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The Return of Persephone

Return of Persephone painting by Leighton

The Return of Persephone, 1891, by Leighton: Demeter welcomes her daughter, guided by Hermes carrying his caduceus in his right hand, back from Hades.


Persephone’s abduction myth is complex and needs some background to be appreciated. Before the time men planted seeds and tended to plants Persephone lived apart from the other gods within Nature (that is, her mother Demeter) herself. Although both Hermes and Apollo had sought Persephone’s favor, Demeter spurned their gifts and concealed her daughter from the gods on Olympus. According to Homer, Zeus gave his brother Pluto, enamored with Persephone, permission to abduct her. So while with the Oceanids, Artemis, and Athena gathering flowers, the earth (Demeter) itself split open and Pluto burst through the fissure, taking Persephone back down to hell with him. While she was there Pluto tricked Persephone into eating three or six (tales differ) pomegranate seeds while she was in Hell. And for each one she ate she had to remain in Hell as Hades' queen one month out of every year.

When she discovered that her daughter was gone, Demeter searched the entire earth (ironically, she IS the earth) for her, forbidding it to reproduce while her daughter was gone—or in other versions, neglecting the earth in her despair. But the Sun sees all that is, so finally Helios the Sun god told Demeter what had transpired. Eventually Zeus had to listen to the cries of the starving mortals and the gods they were crying to, and compelled Hades to let Persephone go.

Pluto’s Greek names were Pluton (Πλούτων, Ploutōn) and Hades, the latter also being the name of his underworld kingdom itself. But there was also a Greek god of wealth Ploutos (Πλούτος), perhaps similarly named because mineral wealth is found beneath the earth and because Pluto was king over the deep earth that holds the seeds for a good harvest. Now as Persephone’s husband the Lord of the Dead could also lay claim to being Lord of fertility.

This Return of Persephone page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.


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