Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Rape of Persephone, Part 3

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve established that the “Rape of Persephone” refers to abduction rather than sexual assault. However, Persephone’s myth often speaks to those who have experienced sexual assault. So it makes sense that some see it as assault.

Rape by modern definition or ancient definition aside, Hades still abducted her and held her in the Underworld. How long was she there before Zeus sent Hermes to retrieve her?

It must have been quite some time, at least by human standards. Zeus only made his decision because he was no longer receiving offerings at his altars and temples because so many of the humans had died due to the blight Demeter had caused. It would probably take a few years for enough people to starve to death that no one was honoring the Gods. Or the equivalent of years, because supposedly there were not seasons before this myth.

And what are years to an immortal being? How long does it take for an immortal to grow from an infant to an adolescent to an adult? We don’t hear much about the childhood of the different Gods. Zeus was raised in secret, with no indication of how long it took. Athena sprang fully formed from Zeus’s forehead; Artemis helped deliver her twin brother after she was born; Hermes stole Apollo’s cattle when he was just an infant.

What may take years for mortals, may seem like mere minutes to a God or Goddess. We really don’t know. Would it have been enough time for Persephone to develop an attachment to her captor? Would it even have been enough time to realize that she was a captive? Probably, actually.

Demeter goes through quite a lot in between Persephone’s disappearance and her return. She grieves. She blights the earth. She wanders for nine days before learning what happened to her daughter. Once told, Homer merely says she wandered “a long time” before settling in Eleusis, where she became nursemaid to Queen Metaneira’s son Demophoon.

Persephone therefore spend at least a few weeks in Erebos, if not closer to a couple of years. There definitely would have been time to realize that she was not free to leave, whether because of Hades himself or the rules of the Underworld. Or perhaps simply because she didn’t have a guide to get out. (“One does not simply walk out of Erebos…”)

Homer doesn’t tell us what happens, other than through what Persephone tells Demeter upon her return, which still isn’t much. She tells of Hermes arrival, and Hades giving her the pomegranate seed, and then of her abduction. No romance, and no tales of torture. No horror stories of how badly she was treated, and no protesting of how wonderful or kind or misunderstood her captor might be.

Generally speaking, Stockholm syndrome consists of “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”

Mackenzie, Ian K. “The Stockholm Syndrome Revisited: Hostages, Relationships, Prediction, Control, and Psychological Science”. Journal For Police Crisis Negotiations. 4: 5–21 – via Wikipedia.

There is no textual evidence that Hades harassed, beat, threatened, or abused Persephone. Intimidated? Maybe. I’d be pretty intimidated if the Dark Lord abducted me! If he were an abusive partner, though, I doubt he would encourage her to go back to her mother, and promise her great honor by ruling at his side.

To me, Hades seems like a very lonely God, who only wanted someone with whom to share his rule. His actions were misguided by our modern standards, but not out of line for the laws of the time.

Next week I’ll talk more about Persephone’s coming of age, and how that plays into the myth.

Blessings,

Mary

The Rape of Persephone, Part 2

I have long comforted myself by saying the definition of rape was different for the ancients. As we found last week, it simply meant abduction, or kidnapping.

The Rape of Persephone (Enlèvement de Proserpine d'après) by Creator: Alessandro Allori [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Rape of Persephone (Enlèvement de Proserpine d’après) by Creator: Alessandro Allori [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, Greek mythology is no stranger to our modern definition of rape. You could say that Zeus’s exploits are the antithesis of consent. There is no shortage of jokes about Zeus not being able to “keep it in his pants”, or chiton, if you will. Pan, Poseidon and Apollo might also be accused similarly. However, there aren’t many myths about Hades forcing himself on whatever female he happens to find attractive in that moment. (Though one could say he just doesn’t get out much, and you wouldn’t be wrong.)

I believe that an important part of understanding myth is understanding the culture and circumstances at the time. Essentially, we cannot judge myths from our place of modern morality. Baring the Aegis has a fantastic article breaking down the understanding of rape in ancient Greek culture:

We tend to equate ‘rape’ with the absence of love and mutual consent, but in ancient Hellas, marriage itself was an agreement between men about a woman. Rape in ancient Hellas was therefor not tied to the approval of the woman–any sexual act on her part was performed without love and consent anyway–but to the approval of the men surrounding her.

…Ancient sources also tell us that men were only punishable for sexual assault or rape if they raped a woman–or possibly a man–above their own rank. No one was punished for raping a slave, for example, and the practice was common.

So then, what of Gods? It stands to reason that hierarchical rules also apply here, as myths are formed by the men who tell them. Who is higher in rank than a God? And, above all, who is higher in rank than Zeus? If Zeus desires a woman, He is free to take her under ancient Hellenic law. It also stands to reason that a God lower in standing, say Apollon, would be punished severely for raping a Goddess above his standing. If Zeus had not claimed Hera, and He [Apollon] had laid claim to Her, I am sure He would have been unsuccessful, and perhaps would even have been punished.

~Elani Temperance, “Rape in ancient Hellas and Hellenic mythology”, Baring the Aegis

Looking at the myth in this context, there was definitely no rape involved. Hades and Zeus made a contract. Persephone was exchanged from Father to Husband as part of that contract. Hades was definitely above Persephone in the hierarchy, so he wouldn’t even have needed to ask for Zeus’s permission to marry her. And yet he did ask permission.

Asking permission for marriage isn’t something we often associate with rape. Granted, there are cases of domestic violence that start out innocent enough. Yet, when Hermes comes to Hades relaying Zeus’s order that Persephone be returned to her mother, Hades states:

“Persephone, go to your dark-robed mother,
with a gentle spirit and temper in your breast,
and in no way be more dispirited than the other gods.
I shall not be an unfitting husband among the immortals,
as I am father Zeus’ own brother. When you are here
you shall be mistress of everything which lives and moves;
your honors among the immortals shall be the greatest,
and those who wrong you shall always be punished,
if they do not propitiate your spirit with sacrifices,
performing sacred rites and making due offerings.”

~Apostolos N. Athanassakis, The Homeric Hymns, 1976 The John Hopkins University Press

“I shall not be an unfitting husband…” implies that he has not yet consummated the marriage. A few lines earlier, “He [Hermes] found the lord inside his dwelling, sitting on his bed with his revered spouse; she was in many ways reluctant and missed her mother, who far from the works of the blessed gods was devising a plan.” Again, nothing here says Hades has forced himself on Persephone.

Next week I’ll look at the argument of Stockholm Syndrome. Until then,

Blessings,

Mary