okay i’m doing this actually. yet another post about hades and persephone.
so like... i have been reminded via the ask box that there are people out there who argue that somehow, the interpretation that hades and persephone had an equal relationship has more “evidence” than the interpretation that persephone was a child that hades kidnapped. this is, as they say, a HOT TAKE.
i’m putting the rest under a read more because this got away from me.
TL:DR the homeric hymn to demeter clearly depicts persephone as a child who hades unwillingly kidnapped, and the push to say otherwise is representative of rape culture.
first let’s talk about the idea of “evidence.” when it comes to mythology, it’s all fictional stories anyway, so there’s no one factual interpretation that is always correct. you can’t say “oh but actually, this happened!” because it didn’t happen. and the ancient greeks had a million different versions of every story.
THAT BEING SAID, though, when it comes to figuring out what stories were told, we have to look at primary sources, ie. tellings of those myths over time. as far as i’m aware, the main primary source recounting persephone’s capture is the homeric hymn to demeter. i’m going to post an english translation by gregory nagy (link). i would look at the greek myself but i have to do a lot more translation today and this is how i’m procrastinating so i don’t want to use my translation brain. i actually really like this translation though (except he does the thing where he just puts random greek words in instead of translating them)
[image description: screenshot of lines 15-24 of Gregory Nagy’s translation to the Homeric hymn to Demeter. Lines read as follows:
She [Persephone] was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands to take hold of the pretty plaything. And the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her. It happened on the Plain of Nysa. There it was that the Lord who receives many guests made his lunge. He was riding on a chariot drawn by immortal horses. The son of Kronos. The one known by many names. He seized her against her will, put her on his golden chariot, And drove away as she wept. She cried with a piercing voice,
calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos, the highest and the best.
But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals,
heard her voice. Not even the olive trees which bear their splendid harvest.
End image description]
so let’s look at the two elements of this story that are important to me and how that passage supports them:
1. persephone is a child. “She was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands to take hold of the pretty plaything” pretty clearly implies this. later on demeter also calls persephone a “sweet young seedling.” again someday i’m going to look at this in greek and the argument will hold up a lot better but that’s what i’ve got for today.
2. persephone went against her will. this is super clear here! “She cried with a piercing voice, calling upon her father, the son of Kronos, the highest and the best. But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals, heard her voice.” the next part of the poem is about how persephone screamed and cried all the way to the underworld and that’s what alerted demeter to the situation. how can you read this and think “oh but she wanted to be there” or “oh but maybe she and hades had a good relationship after that?”
i would be happy to read other primary sources that tell this story in a positive or romantic way where persephone actually wanted to be taken down to the underworld. but when i say “primary sources” i mean ancient greek sources, in or translated from ancient greek, that support that argument.
but then what does it mean that people want to interpret this as happy and romantic? i already said that myths are nebulous and fictional and it’s okay to interpret them in different ways. and i stand by that, but i think we have to look at what it means for our society that people want to romanticize this specific myth. how many times have we heard “but maybe she wanted it?” to allegations of rape or sexual assault? yes persephone is a fictional character but the way we talk about her reflects the way we talk about real women.
and if you’re like... a woman who’s been into this story for a while and you’re reading this like “hey! i didn’t do any of that!” like. you’re right. this isn’t something an individual does-- this is cultural. it’s a retelling that happens over hundreds of years. it starts with the ancient greeks normalizing age gaps and not treating women as full citizens and humans, and it ends with people today not realizing the full weight of their favorite greek myth. this happens over hundreds of years, especially when men are the ones telling the story.
and like... even with all that i understand wanting everything to be okay and wanting to be like “well maybe everyone is happy!” but by doing that we ignore the hard truth here: women and girls are still kidnapped, raped, and abused every single day. older men are grooming, “dating,” and marrying much younger girls and women. we can’t just erase this by telling a nicer story.
if you want to tell a story about a happy and healthy relationship, choose a different relationship. make up your own characters. write fanfiction for a tv show with a happy and healthy relationship.
in conclusion i give you my favorite renaissance sculpture
[image description: an unpainted stone sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini titled Pluto and Proserpina. Pluto, or Hades, an adult man with a full beard and a crown, is lifting Proserpina, or Persephone, his hands digging into her skin. Proserpina, a young girl, has one hand braced against Pluto’s head and is clearly in motion as she struggles for escape. A tear is visible on her face. Both figures are naked except for a cloth that seems to be falling off of Proserpina’s shoulder. end image description]
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