, Persephone turned her into a mint plant.
Persephone was the object of Pirithous' affections. In a late myth, Pirithous and Theseus, his friend, pledged to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra, and traveled to the underworld, domain of Persephone and her husband, Hades. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there. Edith Hamilton called it a "Chair of Forgetfulness" that they sat upon. It also should be noted that Heracles was able to save Theseus from this fate when he was in the Underworld, but Hades forced Pirithous to remain seated forever.
Persephone and her mother Demeter were often referred to as aspects of the same Earth goddess, and were called "the Demeters" or simply "the goddesses."

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