The Abduction of Persephone
The Tale of Virgo

Demeter didn't like anyone telling her what to do, especially her brother Zeus. He had told her to have children with their brother Poseidon, but Demeter said, "I will choose a husband for myself, thank you." She chose a mortal man. He was a farmer named Iason.

Zeus was very angry when he saw what she had done. He grabbed a lightning bolt and hurled it down through the air, killing Iason instantly and impregnating his sister. Nine months later Demeter gave birth to a daughter. She named her Persephone.

Persephone was as warm and bright as a ray of sunshine and, as the years passed, the happy child grew into a lovely young woman who brightened the lives of all who crossed her path. Everyone noticed her, for it was impossible not to. Even Aphrodite watched her from Olympus.

Aphrodite's golden hair cascaded across her robes as she lounged upon the cushions of her chaise. The only flaw to her beauty was a pout upon her bored face as she occasionally nibbled on the purple plum she had been idly polishing. She looked at Eros as he sat on a cloud near her feet, toying with his silver quiver. "No one pays attention to us anymore" she said. "Even the other gods in Olympus don't care about love. Athena ignores us. 'I have more important things to do than fall in love,' she says. Artemis leads a pack of virgins who only want to hunt. Then there's Hades," she shook her head in frustration. "He's hateful and humorless and scares away affection. Our power is slipping. What can we do?" She took another bite of the plum and glanced below, on Earth. From the corner of her eye she noticed Persephone and immediately brightened. "Eros, I've got a plan! Grab your bow and arrows." Then she whispered in his ear and off he flew to carry out his orders. Aphrodite lay back upon her couch, slyly smiling.

Hades, Prince of Darkness, rode across the land, looking for spots where the land would collapse. The sun refused to shine off his black chariot as it sped behind four sable horses. Eros saw Hades and lay in wait. He pulled his sharpest arrow from the silver quiver and dipped its point in the ointment of desire. Taking aim, he shot Hades right in the heart.

"What was that?" Hades asked. For the first time ever, he slowed his chariot down to listen to the sounds around him. Sunlight sparkled off the mirror surface of the pond, and he stopped to look. The winds gently moved the wildflowers, spreading their seeds across the meadow. Near the bank of the pool and under an awning of branches heavy with fruit, he spied a beautiful young woman. She held her skirt like a basket and carefully placed violets and lilies inside. Hades watched her as she lay down in the shade and took a nap. He wanted her. He had never felt this way before and he couldn't bear to return to his world without her. "Take her with you," said a voice in his heart.

Hades slapped the reigns on the necks of his horses and they began to trot. He clicked his tongue and they cantered, then he used his whip and his horses broke into a gallop, as across the field he sped. The horses didn't break stride when the Prince of Darkness reached out and grabbed Persephone around the waist, lifting her into his chariot and the flowers spilling from her skirt to the ground, where they were crushed by the wheels.

Hades stood tall and dark against the sky. Slapping his whip side to side against his horses, he urged them to run even faster. The wheels caught the ruts in the fields and jarred the chariot roughly as it crushed the grain. He charged across rivers as shooting sprays of water looked like fountains and the animals who lived along the banks ran for their lives. He raced to the edge of the world where boiling pits of red hot lava spewed out from the center of the earth, stagnant pools reeked of sulfur and steam rose from the lava tubes. This was the entrance to Hell.

"Stop!" commanded a voice from the shallow bay. "You can't take Persephone against her will." The nymph Cyane rose from the water. His horses reared up, then stamped their feet as the chariot screeched to a halt. Staring into the dark, unflinching eyes of Hades, Cyane said, "If you want Persephone, you must treat her well or she will never love you. Marriages come from love, not from fear." Hades angrily turned away. "Treat Persephone well or you will regret this." She stretched her arms to block him, but her fragile arms couldn't stop him. He curled his lip in anger and, raising his scepter, he cracked it hard against the shore as the earth rumbled and shook. A long black split opened in the earth, revealing the road to Hell. Hades' black stallions reared up, then lunged forward as the chariot plunged into the cavernous darkness.

Smoke and flames shot out from the dark angry world of Inner Earth. It glowed amber and scarlet like the embers of a fire. Sulfur singed Cyane's nostrils and her eyes burned and teared. "Stop," she cried, but all she heard in return was her own echo. The heat of Hell's furnace burned through the cave and seared the delicate skin of the nymph. "You can't do this," she cried as she watched her inlet bubble and boil, killing her beautiful fish. The furnaces of Hell, stoked by Hades rage, shot flames through the crack in the surface and seared the flesh from Cyane's body as she melted in the bubbling pool and disappeared.

