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Queen of the Underworld
Goddess of the dead, life, grain, spring, nature and destruction
AMI - Isis-Persephone.jpg
Statue of syncretic Persephone-Isis with a sistrum. Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
Abode The underworld, Sicily, Mount Olympus
Symbol Pomegranate, seeds of grain, torch, flowers and deer
Personal information
Spouse Hades
Children Melinoë, Zagreus/Dionysus (Orphic)
Erinyes (Orphic)
Parents Zeus and Demeter
Zeus and Rhea (Orphic)
Siblings Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Arion, Artemis, Athena, Chrysothemis, Despoina, Dionysus, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, Eubuleus, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, Iacchus, Minos, Pandia, Philomelus, Plutus, Perseus, Rhadamanthus, the Graces, the Horae, the Litae, the Muses, the Moirai
Roman equivalent Proserpina
This article contains special characters. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols.
Locri Pinax Persephone Opens Liknon Mystikon
Pinax of Persephone.

In ancient Greek mythology and religion, Persephone ( PƏR-sef-Ə-nee; Greek: Περσεφόνη, romanizedPersephónē), also called Kore or Cora ( KOR-ee; Greek: Κόρη, romanizedKórē, lit.'the maiden'), is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She became the queen of the Underworld after her abduction by her uncle Hades, the god of the underworld.

While Persephone was picking flowers from a field, Hades burst though a crack on the earth driving his chariot and snatched Persephone as she cried for help. Her mother Demeter searched long for her with no success before being informed that Hades had taken her to be his queen, with the approval of Zeus. Persephone was not allowed to return to the world above until Demeter prevented all plants from growing, causing a famine and forcing Zeus to demand that Hades let her go. Persephone however had consumed some pomegranate seeds while in the Underworld, and having eaten food from Hades' realm she could not leave. Zeus settled this by decreeing that Persephone would spend some months in the Underworld with her husband, and the rest of the year above with her mother.

The myth of her abduction, her sojourn in the underworld and her temporary return to the surface represents her functions as the embodiment of spring and the personification of vegetation, especially grain crops, which disappear into the earth when sown, sprout from the earth in spring, and are harvested when fully grown. In Classical Greek art, Persephone is invariably portrayed robed, often carrying a sheaf of grain. She may appear as a mystical divinity with a sceptre and a little box, but she was mostly represented in the process of being carried off by Hades.

Persephone as a vegetation goddess and her mother Demeter were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which promised the initiated a happy afterlife. The origins of her cult are uncertain, but it was based on ancient agrarian cults of agricultural communities. In Athens, the mysteries celebrated in the month of Anthesterion were dedicated to her.

Her name has numerous historical variants. These include Persephassa (Περσεφάσσα) and Persephatta (Περσεφάττα). In Latin, her name is rendered Proserpina. She was identified by the Romans as the Italic goddess Libera, who was conflated with Proserpina. Myths similar to Persephone's descent and return to earth also appear in the cults of male gods including Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.


DSC00426 - Statua cineraria etrusca - Proserpina-defunta con melagrana- Foto G. Dall'Orto
Persephone or "the deceased woman" holding a pomegranate. Etruscan terracotta cinerary statue. National archaeological museum in Palermo, Italy

In a Linear B Mycenaean Greek inscription on a tablet found at Pylos dated 1400–1200 BC, John Chadwick reconstructed the name of a goddess, *Preswa who could be identified with Perse, daughter of Oceanus and found speculative the further identification with the first element of Persephone. Persephonē (Greek: Περσεφόνη) is her name in the Ionic Greek of epic literature. The Homeric form of her name is Persephoneia (Περσεφονεία, Persephoneia). In other dialects, she was known under variant names: Persephassa (Περσεφάσσα), Persephatta (Περσεφάττα), or simply Korē (Κόρη, "girl, maiden"). On 5th century Attic vases one often encounters the form (Φερρϖφάττα) Plato calls her Pherepapha (Φερέπαφα) in his Cratylus, "because she is wise and touches that which is in motion". There are also the forms Periphona (Πηριφόνα) and Phersephassa (Φερσέφασσα). The existence of so many different forms shows how difficult it was for the Greeks to pronounce the word in their own language and suggests that the name may have a Pre-Greek origin.

The etymology of the word 'Persephone' is obscure. According to a recent hypothesis advanced by Rudolf Wachter [de], the first element in the name (Perso- (Περσο-) may well reflect a very rare term, attested in the Rig Veda (Sanskrit parṣa-), and the Avesta, meaning 'sheaf of corn'/'ear (of grain)'. The second constituent, phatta, preserved in the form Persephatta (Περσεφάττα), would in this view reflect Proto-Indo European *-gʷn-t-ih, from the root *gʷʰen- "to strike/beat/kill". The combined sense would therefore be "she who beats the ears of corn", i.e., a "thresher of grain".

A popular folk etymology is from φέρειν φόνον, pherein phonon, "to bring (or cause) death".

Titles and functions

The epithets of Persephone reveal her double function as chthonic (underworld) and vegetation goddess. The surnames given to her by the poets refer to her character as Queen of the lower world and the dead, or her symbolic meaning of the power that shoots forth and withdraws into the earth. Her common name as a vegetation goddess is Kore, and in Arcadia she was worshipped under the title Despoina, "the mistress", a very old chthonic divinity. Günther Zuntz, treating "Persephone" and "Kore" as distinct deities wrote that "no farmer prayed for corn to Persephone; no mourner thought of the dead as being with Kore." Ancient Greek writers, however, were not as consistent as Zuntz's hypothesis would have them seem.

Goddess of Spring and Nature

Plutarch writes that Persephone was identified with a spring season and Cicero calls her the seed of the fruits of the fields. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, her return from the underworld each spring is a symbol of immortality, and hence she was frequently represented on sarcophagi.

In the religions of the Orphics and the Platonists, Kore is described as the all-pervading goddess of nature who both produces and destroys everything, and she is therefore mentioned along with or identified as other such divinities including Isis, Rhea, Ge, Hestia, Pandora, Artemis, and Hecate. In Orphic tradition, Persephone is said to be the daughter of Zeus and his mother Rhea, rather than of Demeter. The Orphic Persephone is said to have become by Zeus the mother of Dionysus, Iacchus, Zagreus, and the little-attested Melinoe.

Goddess of the Underworld

Throning goddess (Persephone) 480-460 BC (Sk 1761) 1
Seated goddess, probably Persephone on her throne in the underworld, Severe style c. 480–460 BC, found at Tarentum, Magna Graecia (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)

In mythology and literature she is often called dread(ed) Persephone, and queen of the Underworld, within which tradition it was forbidden to speak her name. This tradition comes from her conflation with the very old chthonic divinity Despoina ("[the] mistress"), whose real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated into her mysteries. As goddess of death, she was also called a daughter of Zeus and Styx, the river that formed the boundary between Earth and the underworld. In Homer's epics, she appears always together with Hades and the Underworld, apparently sharing with Hades control over the dead. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus encounters the "dread Persephone" in Tartarus when he visits his dead mother. Odysseus sacrifices a ram to the chthonic goddess Persephone and the ghosts of the dead who drink the blood of the sacrificed animal. In the reformulation of Greek mythology expressed in the Orphic Hymns, Dionysus and Melinoe are separately called children of Zeus and Persephone. Groves sacred to her stood at the western extremity of the earth on the frontiers of the lower world, which itself was called "house of Persephone".

Her central myth served as the context for the secret rites of regeneration at Eleusis, which promised immortality to initiates.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Perséfone para niños

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