Hades and Persephone

Published January 20, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

The first installation in my narration of the few myths that strongly involve Hades.  I’m not sure why I ended up writing it in a children’s storybook style…particularly considering the whole incest thing.  (I really need to have a look at D’Aulaire’s and see how they glossed over the Olympian incest issue there.)


 

One day, Zeus went down into the darkness of the underworld to speak to his brother, Hades.  The gloom was so thick that by the time he reached the throne, Zeus already wanted to leave.  “You’re going to have mushrooms growing on your head if you don’t get out into the light once in a while,” he told his brother.

“Don’t be absurd,” Hades replied.  Surrounded all day long by the whining dead, he had little sense of humor.

“Or maybe you need a wife to keep you company, cheer you up.”

“Judging by your example, I wouldn’t think that was a wife’s primary duty,” Hades said, with the closest to a chuckle as he could muster.

“You know, I have a beautiful daughter in need of a husband,” Zeus commented.  “Persephone needs to get married before she can decide to emulate her sisters Athene and Artemis.  I don’t want three perpetually unwed daughters.”

“So?”

“Since she needs a husband and you need a wife…” Zeus prompted.

“I doubt that I am the husband my niece would choose,” Hades replied sourly.  “I’m sure she would prefer a younger, more lively god.  Someone more like Apollo.”

“He’ll never agree to take a wife,” Zeus laughed.  “No, it is my firm conviction that you and she are perfectly suited to each other.  You rule the soil itself, and all that is beneath it, and she makes things grow from that soil.  What could be more ideal than that?”

Hades nodded slowly.  “Perhaps so,” he admitted, “but I have never thought of taking a wife.”

“You don’t want her, then?”

Hades cleared his throat.  “I didn’t say that…”

“You do think her beautiful, then?” Zeus prompted.

“…of course.”

“Then what could your complaint be?”

“There is no complaint,” Hades explained.  “I simply cannot make such a momentous decision so lightly.”

“Of course,” Zeus agreed.  “I wouldn’t want you to make my mistake.  I’ll send her down to play in her favorite poppy fields, in one week’s time.  If you want to make her your wife, take her then.  If you don’t, then I’ll find her some other husband.”

Hades nodded his agreement, and Zeus quickly returned to the bright splendor of Mt. Olympos.  Although his brother had fully intended to refuse his niece’s hand, the longer Zeus was gone, the more Hades could not stop thinking about the offer.  He had often looked up through the soil and seen Persephone playing in the fields of brightly colored flowers, dancing and singing with nymphs.  Persephone had outshone the nymphs as much as the moon outshone the stars; she had been so bright that it almost hurt Hades’ eyes to look on her.  And yet he had still looked.  And after he knew that she could be his, he had looked all the more eagerly, watched her all the more intently.

By the time the week was up, he had decided to accept his brother’s offer.  Hades hitched up his horses to his chariot personally, and rode up to the surface, opening a crack in the earth so that he and his bride could ride away together in proper style.

The nymphs screamed and ran away at his arrival, which he found to be most rude indeed.  When he offered Persephone his hand, she just stared at it in confusion.

Irritated by the delay, and having no idea what the proper procedure was, Hades stepped off his chariot, lifted Persephone in his arms, and began to carry her back to the chariot.

To his surprise–and consternation–the girl began to scream, calling for her mother and father to come and save her.  Save her?  From what?  Did she find the notion of marriage that unappealing?  Hades hesitated for a moment, then set her in the chariot and urged the horses back down below.  It was just nerves, he was sure.  She was nervous, and panicking, even as mortal girls did on first meeting their husbands.  It would pass.  Of course it would pass.

But to his dismay, it didn’t pass.  Persephone gave up screaming after a while, and began instead to weep.  She wept and wept until it was starting to make even Hades’ eyes hurt.  He certainly didn’t want to hold their wedding celebration with her crying, so Hades asked her what was wrong, because he could find nothing else to ask.

“Please, let me go back to the surface,” Persephone said, looking up at him with her big eyes swollen and bloodshot.  “My mother will be worrying about me, and the flowers will miss me, and I’m too young to die!”

“How could you die?” Hades replied, altogether confused.  “Goddesses don’t die.”

“Then why have you brought me to the land of the dead, uncle?”

“Because this is where I reside,” he told her.  “Did you think husband and wife would not share one abode?”

“Husband and wife?” Persephone repeated.  “What do you mean?”

