The story of how Persephone becomes the Queen of the Underworld.
|While dashing through the fields of weeds, Persephone stopped only to catch her breath. As she wiped sweat from her brow, she heard it. The lyre’s tune reminisced of longing. She decided to move swifter and dropped to the ground, panting, where Apollo sat.
He stopped playing and glanced at her down his nose. A smile played at the corner of his mouth but he erased it.
“Forgive me for being late,” she said.
“I thought you might not come after all.”
“Why wouldn’t I? We agreed to meet now, and I am a maiden of my word.”
“You kept me waiting for quite some time.”
On her knees, she clutched his wrists which wrapped around his instrument. “I couldn’t get away. Not until now.”
“What was it this time?”
“Mother needs me to grow the seedlings.”
“All of them?”
“Well, yes, I suppose. I’ll do it tomorrow, however.”
He sighed. “When will Demeter ever stop telling you what to do?”
“Don’t be cross with Mother. It is I who forget sometimes.”
As he rolled his eyes, he set the lyre down and pulled her to him.
“I’ve heard some rumors circling around, and they concern me,” he whispered.
“About what?” she whispered back, uncertain of why they whispered.
Looking around to make sure no one was listening, he cupped his hand against her ear, and ran his other fingers through her auburn-colored hair. “It seems Hades has taken an interest in you.”
She jumped high as if a scorpion pinched her. “What?”
“Shh, sit down. He’s keen on you and wishes to make you his wife. Of course, I will not allow it.”
He held her chin as it trembled. “I’ll go at once to Demeter and request your hand. Don’t worry, my dear.”
“Absolutely not. I forbid it.” Demeter shook her head and finger at Persephone, who sat in a puddle of tears.
“But Mother –“
“Don’t ‘but Mother’ me! I refuse to give up my only daughter to one as vain as Apollo,” she spat, the last word tasting like poison in her mouth.
Persephone jumped to her feet and ran away through the fields.
The crops were planted, and with Persephone’s blessing would come to bloom in late spring. She walked in a secluded field to where her mother banished her after her courtship with Apollo. The tears dried, but her heart sat heavy in her chest.
“Don’t fret, dear one,” Athena said.
“It’s not the end, and you have your whole life ahead of you,” Artemis chimed in.
The three friends picked weeds.
“I don’t understand how I can give life to such beautiful things, yet I’m not in control of my own,” Persephone said as she stuck her grain-entwined scepter into the ground and laid her bejeweled box next to it.
“I know what it is,” Athena said. “It’s Demeter. She’s had her claws in you since the day you were born, and always will if you don’t take a stand against her.”
Persephone yanked more weeds.
“She has a point,” Artemis said.
Nodding, Persephone threw down her fistful of weeds. “You’re absolutely right. I must go back and assert myself with Mother.”
“Good luck!” Athena and Artemis chimed in unison.
“What are you doing back?” Demeter asked.
“I’m not interested in what you have to say, young lady. Go back to where I left you!”
With her head hung low, Persephone made the long journey to her secluded field. She almost arrived when a cold hand clasped over her mouth from behind and jerked her back. Another cold hand and arm wrapped around her waist and lifted her in the air. Kicking and screaming, the muffles couldn’t be heard. Her eyes grew wide when she saw a black chariot on the path behind her. It was drawn by four black horses, but no driver. The mysterious figure seized her and flung her into it. When she tried to open the side door to escape, she found it was locked. The chariot contained no windows.
“What is this place?”
Exhausted from the journey, Persephone fought to keep her eyes open. She felt there was something or someone leading her, yet she saw nothing before her. As she crept down a dark passage of smooth onyx and red lazy rivers, she paused when she reached the orifice of a much larger room. In the center against the wall sat an ebony throne with a three-headed dog next to it. After staring at the throne, there then appeared a dark figure seated atop it.
“This, my lovely, is to be your new home,” he said.
Speech didn’t come to her, and she stared at him. He crossed his legs under his black flowing cloak. Removing the hood, she finally saw his face. It wasn’t ugly; it was handsome, with a smooth forehead and a perfect nose, just like Apollo. Oh, Apollo! she thought. What would he think of all this?
