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Persephone, Demeter, and Hades

In a Nutshell

Cheating spouses. Shape-shifting gods. Girls marrying their uncles. As you know, Greek myths are crammed full of drama, and the story of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades is no different. Persephone is the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of agriculture. One day Persephone is minding her own business frolicking and picking flowers, when her Uncle Hades, god of the underworld, kidnaps her and drags her to the land of the dead to be his wife. Demeter is so mad when she finds out what happened that she won't allow anything on earth to grow. From there, the conflict escalates. (We're not going to spoil the story for you here.) This story makes even Lifetime movies look like light dramas.

But, dear 21st century Shmooper, drama aside, we think it's hard to really understand the story of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades without embarking on a time-traveling adventure. That's because this myth isn't just a story of a girl being forced to marry her uncle (gross), but also about how the ancient Greeks explained the changing of the seasons. So, grab a snack, strap on your seatbelt, and turn your Shmoop Time Machine to the "Ancient" setting, which is located somewhere in between the "Dark Ages" and "Dinosaurs."

Done? Good.

Now you need to get yourself into the right mind frame to fit in with the ancients:

Step 1: Remember how you've been told to forget that Pluto was ever considered a planet? Now you need to forget that the earth orbits the sun.

Step 2: The earth is not round. Let that sink in for a minute, and be careful when sailing around the seas; you might fall off this flat planet.

Step 3: Get in touch with your inner farmer. There are no grocery stores, so you'll have to grow your own food.

Step 4: Repeat after us: "I do not need to bathe every day. I do not need to bathe every day."

Good job, ancient Shmooper. Now tell us, where do the seasons come from? Why does it get cold in the winter? Why don't your crops of wheat and olives and lentils grow in the winter? (Uh, uh, uh – no bogus stories about the tilt of the planet and the orbit of the earth around the sun. The earth is flat and it does not move.) Can you create a story that explains the seasons?

The ancient Greeks were pretty darn creative and they made up a story: the myth of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades. A story that explains the origin of something (like natural events, names, traditions, or plants and animals) is called an etiological myth or origin myth, and the ancient Greeks had plenty of those. (Check out the stories of "Apollo and Daphne" and "Venus and Adonis" for other examples.)

Now that that's all squared away, you're ready to learn about how the family drama of the gods causes the seasons. Explore around, but be sure to return your brain to the 21st century before science class.


Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

  • Percy Jackson meets Hades in The Lightning Thief. Persephone pops up more in later Percy Jackson books, but she isn't so friendly. Also read about Percy's trip to the underworld here.
  • The story of Persephone and Hades is considered the original "death and the maiden" story. Writer Joyce Carol Oates was inspired by "death and the maiden" type tales while writing her story "Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?."
  • Demeter (Ceres) shows up looking for Persephone in Shakespeare's The Tempest.
  • In Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death," a girl gets carted away by Death, just like Persephone does. However, Dickinson's Death is a gentleman, while Hades? Not so much.

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