Hades stared at her for a moment, then scowled.  “He didn’t tell you.”  He shook his head.  “He didn’t tell you.  He must have seen some pretty mortal girl and forgotten all about me…”

“What didn’t my father tell me?”

“He promised me your hand in marriage,” Hades explained.  “To be granted today.”

“Marriage?!  But–no!  I won’t!  I won’t live in this terrible, dank, dreary place!  I won’t!”  Persephone didn’t wait for Hades to reply.  Instead, she ran away into the darkness.

Hades sighed.  He was tempted to follow her immediately, but decided it was better to wait.  Let her see just how dark his realm could be, so she would better appreciate the light in his home.  But when he approached her the next day, she was still refusing him, and ran off again into the darkness.  The third day produced no different results.

In the mean time, up on the surface, Demeter was in a dreadful panic over her missing daughter.  But the terrified nymphs who had been Persephone’s playmates didn’t know who had taken her, as they had never seen Hades before.  Mournful and bewildered, Demeter began to roam all through the land, calling out for her lost daughter.  Ashamed that he had forgotten to tell his sister and their daughter about the planned marriage, Zeus took a sudden trip to the most distant lands he could find, far to the north, taking all his rain clouds with him.  Without Zeus’ rain clouds and Demeter’s cooling love, the land began to sizzle and scorch, and nothing would grow.

Persephone was no happier, wandering through the darkness, miserable and alone, but constantly refusing her uncle’s protestations of love and requests for a proper marriage.  She missed the warmth of the sun, the light of the moon, the feel of the grass beneath her feet, and the taste of sweet fruit in her mouth.  That was what she missed most of all, after a month had passed, and she began to feel very hungry, but there was nothing to eat in the underworld, as there was nothing outside Hades’ palace other than the swirling shades of dead mortals.

Hades, in desperation, had ordered the Hundred-Handed Giants and Cyclopes to plant him a garden that might attract Persephone’s attention, but the only thing they could make grow in it were a few malnourished pomegranate trees.  Still, he hoped it would show the girl how far he was willing to go for her, and as soon as the garden was ready, he led her by the hand and took her on a tour of it.  She was pleased to see something striving to live in that dark, dank region, but refused to smile, lest she encourage him, and thereby lose any chance of ever getting to go home again.

Once Hades had returned to his throne in defeat, Persephone set her hand on the trunk of one of the pomegranate trees, and spoke words of gentle love to it.  The tree grew and grew, spouting leaves, flowers and fruit all at once.  After she had thus encouraged all the trees, Persephone found the garden quite pleasant indeed, though she still wanted to see the sky, and once more wave at the horses pulling Helios’ chariot.

The longer she spent in that garden, though, the more Persephone’s hunger began to gnaw at her.  It had been so long since she had eaten, and the pomegranates looked so tempting and tasty, hanging upon their branches…but she had to stay strong!  If she ate anything, then she would no longer be able to call herself a prisoner, and would be acknowledging herself as a guest instead.  That was the first step towards giving up her maiden status and becoming a wife, and that was completely unacceptable!

After that, Hades came to speak to Persephone in the garden every day.  He always began and ended their conversations by asking her to give in and be his wife as her father had promised, but since she was no longer running away from him, he had to find other things to say to her as well.  He didn’t know what to say, so he would tell her about his work.  He would tell her what mortals had died that day, who they were, how their loved ones had mourned them, or how they hadn’t, and how their souls had accepted their new existence, whether with decorum or with tears or attempts to bribe their way into a better life.  Persephone found it amusing that some mortals thought they could tempt the god who controlled the gold within the soil by offering him his own gold back again, but she always wept to hear of lamenting widows, or mourning parents bereaved of their children.  She could never have admitted it, but she began to look forward to his daily visit.

Eventually, the land above became so dry and desolate that Helios began to feel sorry for the mortals who could no longer make their crops grow.  He landed his chariot near Demeter, and told her where she could find Persephone.  Demeter was so grateful to learn where her precious daughter was that she couldn’t summon up any words of thanks, and could only hug Helios briefly before hurrying down through a cave to reach her brother’s throne room, where she demanded the return of her daughter.

Persephone was overjoyed to see her mother again, and lavished hugs and kisses upon her.  But Hades wasn’t willing to give up his bride.

“Zeus promised her to me,” he reminded his sister, “to be my wife.  Are you going to disobey his commands?”

“He made no mention of that to me,” Demeter countered angrily, “and I have just as much right to choose my daughter’s husband and he does, even though he is the king of the gods!”

“Among the mortals–” Hades started, but was allowed to go no further than that.

