The comely, innocent maid hummed a simple tune as she promenaded through the vernal splendor. The surrounding flowerbeds bloomed with a plethora of multi-colored blossoms, whose enchanting fragrance perfumed the balmy breezes with each brush of the hem of her dress. The sky was a blue, cloudless expanse, from east to west, north to south. The sun was warm, its beams creating dappled pools of light on the grassy carpet beneath the maid’s bare feet. Trees bent their branches so that their leaves might caress her rosy cheek; birds trilled, bees buzzed, alighting from petal to petal—the whole world gloried in the maid’s beauty, her virginal purity.
But there must forever be a worm in the bud.
All at once the ground began its tremors, shaking, shuddering, then splitting, and from that fissure was manifested hell on earth.
Hades, dark lord of the Underworld, ascended. His great steel-wheeled and ebony wood chariot emerging in plumes of sulphurous yellow, drawn on by a pair of inky steeds. His vast shadow blocked out the sun, his armor black as pitch, his eyes a conflagration of hellfire and lustful desire.
As one of the dark lord’s large, rough hands gripped the black leather reins of his team, the other shot out, seizing hold, snatching and capturing his targeted prey…
Our comely, innocent maid—
Overpowered, overwhelmed, Persephone was dragged down into the crater, clods of dirt and blades of grass suturing up the gaping wound in the earth’s crust, obliterating the scene of the crime from men’s eyes.
Once entrenched in his subterranean lair, Hades embarked on wooing his adored, she a heavenly radiance in the perpetual gloom of the land of the dead; his words of love falling upon not entirely deaf ears. But such a sorrowful, blackened, desolate kingdom was not for Persephone, and so she spurned the dark lord’s advances, and vowed a hunger strike until she was once again allowed to bask in the sun.
Hades fumed and raged.
He wheedled and cajoled.
He enticed his intended with the finest foods, finally leaving nothing more to excite her appetite than a dozen pomegranate seeds.
Throughout all, Persephone remained adamant, steadfast, unmoved…
…but she was so very hungry, and those glistening red seeds looked so very tasty.
Meanwhile, high above on the plane of the living, Persephone’s progenitrix, Demeter, Mother Nature herself, was in frantic search of her missing offspring. Getting nowhere, finding nothing, she decimated the earth, laying waste crops, fertile farmlands withering into nothing but barren dustbowls. A loud cry went up from the people, straight to Zeus’ ear. And the King of the Gods delivered Hades an ultimatum—release Persephone or face divine wrath.
Of course the girl could go back home, as long as she hadn’t eaten anything while below ground, because, you see, it was one of those inexplicable regulations created by the fickle Fates that asserted whoever partook of any food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there.
When questioned about her eating habits during her time as the dark lord’s guest, Persephone had to confess that she had indeed failed in controlling her cravings and had succumbed to the temptation of eating six of those offered twelve pomegranate seeds.
That slip of the tongue, so to speak, sealed her destiny.
It was ordered that as a penalty, our comely, innocent maid must spend six months—one for each pomegranate seed consumed—with Hades in the lower regions. But mere mortals paid the price, too, for Demeter decreed that as long as her daughter resided beneath, the fruitful bounty of tree and field would cease, to flourish again only upon her return.
Thus the seasons were created.
Spring—the season of rebirth.
Summer—the season of plenty.
Autumn—the season of harvest.
Winter—the season of want.
Fickle as were those Fates, whose injudicious law caused her plight, Persephone herself was a tad capricious for she soon grew quite fond of her dark lord and accepted his hand in marriage, thus becoming Queen of Shades, ruler of shadows, whose very name it was forbidden to utter. Her love for her hellish husband eventually ran so deep that when learning that his roving eye had fallen in turn upon two most appealing young nymphs, Leuce and Minthe, Persephone cursed the rivals, changing the first into a white poplar tree and the second into the small, bittersweet, green-leafed plant that bears her name to this day—mint.
Hades and Persephone.
Their life was, well, a living hell—everyday he went off to work in the pits, she ran the house, one with superb views of the River Styx, and they even adopted a puppy, a bouncing ball of black fur with three heads.
So, in the end, they were really like any other happily married couple just keeping the home fires burning.
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee;
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874
(Tate Gallery, London)