Demeter and Zeus had a daughter named Persephone. With two powerful gods as parents, it is not surprising that the little girl grew up to be a beautiful maiden. Her mother loved the child more than anything else in the world and cringed at the idea of ever being apart from her.
After she had grown up and become a young woman, Persephone's beauty caught the eye of Hades, the ruler of the Underworld. Hades fell in love at the very first sight of her. He knew he wanted to marry no one else.
Overcome with love, Hades went to Zeus, his brother and Persephone’s father. He said, "Brother, I am in love with your daughter, Persephone. Let me have your consent to marry her. I will make her the queen of my kingdom in the Underworld."
Zeus thought that Hades would be a good husband for Persephone. Hades was a fair and powerful god. However, Zeus also knew that Demeter would never allow her daughter to marry Hades and go to live far away in the Underworld. If the maiden were to marry Hades, the mother and daughter would be separated indefinitely.
Zeus also knew that Demeter, the goddess of growth and fertility, would never wish her daughter to live in the stark, bleak world of the dead where nothing ever grew. Although he was king of the gods, Zeus was wary of Demeter's powerful influence over all the things that blossomed on earth. He did not want to upset her.
Zeus pondered his dilemma for quite some time. He wanted to please his brother and allow the marriage, but he did not wish to cause a conflict with Demeter. Finally, Zeus found a clever way to grant his brother's request without actually saying so. Carefully wording his response, Zeus said, "Brother, I cannot approve of a marriage between you and Persephone."
Zeus was telling Hades that although he could not officially approve the marriage, he was not forbidding it either. Hades understood Zeus's intention. He realized that Zeus was encouraging him to mary Persephone without her parents' blessing. Hades felt certain that if he acted in this prescribed manner, Zeus would not be angry with him.
He understood that Zeus was just trying to keep the peace by officially saying neither yes nor no to the marriage proposal. Satisfied, Hades returned to the Underworld to plan the details of exactly how he would go about kidnapping Persephone.
One day, soon after Hades's meeting with Zeus, Persephone went to pick wildflowers with her friends near the town of Eleusis. No one expected trouble in the peaceful meadow, and the girls were looking forward to an amusing and relaxing day. After a little while, Persephone wandered away from her friends, picking flowers here and there and adding them to her basket.
In a small wooded glen near the meadow, out of sight and earshot of her friends, Persephone spotted a beautiful narcissus that she thought would make a lovely addition to the bouquet she was making for her mother. Dreamily, Persephone knelt to pick the flower. She was surprised to find that its roots were so deep that she could not wrench it out of the ground.
Suddenly, as she tugged mightily on the flower, a huge hole opened up in the middle of the glen. The god of the Underworld raced out of the chasm, the roaring noise of his chariot filling the air. Quickly, Hades grasped the frightened maiden by the wrist and pulled her up beside him onto his chariot. Racing off to the Underworld, Persephone cried out in fear to her mother and her friends.
Up on Mount Olympus, Demeter heard her daughter's terror-filled cries. She hurried to the area where the girls had been playing. Persephone's friends had been frightened when their friend failed to return, but no one could tell where she had gone. Distraught, Demeter roamed the earth for nine days and nine nights, searching in vain for her beloved daughter.
On the tenth day, Demeter met Hecate, a goddess who lived in a cave near the spot where Persephone and her friends had been playing. Hecate had indeed heard Persephone’s cries for help, but alas, she had not seen what had happened to the girl. Though she could offer no new information about Persephone's disappearance, Hecate offered to help Demeter look for her daughter. Together, the two goddesses set out on their search.
The next morning, the goddesses came upon Helius, the god of the sun. Helius could see everything from his lofty perch in the sky, so Demeter begged him for information about her daughter's disappearance. Helius pitied Demeter and promised to tell her everything he knew. He confessed that he had seen Hades kidnap Persephone, and that the girl had cried uncontrollably when she was made Hades's bride.
Helius was sorry for Demeter's loss, but he hurried to point out that as ruler of the Underworld, Hades exerted power over a third of the world. He tried to console Demeter by saying, "I know you are sad to be separated from your daughter, but the powerful Hades is a good match for the fair Persephone."
However, Demeter would not be consoled. She cried, "My beautiful daughter? Why should she be taken so far away among the sunless dead?" Thinking about her daughter's situation all over again, Demeter became so upset that she left Hecate and Helius and began to shun her fellow immortals.
Soon Demeter took to wandering the earth in the guise of a mortal woman. She allowed the grain harvest to fail and the fields to become parched. She was so transformed by her grief that no one could recognize her. She looked like a gnarled, old woman, as sad and weak as the parched and unyielding fields that were beginning to patch the earth.
After wandering for many months, Demeter came again to the town of Eleusis where she stopped to rest by a well. While she was sitting in the shade of an olive tree, four beautiful princesses came to draw water. They were the daughters of Celeus, the king of Eleusis, and all four were kind and well-mannered.
When they saw Demeter, they pitied her because she looked so sad and weary. They had no idea that she was really a goddess. Trying to help the old woman, the girls asked if she would be interested in being a nurse to their baby brother, Demophoon. Demeter gladly accepted this offer.
When Demeter entered the palace, her golden hair had turn to gray, her skin was wrinkled and loose, and all her inner radiance was hidden beneath a dark robe. Nevertheless, the princesses' mother, Queen Metanira, sensed that the new nurse was not an ordinary old woman. The queen noticed a special glow about the newcomer, despite her dark robe and sad face.
