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Hades in Greek Mythology: Persephone

After your first couple runs in Hades, you are treated to the game’s central mystery: who is Persephone? What’s her story? Over the course of many, many, many escape attempts, Hades slowly treats you to the answers. And while the game certainly added its own flourishes (and omissions) to Persephone’s story, the Persephone of Greek mythology is still surrounded by undeniably dramatic situations.

Hades in Greek Mythology: Persephone 5

Be warned, though, that this particular installation in this series holds major spoilers for Hades. And I do mean for all of the game, even post-credits.

The basic tenets of Persephone remain consistent between both Greek mythology and her portrayal in Hades. She’s Demeter’s daughter and the wife of Hades, therefore Queen of the Underworld. 

In typical incestuous Greek mythological fashion, her father in mythology is Zeus, which means she undeniably marries her uncle. In Hades, Persephone’s father was a mortal – thereby explaining why her son, Zagreus, gets his mortal propensity for bleeding and dying. However, considering that Demeter is canonically Zeus’s half-sister (as in mythology), Persephone still technically married her half-uncle in the game.

Similar to Hades, before she was abducted, Persephone was known as Kore, which simply translates to “the maiden.” In mythology, Kore is often still the preferred name to describe Persephone when she’s fulfilling her role as Demeter’s daughter, fertilizing the ground for crops to grow in the spring. She’s one of the few gods to serve dual purposes, after all.

Persephone is known as the Goddess of Vegetation and/or Spring and/or Fertility (this is consistent with her characterization as the Goddess of Verdure in Hades). As such, the mythological story of Persephone’s descent into the underworld is used to describe why the world has seasons.

Roman-era statue of Persephone, courtesy of the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion

Therefore, this myth made Persephone kind of a big deal – she was quite popular, and her central myth was rather infamous. There’s even a Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which details this myth. But here’s the gist:

One day, as Kore was gathering flowers in a meadow with her buddies, she strayed away from the group, lured by a particularly breathtaking narcissus (the flower, not the guy). As Kore went to pluck it, the ground opened up beneath her and revealed Hades in his horse-drawn chariot. Hades snatched Kore and abducted her, bringing her to the Underworld because he had decided he wanted to marry Demeter’s only daughter.

There are versions of this myth where, just as in the game, Zeus gave Hades the go-ahead to abduct Kore. However, in the game, Zeus does so because he notices that Kore is miserable on Olympus and finds her mother overbearing. Er, probably. 

But there’s no such charitable interpretation possible for Zeus in mythology – especially since Kore’s abduction by Hades is typically told with the air of a tragic event. Even though mythology-Kore was probably more content on Olympus than Hades-Kore – there are versions of the story where Kore cries for days and nights on end after entering the Underworld – mythology-Demeter is still insanely overbearing: she’s obsessed with her and won’t let any suitors near her daughter.

Obviously, when Demeter found out her daughter was missing, she was not pleased. In Hades, Demeter is the goddess of seasons and punishes mortals for her missing daughter with endless winter (remember, Persephone’s father is mortal in the game). But in mythology, Demeter is the goddess of agriculture, and she becomes so distraught over her missing daughter that she simply neglects her duties. No crops grow, and people starve.

Hades abducting Persephone, except this is called “Rape of Persephone” – and is not the only piece with that title. This one’s circa 340. Courtesy of Antikensammlung Berlin.

Now, here’s where things start to really differ. In mythology, Zeus notices that Demeter is depressed and sends Hermes to Hades to go fetch Kore, now Persephone. (In Hades, Persephone re-names herself because she detests the name Kore.) Hermes succeeds in reuniting Persephone with her mother, but there’s a problem: Persephone had eaten a single pomegranate seed before leaving the Underworld. According to some bizarre ancient law, this meant that Persephone was now bound to the Underworld.

Zeus comes up with a compromise: Persephone can spend two-thirds of the year with her mother on Mount Olympus, which coincides with spring and summer. However, just like the pomegranate itself, Persephone must then spend one-third of the year in the Underworld, with her husband. Demeter’s sadness then brings about the dark, cold winter. And so, the seasons were created.

Obviously, in Hades, the solution is quite different, largely because Persephone is not Zagreus’s mother in mythology. (Also because Persephone and Hades do come to love each other.) The Hades lore about Persephone fleeing after Zagreus is delivered stillborn and creating a safe haven for herself between Olympus and the Underworld, is all original to the game. Hades keeps Zagreus’s existence a secret to protect Persephone from being discovered by Olympus.

Persephone and Hades, from the National Museum of Magna Graecia

When Persephone does reveal herself to Olympus – we’re talking hours of post-credits gaming here – she makes up an interesting white lie. She tells her relatives that, because she ate a pomegranate seed from the Underworld, she’s now bound to the Underworld and cannot leave for long periods of time. Zagreus thinks this is absurd, but the Olympians buy the story. For some reason.

Interestingly, not only is the Persephone of Greek mythology just as influential upon the Underworld as the Persephone of Hades, she’s also just as kind and understanding. In many versions of these myths, it’s Persephone who allows Orpheus to leave with Eurydice, Persephone who allows Sisyphus to rejoin his wife. 

There’s also a myth where Pirithous, a famous king, tries to abduct Persephone with the help of his best bud, Theseus. They fail miserably and are caught by the Furies.

And so goes the lore behind Persephone, the central figure of intrigue in Hades. Who will we choose next? Will there be three weeks between installations of this series again? Check back in to find out!

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