|“||None of this lines up tonally with "innocent flower goddess dragged into the Underworld". Persephone is a straight-up queen of the dead.||„|
|~ Red on Persephone.|
In Greek mythology, Persephone (Ancient Greek Περσεφόνη, Persephónē) also known by her epithet Kore (Ancient Greek Κόρη, Kórē, lit. "maiden" or "daughter") is the queen of the underworld and the wife of Hades, the Greek goddess of the dead, fertility, vegetation, grain, harvest, and curses. She is the daughter of Zeus and his sister Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, maternal half-sister to the gods Despoina and Plutus and the talking horse Arion, and paternal half-sister to the gods Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite, Artemis, Hephaestus, Athena and Dionysus. She is most known for her abduction by her uncle Hades, king of the Underworld, as she was gathering flowers on a field, after which she became his queen. Her mother Demeter's objection to the abduction and subsequent grief over her daughter's loss created famine and winter, during which nothing grew, forcing Zeus to return Persephone to her, though she still had to spend some time with Hades in the Underworld. While there, Demeter brings winter on earth, whereas her return is what brings spring.
In ancient Greek texts, Persephone appears as the dread queen of the Underworld, a goddess who, just like her husband Hades, was feared by the Greeks who avoided saying her real name, using euphemisms and titles instead. Cult-wise, her worship is very old; it goes as far back as Mycenaean Greece, where she seems to have been widely worshipped alongside her mother Demeter; Hades probably played a small part, if any at all, in the old days.
Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Proserpina.
Hades and Persephone
Red argues that Hades gets too much hate for kidnapping Persephone, his wife. The oldest account of their story comes from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, a text from the 600s BC. According to the hymn, Persephone was picking flowers when Hades came up from a hole in the ground and snatched her, carrying her off to the Underworld with him. Persephone's mother Demeter freaked out, and went on to search for her daughter. Hecate came to her and told her how she had heard Persephone scream in agony. The two goddesses then went to the sun-god, Helios, who informed them that Zeus had allowed Hades to take Persephone to be his wife.
Angered over the loss of the daughter, Demeter withdraws in her temple in Eleusis and refuses to let anything grow, causing a famine. It gets so bad eventually Zeus has to sent Hermes to the Underworld to bring Persephone back. Hermes finds husband and wife hanging out, with Persephone being a bit bummed out as she misses her mother,[note 1] and tells them that since people are dying, Persephone has to go back to her mother. Hades agrees, but before Persephone leaves, he takes some time to promise to her that she shall be a most honoured queen by his side, and that he will be a worthy husband to her. He also tricks her into eating some pomegranate seeds so she will have to come back to him.
Demeter is overjoyed to have Persephone back, and brings spring back to the world, but due to Persephone having eaten the seeds, she will have to go back to Hades for several months, during which Demeter doesn't grow anything, thus we have winter. With all that settled, the hymn ends.
Red then analyzes Persephone's role and origins; she says that in the text, Persephone is not described as a spring goddess (it's Demeter who causes spring); rather, she's always an Underworld goddess, in fact the dread Persephone (ἐπαινῆ Περσεφονείη), contrary to the "cute, innocent flower goddess" she's usually remembered as. Both she and Demeter seem to predate Hades, as they are attested in Mycenaean inscriptions (while Hades isn't) and seemed to have been worshipped in close capacity, as the Two Queens (𐀷𐀙𐀰𐀂), wa-na-so-i. Poseidon, as the wanax (king), seems to have been in some way related to them, and the three perhaps constituted a triad.
A major center of worship of Demeter and Persephone was Eleusis, where they worshipped in a mystery cult of which not much is known. The theme of that cult was Persephone's ascent into and descent out of the Underworld, which might have put minimal, if at all, focus on Hades himself and his part. Ascending-into-the-Underworld myths are found in other cultures as well, and an abduction isn't always present, perhaps meaning that Hades (who already doesn't appear to be as old as she is) came later.
Another center of worship for mother and daughter was Arcadia, where Persephone was identified with the goddess Despoina, sometimes a separate deity, daughter of Demeter and Poseidon, sometimes Persephone herself. Despoina is shrouded in mystery, and it's very plausible that Demeter and Persephone/Despoina started off as scary, eldritch goddesses of Arcadia before Greek-speaking populations arrived. Another goddess connected with Persephone is Kore, an actual spring goddess. "Kore" and "Despoina" being so often used for Persephone indicates that Persephone's older form must have been truly scary, since people would avoid even speaking of her name in order not to get her attention.
In comparison to her, Hades feels very simple and clear, without as much to him as she has, mystery cult, scary origins, Mycenaean version, even though both are Underworld deities and thus should be equally terrifying. Red hypothesizes that "dread Queen of the Underworld" is perhaps Persephone's oldest characterization, with Hades being an offshoot of Mycenaean Poseidon, which split off of him during Greek Dark Ages. In truth, this lack of evidence has led to many misconceptions, like both Hades violently kidnapping Persephone and Persephone actually going into the Underworld willingly.[note 2]
Theseus and Pirithous
The two close friends, Theseus and Pirithous, both decide to marry a daughter of Zeus each. Theseus settles on (and kidnaps) Helen of Troy, while Pirithous has his eyes set on Persephone herself. They both descent to the Underworld, where they are greeted by Hades, Persephone's livid husband. Hades invites both of them to dinner, but chains them to their seats, for trying to abduct his wife. Persephone appears to be unaware of this, and Hades is reluctant to inform her.
