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Pinax of Persephone opening the "Likon Mystikons"
Pinax of Persephone opening the "Likon Mystikons"
Goddess of spring and Innocence
Abode Underworld
Symbol Bat, Mint, The Poppy, Pomegranate, Young Grain and Flowers
Consort Hades
Parents Demeter, Zeus
Roman equivalent Proserpina

Persephone (usually pronounced /pərˈsɛfəniː/ in modern English; also called Kore or Cora) was the Queen of the Underworld, the korē (or young maiden), and the parthenogenic daughter of Demeter and, in later Classical myths, a daughter of Demeter and Zeus in Greek mythology. In the Olympian version, she also becomes the consort of Hades when he becomes the deity that governs the underworld.

The figure of Persephone is well-known today. Her story has great emotional power: an innocent maiden, a mother's grief over her abduction, and great joy after her daughter is returned. It is also cited frequently as a paradigm of myths that explain natural processes, with the descent and return of the goddess bringing about the change of seasons.

In Greek art, Persephone is invariably portrayed robed. She may be carrying a sheaf of grain and smiling demurely with the "Archaic smile" of the Kore of Antenor.


Her name

"Persephone" (Greek: Περσεφόνη, Persephonē) is her name in the Ionic Greek of epic literature. The Homeric form of her name is Persephoneia (Περσεφονεία[1], Persephonēia). In other dialects she was known under various other names: Persephassa (Περσεφάσσα), Persephatta (Περσεφάττα), or simply [Kore] (Κόρη, Korē, "girl, maiden" [2]) (when worshipped in the context of "Demeter and Kore"). Plato calls her Pherepapha (Φερέπαφα) in his Cratylus, "because she is wise and touches that which is in motion."

The Romans first heard of her from the Aeolian and Dorian cities of Magna Graecia, who used the dialectal variant Proserpine (Προσερπινη, Proserpinē). Hence, in Roman mythology she was called Proserpina, and as such became an emblematic figure of the Renaissance. At Locri, perhaps uniquely, Persephone was the protector of marriage, a role usually assumed by Hera; in the iconography of votive plaques at Locri, her abduction and marriage to Hades served as an emblem of the marital state, children at Locri were dedicated to Proserpina, and maidens about to be wed brought their peplos to be blessed.[3]

Greek underworld
Famous Inmates

In a Classical period text ascribed to Empedocles, c. 490–430 BC,[4] describing a correspondence between four deities and the classical elements, the name Nestis for water apparently refers to Persephone. "Now hear the fourfold roots of everything: enlivening Hera, Hades, shining Zeus. And Nestis, moistening mortal springs with tears".[5]

Of the four deities of Empedocles's elements, it is the name of Persephone alone that is taboo— Nestis is a euphemistic cult title—[6] for she was also the terrible [Queen of the Dead], whose name was not safe to speak aloud, who was euphemistically named simply as "Kore" or "the Maiden", a vestige of her archaic role as the deity ruling the underworld.

The Queen of the Underworld

Seated goddess, probably Persephone on her throne in the underworld, Severe style ca 480-60, found at Tarentum, Magna Graecia (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

There is an archaic role for Persephone as the dread queen of the Underworld, whose very name it was forbidden to speak. In the Odyssey, commonly dated circa 800 to 600 BC, when Odysseus goes to the Underworld, he refers to her as the Iron Queen. Her central myth, for all its emotional familiarity, was also the tacit context of the secret initiatory mystery rites of regeneration at Eleusis,[7] which promised immortality to their awe-struck participants—an immortality in her world beneath the soil, feasting with the heroes who dined beneath her dread gaze.

The Abduction Myth

The story of her abduction is traditionally referred to as the Rape of Persephone. In the later Olympian pantheon of Classical Greece, Persephone is given a father: according to Hesiod's Theogony, Persephone was the daughter produced by the union of Demeter and Zeus: "And he [Zeus] came to the bed of bountiful Demeter, who bore white-armed Persephone, stolen by Hades from her mother's side" 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,[8] 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, Persephone lived a peaceful life before she became the goddess of the underworld, which, according to Olympian mythographers, did not occur until Hades abducted her and brought her into it. She was innocently picking flowers with some nymphs—, Athena, and Artemis, the Homeric hymn says—, or Leucippe, or Oceanids— in a field in Enna when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth. Later, the nymphs were changed by Demeter into the Sirens for not having interfered. Life came to a standstill as the devastated Demeter, goddess of the Earth, searched everywhere for her lost daughter. Helios, the sun, who sees everything, eventually told Demeter what had happened.

The Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton (1891)

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, (six, seven, eight, or perhaps four according to the telling)[9] which forced her to return to the underworld for a season each year. In some versions, Ascalaphus informed the other deities that Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds. When Demeter and her daughter were united, 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 BCE 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.[10]

In the earliest known version the dreaded goddess, Persephone, was herself Queen of the Underworld (Burkert or Kerenyi).

In some versions, Demeter forbids the earth to produce; in others she is so busy looking for Persephone that she neglects the earth, or her duties as the Earth which she represents, and in the depth of her despair causes nothing to grow.

This myth also can be interpreted as an allegory of ancient Greek marriage rituals. The Classical Greeks felt that marriage was a sort of abduction of the bride by the groom from the bride's family, and this myth may have explained the origins of the marriage ritual. The more popular etiological explanation of the seasons may have been a later interpretation.

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.

Persephone, the Iron Queen

Persephone, by Carl Max Kruse

In one version of the myth, Persephone, as Queen of Hades, only mercifully relinquished a subject once; because the music of Orpheus was so hauntingly sad, she allowed Orpheus to bring his wife Eurydice back to the land of the living, as long as she walked behind him and he never tried to look at her face until they reached the surface. Orpheus agreed, but failed, looking back at the very end to make sure his wife was following, and he lost Eurydice forever.

Persephone also figures in the story of Adonis, the Syrian consort of Aphrodite. When Adonis was born, Aphrodite took him under her wing, seducing him with the help of Helene, her friend, and was entranced by his unearthly beauty. She gave him to Persephone to watch over, but Persephone also was amazed at his beauty and refused to give him back. The argument between the two goddesses was settled, either by Calliope, or by Zeus, (depending on the antiquity of the myth), with Adonis spending four months with Aphrodite, four months with Persephone and four months of the year on his own. This later myth placed a god into the position of a goddess in the cycle of the seasons.

When Hades pursued a nymph named Minthe, Persephone turned her into a mint plant.

Persephone was the object of Pirithous' affections. In a late myth, Pirithous and Theseus, his friend, pledged to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra, and traveled to the underworld, domain of Persephone and her husband, Hades. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there. Edith Hamilton called it a "Chair of Forgetfulness" that they sat upon. It also should be noted that Heracles was able to save Theseus from this fate when he was in the Underworld, but Hades forced Pirithous to remain seated forever.

Persephone and her mother Demeter were often referred to as aspects of the same Earth goddess, and were called "the Demeters" or simply "the goddesses".

Persephone in modern scholarship

Lady of Auxerre - this early Archaic ("Daedalic") image from Crete may represent a version of the Minoan goddess that Karl Kerenyi identified with Kore or Persephone. The statue postdates the end of Minoan culture by 700 years.

Persephone before Mycenaean Greece

Some modern scholars have argued that the cult of Persephone was a continuation of Neolithic or Minoan goddess-worship. Among classicists, this thesis has been argued by Gunther Zuntz (Zuntz 1973) and cautiously included by Walter Burkert in his definitive Greek Religion.

More daringly, the mythologist Karl Kerenyi has identified Persephone with the nameless "mistress of the labyrinth" at Knossos from the Bronze Age Minoan civilization on Crete that flourished from 1700 BC.

On the other hand, the hypothesis of an Aegean cult of the Earth Mother has come under some criticism in recent years. For more on both sides of the controversy, see Mother Goddess.


Inspired by James Frazer, Jane Ellen Harrison, and modern mythologers, some scholars have labeled Persephone a life-death-rebirth deity.

Consorts and children assigned in Classical myths

  • Heracles
    • Zagreus (Some say that Heracles is the father of Zagreus by Persephone but it is usually said that Zeus is his father)
  • Zeus
    • Zagreus (according to one tradition. See Orphic mysteries) (although sometimes thought of as son of Demeter and not Persephone)
    • Melinoe (according to one tradition)
  • Hades
    • Zagreus (according to one tradition, under the name Zeus Katachthonios)
    • Macaria
    • Melinoe (according to one tradition)
  • Adonis (according to one tradition, though this is sometimes thought of as a misinterpretation of Aidoneus, an alternate name of Hades)
  • Hermes (according to one tradition)

In popular culture

The figure of Persephone, as Queen of the Underworld or as abducted maiden, is one of the most quickly grasped in a popular allusion.