"Persephone. Persephone," Demeter called, searching for her daughter; but her daughter did not come. She had never stayed away before. Days passed, but still Persephone did not return. Demeter set out to find her child. She searched the fields by day and by night she crossed the mountains guided only by the stars. Weeks passed and slowly turned into months, but Demeter could find no trace of her daughter. Finally, she saw a thatched hut and knocked faintly at the door as she collapsed.

An old woman opened the door and looked down to find Demeter limp upon the ground. She brought Demeter a cup of water, gently lifted her head and helped her to drink. Demeter looked into the kind woman's eyes and said, "How good you are to be unafraid and help a stranger."

As she drank, Demeter heard a young boy laugh. "You dirty old homeless woman," he said meanly, "drink in the trough with the rest of the animals."

"I'll make him pay for his cruelty" she said to herself as she sat up and threw the rest of the water in his face. Where the water touched his skin, spots appeared. His arms changed to legs, and a tail grew as he shrank to a size so tiny he almost disappeared. "You can't harm anyone now," she said. The boy turned into a spotted lizard. Frightened, he ran behind a rock to hide.

Again she sleeplessly traveled day and night, but again she found no trace of her daughter. When there were no more places to look, she came home to Sicily. As she walked by the ruined bay of Cyane, she sat down to rest. The poor melted nymph saw Demeter sitting sadly, sobbing for her daughter. Cyane no longer had lips to speak with. In the only way she could send a message, she floated Persephone's belt to the surface of the water. The belt had fallen from the chariot as it raced to the center of the earth. As Demeter sadly looked into the water, she saw her daughter's belt floating to the top. When she leaned over the water to pick up the belt, she gazed into the mirror surface of the bay and Cyane projected what had happened like pictures on the surface. Demeter saw the earth open and Hades and his horses carry her captive daughter through the crevice to deepest Hell.

Demeter jumped to her feet. "How dare you help him!" she yelled at the earth. "I have been your protector and you repay me by letting that thief steal my daughter. And you, Sicily, are the worst of all for you were the doorway to Hell." Angrily she broke the plows, bloated the cattle and killed the seeds. The once fertile fields became barren. Crops died from too much heat and too much rain. The wind blew away fertile topsoil. Birds ate seeds as soon as they were planted and thorns choked the wheat. Famine was everywhere.

Another nymph lifted her head from the bay and said, "Demeter, the land is innocent. Hades forced it open. Please be kind. I have news about your daughter. I peeped through a crevice in the earth and I saw Persephone. She seemed sad and although she still looked afraid, it was obvious she was a queen and was very powerful." Demeter was stiff as stone, but she listened and became calmer. Then she began to cry. Throwing open her arms, a golden chariot appeared. It flew her to Olympus.

"I have come about our daughter, Persephone," she said to Zeus as he helped her from the chariot. "Our brother Hades stole her. Our daughter does not deserve to live in Hell."

"She's fine. He just fell in love with her," Zeus said. "He won't be a bad son in law, after all, he's not only our brother, he's the ruler of a great kingdom." But Demeter only shook her head.

"All right," Zeus relented. "Persephone shall return to you only if she has not eaten anything while she was held captive."

While Demeter and Zeus spoke, Persephone wandered through Hades' gardens and spied a ripe pomegranate as it bent a branch in front of her. She picked the fruit and peeled off the red rind, then she ate seven of the tiny seeds. As soon as she ate the seeds, Hades guards called her. They took her to a room where Hades, Demeter and Zeus were waiting.

"Have you eaten since you came here?" Zeus asked.

All eyes were on her. "No," she said.

"Liar," shrieked a high voice from the back of the room. "She ate seven pomegranate seeds. I was watching from behind a tree in the garden." It was the voice of the boy that Demeter had changed into a lizard. While hiding behind a rock, someone rolled it over the little lizard and he died and went straight to Hell.

Demeter seethed as the naughty tattling boy doomed her lovely daughter. She raised her hand to hurt him with her magic but it didn't matter. Zeus had already heard the story.

To be fair to both his lovesick brother and grieving sister, Zeus divided each year into two parts. Persephone spends seven months with her husband for the seven seeds she ate, while spending the remaining months with her mother on the surface of the earth. When she joins her mother, gardens grow, but when she joins her husband, her mother kills the plants.

"I'm still not pleased," Demeter said to Zeus. "How can I know if Hades is treating my daughter well?" In order to make peace with his angry, stubborn sister, Zeus placed an image of Persephone in the sky now known as the constellation Virgo so Demeter can watch her daughter while she lives with Hades deep within the earth.

Myth Index

Tales of the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl


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