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The theme of Persephone in Western Art has been a popular one. The Abduction or Rape of Persephone has always had the advantage of piquing one's curiosity. Hades (Pluto) on his way home to the underworld sees a beautiful Kore (a name that means simply girl) picking flowers in an idyllic meadow. He scoops her up and takes her home. A god whose taste is matched only by his decisiveness. Demeter, her mother — I'll call her Demeter rather than Ceres because I'm calling Kore Persephone — is beside herself with grief. She searches far an wide for her missing child. In the process, she neglects her function, which is to water and nurture vegetation. The rain stops, plants wither, the Earth becomes dry and lifeless. When Persephone is found and the truth finally known, Zeus renders a very interesting decision. We might call it the prototypical patriarchal decision. He finds no fault with Hades since, somewhat massaging the facts, Hades acted out of love. It remains that Persephone was carried off screaming into the underworld, but love is never having to say sorry. Anyway, as almost everyone already knows, by a complicated sequence of events requiring many pages, Zeus negotiates six months in the underworld followed by six months in the light of day. Persephone becomes the goddess of death and also the goddess of springtime.

Demeter is a vegetation goddess. She exists, essentially, because Eros pierced Gæa to produce vegetation in the first place. In other words, the corn grows because Demeter reigns. Also because Demeter is the rain that keeps things growing once they have begun. I don't have a dictionary that says so, but with all the commingling of vocabulary after the Norman conquest, it seems likely that "arouse" and "arrose" come from, if not the same, then a similar source. The first means to wake up. The second means to moisten or to water, as in arroser les fleurs. Watering the flowers, of course, makes them rise up. Demeter is a goddess, if you will, of turgidity. She has a peculiar effect on things. In a perfect world we would always expect a perfect amount of rain. Demeter is at the very heart of perpetual spring.

As with all good stories, this one takes an unhappy turn. A subplot develops. We find ourselves in the postwar period, the time after the terrible conflict that put Zeus on the Olympian throne. Demeter has a child, whether by Zeus or by parthenogenesis (i.e. virgin birth) is disputed. Most things in Greek Mythology are disputed. The fact that parthenogenesis was considered at all should tell us something. Her child Persephone, already mentioned, was also a vegetation goddess. She was a beautiful young girl, a virgin in the less technical sense, who frolicked in the fields and picked flowers with her delightful entourage. Demeter's daughter wasn't the trees or the wind or the wind in the trees, she was another vegetation goddess. That's where parthenogenesis comes in. Along comes Hades and the story takes its turn.

Wouldn't falling in love with Demeter have served just as well, or was it necessary to have two? I've never encountered this question. Of course, I'm not an expert in this field, but it's an interesting question nonetheless. And the answer is obvious once you get the hang of things.

Demeter is a woman, Persephone a young and innocent girl — not once upon a time a girl, a perpetual girl. I made a crack about Rosario Dawson in an earlier post. She played Persephone in the movie Percy Jackson… and as beautiful as she is — possibly the most worthwhile thing in the entire movie — she was completely inappropriate for the part. She was thirty, if I calculate correctly, a round, voluptuous thirty. Persephone is a young girl. You should think of a retiring Lolita when you think of Persephone, not Rosario Dawson.

Youth and femininity go hand in hand in describing spring. The gentle moisture that rekindles life, which is a function of Persephone, is not an entirely new force in the universe. It was always contained in Demeter. But, there was never a need for the return to life if the world was in perpetual springtime. The moisture of Persephone and the rains of Demeter are a question of degree and opportunity. Without death, there is no need for a return to life. Without cold, there is no need for warmth.

The emergence of Persephone is the first sign that something has gone terribly wrong. The perfect circle has become a wheel, and the wheel has begun to turn. Persephone is the goddess of death, the consort of Hades, and the goddess of springtime and renewal, because without death itself, there would be no spring. Persephone is the first enduring product of the end of the Golden Age.
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