Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Legend Post -- Persephone and the Pomegranate

 At the moment there is no schedule for Legend Day, but I got to thinking this morning about legends related to the Autumn seas, and of course the first one that came to mind was that of Hades and Persephone. Or Demeter and Persephone. However you want to angle it.

After doing some google research, it's clear there are several different versions of the legend. The story as a whole is fairly similar -- Hades kidnaps Persephone, Demeter pursues, and eventually the compromise consists of Persephone spending part of the year with Hades and part of the year with Demter, resulting in the yearly cycle of seasons. But the varying little nuances change the tone of the tale from one version to another.

For example, in some versions Persephone is a little girl, while in others she's a beautiful young woman. In some versions Hades is cold and selfish, while in others he's fallen in love with Persephone. Still further, it's Zeus who helps Hades lure Persephone into Hades' trap, and sometimes Persephone finds out she loves Hades in return, or alternately the six months she is forced to spend in the Underworld are pure misery for her. In one telling Persephone was the Goddess of the Underworld and there was no mention of Hades at all. (Obviously all this makes my writerly self quite intrigued, being the type to like to rewrite legends and fairytales.) All these differences ranged from ancient to more modern, the tale having been told and retold countless times. It is, I read, the oldest Greek myth, as well as one of the most popular.

One of the things that nagged me when I was looking over all the sites that talked about this story is the pomegranate. [i]Why[/i] a pomegranate? This was very poorly explained by most of the sources I found. Not that I claim to be any sort of researcher extraordinary... 

The tale goes that while Persephone is the captive of Hades, she refuses to eat or drink anything, out of defiance towards Hades as well as out of grief for missing her mother, Demeter, so much. Hades of course does his best to convince her otherwise, appearing each day --whether tenderly or harshly depends on the version -- to entice her with delectable morsels. He is a king, afterall. He has much wealth at his disposal. Eventually, right on the eve of being discovered and subsequently rescued, Persephone relents, and eats six seeds from a pomegranate. As a result she is bound to the Hades and the compromise of her spending a third of the month with Hades and two thirds with Demeter is instituted by Zeus.

So of course my reaction was, "wait, what?" How do we get from a light snack to inescapably tied to the Underworld? Obviously there's a bit of ancient culture I was missing. However, looking it up proved somewhat elusive.

At last, in some of the retellings, I found a few lines eluding to just the traditional symbolism I was looking for. Apparently, as decreed by the Fates, anyone who ate or drank in the Underworld was doomed to remain there eternally. Since Persephone only ate six (in some versions, three or four) seeds from the pomegranate, Zeus determined that she would only have to spend that amount of time in the Underworld, before being allowed to come back to the land of the living.

There was only one version of the legend in which Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds deliberately, and that was a more modern one. In all the others, whether Persephone had grown to love Hades or not, she was tricked into eating the little morsels that essentially sealed her marriage to the Ruler of the Underworld.

The most well known theme behind the story is one of the seasons. It's a story that, for the Greeks, explained the cycle of the seasons. When the leaves turn colors and slowly the earth falls asleep, Demeter is saying goodbye to her beloved daughter, and her sorrow turns the world to winter until Persephone, like the blooming flowers of Spring, is returned to her. Along with the cycle of seasons, it is speculated the legend also demonstrates other cycles. The cycle of a girl becoming a woman and leaving her mother to marry, of life and death, of love and loss, of innocence and wisdom.

It's an interesting legend to study, especially in light of all the wonderful retellings one could write using it. But that's the writer in me.

Go ahead. Google it. See what you find.

Dia duit,

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