When she heard whispers in the distance and someone shrieked, she shuddered. “Who are you, and why have you brought me here?”
A sly smile danced across his face. “I am Hades, and this is the Underworld.”
The breath caught in her chest. Her eyes darted here and there, and she could find no exit from this great hall, not even the tunnel by which she came, for it was now sealed.
“That cannot be,” she whispered.
“It is, for I have declared it. You shall hereby become my wife, and Queen of the Underworld, for I have said it; therefore it is so.”
As tears rolled down her face, she sank to the ground. Hades sauntered over to stand above her, and she wiped her eyes with her emerald-colored dress.
“There there, it isn’t quite bad?” he said while lifting her by the elbows to stand. “You cannot imagine the glory it will be to serve as my queen.”
She didn’t dare look into his black eyes, but something told her to anyway. They were soft, albeit black and beady, with a tiny sparkle of something she couldn’t identify.
“I must return to my parents.”
He lifted a finger to her pink lips and shook his head. “Not yet. You have duties to fulfill.”
Torches burned all over the heavens of Mt. Olympus and the earth as Demeter went in search of her daughter. She looked under every rock, behind every tree, and in every river. Persephone was nowhere to be found.
Meanwhile, the harvest for the mortals proved to be unfruitful, as Demeter refused to bless and fertilize the land.
Upon returning to her husband, she begged him to find their daughter.
“This is killing me,” Demeter said. “I cannot go on.”
“You mustn’t punish the earth for the wrongdoings of Hades,” Zeus said. “The people need their crops. You have to play your part, or else those who worship us will starve.”
“She’s with Hades?”
Zeus nodded, noting he revealed Persephone’s whereabouts, and he knew all along where she went.
“How dare you! How dare you take my child away from me, and to that despicable—“
“Hold your tongue! Hades is my brother. Had it not been for his brave and honorable contribution in the Titanomachy, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I advise you to choose your words wisely, madam.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she hung her head. “I need my daughter with me. I beg of you, I beseech you, go to him and bring her back!”
Zeus sighed and took her in his arms. “Very well. I shall pay my brother a visit, but I can’t promise you anything.”
Hermes stood at the doorway of Hades’ throne room. “I have come as requested by the great Zeus to return his daughter at once.”
“Quite right,” Hades said. They made the arrangement when Zeus visited him the day before, and he agreed to return his prize.
Persephone ran to Hermes and flung herself into his arms. “Oh Hermes, take me back!”
“Just a moment,” Hades said. As he sashayed over to the two, he produced from his pocket six pomegranate seeds in his hand. “A gift of sustenance for your journey.”
When Persephone took them in her mouth, Hermes cried out before she could swallow them. “Persephone, no!”
It was too late. They swirled around on her tongue, and tasted of honey. She didn’t understand Hermes’ reaction, but bowed to Hades in return for the seeds.
“Thank you. I am ever so grateful for my release.”
As the two made their way down the dark tunnel, and back to the upper world, Hades whispered under his breath, “Not for long.”
The earth and its crops were dead, thanks to Demeter. Persephone admonished her mother for the neglect upon returning. Demeter admitted it was due to her absence. Autumn passed uneventful, but before winter arrived and the first snows fell, a familiar figure in a black cloak arrived on Mt. Olympus with his chariot.
“What are you doing here?” Demeter cried.
“I’ve come for my wife,” Hades declared with his hands on his hips.
Persephone felt an attraction to him which wasn’t emotional, but somehow physical, as if she needed to be close to him, touching him. Then she understood.
“Those seeds you gave me?” she asked.
“Ah yes, the pomegranate. Finally you understand.”
“What –“ Demeter began, but Persephone already walked to enter the chariot.
“I’m sorry, Mother, but I’m tied to the Underworld now, forever. I have duties to perform.”
“That’s the spirit,” Hades said, smiling.
