“Can the sun find its match in anything but the moon? Can the heavens lose interest in the earth?” Hades pulled away from her and stroked her cheek. “Can death exist without life?”
Rachel Alexander, Destroyer of Light
There is an aspirational quality to being the light of someone’s life, to bring joy to what seemed dead. We want to be a saviour of something, of anything, we never want to aspire to be the person who was the destroyer. Hades and Persephone’s modern retellings bring a sense of hope in the transformative nature of love. Many, today, consider it as Persephone saving Hades from the loneliness of his own hell, from the darkness of the role thrust upon him, however, in my opinion, the transformation lies closer within Persephone herself. The changing of the goddess of the underworld’s name itself is indicative of this transformation. Kore, meaning daughter or maiden, was most likely her original, earlier name but she later became Persephone, arguably from the ancient Greek φερειν φόνον, “to bring” or “cause death,” a possible symbol of her new status once the goddess of the underworld. Persephone, in modern retellings, is often deemed to be suffocated under the pressures of the expectations upon her, by her name, by her mother and the role she is expected to play in the world. She, alongside her relationship with Hades is often viewed with an empowering air, that she was able to realise who she wanted to be, who she was in the freedom of the Underworld. An oxymoron in itself, however, it contributes to the mystical and near impossible feat that has inspired and drawn many readers into their tale.
This Hades and Persephone trope is incredibly prevalent throughout modern literature and one quick Goodreads search will show you over 300 books, residing in the genres of Young Adult and Romance. The idea of an ancient myth being the central inspiration to novels either for the younger teenagers to the early 20s generation or as a source of romance is a peculiar concept due to the often very violent and dark nature of ancient mythologies.
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What does this say about us, as people, if we are indulging and obsessing over a couple whose origin stories include such violence that it feels foreign in comparison to our modern retellings? Are we more macabre than the stories themselves or is there something deeper going on?
There are many versions of the Hades and Persephone myth but a common element across many of the writings is that Hades requests that she be taken to the Underworld after falling in love with her upon first sight. She is whisked away to the Underworld which sparks a domino effect of events, particularly, driven by the wrath of Demeter, the mother of Kore. This being described as an abduction is first mentioned by Hesiod (Hes. Th. 914). There isn’t much of Persephone’s perspective within these stories and many of the ancient sources cite this ‘whisking away’ to be from the latin rapio, further complicating modern understandings of the nature of this relationship as this is often confused with the modern word, rape. However, many scholars believe that the emphasis was not on the act being rape but rather her being taken and abducted.
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Yet we have come to a time in history whereby we view this story as empowering? Persephone, under the many names to which she has been attributed, is a central figure of many cults and mysteries. The Eleusinian mysteries celebrated her in the month of Anthesterion in Athens. In the mystic theories of the Orphics, also known as the Platonist, Persephone is described as the ‘all pervading goddess of nature, who both produces and destroys everything… and she is therefore mentioned along with… other mystic divinities such as Isis, Artemis,’ and many others.
In many ancient mythological stories, females and goddesses can be viewed as victims, however Persephone is powerful in her own right, she is an embodiment of the natural cycle of earth and therefore life itself. She is both a destroyer and a life giver, which so many people can connect with today, we want to be the best, the adored and the admired but there is a dichotomy within us, the side that wants more and better and the other more pervasive side that reminds us of our humanity, our faults and our ability to hurt and destroy in our waking. Persephone, an all powerful goddess, empowers our human side and shows us it is okay, to be a woman of gentle nature, of life giving sweetness but to also be that woman who stands firm in her downfalls, in her ability to be human, to be aggressive and assertive. We may be macabre, we may be fascinated by mythologies with violent undertones but that does not denote our humanity, it in fact exemplifies it.