The Myth of Persephone in Ancient Greek Culture
The ancient Greeks, like many ancient cultures, believed in multiple gods. The Gods had supernatural powers and strengths. Myths about these Gods helped explain things about Greek life, These myths were important because they explained why the Greeks did things in a certain way and what was important to them. The article Greek Mythology explains that some “…myths arose when men tried to understand the natural world around them”.
The myth of Persephone and Hades was culturally significant because it helped explained the cycle of the changing seasons and also the importance of one of their religious rituals. Persephone, was the beautiful Goddess of spring who became queen of the Underworld. She was the daughter of Zeus, ruler of the sky and the Olympian Gods, and the only daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, summer and agriculture. Demeter loved Persephone very much. Hades, brother to both Demeter and Zeus, was the God of the underworld and King of the Dead.
When he saw Persephone he fell madly in love with her and wanted her for his wife. Hades asked Zeus for her hand and Zeus agreed, but Hades knew that Demeter would never agree to let her beloved daughter be taken to the Underworld so one day when Persephone was picking flowers, Hades abducted her. Demeter searched for Persephone but could not find her and was overcome with grief. As she grieved the earth became frozen and nothing would grown. Finally, Zeus became afraid that humans would all die without the “gifts” of Demeter and sent for Persephone to be returned to the Demeter. When Persephone returned to Olympus, she reveals that she has eaten six pomegranate seeds. Pomegranates were the fruit of the Underworld and the symbol of “life and death, rebirth and eternal life, fertility and marriage, and abundance” (Hamburger). This meant that Persephone was bound to Hades in the Underworld and could not return to her mother.
The Gods came to a compromise that since Persephone had eaten only six seeds she would remain in the Underworld with Hades for six months of the year and then could return to her Mother for the other six months of the year. During the half of the year that she ruled the Underworld as the Queen of the Underworld, Demeter grieved and the world became cold, Fall and Winter, and when she returned she brought the Spring and then Summer (Cartwright; Hamilton 57-64). The main reasons the character Persephone was important to Greek culture was because it helped explain a part of the natural world, before the scientific knowledge existed. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia “The story of Demeter and Persephone was perhaps symbolic of the changing seasons and the perennial change from life to death, to life once more, or in other words, the changes from summer to winter and the return of life in spring as seen in agriculture (Cartwright). The myth of Persephone was not just a story, it was important because it actually helped the Greek people to make sense of the world around them.
Another reason the myth of Persephone was important to Greek culture is it helped explain some of the Greeks’ customs and rituals. According to Ohio State Archaeological Excavations in Greece, “myths arose to explain the manner in which and the locations at which the Greeks carried out their rites” (Greek Mythology). The religious worship of Persephone and Demeter was a big part of Greek life. The myth helped the people understand why the religious ritual existed and why they should honor them. The ancient Greek mythological character Persephone was culturally relevant because her story helped the people make sense of the natural world and understand important religious rituals. This importance is shown by the fact that the myth of Persephone shows up in many written forms over time. Persephone is seen in many examples of Greek art and architecture which also shows that she was important to Greek culture and stayed relevant for a long time.
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