Demeter stood speechless as Hades drove the chariot down Mt. Olympus, then through the earth to reach the Underworld once more.
“I’ve commissioned you something,” Hades said.
“It’s lovely,” Persephone whispered, running her fingers over the ivory throne next to Hades’ ebony one.
“So you like it?”
“Of course.” She looked into his eyes and understood.
As she stepped closer to him and placed her hands on his chest, his eyes grew wide. Not expecting this, he didn’t know what would follow. When she planted a soft kiss on his cheek, he moved his face so their lips met. They both held their breath as the kiss lingered on, and Hades wrapped his arm around her waist.
“My lord, my lord, forgive me,” an unfamiliar voice interrupted.
The two drew away, each with a smile on their face.
“My lord, you must help me,” the man said as he cried into his hands.
“I must do nothing! What is this?” Hades growled, recognizing the man as a mortal. “How did you get down here?”
“It is my wife, my lord. She has moved on to your domain, and it is unjust; please allow her to return with me to the earth where we belong.”
Hades and Persephone took their seats on their thrones, and the man knelt at their feet.
“Speak your name,” Persephone said.
“I am Orpheus, my lady, and my wife is Eurydice.”
The Queen nodded her head, looking at Hades. “I know this man,” she whispered. “His glorious music fills the heavens every day and night.”
“It is your decision, my lovely.”
“Of course. Yours is the right to pardon any soul and return them to their world.”
“Why should we permit you to return with your wife, when she already died?” Persephone asked the man.
“I am a musician by trade, by lady, and my wife is my inspiration,” Orpheus said. “Without her, I cannot go on. My music will die.”
Hades nodded as if in understanding, and Persephone realized why he fed her the seeds.
“Very well,” Persephone said. “But see to it while traveling across the rivers Styx, and through the crusts of the earth to the upper world, you are not to look back on your wife who will walk behind you the entire time. Grave will be the punishment if you place your eyes upon her before both of you are on the earth.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Orpheus cried. “Thank you ever so much.”
Persephone sat in Hades’ lap during an unusual moment of rest. The souls had ceased to arrive for a time, and they took advantage of it. Hades planted soft kisses on her cheeks, forehead, ears and neck, and when he reached her neck, she giggled.
“Two months have passed,” he said as he took a pause.
“Has it been that long? I didn’t realize.”
A smile lit his face at her response. “So you don’t find me too dreadful, after all?”
“On the contrary. I’m glad you gave me those seeds. Just don’t tell Mother.”
Laughing, they resumed kissing, this time with more enthusiasm. She ran her fingers through his long black hair, and their crowns clinked when they touched.
“I wish you didn’t have to return to Mt. Olympus in the spring,” he said.
“I know, me too. If only…”
“If only what?”
“If only you’d given me 12 seeds, then I’d be yours forever.”
“You are mine forever.”
“You know what I mean. I wouldn’t have to divide my time between here and up there.”
“I can remedy that.”
“No, the arrangement is fine. My worshippers need me for the harvest.”
“Very well. Just know that I’ll miss you when you’re gone.”
“I’ll miss you, too, but I’ll await the day you come for me for the winter. Just don’t bring Cerberus.”
They looked at the dog who slept at Hades’ feet and laughed.
“I don’t think he’d leave anyways. He doesn’t enjoy long journeys.”
A woman sobbing interrupted them, and Persephone stood, moving towards her throne.
As the tunnel sealed itself behind her, the woman dropped to her knees, prostrating to the King and Queen.
“There is no use crying,” Hades advised her.
When she wouldn’t stop nor look at them, Persephone asked, “What is your name?”
Even from the depths of the Underworld, the gods could hear the melancholic tunes of Orpheus beginning.
Shaking their heads, Hades and his wife motioned for Eurydice to move on to the realm of Tartarus behind them. Persephone resumed her position on Hades’ lap as the woman’s wails and Orpheus’ music blended together.
“Nay if even in the house of Hades the dead forget their dead,
yet will I even there be mindful of my dear comrade.”
Homer, The Iliad
Word count: 2,388