Myths The Rape of Persephone

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The Rape of Persephone is a classical mythological subject in Western art, depicting the kidnap of Proserpina by Pluto.

The myth is absent in Homer and first appears in Hesiod's Theogony:[16] "Also he (Zeus) came to the bed of all-nourishing Demeter, and she bore white-armed Persephone whom Aidoneus (Hades) carried off from her mother; but wise Zeus gave her to him."[2] 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,[28] 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, beautiful Persephone lived a peaceful life until Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, fell in love with her. It is said that Zeus advised him to carry her off, as her mother Demeter was not likely to allow. She was innocently picking flowers with some nymphs—Athena, and Artemis, the Homeric hymn says—orLeucippe, or Oceanids—in a field when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth. The place where Persephone was said to have been carried off is different in the various local traditions. The Sicilians believed that Hades found her in the meadows near Enna. The Eleusinians mentioned theNysaean plane in Boeotia and said that Persephone had descended with Hades into the lower world at the entrance of the western Oceanus. Later accounts place the rape near Attica or at Erineus near Eleusis. The Cretans thought that their own island was the scene of the rape.[16] Demeter searched desperately with torches for her lost daughter all over the world. In some versions she forbids the earth to produce, or she neglects the earth and in the depth of her despair she causes nothing to grow. Helios, the sun, who sees everything, eventually told Demeter what had happened and at length she discovered the place of her abode.

Finally, Zeus, pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, forced Hades to return Persephone. However, it was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Before Persephone was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, (four or six according to the telling) which forced her to return to the underworld for a period each year. The seeds correspond to the dry summer months in Greece, usually one third of the year (four months) when Persephone (Kore) is absent. In some versions, Ascalaphus informed the other deities that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds. When Demeter and her daughter were reunited, the Earth flourished with vegetation and color, but for some 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 an earlier version, Hecate rescued Persephone. On an Attic red-figured bell krater of ca 440 BC in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Persephone is rising as if up stairs from a cleft in the earth, while Hermes stands aside; Hecate, holding two torches, looks back as she leads her to the enthroned Demeter.[29]

The tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda, s.v. "Macaria", introduces a goddess of a blessed afterlife assured to Orphic mystery initiates. This Macaria is asserted to be the daughter of Hades and Persephone, though there is no previous mention of her.



Greek Name


Latin Name





(persô, phonos)

Persephone, Krater C4th B.C.,
Antikensammlungen, Munich
PERSEPHONE was the goddess queen of the underworld, wife of the god Haides. She was also the goddess of spring growth, who was worshipped alongside her mother Demeter in the Eleusinian Mysteries. This agricultural-based cult promised its initiates passage to a blessed afterlife.

Persephone was titled Kore (the Maiden) as the goddess of spring's bounty. Once upon a time when she was playing in a flowery meadow with her Nymph companions, Kore was seized by Haides and carried off to the underworld as his bride. Her mother Demeter despaired at her dissappearance and searched for her the throughout the world accompanied by the goddess Hekate bearing torches. When she learned that Zeus had conspired in her daughter's abduction she was furious, and refused to let the earth fruit until Persephone was returned. Zeus consented, but because the girl had tasted of the food of Haides--a handful of pomegranate seeds--she was forced to forever spend a part of the year with her husband in the underworld. Her annual return to the earth in spring was marked by the flowering of the meadows and the sudden growth of the new grain. Her return to the underworld in winter, conversely, saw the dying down of plants and the halting of growth.

In other myths, Persephone appears exclusively as the queen of the underworld, receiving the likes of Herakles and Orpheus at her court.

Persephone was usually depicted as a young goddess holding sheafs of grain and a flaming torch. Sometimes she was shown in the company of her mother Demeter, and the hero Triptolemos, the teacher of agriculture. At other times she appears enthroned beside Haides.



[1] ZEUS & DEMETER (Hesiod Theogony 912, Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter, Apollodorus 1.29, Pausanias, Ovid Metamorphoses 5.501, Ovid Fasti 4.575, Nonnus Dionysiaca 5.562, et al)
[2] ZEUS & STYX (Apollodorus 1.13)


[1] ZAGREUS (by Zeus) (Orphic Hymn 29, Hyginus Fabulae 155, Diodorus Siculus 4.4.1, Nonnus Dionysiaca 6.155, Suidas s.v. Zagreus)
[2] MELINOE (by Zeus) (Orphic Hymn 71)
[3] THE ERINYES (by Haides) (Orphic Hymns 29 & 70)

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