See also



  • Walter Burkert, Greek Religion 1985
  • Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, Volume 3 (1906) (Chapters on: Demeter and Kore-Persephone; Cult-Monuments of Demeter-Kore; Ideal Types of Demeter-Kore).
  • Karl Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, 1960, in English 1967
  • Günther Zuntz, Persephone: Three Essays on Religion and Thought in Magna Graecia, 1973


  1. ^ Hodoi Elektronikai: Homer, The Odyssey
  2. ^ H.G. Liddell-R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon
  3. ^ Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, "Persephone" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 98 (1978:101-121).
  4. ^ Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher who was a citizen of Agrigentum, a Greek colony in Sicily.
  5. ^ Peter Kingsley, in Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1995).
  6. ^ Kingsley 1995 identifies Nestis as a cult title of Persephone.
  7. ^ Persephone's numinous presence in the awe-inspiring night-time initiatory ritual of the Eleusinian mysteries is discussed by Karl Kerényi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, 1967, passim.
  8. ^ LOVES OF HERMES : Greek mythology
  9. ^ As Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 ("Persephone") expressed it, 'So it was arranged that she should spend two-thirds (according to later authors, one-half) of every year with her mother and the heavenly gods, and should pass the rest of the year with Hades beneath the earth."
  10. ^ The figures are unmistakable, as they are inscribed "Persophata, Hermes, Hekate, Demeter"; Gisela M. A. Richter, "An Athenian Vase with the Return of Persephone" The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26.10 (October 1931:245-248)

External links

Greek deities series
Primordial deities | Titans | Aquatic deities | Chthonic deities
Twelve Olympians
Zeus | Hera | Poseidon | Hades | Hestia | Demeter | Aphrodite
Athena | Apollo | Artemis | Ares | Hephaestus | Hermes | Dionysus
Chthonic deities
Hades | Persephone | Gaia | Demeter | Hecate | Iacchus | Trophonius | Triptolemus | Erinyes

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by John Cowper Powys
Published in Mandragora (1917)

[ 50 ]

AT last!
  After the dumb sick longing;—
At last!
  Filling the ancient urns
With odours and all the air
  With a shudder, a laughter, a cry—
On a wind blown over leagues of tremulous grass,
  Leagues of transparent grass,
Leagues of a million of grass-blades moist with
Moist with warm rain and fresh from the brown

At last!
  The ravished one, the birth-pale one.
The holy one, the wanton one.
  The Spring returns!

O, youth of the world!
  O, martyred innocents!
Murdered on all these battlefields of ours —
  Fields that are wet with something else than
    rain —
Is it your blood that lends unto our flowers
  This quivering beauty that redeemeth pain?
For at last!
  The ravished one, the birth-pale one.
The holy one, the wanton one.
  The Spring returns!

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1963, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 30 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Perséphone



Wikipedia has an article on:



Proper noun

Triptolemus and Persephone (1)




  1. (Greek mythology) Daughter of Zeus and Demeter, wife of Hades. After being abducted by Hades, she lives in the Underworld for six months and with Demeter for the rest of the year.
  2. (rare) A female given name.


Simple English

Persephone was a Greek goddess of grain and spring. Also sometimes referred to as Caliope. A daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was kidnapped by Hades and he makes her eat a pomegranate which is the fruit of the underworld. According to some myths, if one were to eat the fruit of the Underworld, they would be forced to stay there. This myth explains why the seasons change. Supposedly, Demeter was so sad over the disappearance of her daughter that she ignored her duties to the world, during this time all plants died. When Demeter went to the Underworld to rescue her Persephone, Hades forced Persephone to eat the pomegranate. After she ate this fruit it was supposed to keep her in the underworld with Hades so she would be forced to marry him. In some versions she only ate 6 seeds from the pomegranate, so Hades only made her stay 6 months of the year. It is during the 6 months that Persephone is with Hades that Demeter weeps, causing all plant life to die (symbolizing Fall and Winter), and during the six months that she is with Demeter life is sustained (Spring and Summer). She does not have a throne on Olympus but her mother let her sit on her lap when Persephone was a child.

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