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Persephone

Persephone (pərsĕf´ənē) or Proserpine (prōsûr´pənē), in Greek and Roman religion and mythology, goddess of fertility and queen of the underworld. She was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. When she was still a beautiful maiden, Pluto seized her and held her captive in his underworld. Though Demeter eventually persuaded the gods to let her daughter return to her, Persephone was required to remain in the underworld for four months because Pluto had tricked her into eating a pomegranate (food of the dead) there. When Persephone left the earth, the flowers withered and the grain died, but when she returned, life blossomed anew. This story, which symbolizes the annual vegetation cycle, was celebrated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which Persephone appeared under the name Kore.

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Persephone

Persephone

In Greek mythology, Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Zeus, king of the gods, and of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Persephone became queen of the underworld when she married Hades. The Romans knew her as Proserpina.

As a young girl, Persephone traveled around the world with her mother, who ruled over the earth and everything that grew from it.

Hades, the god of the underworld, wanted her for his wife. He spoke to his brother Zeus, who agreed to help him. One day Zeus caused a beautiful flower to grow in a place where Persephone was walking. The girl stooped to admire the flower. At that moment, Hades rode out of the underworld on a chariot, seized Persephone, and took her back to his kingdom.

Unaware of these events, Demeter searched everywhere for her missing daughter. For days she wandered the earth with a flaming torch in each hand and in her distress caused all crops to wither and die. Famine threatened. Zeus feared that humankind would perish, leaving no one to perform sacrifices to the gods. He begged Demeter to restore life to the earth, but she refused to do so unless Persephone was returned to her.

underworld land of the dead

Zeus sent Mercury, messenger of the gods, to fetch Persephone from the underworld. As she was leaving, Hades gave her a sweet pomegranate, and she ate several of its seeds. Persephone did not realize that eating food from the underworld meant that she could not leave it. As a result, Zeus declared that Persephone

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

would have to spend part of each year in the underworld with Hades and the remainder of the year on earth with her mother.

The story of Persephone was used to explain the cycle of the seasons. For most of the year, the earth is alive and covered with growing plants. However, during the barren months, when Persephone is with Hades, Demeter mourns her daughter's absence, and the earth lies bare and lifeless.

See also Demeter; Hades.

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Persephone

Persephone in Greek mythology, a goddess, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was carried off by Hades and made queen of the underworld. Demeter, vainly seeking her, refused to let the earth produce its fruits until her daughter was restored to her, but because Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds in the other world, she was obliged to spend part of every year there. Her story symbolizes the return of spring and the life and growth of corn. Her Roman name is Proserpina.

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Perséphone

Perséphone. Melodrama in 3 scenes by Stravinsky to lib. by André Gide, choreog. Jooss, for narr., ten., ch., children's ch., and orch. Comp. 1933–4. Prod. Paris 1934, London (concert) 1934, London (stage) CG 1961, Santa Fe (stage) 1961. In ballet version, performer of Perséphone must recite and dance, but the role is now often divided between 2 performers, on Stravinsky's suggestion.

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Persephone

Persephone In Greek mythology, goddess of spring. She was the daughter of Zeus and the Earth goddess Demeter. When Hades, king of the underworld, abducted Persephone to be his wife, famine spread over the Earth. To prevent catastrophe, Zeus commanded Hades to release her. He did so, and thus, each year, spring returns to the Earth. Persephone was known as Proserpine to the Romans.

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Persephone

PersephoneLéonie, peony •Tierney •Briony, bryony, Hermione •tourney • ebony • Albany •chalcedony • Alderney •Persephone, Stephanie, telephony •antiphony, epiphany, polyphony, tiffany •symphony •cacophony, homophony, theophany, Zoffany •euphony • agony • garganey •Antigone •cosmogony, mahogany, theogony •balcony • Gascony • Tuscany •calumny •felony, Melanie, miscellany •villainy • colony •Chamonix, salmony, scammony, Tammany •harmony •anemone, Emeny, hegemony, lemony, Yemeni •alimony, palimony •agrimony • acrimony •matrimony, patrimony •ceremony • parsimony • antimony •sanctimony • testimony • simony •Romany • Germany • threepenny •timpani • sixpenny • tuppenny •accompany, company •barony • saffrony • tyranny •synchrony • irony • saxony • cushiony •Anthony • betony •Brittany, dittany, litany •botany, cottony, monotony •gluttony, muttony •Bethany • oniony • raisiny •attorney, Burney, Czerny, Ernie, ferny, gurney, journey, Verny

