Zeus decides it's a good idea to give his daughter, Persephone (or Proserpina), goddess of spring, as a bride to his brother Hades (or Pluto), god of the underworld. The king of the gods doesn't bother to tell Persephone or her mother, Demeter (or Ceres), goddess of agriculture, of his decision.
(In some versions of this story, Cupid hits Hades with a love arrow and makes Hades fall for Persephone.)
One day, Persephone is picking flowers with some nymph friends of hers when, all of a sudden, Hades bursts out of the ground, driving a chariot of black horses.
He grabs Persephone and starts dragging her down to the underworld.
The girl screams for help.
Hecate, goddess of witchcraft, and Helios, god of the sun, hear Persephone's cries.
Her mother, Demeter, also hears her screams, but she's too far away to do anything about it.
Demeter is terrified when she hears her daughter's scream. She asks all around, but nobody can tell her what happened.
Demeter wanders all over the earth with torches in her hands looking for Persephone.
The goddess is so upset that she doesn't eat or bathe while she's searching.
Eventually, Hecate shows up and tells Demeter that she heard the scream too, but that she doesn't know what happened either.
Demeter decides to go ask Helios, the sun god, since he's up in the sky all day and sees pretty much everything.
Helios ends up telling Demeter the whole deal – Zeus gave Persephone to Hades and Hades hauled her down to the underworld.
The sun god tries to cheer Demeter up by pointing out that Hades is a good husband for her daughter; after all he's a pretty important and powerful god.
Demeter doesn't buy it.
She is even sadder than she was before, and she's furious with Zeus.
Demeter vows that she won't set foot on Mount Olympus and that she won't let anything grow on earth until she sets eyes on her daughter again.
A terrible famine assaults the earth, and people are starving everywhere.
Seeing this, Zeus sends Hermes, the messenger god, down to the underworld to order Hades to let Persephone go.
Hades agrees, but, before Persephone goes, he secretly slips some pomegranate seeds into her mouth.
(Note: the number of seeds varies from myth to myth.)
Hermes and Persephone then fly out of the land of the dead in Hermes's chariot.
Demeter is super happy to see her daughter again, but upon seeing her, she immediately asks Persephone if she ate anything while in the underworld.
It turns out that, if you eat something while you're down there, you have to stay there forever.
Persephone tells her mom how Hades tricked her into eating the pomegranate seeds.
Demeter is totally ticked off and says that nothing will grow on earth ever again.
Just then, Hecate shows up and consoles Persephone and Demeter; from that point on Hecate is Persephone's BFF.
Zeus sends his mother, Rhea, down to broker a deal with Demeter.
It's decided that Persephone only has to spend part of the year with Hades in the underworld.
(Note: the number of months is different in various myths, and sometimes it relates to the number of pomegranate seeds that Persephone eats.)
Demeter reluctantly agrees with this, but says that when Persephone is in the underworld, nothing on earth will grow.
And that, dear Shmoopers, is where the seasons come from.