The Rape of Persephone, Part 1

Persephone’s mythology centers around her abduction, or rape, by Hades. But was she raped in the way we understand rape today? To understand Persephone, I need to understand this myth. I’ve studied the myth from Demeter’s perspective, and now I need to look at it more from the daughter’s perspective.

Bernini ProserpinaPersephone, or Kore as she was originally known, was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Kore means “the maiden”, just like Demeter means “the mother”. Kore was Demeter’s whole world. She raised Kore mainly on Earth, away from Olympus, and away from Zeus. Demeter was a doting mother, providing for all of Kore’s needs, as well as providing for the needs of all the humans on Earth, as Goddess of the Grain.

One day, Hades spied Kore, and fell in love, some say because Eros shot him with one of his arrows. Regardless, Hades went to Zeus and asked his permission to marry his daughter. Zeus agreed, and Gaia conspired with her grandsons to create a narcissus to lure Kore away from her playmates, or her mother. When Kore plucked the narcissus, Hades plucked Kore from the Earth, and carried her down to the Erebos, the Underworld.

Demeter felt her daughter’s absence, but did not know where Kore had gone. In her grief, she blighted the Earth; no crops would grow. The humans began to starve and die, which meant less offerings for the Gods.

Here, the myths focus mainly on Demeter and what happened on the Earth. We do not know what occurs between Hades and Persephone until Zeus commands that Kore be returned to her mother (so the Earth will grow once more and he can have offerings in his temples again).

Upon Persephone’s return to her mother, we learn that Persephone has eaten some pomegranate seeds. The number varies from author to author, and whether Hades tricked her, or she ate them willingly is also open to interpretation. The outcome of it is that Persephone is bound to Erebos, and to Hades, for part of the year. The other part of the year, she spends on earth with her mother.

So that’s the summary of the myth. What do the ancient authors have to say about the actual ‘rape’?

According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, “Plouton (Pluto) [Haides] fell in love with Persephone, and with Zeus’ help secretly kidnapped her.” According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, “[Demeter’s] trim-ankled daughter whom Aidoneus [Haides] rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer.” And according to the Orphic Hymn 18, “[Haides] with Demeter’s girl [Persephone] captive, through grassy plains, drawn in a four-yoked car with loosened reins, rapt over the deep, impelled by love, you flew till Eleusinia’s city rose to view: there, in a wondrous cave obscure and deep, the sacred maid secure from search you keep, the cave of Atthis, whose wide gates display an entrance to the kingdoms void of day.” (all quotes from

The common word is rapt. Not raped. Rapt. The word rapt is from the Latin raptus, past participle of rapere “seize, carry off”. We see here also reference to the word rape, because it comes from the same root. “Meaning “act of abducting a woman or sexually violating her or both” is from early 15c., but perhaps late 13c. in Anglo-Latin.”

The modern meaning of the word didn’t come about until much, much later. Next week I will explore more about the ancients’ concept of rape, and how this applies to my understanding of the myth.



PS. I’m going to change my blog posting day to Tuesday. In the past, I have written on Sundays, and published on Mondays. As we roll once again into rehearsal schedule, I will not be able to write on Sundays. So, write on Mondays and publish on Tuesdays!

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