Seeing Red: The Myth of Persephone

Seeing Red:
The Myth of Persephone
by
Brad Kronen

Roman Polanski Rape of Persephone

A painting whose creator is unknown depicting Persephone’s abduction by Hades and his herd of “nightmares”.  Your author presumed the woman in the water on the far left represented the goddess Demeter trying to save her daughter.  Not so, after further research into different variations on the myth of Persephone, one version mentions an actual person seeing first hand what went down (quite literally) when Persephone disappears, who not only bears witness to the ground-breaking event but attempts trying to stop Hades’ chariot from descending into the Underworld. Instead she nearly gets run over by the Lord of the Dead’s mightily moving vehicle – the water nymph Cyane.  Barely any text could be found referencing her however in the modern day, the nymph’s name is used to describe a particular shade of blue-green, that’s more bluish and less turquoise called “Cyan”.  What today is categorized as cyan fits quite nicely with the name of a magical creature who hails from the blue green waters of ancient Greece. Another fascinating tidbit about how the painting above differs from the traditional depiction of the myth is how Persephone is presented.  Nearly every variation of the myth describes the young maiden in petite, dare it be said waif-like terms with one source going so far as to describe Persephone as the “trim ankled daughter of Demeter”.  Since Little Miss Trim Ankles is presented as anything BUT in this particular painted piece, your author bets it was in all probability made in the 16th century, most likely by a student of the Italian artist who put the curves in curvaceous – Titian. Besides, look at it this way –  if the only thing to nosh on are a few lousy pomegranate seeds, your ankles will be  getting seriously trim in no time, all on their own!

 

Seeing Red: The Myth of Persephone

 

Many in the modern day don’t realize that in the ancient world of long ago each passing day had the same balminess of pleasant temperature all the year round, no matter the month.  Regardless of precipitation along with those rare fluctuations of temperature either upward or downward, each calendar day that took place within the ancient world had nearly the exact same clime.

That is, until the abduction of Persephone took place.

The trouble all began when the Lord of the Underworld, Hades, decided he had gone long enough without a spouse.  Back when the Gods of Mount Olympus overcame their Titan overlords, rulership over the Universe at large was divided among the triumvirate of Olympian brothers who drew lots.  Despite Hades being the eldest, he drew the shortest lot and thus it came to pass that the youngest of the divine Three who drew the longest lot, Zeus ruled over the Heavens and dry lands of the Earth while the middle brother, Poseidon who (what a shock!) drew the middle lot took dominion over each of the Seven Seas of the Ocean.  Hades had no other choice than to rule over that which remained, namely the Underworld and the dead who resided there.

This was at first not a burden for the Lord of the Underworld given he was a solitary deity who took no pleasure in mingling or conversing with others.

But after some time had passed, solitarily ruling over the Land of the Dead had taken its toll on Hades, making him peevish and incredibly irritable, even during those choice times when he was summoned before the presence of his Kingly brother on Mount Olympus.

Hades confided to Zeus his ever-growing need for a wife in both physical and emotional terms to which the King of Gods told his brother that the proper spouse would be chosen by himself, personally.

But no choice was ever made for Hades by the King of the Gods.  As time further passed Hades realized the satisfaction of his needs was clearly not a priority for his supreme ruler of a little brother to bother with, so the Lord of the Underworld decided to take matters into his own hands.


And it just so happened that Hades had a fancy that recently had become an all out obsession for the Goddess of the Spring, the daughter of his brother Zeus and his sister Demeter, the one they called Persephone.

 

The girl was Innocence and Purity personified, just the thing that Hades both desired most and deeply lusted after.  Her alabaster skin which seemed almost luminescent was made even more so by the pitch black of her long flowing hair and darkness of her deeply set eyes.

The maiden’s presence kept the world in a state of perpetual Springtime and each day she and her mother, the Goddess of the Harvest, would convene at the most picturesque hillock throughout all of Creation where the Earth would bring forth new species of flowers for the goddess to name and admire.

After observing Persephone atop that hillock for many a day without being noticed, a realization suddenly occurred to Hades.  There was no better place on Earth where the Lord of the Underworld could seize his prey as well as return to where he came from…..

“How strange.” Persephone thought to herserlf as she alighted upon the hillock to see what floral offerings the Earth would present before her one particularly fine day.

 

 

 

In descending shades of blood red: the Amaranthus, the Hibiscus, and the Peony.

 

The Goddess of the Spring was not expecting to see every flower presented before her to  be colored the deepest shades of blood red which she would eventually come to name Amaranthus, Hibiscus, and Peony.  That, along with another plant springing forth that bore neither flower nor leaf, only the sharpest of longbriars.  These she named cactus.  It was when the tallest of the cacti had fully emerged from the Earth that a rumbling could be felt and heard from beneath the girl’s feet.  Where the desert plant had just sprung forth, a chasm formed from deep within the ground that began to expand and grow.  Everything became tinged in vibrant, pulsating red due to the fissure emanating that color from its unseen core from far below.  Suddenly from out of the chasm three stallions emerged blacker than the soil which disintegrated beneath their hooves.