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Persephone

Persephone

Nationality/Culture

Greek

Pronunciation

per-SEF-uh-nee

Alternate Names

Proserpina (Roman)

Appears In

Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hesiod's Theogony

Lineage

Daughter of Zeus and Demeter

Character Overview

In Greek mythology , Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Zeus (pronounced ZOOS), king of the gods, and of Demeter (pronounced di-MEE-ter), the goddess of agriculture. Persephone became queen of the underworld , or land of the dead, when she married Hades (pronounced HAY-deez). The Romans knew her as Proserpina (pronounced proh-SUR-puh-nuh).

Major Myths

As a young girl, Persephone traveled around the world with her mother, who ruled over the earth and everything that grew from it. Hades, the god of the underworld, wanted her for his wife. He spoke to his brother Zeus, who agreed to help him. One day Zeus caused a beautiful flower to grow in a place where Persephone was walking. The girl stooped to admire the flower. At that moment, Hades rode out of the underworld on a chariot, seized Persephone, and took her back to his kingdom.

Unaware of these events, Demeter searched everywhere for her missing daughter. For days she wandered the earth with a flaming torch in each hand and, in her distress, caused all crops to wither and die. Famine threatened. Zeus feared that humankind would perish, leaving no one to perform sacrifices to the gods. He begged Demeter to restore life to the earth, but she refused to do so unless Persephone was returned to her.

Zeus sent Hermes (pronounced HUR-meez), messenger of the gods, to fetch Persephone from the underworld. As she was leaving, Hades gave her a sweet pomegranate, and she ate several of its seeds. Persephone did not realize that eating food from the underworld meant that she could not leave it. As a result, Zeus declared that Persephone would have to spend part of each year in the underworld with Hades and the remainder of the year on earth with her mother.

Persephone in Context

The story of Persephone was used by ancient Greeks and Romans to explain the cycle of the seasons. For most of the year, the earth is alive and covered with growing plants. However, during the barren months when Persephone is with Hades—generally one month for every pomegranate seed she ate, though different versions mention three, four, or even five seeds—Demeter mourns her daughter's absence, and the earth lies bare and lifeless. This use of myth to explain things in the natural world is common to all mythologies around the globe. Myths concerning the origin of the seasons are especially common in cultures centered on agriculture, as ancient Greece was. This reflects an understanding of how the seasons affect crop growth, and the importance of sun and rain in the plant growth cycle.

Key Themes and Symbols

Persephone is a symbol of growth and fertility. Although Demeter is generally recognized as the source of growth and fertility, Persephone is often viewed as a younger version of Demeter. The myth of Persephone also contains the theme of innocence lost: after she is abducted by Hades, she is no longer the carefree youth she once was, even during her time away from the underworld. In the myth, the pomegranate offered by Hades represents temptation. Its sweet appearance lures Persephone into tasting some of its seeds, which binds her to the land of the dead forever.

Persephone in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Persephone was a very popular subject in ancient art, appearing on many vases and in several surviving sculptures. Persephone was also the subject of a famous sculpture by Giovanni Bernini, as well as paintings by Dante Rossetti and Frederic Leighton, among many others. Although the mythical character of Persephone seldom appears in modern literature or other media, many characters or objects bearing her name have appeared in television series, video games, films, and songs. She has also lent her name to an asteroid, a publishing company, and even a musical instrument.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

The pomegranate originally came from the Indian subcontinent, but has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region since ancient time. It has deep cultural significance in many Near Eastern civilizations. Today, it is a popular ingredient in everything from health drinks to beauty creams. Using your library, the Internet, and other available sources, find out more about the cultural history of the pomegranate—that is, how it is viewed and used by different cultures— and write a paper tracing the pomegranate's history from ancient to modern times.

SEE ALSO Demeter; Hades; Underworld

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