Earlier in the week I featured Persephone, book one of the Daughters of Zeus series, by Kaitlin Bevis. As mentioned in that post, Kaitlin’s back with a guest post. She’s here to discuss the Persephone myth and how it plays into her book.
In the original Persephone myth, Kore, the goddess of Spring, was a beautiful goddess and would have had many suiters had her mother, Demeter, goddess of agriculture, not kept her hidden away from the other gods. One day Kore went to a meadow to pick narcissus flowers, lilacs, poppies, or some other flower depending on the source with some nymphs when Hades, God of the Underworld spotted her and decided he wanted her for his wife. He burst through the earth (in some versions, Gaia, goddess of Earth assists him) in his creepy black chariot of death, and dragged Kore into the Underworld. After her rape/marriage, Kore became known as Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld.
Demeter, goddess of Agriculture and Persephone’s mother, searched frantically for her daughter, neglecting her duties as a goddess and plunging the earth into famine. Helios, god of the sun, or in some versions Persephone’s nymph friends, tell Demeter what happened and Demeter begged Zeus to rescue their daughter.
At first Zeus told Demeter she should be pleased to have such a high ranking son-in-law, but eventually he relented since too many people were starving to worship him properly, and sent Hermes to liberate Persephone so long as she had not consumed food or drink in he Underworld.
Meanwhile, Persephone was tricked into eating 3-7(depending on the version) pomegranate seeds by the god Ascalapus, Hades’ gardener. Ascalapus got turned into a screech owl in retribution for his crime, and Persephone was forced to return to the Underworld for a month every year for each seed she ate. While she is home with her mother, plants grow, but during her time in the Underworld every year they die. This myth is considered an explanation for winter.
Why did her name change?
Changing a gods name to reflect a change in their divine role was not uncommon. In Persephone’s case she doesn’t even get a name until she’s important. Kore translated to girl, or maiden.
Persephone has a variety of other names and titles within her cult the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Why a pomegranate?
The pomegranate is known as the fruit of the dead as well as a symbol for fertility, and thanks to the little crown on the top of a pomegranate is a symbol of royalty. So it’s easy to see why it was chosen as symbol in the Persephone myth. You’ve got royalty for the new Queen of Spring/fertility of the dead. When you cut it open is naturally divided into three to six sections depending on the fruit. It is full of tiny little seeds covered in a blood red juice.
While the Persephone myth is the most well known example of using a Pomegranate for symbolism, way back when, this weird little fruit found its way into a variety of stories across cultures.
Why does it matter what flower Persephone was picking?
The flower chosen in the myth kind of sets the tone for the whole story. The narcissus flower for instance is commonly seen as a phallic symbol, and a symbol of unrequited love, and as a portent for death, so you’ve got some foreshadowing, and loss of innocence going there. Other flowers symbolize different things that the story teller may be trying to get across.
What did I change?
I tried to stay true to the spirit of the original myth in my version of the story. Several of the key elements remained, but framed differently. My version is set in modern day. Persephone believes she’s a normal, somewhat sheltered, girl. She discovers she’s a goddess after catching the attention of a sadistic deity named Boreas, the God of Winter (winter winds, technically). Hades rescues her by taking her to the Underworld.
The idea that Hades may not have been the bad guy has been toyed with in popular culture throughout my entire life (Beauty and the Beast anyone?) so it’s logical, and certainly not original, to consider that Hades may have just been misunderstood. Choosing Boreas as the antagonist made sense because there is a very similar story in Greek mythology involving Boreas abducting a Greek princess. In my mind, it fit really well. Boreas is a repeat offender, AND he’s strongest during the winter. It made complete sense for Persephone to have to hide during those months.
I made other changes as well, the Underworld is a pretty nice place, and Persephone is free to come and go as she pleases. Orpheus is a rock star. Small things to add layers to a world where many of the myths we know so well haven’t happened yet.
Why rewrite the Persephone myth?
That myth has never really vanished or fallen out of fashion. It resonates with us for some reason. If you studied any mythology at all in school, you learned the Persephone myth. I think part of it is, if you take the myth at face value, it’s unspeakable. We want to fix this poor girl’s fate. Another draw is that the Persephone myth seems incomplete. In other myths you get a bit of characterization for the key players. Zeus’s personality and wants and needs come across crystal clear in every single myth he’s a part of. But Hades and Persephone both are ambiguous in this myth. We learn a lot about Demeter, and her devotion as a mother, but not so much about Persephone. I wanted to know what happened down there. So I wrote my own version.
About the Author:
Kaitlin Bevis spent her childhood curled up with a book, and a pen. If the ending didn’t agree with her, she rewrote it. She’s always wanted to be a writer, and spent high school and college learning everything she could so that one day she could achieve that goal. She graduated college with my BFA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and is pursuing her masters at the University of Georgia.
Her young adult series “Daughters of Zeus” is available wherever ebooks are sold. She also writes for truuconfessions.com and Athens Parent Magazine.
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