Metanira offered Demeter her best chair and asked one of the servants to bring some sweet wine, but Demeter, too sad to accept comfort, refused the chair and the wine. Instead, she sat on a low stool and drank only water mixed with barley mead.
Then Demeter asked to see the child for whom she would be caring. When Demeter first took the baby Demophoon in her arms, he smiled and gurgled. Queen Metanira was glad to see that her newborn son was comfortable in the arms of his new nurse.
Demeter was happy watching over the young prince. She began to love the child so much that, eventually, she decided to make him immortal. By doing so, Demeter hoped to thank the royal family for their kindness and, at the same time, to relieve some of the sadness of losing her own child. So each night, after the family was asleep,
Demeter lathered the boy with ambrosia, an ointment of the gods. When he was well oiled, she placed him in the heart of the hearth's fire to burn away all traces of his mortality. Though the baby was in the fire, Demeter watched him intently, and the flames never hurt him.
The ambrosia treatment worked wonders, and the baby grew stronger and healthier every day. The royal family was amazed at the baby's rapid development. Demophoon was growing much faster than a normal child. Soon, however, Queen Metanira became suspicious of her son’s remarkable growth.
One night she did not go to bed. Instead, she hid, hoping to see what the nurse was doing each night to her youngest child. When Metanira peeked into Demeter's room, she was shocked at what she saw. There was the nurse, turning her baby in the fire like a pig on a spit!
Metanira screamed at the sight. Interrupted at her magic, the goddess angrily jerked the child from the fire and threw him to the ground where he began to cry - unhurt but frightened. Hearing his wife's scream, King Celeus came running into the room, just in time to see the old nurse transform herself into a towering, beautiful goddess. As her form changed, a blaze of light burst forth and filled all the gloomy corners of the palace room.
Though she was furious with Metanira for the interruption, Demeter's anger quickly turned to sadness. She decided not to punish the family for their reaction. She had, after all, loved the baby, and although he could never become immortal without continuing the ambrosia treatments, he could still be honored, since a goddess had been his nurse.
Demeter told the king and queen to have the people of Eleusis build a temple in her honor. While it was being built, she told the townspeople how to grow corn and how to perform special ceremonies at her temple. In this way, the town continued to appease and pay tribute to the inconsolable goddess, whose grief once again became focused on her lost daughter.
When the temple at Eleusis was completed, Demeter went to live there, far from Mount Olympus and the other gods and goddesses. Sadly, she sat silently in her temple for an entire year. While she sat, no crops grew, and the people became hungrier with every passing day. Soon it seemed like every living thing on earth was in danger of starving.
Zeus feared that Demeter's mourning was becoming destructive. He begged her to end the famine, but Demeter repeatedly refused the request. She said she would never grant her life-giving power to the earth so long as Persephone remained so far away in the Underworld.
Finally, Zeus realized that Hades would have to give up his bride so that the world could be healed. With a heavy heart, Zeus sent Hermes, the official messenger of the gods, to the Underworld to deliver a message to Hades.
When Hermes reached the Underworld, he found Hades and his bride sitting side by side on their thrones. Persephone looked miserable. She was weeping because she missed her mother and the world above. When she heard Hermes's message from Zeus, she cried out in joy. Hades knew that he had no choice but to obey Zeus and let Persephone go home to her mother. He begged his wife not to think of him harshly.
Hades said, "My beloved wife, remember that here you are the queen, the most powerful woman of all. As the queen of the Underworld, you even have power over the living, because you have control over what happens to people when they die. Because of this, you have the power to be merciful, which is the greatest gift of all. Do not think ill of me or this kingdom when you are far away from here."
Reluctantly, Hades prepared to let Persephone go, but before she left, he gave her four pomegranate seeds to eat. Hades knew, although his wife did not, that if she ate anything from the world of the dead, she would have to return to his kingdom someday.
Having eaten the seeds, Persephone rode happily out of the Underworld with Hermes. When their chariot finally reached Eleusis, Persephone joyfully embraced her mother. The mother and daughter laughed and cried, and talked as they had before. Finally, Demeter asked her daughter if she had eaten anything during her stay in the Underworld. Persephone replied, "Mother, what a strange question. All I ate was four pomegranate seeds. Why should that matter?"
Demeter became so upset by this news that she took her daughter directly to Zeus to discuss what could be done. On the way to Mount Olympus, Demeter explained to Persephone that because she had eaten food from the Underworld - the seeds of the pomegranate - she would have to return there. That rule was unbreakable.
Zeus had witnessed the happiness of mother and daughter when they were reunited, and now he could see the unbearable sadness in their eyes at the thought of having to part again. Nevertheless, Zeus had to respect the rules of the universe. Therefore, to follow the rules, the king of the gods decreed that Persephone must return to the Underworld.
However, Zeus offered a compromise: instead of returning permanently to live in the Underworld, Persephone need only live there for four months out of the year, one month for each pomegranate seed she had eaten. Appeased by Zeus’s compromise, Demeter allowed the crops on earth to grow again.
From that time on, mother and daughter spent two thirds of the year together. During their time together, the earth bloomed and the crops flourished. But when Persephone returned each year to spend four months with Hades in the Underworld, the earth became as cold as ice while Demeter mourned for her daughter’s lost company. Then, every spring, when Persephone returned to her mother, the world would become green again in celebration of their joyous reunion.
Label: Greek mythology