I have to admit that I’m not great at Ancient Greek tales. I’ve never really read them before or heard/learned about them. I even pronounced Persephone incorrectly once, swiftly corrected by my sister and fellow blogger, Beth. It was good to read this short story in the collection! This particular retelling is from A Year Full Of Stories so if there are some differences there to the version you know, then that’s why!
It centres around Mighty Zeus who was the King of Gods. He lived at the top of mountain Olympius. He watched over all the Gods and Goddesses and the lives of the people below the mountain. His brother, Hades, was the King of the Underworld. He was the God of the deep earth and everything in it.
Zeus and Hades had a sister named Demeter, who gave life to plants and trees. She was the Goddess of the Harvest. Hades felt lonely in his silent kingdom. He went to ask Zeus how to find a wife. Zeus told him that Demeter had a beautiful daughter called Persephone who would be perfect, but she would have to be stolen away from her mother. Let me get this straight? Zeus encouraged Hades to steal their niece?
Hades watched Persephone and fell in love with her. He waited until she was picking flowers alone and commanded the earth to split open. He leapt into his chariot and swept Persephone down into the Underworld.
Demeter searched for her daughter but couldn’t find her. Meanwhile, Hades was trying to win Persephone’s heart, but all she wanted was to be reunited with her mother. Demeter lost all of her joy without her daughter and the plants began to fail. Zeus noticed that the poeple of the world would be hungry. He sent his messenger, Hermes down to Hades and asked him to let Persephone return to his mother. Hades didn’t want to disobey his brother. Before Persephone left he offered her a scarlet pomegranate. She felt sorry for him living alone. Before Hermes could stop her, she ate four pomegranate seeds. Hermes explained that anyone who eats in the Underworld must stay there.
Persephone was happy to be reunited with her mother, but had to tell her about the pomegranate seeds. Demeter tried to plead with Zeus. He could offer her a compromise. He told her that for each seed that Persephone ate in the Underworld, she should spend one month with Hades who loved her. For the rest of the year, she would return to her mother.
Each year, in the Spring and the Summer, Demeter and Persephone are reunited, bringing life and growth to the plants. In the Autumn, Persephone returns to the Underworld. Demeter mourns for her daughter and the leaves fall, die and the Earth is cold and bare.
An extract from A Year Full of Stories, by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Christopher Corr (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2016)