Abduction of Persephone
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
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
"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
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.
the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl