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Hades abducting Persephone, wall painting in the small royal tomb at Vergina. Macedonia, Greece.
In Greek mythology, Persephone is the Queen of the Underwold and the goddess of spring growth.
She is the daughter of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and agriculture.
The abduction of Persephone has been interpreted countless times, which has resulted in it being cloaked by confusion and obscurity.
The oldest source is probably the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and here’s part of it:
"Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus, which Earth made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please the Host of Many, to be a snare for the bloom-like girl — a marvellous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and is smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea’s salt swell laughed for joy. And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy; but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa, and the lord, Host of Many, with his immortal horses sprang out upon her — the Son of Cronos, He who has many names." (4-18)
According to this same hymn, Hekate (the goddess of crossroads) and Helios (the god of the sun) were the only ones who heard Persephone’s cries for her father, Zeus.
Demeter searched for her daughter for nine days straight, and on the tenth day Hekate came to her, and told the goddess that she had indeed heard Persephone being taken away, but that she had not seen who the perpetrator was.
Then Demeter went to Helios, and asked him to tell her the truth about who took her daughter. Helios responded that Hades had taken her with permission from Zeus.
Grief and anger overcame Demeter, and, in the disguise of an old and barren woman, she wandered the towns of men for a long while until she came to the house of King Keleus of Eleusis, where the daughters of the lord found her. The daughters enquired of her presence, and the disguised goddess said she was, against her will, brought from Crete by pirates, and, having escaped them, she was now seeking whatever work they would give her.
Demeter was offered the job of taking care of King Keleus’ newly born son, Demophon. For a long time, the goddess did not as much as smile because of the desire to be reunited with her daughter, but the woman Iambe made her laugh through humor and quips.
At night, Demeter would lay the baby boy, Demophon, into the hearth’s flames - burning the mortality from him, and slowly transforming him into an immortal being. She did this every night until Metaneira, the boy’s mother, saw it and was enraged.
The goddess then spoke:
"Witless are you mortals and dull to foresee your lot, whether of good or evil, that comes upon you. For now in your heedlessness you have wrought folly past healing; for — be witness the oath of the gods, the relentless water of Styx — I would have made your dear son deathless and unaging all his days and would have bestowed on him everlasting honour, but now he can in no way escape death and the fates." (254-258)
She then proceeded to cast away her disguise, showing her true divine nature, and demanded that, for the people of Eleusis to win back her favor, they build her a great temple. The Lord Keleus, upon hearing this, built the sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis, and followers of the Eleusinian Mysteries came there to celebrate them for a little over two millennia.
After the temple was built, Demeter still longed for the return of Persephone. This grief caused a year of famine for mankind. All land was lifeless, and Zeus, the king of the gods, therefore sent Iris to implore the goddess to return to Olympos.
However, Demeter said she would not return until Persephone, her daughter, was released from the Underworld. Upon hearing this, Zeus sent Hermes down to the Underworld to make Hades release his bride, and Hermes did. Hades, having been commanded to let Persephone go, said:
"Go now, Persephone, to your dark-robed mother, go, and feel kindly in your heart towards me: be not so exceedingly cast down; for I shall be no unfitting husband for you among the deathless gods, that am own brother to father Zeus. And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves and shall have the greatest rights among the deathless gods: those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings, reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be punished for evermore." (358-364)
Even though Hades had to release his wife, he gave the young goddess a pomegranate seed to eat, so that she would always be tied to the Underworld.
Persephone was reunited with her mother, but only for two thirds of the year; one third of the year she had to spend as Queen of the Underworld and the wife of Hades, because of the pomegranate seed she ate.