Saturday, December 16

The Symbols of Persephone

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The most common symbol of Persephone is the pomegranate, associated with her main myth: the marriage. Kore-Persephone was the daughter of earth goddess Demeter; one day, her beauty attracted the attention of Hades, who kidnapped her and took her to his domain, the world of the dead. Demeter was devastated and looked for her daughter everywhere. She was so upset, she neglected her duties and the earth stopped bearing fruit and all the crops died out – causing starvation and pain all over the world.

Seeing the disasters caused, Zeus decided to intervene, and ordered Hades to release Persephone. Hades agreed,but only as long as Persephone could prove that she ate nothing during the time spent in the underworld, because eating there would have tied her forever to the realm of the dead. But in fact Persephone had eaten something, just a few seeds of a pomegranate fruit. So, Zeus decided that she were to remain the wife of Hades and queen of the underworld for half a year, in winter, but she would come to the surface of the earth, bringing spring with her, and spend the other half of the year with her mother.

The symbolism of the pomegranate fruit is very powerful in Greek mythology, and several goddesses share it. It’s generally associated with female fertility – in this case, showing that Persephone is no longer the maiden she was as Kore, but a wife and a matron. Some of the very first statuary representation of women in ancient Greece (a type of statues known today as Korai) almost always depict them bearing a pomegranate in their hand.

As for our Persephone, it’s up to us how we decide to interpret her pomegranate symbol: whether we consider that she was kidnapped and tricked by Hades into staying in the realm of the dead, or if we accept that eating the pomegranate seeds was a conscious act on her side – representing her decision to leave her mother’s house and remain with her husband. (Since we’re talking ancient Greece, where women had no rights whatsoever, viewing Persephone’s actions as a conscious choice means a major shift of perspective.)

In art, Persephone is often depicted sitting down on her throne, sometimes next to her husband, Hades. When she’s not next to Hades, she appears together with her mother, Demeter, and representations of her alone are quite rare.

Most of the other symbols of Persephone are related to her personality of Kore, the goddess of spring. So, she is associated with spring flowers or all sorts, especially wreath of flowers worn by maidens in their hair.

By association with her mother, Demeter, she shares some of her symbols: the torch and the sheaves of grain. The narcissus flower is sacred to Persephone, as it was the flower of Adonis, for whom she had a crush, and ended up sharing him with Aphrodite.

Another symbol of Persephone was the bat, as well as talking birds (mostly parrots, but also ravens and crows that learned to utter a few words were common in the temples dedicated to the goddess). Her favorite animals were rams and monkeys.  

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