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Get Back Home, Persephone

Finally, someone to blame for winter!

By Susan Seibel

The Weather Channel is telling me that it’s seven degrees above zero, and the Canon-McMillan Patch .

All I can say is, “Persephone, could you please get yourself back home to your momma?”

Sure, meteorologists can tell you that the Earth has seasons because of the tilt of its axis while it orbits the sun, but that’s so impersonal. Give me someone I can talk to about this miserable state of affairs, because surely there must be someone in charge of this.

And so thought the Ancient Greeks. One of the most well-known myths that has survived nearly 3,000 years is that of Persephone and her mother, Demeter—a pair of goddesses credited with causing winter, though they didn’t have much choice in the matter.  

The Ancient Greeks didn’t have meteorologists, but they still needed an explanation for winter. This myth provided an explanation, and a promise that the world would always warm up, eventually.

Here’s the story, but I must warn you: in some ways, this story really could play out on Jerry Springer’s smarmy stage.

The basic story of Persephone goes like this: She was a lovely, young goddess who spent her days with her goddess girlfriends, joyfully playing in a meadow of eternal springtime. 

You remember spring, don’t you? Flowers, grass, warmth…

Then things get ugly. The god Hades takes a liking to Persephone and wants her to live with him. Unfortunately, Hades is the Lord of the Dead in the Underworld, and unless you have a very serious affection for zombies, you’re not going to want to visit him. No one did, really, and Hades had a very hard time getting dates. 

So he talked with his brother Zeus, who is Persephone’s father, and they hatched a plan for Hades to steal Persephone. It was an abduction, for sure, and these two gods who planned this nefarious deed, well, they were two awfully powerful gods.  Zeus was the king of everything above the ground, and Hades was the king of everything below the ground, and the only other god with such power was their third brother, Poseidon, but he was busy making Disney movies with mermaids and doesn’t factor into this story.

Zeus agrees, Hades pops up from the Underworld, snags Persephone, and disappears without anyone except the sun god, Helios, witnessing the abduction.

We mere mortals must suffer the affliction of winter because Persephone’s mother, Demeter, goes into a severe depression because she can’t find her only daughter. The problem with this is that Demeter is a rather important goddess herself. 

She’s in charge of making plants grow, like grain, fruits, and vegetables, and also making farm animals have baby farm animals. In other words, if this particular momma isn’t happy, nothing will grow. It’s sort of like Seasonal Affective Disorder in reverse. 

Demeter’s depression caused winter, not the other way around (oh, if there were only Prozac for goddesses! A little selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor could go a long way).

Eventually, Helios tells her what’s up, but Demeter can’t do anything about it. Zeus and Hades are more powerful, what with them being male and all.

Things got so bad that a famine ensued, and humans started dying off.

Zeus, always one to enjoy having humans groveling before him, intervened so humans would survive. He worked out a deal with his brother Hades so that Persephone could return to her mother, Demeter, for half a year. 

Demeter is so happy during those months that she gets back to work as the goddess of the harvest, and we get to live. But Persephone must return to Hades and resume her role as Queen of the Dead for the second half of the year, and Demeter gets depressed again, so we have winter.

If you’re putting together the familial relationships here and saying to yourself, “Hold on. Isn’t Persephone Hade’s niece?” Yes, she is. And Demeter is Zeus and Hades’ sister. But that will have to be the subject of another column.

In the meantime, just address those complaints about the cold to Zeus, care of the Pantheon of Gods, Mt. Olympus, Greece. It’s at least as effective as cursing out the TV weather forecaster, who is, after all, a mere mortal. 

Editor's Note: Susan Seibel is an adjunct humanities instructor at Butler County Community College in Butler, Pa., and is a former journalist with obvious unresolved journalistic tendencies. She's working on it, though. 

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