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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Winter - Hades is to blame

I've always had an interest in Greek mythology. Almost everyone is familiar with the main tales, thanks to Hollywood and Disney, and though most of that is inaccurate, being based on a hybrid of the Greek and Roman versions of the myths, it serves as an introduction to what is by far the most complex and contrived example of folklore.

The weather in the UK at the moment is terrible; It's the middle of winter, and all of nature seems to have ground to a halt and died, though it's more a case of nature sleeping, since we know everything will  re-emerge in the spring time.

There's a Greek legend that explains why this happens every year, and I'm not sure if many of you will know the story of Demeter, Persephone and Hades.

Demeter was the goddess of the fertility of the Earth, of agriculture, of forests and of the harvest. Zeus was enamoured of the bountiful Demeter and visited her bed; as a result Demeter gave birth to her daughter Persephone. As an Earth goddess, Demeter lived away from Mount Olympus and from the other gods, so Persephone was raised on Earth itself. Many gods chose to pursue and woo Persephone, amongst them Ares, Apollo and Hermes, but Demeter turned them all away, refusing their offered gifts and hid her daughter away from the other Olympians.

One day, Persephone was picking flowers with nymphs,  Aglaope, Peisinoe and Thelxiepeia, when Hades, the god of the underworld, burst through a cleft in the Earth and abducted her. Demeter discovered what had occurred and in her anger at the nymphs for not protecting Persephone, she transformed them into the Sirens (but that's another story.)

Demeter tried to discover exactly what had become of her daughter and searched everywhere for her, until Helios, the sun, told her what had happened, and that Persephone was being held by Hades as his consort. Demeter was distraught, and her anguish and sadness was reflected throughout the Earth, as nature lacking the influence of Demeter, became still.

Without Demeter bringing about the harvest, the people of the Earth began to starve. Zeus beheld this and having seen Demeter's despair, he submitted to the pleas of the other Olympian gods and ordered his brother Hades to return Persephone to her mother.

However, the Fates had long ago decreed that anyone who should ever consume food or drink while within the bounds of the underworld, could never leave. In his desperation to retain Persephone, Hades tricked her into eating a few seeds of the pomegranate, so that even though the will of Zeus led to her return to the world above, the law of the Fates ruled that she must return to the underworld and to Hades for a number of months each year.

When Demeter was reunited with her daughter, she was overjoyed and the world bloomed again as nature flourished once more; but from that day on, every year, for one season, Persephone returns to the realm of Hades, being separated from her mother, and the world falls barren once more.

So it was, according to the ancient Greeks,  that the seasons were established, and that Persephone began to be portrayed as both the peaceful secluded maiden of nature, and as the iron queen of the underworld, so much so that the ancient Greeks would not speak the name 'Persephone'; but soldiers dying on the battlefields would offer themselves to the white arms of the dread queen.

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