 

With their red eyed heads rearing wildly, Persephone then noticed these nightmares were beasts of both darkness and burden for they were bridled to a chariot which then reached the Earth’s surface as if projectile vomited from its very center.

The maiden was caught in such a state of utter surprise that at first she stood motionless and stupefied with silence. But this quickly changed when a clawed hand grabbed her by the wrist and proceeded to lift her entire person up into the air and onto the chariot.  Persephone shrieked for dear life when her eyes beheld what that clawed hand was attached to.

 

Pluto-Hades

An image of the Lord of the Underworld from a more menacing perspective

 

A mammoth muscular giant stood next to her cloaked in a floor length cape and face covering helmet.  All the maiden could see of her abductor’s visage were his eyes which glowed red like burning coals and appeared so deeply set as if they were miles away from her.  This in turn made her scream even louder in her state of panic only to lose consciousness due to the giant’s other claw grabbing her by the throat to cut off both her air and sound.

Letting her unconscious body drop to the chariot’s floor, the abductor pulled back hard on the nightmares’ reigns and redirected them to gallop directly downwards beneath the earth while the soil reassembled itself at its surface as if no conflict had ever occurred there……

But it had occurred.  The Goddess of the Spring had been de-flowered quite literally.

When Demeter came upon the hillock, her daughter was nowhere to be found but the Goddess of the Harvest could still sense something very very wrong had taken place.  Fearing the worst, she called forth every wild animal before her, asking each what they had seen.

Naturally those that soared from high above witnessed the most, in particular the cardinal, the robin, and the winged creature who was examining the newly emerged flowers colored blood red, the hummingbird.   Upon relaying what they each had seen the birds were then forever marked by the color of strife and violence – the robin by its red breast, the hummingbird by its ruby throat, and the cardinal’s entire body was now colored a bright brilliant red for having witnessed nearly all of Persephone’s abduction.

 

Robin Red Breast

 

Ruby throated hummingbird

 

Cardinal

Birds of a red feather bear witness together:
The robin red breast, the ruby throated hummingbird,
and the reddest of them all, the cardinal

 

When told her daughter had been taken deep beneath the Earth, Demeter became emotionally devastated and was rendered inconsolable.  Foregoing her divine duties, the Goddess of the Harvest retreated into a state of deepest grief, causing famine to spread across all the land.  With the goddess of the Spring no longer present, flowers weren’t able to blossom forth while every crop that stood tall growing in the sunlight began to shrivel and die all at once.  Gusting winds began to bitterly blow through the naked tree branches as a bone chilling cold descended upon the Earth.  The entire planet and every living being that resided there began to waste away, with each passing day bringing humanity ever closer to extinction.

It was only when his temples became empty of worshippers that the King of Gods took note of the calamity that had come upon the world of Man.  Aware that neither god nor mortal could set foot in the Underworld and ever hope to leave, Zeus sent forth a divine envoy to search for the goddess of the Spring.  A divine envoy who would never have to set foot in the Underworld due to his winged sandals and helmet preventing him from having to alight in the Land of the Dead, that being the messenger of the Gods, Hermes.

Upon Hermes informing Zeus that the goddess of the Spring was being held captive in the Underworld, the King of all Creation summoned before him the presences of Hades and Persephone along with the goddess of the Harvest as well.

The reunion of divine mother and daughter was met with an embrace of joyous tears but then with sudden urgency, Demeter asked her daughter whether she partook in any food or drink while in the Underworld.

To her mother’s horrified shock, the raven haired maiden affirmed she had, explaining only a mere trifle of six pomegranate seeds was what was eaten, unaware this simple act would forever bind her to Hades as his bride.

 

pomegranate-up-close

 

Because her living person had taken sustenance from that which came from the Underworld, Persephone had in effect doomed herself to stay in the Land of the Dead for all eternity, but her mother was able to work out a compromise by appealing to Zeus’ pity along with devising a most cunning threat to all who resided on Mount Olympus.  After falling to her knees and sobbingly begging for Zeus’ benevolent mercies, Demeter then fully stood threatening that if her daughter had to remain forever in the Underworld then she, as the Goddess of the Harvest would make the world of Man unlivable by turning it into a place of perpetual famine and devastating ruin where not a single offering could be made in any divinity’s temple due to every mortal having perished from starvation. 

Thus, the King of the Gods deemed that each pomegranate seed eaten in the Underworld would represent a month’s worth of time so that for 6 months out of the year, Persephone could do as she pleased on the earthly plane and for the other six months would rule the Underworld as Hades’ Queen and betrothed wife.

And that is how the ancients explained the origin of the Earth’s Four Seasons with the Spring and Summer allotted to when Persephone is reunited with her mother and allowed to roam the earth as she pleases and the Autumn and Winter coming about as a result of Demeter shirking her duties as Goddess of the Harvest and allowing the earth to become cold, fruitless, and barren.

 

But who knows? At the rate 21st century society is going, global warming should soon enough have us all living in a world akin to the ancients’ environment of consistent heat that’s no longer delineated by the Four Seasons, since there soon enough won’t be any!

 

The End.

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