“I don’t care what the mortals do!” Demeter snapped at him.  “We are goddesses; we have our own rules, and don’t have to obey the rules imposed on mortal women!”

“Be reasonable.  It is cruel to stand in the way of love,” Hades tried to reason with her.

“What love?” Demeter countered.  “This is abduction and imprisonment!  She doesn’t care for you one bit, no matter what you claim to feel for her!  She’s been miserable the whole time she’s been down here!”

“Those are your feelings, not hers,” Hades said.  “If that is truly how Persephone feels, then I will accept it.  But she must swear on the River Styx that she has felt herself only a prisoner, and never once at home.”  He gestured towards the Briareos, the Hundred-Handed Giant he trusted most.  The giant presented him with a chalice filled with the waters of the Styx.  An oath over those waters was so powerful that not even Zeus himself would dare break it.

Persephone stared at the chalice with fearful eyes, and shook her head.  “I shouldn’t have to do that!” she exclaimed.  “I just want to go home!”

“Then go ahead and take the oath,” her mother prompted her.

Persephone bit her lip, and shook her head again, and wouldn’t take the chalice.  Demeter tried and tried to cajole her into taking the oath, but the girl was intransigent.

“Then you admit that you’ve begun to feel at home here?” Hades asked hopefully.  He had a secret that had been revealed to him by Briareos, but he didn’t want to have to use it…

“No!” Persephone shrieked.  “I want to go back up to the surface, into the light of the sun!”

Hades frowned, and picked up the dish beside his throne.  He showed it to his sister and her daughter.  Persephone blanched at the sight.  “This is one of the pomegranates from my garden,” he explained to Demeter.  “It had been hidden at the base of one of the trees.”

“So?” Demeter asked coldly.

“Three of the seeds within have been eaten,” Hades told her, showing the spot where the fruit had been opened, and the seeds removed.

“Anyone could have eaten them,” Demeter insisted.

“No one is allowed into my garden other than myself, Persephone, and Briareos,” Hades said, “and neither he nor I have tasted this fruit.  We will swear to it if you like?”

Demeter looked at Persephone uncertainly, and the girl began to cry.  “But I was hungry!” she wailed.

“You’re a goddess; you don’t need to eat!” Demeter objected.

“Taking and eating food without telling anyone is not the action of a guest,” Hades went on.  “It is either that of a thief, or of a person in their own home.”

“Just what do you want?” Demeter asked.

“I want a wife.”

“I will never allow it!” Demeter shouted.  “I won’t let my daughter live down here away from the light!  I’ll never allow so much as a single blade of grass to grow on the land above if my daughter is forced to live in this darkness!  Do you want to be overrun by the shades of all the mortals on earth all at once?”

“Mother, that’s awfully cruel,” Persephone pointed out.  “You shouldn’t punish the mortals.  They didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Persephone, just keep quiet and let Mother handle this.”

Demeter’s instruction made Persephone sigh sadly, but she didn’t think it wise to argue back, not while her mother was in such a foul temper already.  The argument between Demeter and Hades resumed and quickly escalated.  Demeter screamed and bellowed and uttered terrifying curses and threats, shocking her daughter terribly.  Hades remained calm, but his voice carried the fury of hundreds of generations of fallen warriors.

The argument might have gone on for all of time, if Helios had not informed Zeus of what was going on.  Zeus immediately returned to Hades’ throne room, and quieted his enraged sister.  After he had been told all the details, Zeus nodded.

“Then let us work out an arrangement that will suit everybody,” he said.  “Since she ate three seeds, Persephone must spend three months of the year with her husband, but she may spend the rest on the surface with her mother.  That is my decision, and there will be no further arguments.”

Not one of the gods was pleased with the arrangement–except Zeus himself–but they knew better than to argue with the king of the gods.

A wedding feast was quickly held, and Persephone accepted her new role as queen beneath the surface.

When it was time for her to return to her mother, up in the light, Persephone kissed her husband warmly, and promised to think of him while she was away.


Well, that was ridiculously long.  Sorry.  I had trouble finding a way to make the ending work.  No, let me rephrase that.  I had trouble finding a way to handle the ending, and since I couldn’t find one that worked, I had to go with this one.  Hopefully, I’ll come up with a better way in the future.  Also, I apologize for letting a little Beauty and the Beast sneak in there.  But…actually, when you think about it, there’s probably a correlation there; even if the versions actually being passed about by storytellers weren’t inspired by Hades and Persephone, I bet Perrault was.  (Or maybe not.  How would I know?)

 

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