Sisyphus Captures Death
After Sisyphus was returned to the Underworld by Ares, who also freed Thanatos, Sisyphus told the queen of the Underworld that his wife Merope (at his own request) hadn't performed any of the funeral rituals for him, leaving him unburied. Persephone, sympathizing with him and falling for his trick, allows him to go back to the world of the living and settle the issue, but be back once he's done. Sisyphus of course, never returned on his own will. When he died of old age, he found a most livid Persephone waiting for him along with Thanatos and Hades.
While diving into the origins of the god Dionysus, Red says that in the Orphic version of his birth/story, Persephone is the mother of Zagreus by Zeus, a god strongly connected to Dionysus, while an older version has Hades as the father instead. Zagreus is meant to succeed Zeus, but Hera has the Titans dismember him. Athena saves his heart, and gives it to Semele, who then gives birth to Dionysus. Even in non-Orphic myths, Persephone still has a connection to Dionysus, as it's her who in one version raises him after he's born of Zeus' thigh.
Eros and Psyche
For her final task, Psyche was ordered by Aphrodite to go to the Underworld, put some of Persephone's beauty into a box and bring it to her. Psyche did so, and Persephone was glad to help and put something in the box. In the surface however, Psyche decided to try some of that beauty on for herself, as she was to meet with her lover Eros soon enough. The box however contained nothing but murder, which killed Psyche.
In the myth of Adonis, Aphrodite gives the orphaned infant Adonis to Persephone to raise, but Adonis grows up to be super hot, so both goddesses fight over who gets to keep him. This myth is the Greek version of Ishtar's love for Tammuz. Tammuz died, making Ishtar descend into the Underworld to ask the queen of the Underworld Ereshkigal to give her Tammuz back. Unlike Aphrodite's strong connection to Ishtar, Persephone is unrelated to Ereshkigal, but her status as queen of the Underworld makes her the perfect counterpart.
While Persephone is not shown or mentioned, in the tapestry Arachne wove, depicting various of Zeus and Poseidon's sexual adventures, Persephone is there too, being approached by Zeus in the form of a snake.[note 3]
Persephone appears in the Greek segment of the video, featuring in both myths narrated. The first is a very brief account of her abduction by Hades and Demeter creating winter in order to get her back, with Red saying she prefers the interpretation of Persephone running away, rather than non-consensual kidnapping.
In the myth of Orpheus, when Orpheus went down to the Underworld to fetch Eurydice, he sang a song so sad even Persephone was touched by it. Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice back under one condition, but ultimately he failed.
In earlier videos, Persephone had long pale blond hair and violet-coloured skin, while she wore a black dress (as Queen of the Underworld), with the outline of her hair either golden or violet. In more recent videos, her skin is lavender, as is her dress as a fertility goddess, and her hair is golden. At any case, when in her Queen of the Underworld outfit, she's one of the two gods who have three different colours for skin, outfit and hair, instead of the same (the other is her husband Hades). She, just like Hades, is one of the few gods with eye pupils (coloured blue), though in more recent videos her eyes are drawn like every other god's, without pupils.
The goddess Kore, who is universally recognised as Persephone, is warm pink-coloured and wears her hair in a loose ponytail.
- Red’s account of that passage is misleading; Hades and Persephone are not described as sitting on thrones, as she illustrated, but rather as sitting on a bed, heavily implying sexual intercourse having taken place. Furthermore, Persephone isn’t described as simply “bummed out” but as unwilling. This, in combination with the bed, and the fact that Persephone is know described as a ‘bed-mate’, as opposed to ‘maiden’ (kore), is why this story is interpreted as rape, in the common sense of the word, instead of simply kidnapping (τέτμε δὲ τόν γε ἄνακτα δόμων ἔντοσθεν ἐόντα, ἥμενον ἐν λεχέεσσι σὺν αἰδοίῃ παρακοίτι πόλλ᾽ ἀεκαζομένῃ μητρὸς πόθῳ – "there he found the lord in his palace sitting on a bed with his bashful bedmate, very much unwilling, longing for her mother"). Red says that "this part of the text is a bit garbled" and while it's true the text is lacunose, the actual lacuna is in a sentence that talks about Demeter, not Hades and Persephone; the text that describes them is perfectly preserved and reliable.
- It is actually presented as a violent kidnapping; the ancient texts repeat many times words such as ἥρπαξεν/ἁρπάξας (“snatched”) or ἀεκαζόμενη/ἀέκουσα (“unwilling”) and noting the girl’s crying. It's true that no Greek version has Persephone go willingly.
- This led to the conception of Zagreus.