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393. The story of Persephone. 7th cent. B.C.? (Homeric Hymn to Demeter, verses 370-95. G)

Secret rites at Eleusis celebrated Persephone's return to her mother, Demeter from Hades. Though no one knows exactly what happened at the Mysteries, the possibility of rebirth suggested by the story was represented also in the notion of the dead grain's becoming the live seed of the next year's crop. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter describes in detail how Hades, god of the underworld, stole Persephone, how her mother searched for her and hid the seed within the earth until she got her daughter back again. This excerpt describes how Persephone returns, but only for part of the year, because she ate seeds in the underworld and must now forever return to spend four months of the year with her husband.

So Aidoneus spoke, and wise Persephone was delighted, and in her joy swiftly rose up from the bed; but Aidoneus gave her to eat the sweet seed of a pomegranate, furtively, looking out for himself to keep her from spending all of her days here on earth with revered black-robed Demeter. And before them Aidoneus, ruler of many, got ready his immortal horses in his golden chariot. Persephone got into the chariot, and beside her strong Hermes took the reins and whip in his hands and drove out of the palace. The two horses flew on eagerly; they easily completed the long journey-neither the sea nor the water of rivers nor grassy valleys nor mountain peaks held back the horses' speed, but as they went they cut the steep air beneath them. Hermes stopped and brought her where fair-crowned Demeter was waiting beside her fragrant temple [at Eleusis].

And when Demeter saw Persephone, she rushed like a maenad along the mountain shaded in forest; and Persephone opposite ... leaped down ... [Demeter asked ... ] ... 'Child ... ? [You have not tasted food in the Underworld?] Tell me! Because if you refused it, you could live with me and your father, Zeus of the black clouds, honoured by all the immortals ... But if you have tasted food, you must live for a third part of the seasons [below] and for two parts with me and the other immortals. When the earth blooms with all kinds of fragrant spring flowers, then from the murky darkness you will come up once again and be a great wonder to gods and to mortal men. And with what trick did the strong Receiver of Many deceive you?'

Then beautiful Persephone addressed her in return: 'Then, Mother, I will tell you everything truthfully. When Hermes came as a messenger from my father Zeus and the other gods of Heaven to say I was to come from the Underworld, so you could see me with your own eyes and end your anger and cruel rage against the immortals, then in my joy I got up from the bed and he furtively put into me the seed of a pomegranate, sweet food; he compelled me to taste it by force, against my will. And I will tell you how Aidoneus carried me off because of my father's clever plan, and went and took me beneath the depths of the earth; I will relate everything in detail, as you request.

'We were playing, all of us, in the lovely meadow: Leucippe and Phaeno and Electre and Ianthe and Melite and Iache and Rhodeia and Callirhoe and Melobrosis and Tyche and pretty Ocyrhoe and Chryseis and Ianeira and Acaste and Rhodope and Plouto and lovely Calypso and Styx and Urania and lovely Galaxaure and Pallas rouser of battles and Artemis shooter of arrows; and we were gathering lovely flowers in our arms, soft crocuses mingled with irises and hyacinths and rose blossoms and lilies, wondrous to see; and the narcissus which the broad earth made grow like a crocus. This I picked in my joy, and the earth parted beneath me, and there the strong lord, the Receiver of Many, leaped out. He came and took me away beneath the earth in his golden chariot, much against my will, and I cried out in a shrill voice. This, in my sorrow, is the whole truth that I tell you.'

So then with their hearts in agreement they cheered their souls and hearts by embracing each other, and their hearts had respite from their sorrows. They took and gave joyousness to one another. And Hecate with her bright headband came near them, and embraced many times the daughter of holy Demeter; since then she has been her guardian and attendant queen. And then far-seeing Zeus of the loud thunder sent them a messenger, fair-haired Rhea, to bring black-robed Demeter back to the family of the gods, and he promised to give her honours that she could choose for herself among the immortals. He agreed that her daughter should spend the third part of the circling year beneath the murky darkness, but two parts with her mother and the other immortals. This was what Zeus said, and Demeter did not disobey his message. But she rushed swiftly to the peaks of Olympus, and she came to the Rharian plain, which before had been the nourishing breast of the land, but now no longer nourishing, since it stood fallow and leafless; it hid the white barley because of slim-ankled Demeter's devising. But then as spring grew strong, she began to adorn the field with long stalks of grain, and the plain's rich furrows were laden with grain stalks, which were bound into sheaves. Here she went first of all from the barren air. And the goddesses were happy to see one another and rejoiced in their hearts.

Then Rhea of the shining headband spoke to her thus: 'Come here, my child; far-seeing Zeus of the loud thunder is calling you to come to the family of the gods, and he has promised to give you honours, which you could choose from among the immortals. He has agreed that your daughter should spend the third part of the year beneath the murky darkness, but two with you and the other immortals ... He has nodded his head in confirmation. But come, my child, and obey them, and do not any longer be relentlessly angry at Zeus of the black clouds. Make a nourishing harvest grow for mortal men directly.'

So she spoke, and fair-crowned Demeter did not disobey her. Directly she sent up a harvest for the fields with their dark loam. And all the broad earth was laden with leaves and with flowers. And she came and showed the just kings Triptolemus and Diocles smiter of horses and mighty Eumolpus and Celeus leader of people the performance of her ritual and instructed them in his sacred mysteries, which one must never transgress or hear of or speak of, for great reverence for the gods holds back one's tongue. Happy the man who has seen these mysteries; but he who has not been initiated, and has not taken part in the ritual, does not share in the same rewards when he goes down beneath the broad darkness.

But when the bright goddess had taught them all her rituals, she went to Olympus to the company of the other goddesses. And there the two goddesses live beside Zeus who delights in thunder, awful and revered. Happy the man whom the goddesses willingly love; for directly they send as a guest to his great house Wealth who gives men riches. But now goddesses who protect the city of fragrant Eleusis, and sea-girt Paros and rocky Andron, queen Deo with your shining gifts, bringer of harvests, Mistress, you and your daughter beautiful Persephone willingly give me a good living in return for my song; and I shall remember you and another song also. Return to the top