, goddess of agriculture, often employed the help of her daughter Persephone in her work of seeding the earth
. One day however Persephone wearied of her labour and decided to spend the day with her maiden
s in playful recreation gathering flowers, unaware that her innocence and laughter had caught the attention of the passing god of the underworld Pluto
who drew up in a dark chariot pulled by four fiery black steeds. Enchanted by Persephone's beauty he watched her through the foilage, convinced he must have her; yet he recalled the vow that he had made upon the refusal of all of his past entreaties to many goddesses to share his dark throne
, a vow never again to ask and have his heart broken by rejection. With this in mind, he resolved to capture her, and strode through the grass toward her. Frozen in fear, Persephone and her maidens could do little to stop the mighty god as he grabbed her in his grasp of iron
and took her to his chariot.
'Tis he, 'tis he: he comes to us
From the depths of Tartarus.
For what of evil doth he roam
From his red and gloomy home,
In the centre of the world,
Where the sinful dead are hurled!
Mark him as he moves along,
Drawn by horses black and strong,
Such as may belong to Night
Ere she takes her morning flight.
Now the chariot stops: the god
On our grassy world hath trod:
Like a Titan steppeth he,
Yet full of his divinity
On his mighty shoulder lie
Raven locks, and in his eye
A cruel beauty, such as none
Of us may wisely look upon
- Barry Cornwall
He sped away, desperate to outrun her maidens who were now crying out after their beloved mistress
, afraid that he may draw the attention of Demeter. Upon coming to the large Cyane River, Pluto realised that he could not hope to cross, and turning back would present the risk of an encounter with Demeter, so he raised his pronged fork and thrust it into the earth, renting open a crevice which allowed him entry to the underworld
. However, unknown to Pluto, Persephone hurriedly cast off her girdle
into the river, calling to the water nymph to carry it to her mother. It was not long before Demeter noticed the absence of her daughter and began searching everywhere, rushing from place to place calling her name, but as the day wore on her efforts were clearly in vain. Yet still she continued, and as she hurried about, her duties were all neglected; flowers began to die, grass
perished and the rain
no longer refreshed the grain.
"What ails her that she comes not home?
Demeter seeks her far and wide,
And gloomy-browed doth ceaseless roam
From many a morn till eventide.
'My life, immortal though it be,
Is naught!' she cries, 'for want of thee,
Persephone - Persephone!'"
- Jean Ingelow
Eventually, heartbroken and overwhelmed with grief, Demeter stopped and sat down to weep near the city of Eleusis
in the guise of an aged woman, where the daughters of the king Celeus
took pity on her cries of anguish and invited into the palace. In an effort to soothe her broken heart, they gave her charge of their infant brother Triptolemus
, an offer she gladly accepted. At her touch the boy became radiant and rosy, amazing the royal family and court, and she sat with her new charge all night. Soon realising that the gift of immortality
would be an even greater blessing for the child than her constant presence, she annointed his limbs with nectar, spoke a powerful charm and placed him upon hot coals to consume all perishable elements left in him. However, the queen, Metaneira
had stolen in silently, concerned for her son alone with the stranger, and with a shriek snatched her child out of the flames. After ascertaining he was unharmed, she turned to the careless old lady to scold her, and instead was faced with the radiant goddess, who reproved the queen before leaving to continue her wandering.
Eventually, whilst Demeter wandered along the river banks she saw the waters wash up some glittering thing at her feet. She at once recognised her daughter's girdle and was again filled with hope, hastening onward until she came to a fountain and sat down to rest, overcome with fatigue. After some time Demeter realised that the fountain's murmuring had become louder and louder until she was sure she could hear it speak words. The fountain told of how it used to be a nymph in Diana's train called Arethusa until Diana had changed her form to that of water in response to a cry for help when the river god Alpheus would not relent his pursuit of her. When Alpheus saw what she had become he still would not cease, and Arethusa rushed through a crevice opened by Diana to provide escape, and glided deep into the earth until she passed through the depths of the underworld, where she saw Persephone enthroned beside Pluto.
Unfortunately, Demeter's joy at discovering the whereabouts of her daughter did not last as she realised that Pluto would never relinquish her. Once more overcome with grief, she withdrew into a cave to mourn, whereupon, because of her neglect, a great famine spread throughout the land causing the people to entreat her to once more let things grow. However she vowed that nothing on earth would grow so long as her daughter was imprisoned in Pluto's dark realm. In desperation, the people then begged Jupiter himself to grant Persephone access to the upper world so that Demeter would give them their food. Upon hearing of this, Demeter joined in the pleas to Jupiter until, weary of their cries, he consented to her return upon the condition that she had not touched any food during her stay. Demeter herself descended to take Persephone away, but the spirit Ascalaphus declared that she had eaten some pomegranate seeds that very day. Unable to deny this, Persephone was condemned by Jupiter to spend one month each year in her husband's abode for every seed she had eaten, and thus spent half half of each of the rest of her years there. Mercury was chosen to lead her to and from the underworld, and upon her arrival on the earth each year there would be celebration, sunshine and growth. However once her six months were over and she returned to Hades, Demeter once more retired to her cave and let the world fall into coldness and death. Thus were born the unfailing seasons of summer and winter year after year.
Information and poetry extracts from everything2 and Myths of Greece and Rome by H A Guerber