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Demeter's Lost Daughter

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The Olympians

The twelve most important gods and goddesses of ancient Greece were know as The Olympians. They all lived together in a large palace, set well above the usual level of clouds at the top of Mt Olmpus. They were a quarrelsome bunch and were usually too busy fighting amongst themselves to take much notice of mortal affairs.

After desposing of their father, Cronus, the three brothers threw dice to divide his empire. Zeus, the youngest, as the winner, got first choice and he chose the sky as his kingdom. Poseidon chose the sea, he had always wanted it, thinking it was the best place for adventures and secrets. Finally Hades, always the unlucky one, had to take the underworld.


Demeter's Lost Daughter

Hades, the gloomy God of Death, was forbidden to visit Olympus, but lived in a dark palace under the earth. He met his brother Zeus one day in Greece and confessed that he had fallen in love with Zeus' niece Persephone, Demeter's daughter. Hades asked Zeus for permission to wed her.

Now Zeus did not want to offend Hades by telling him what a horrible idea it was nor could he afford to offend Demeter by granting permission. So he avoided a direct answer by giving Hades a wink instead.

Hades took this as a yes and went to Colonus near Athens, where Persephone had strayed away from her friends while picking wildflowers. Although Persephone screamed for help, when her friends arrived she was gone without a trace.

Demeter was very worried about her daughter and disguised herself as an old woman and wandered through Greece searching for her. She traveled for nine days without food or water and nobody could give her any news. Finally, she headed back towards Athens stopping at a kindly King and Queen's castle for a drink. The eldest prince, Triptolemus, gave her the sad news. While his brother Eubuleus was working in the fields he heard the thunder of hooves and saw a chariot rush past. In it were a dark faced king wearing black armour, and a frightened girl who looked like Persephone. Then the earth opened before his eyes and down the chariot rushed and the earth closed over it again.

Demeter guessed that the dark faced king must have been Hades. And thought that Zeus must have plotted it. She swore revenge on him. Instead of returning to Olympus, she wandered Greece, forbidding the trees to bear fruit, or her grass to grow for the cattle to eat. Zeus knew if this went on much longer, mankind would surely die of hunger. So Zeus made Hera send her messenger Iris down the rainbow with a message to Demeter: "Please be sensible, dear Sister, and let things grow again!" When Demeter took no notice, Zeus sent Poseidon, and Hestia, and Hera herself, to offer her wonderful presents. But Demeter refused it all saying that she wanted only her daughters return.

Then Zeus sent Hermes to tell Hades, "Unless you let that girl go home, Brother, we shall all be ruined." He also sent Demeter a message saying "You may have Persephone back, so long as she has not yet tasted the Food of the Dead." In the meantime, Persephone after the first few days of haste and brutality and strangeness began to enjoy herself. Hades began to treat her very gently and with great kindness. He gave her rubies and diamonds to play jacks with and had dresses spun for her of gold and silver thread. But she made herself very difficult to please. She would toss her head, stamp her foot and refuse to speak to him except to say that she would never forgive him and that she wanted to go home to her mother. Then Hades would go and get her another gift. Secretly though she was beginning to enjoy the change. She did miss the sunshine and the flowers but there was much to amuse her.

Since Persephone had refushed to eat even a crust of bread, Hades could hardly pretend that she had run off with him willingly. Deciding to obey Zeus, he called Persephone and told her that since she was so unhappy maybe she should go home. One of Hades gardners spoke up and said that he had seen her just that morning pick a pomegranate from the underground orchard. Hades smiled to himself at the news. Taking Persephone, he returned her to Demeter, telling her that since Persephone had eaten seven red pomegranate seeds she would have to return to Tartarus again.

Demeter swore that if Persephone went, that she would never lift the curse from the earth and would let all men and animals die. In the end Zeus sent Rhea (who was Demeter's mother and his own) to plead with her. Finally a bargain was struck. Persephone would marry Hades and would spend six months (one for each pomegranate seed eaten) of each year in Tartarus, and the rest above ground. Persephone said "Never mind mother, don't cry. We must be happy for the time that I am here." But Demeter grieved. She grieved deep in her mother's heart. She decided that if she suffered then so would all suffer. For the months that Persephone spent with Hades, no grass would grow, no flowers bloom, no trees would bear fruit, there would be desolation everywhere.

That is why summer and winter are the way they are. That is why there is a time for planting and a time when the earth must sleep under frost.


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