Homeric Hymn to Demeter

The Rape of Persephone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Galleria BorgheseRome

I begin to sing of Demeter, the holy goddess with the beautiful hair. And her daughter, Persephone, too. The one with delicate ankles, whom Hades seized. She was given away by Zeus, the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide.

Translated by Gregory Nagy

The myth goes like this:

One day, the maiden Persephone is frolicking in the meadow when she spots the most beautiful flower she has ever seen. It is a narcissus, otherwise known as the daffodil. So enraptured, Persephone plucks it right out of the ground.

As soon as she yanks the flower from the dirt, the earth opens wide beneath her feet. A chariot bursts from inside the chasm, and Hades snatches Persephone in his clutches. Like a caveman with a club, he whisks her down to the underworld where she becomes his bride.

Meanwhile, Persephone’s mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, scurries from neighbor to neighbor, asking: “Has anyone seen Persephone?” Not a soul has seen her. Terrified and distraught, Demeter encounters a savvy goddess named Hecate. Hecate tells Demeter that Hades stole Persephone away. Their only recourse is to appeal to Persephone’s father, Zeus. He is the “god of gods,” after all. Only Zeus pulls any weight with Hades, and getting Persephone back will take an awful lot of convincing.

The Rape of Persephone escorts you this far into the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, while exploring a much-neglected storyline within the myth itself:

What happened to Persephone in the underworld? How, if ever, did she come to love the man who seized her?