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Zeus, the King of the Gods, was having an affair with the goddess of the harvest, Demeter. They conceived a beautiful goddess named Persephone. Demeter was very protective of her daughter, keeping her naive to the ways of the world and dressing her as a child, even as she grew into a women. She meant to keep her innocent forever, always by her mother’s side.
One day Hades, the God of the Underworld, glanced up at the world above and saw Persephone playing with a group of nymphs in the fields. As Hades observed Persephone, he was struck immediately by her beauty and her tenderness towards the nymphs. He ended up going back to watch her every so often, feeling his old heart soften each time. Finally he convinced himself to go to Olympus and ask Zeus for Persephone’s hand in marriage. Zeus was happy with this turn of events. He consented to the marriage. Hades knew Demeter would never allow the marriage, so he decided to kidnap Persephone. One day when Persephone was alone in her fields, the ground suddenly split open, and out of it jumped an enormous chariot that was being pulled by black horses. Hades leaned over the side and scooped Persephone up, plunging back into the earth. Demeter quickly noticed her daughter was gone and looked frantically for her. Eventually she found a farmer who had witnessed all of it, and Demeter grew furious, swearing that the ground wouldn’t produce a stalk of wheat until Persephone was returned.
In the Underworld, Persephone was distressed. Hades was kind to her and gave her many gifts, but she yearned for her mother and the world above. Hades put Persephone’s throne right next to his and, unlike the other Gods, allowed her equal rule along side him. Persephone felt conflicted. She missed her mother, but Hades was the only person who’d ever treated like an adult. She was beginning to fall in love with him.
One morning Persephone went into the Underworld’s garden, and a gardener offered her a pomegranate. Up until that point, Persephone had refused to eat anything offered to her–she knew that if she ate any food from the Underworld, she would be bound to it forever. But that morning, Persephone was so hungry, she took the pomegranate and ate six of its seeds. Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, materialised before her. He said that Demeter had caused the earth to freeze, and that no crops would grow. Mortals were dying in thousands, and the only thing that would stop her was Persephone’s return. Persephone reluctantly allowed Hermes to take her to Olympus, where Zeus and Demeter were having an argument. Persephone tried to satisfy Demeter that she was okay and that Hades had been kind to her, but Demeter insisted that she had to come home, or else she would let every mortal on earth die of famine. Suddenly the throne room darkened and Hades stepped out of the shadows. He was holding the partly eaten pomegranate in his hand.
“Persephone has eaten the fruit of the Underworld”, Hades said cooly, “she must return and rule it with me”. While Demeter continued to disagree, Zeus considered Persephone quietly. “How many seeds did you eat?” he asked. Persephone told him, “Six”. Zeus rose from his throne and the everyone quieted. “Since Persephone has eaten six seeds of the pomegranate, I have decided that she will spend six months of each year in the Underworld with her husband, and six months tending to the fields with Demeter”.
Neither Demeter nor Hades were completely content with this agreement, but Zeus had made it so. Every year Persephone went home to the fields and repaired them with Demeter, and when the time came, Hades would come to her and accompany her to the Underworld. Each time she left, Demeter mourned and all vegetation died. Each time Persephone returned, the earth warmed and became fertile again. This is how the Greeks explained the earth’s seasons, and how a goddess of life fell in love with the Underworld.
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