PERSEPHONE GODDESS OF
PERSEPHONE was the queen of the underworld and the goddess of spring growth.
This page contains descriptions of her various divine functions, her sacred plants and animals, and a list of titles and epithets.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
HYMNS TO PERSEPHONE
I. HOMERIC HYMNS
Homeric Hymn 13 to Demeter (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess, of her and of her daughter lovely Persephone."
II. ORPHIC HYMNS
Orphic Hymn 29 to Persephone (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Hymn to Phersephone. Daughter of Zeus, Persephone divine, come, blessed queen, and to these rites incline: only-befotten, Plouton's [Haides'] honoured wife, O venerable Goddess, source of life: 'tis thine in earth's profundities to dwell, fast by the wide and dismal gates of hell. Zeus' holy offspring, of a beauteous mien, Praxidike (Avenging-Goddess), subterranean queen. The Eumenides' [Erinyes'] source, fair-haired, whose frame proceeds from Zeus' ineffable and secret seeds. Mother of Eubouleos [Dionysos-Zagreos], sonorous, divine, and many-formed, the parent of the vine. Associate of the Horai (Seasons), essence bright, all-ruling virgin, bearing heavenly light. With fruits abounding, of a bounteous mind, horned, and alone desired by those of mortal kind. O vernal queen, whom grassy plains delight, sweet to the smell, and pleasing to the sight : whose holy form in budding fruits we view, earth's vigorous offspring of a various hue : espoused in autumn, life and death alone to wretched mortals from thy power is known : for thine the task , according to thy will, life to produce, and all that lives to kill. Hear, blessed Goddess, send a rich increase of various fruits from earth, with lovely peace : send health with gentle hand, and crown my life with blest abundance, free from noisy strife; last in extreme old age the prey of death, dismiss me willing to the realms beneath, to thy fair palace and the blissful plains where happy spirits dwell, and Plouton [Haides] reigns."
III. LYRIC POET HYMNS
Stesichorus, Fragment 702 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) ( 6th B.C.) :
"I sing of Demeter and Kore (Core, the Maiden), wife of Klymenos (Clymenus, the Famous One)." [N.B. Kore and Klymenos are euphemistic titles for Persephone and Haides.]
Bacchylides, Fragment 3 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric IV) (C5th B.C.) :
"Sing of Demeter, ruler of corn-rich Sikelia (Sicily), and of the violet-garlanded Koure (Core) [Persephone]."
Greek Lyric V Scolia, Fragment 885 (trans. Campbell) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"I sing of the mother of Ploutos (Plutus, Wealth), Demeter Olympia, in the garland-wearing season, and of you, Persephone, child of Zeus: greetings, both! Tend the city well."
PERSEPHONE QUEEN OF THE UNDERWORLD
Persephone was the queen of the land of the dead. This section contains general references to this role. More specific aspects are detailed in the sections which follow.
Hesiod, Theogony 767 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"There, in front [of the ends of the earth], stand the echoing halls of the god of the lower-world, strong Haides, and of awful Persephone. A fearful hound [Kerberos (Cerberus)] guards the house in front . . . keeps watch and devours whomsoever he catches going out of the gates of strong Haides and awful Persephone."
Pindar, Olympian Ode 14. 21 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Then let Ekho (Echo) speed to Persephone's dark-walled dwelling, to his [deceased] father Kleodemos bearing the glorious tidings."
Pindar, Isthmian Ode 8. 56 ff :
"For these Akhilleus' (Achilles') hand pointed the way down to Persephone's abode [i.e. he killed them]."
Sappho, Fragment 158D (from Palatine Anthology) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (C6th B.C.) :
"She died before her marriage and was received by the dark chamber of Persephone."
Lasus, Fragment 702 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C6th B.C.) :
"Sing of Demeter and Kore (Core, the Maiden), wife of Klymenos (the Famous One)." [N.B. Kore and Klymenos are euphemistic titles for Persephone and Haides.]
Theognis, Fragment 1. 703 ff (trans. Gerber, Vol. Greek Elegiac) (Greek elegy C6th B.C.) :
"Persephone who impairs the mind of mortals and brings them forgetfulness. No one else has ever contrived this, once death's dark cloud has enveloped him and he has come to the shadowy place of the dead and passed the black gates which hold back the souls of the dead, for all their protestations."
Theognis, Fragment 1. 973 ff :
"No man, once the earth has covered him and he has gone down into the darkness, the home of Persephone, has the pleasure of listening to the lure or piper or of raising to his lips the gift of Dionysos [i.e. wine]."
Aesop, Fables 133 (from Chambry 133 & Babrius 75) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"The Incompetent Doctor . . . The patient said [to the incompetent doctor], 'They [the shades of Haides] are taking it easy, drinking the water of Lethe. But Persephone and the mighty god Plouton [Haides] were just now threatening terrible things against all the doctors, since they keep the sick people from dying. Every single doctor was denounced, and they were ready to put you at the top of the list. This scared me, so I immediately stepped forward and grasped their royal sceptres as I solemnly swore that this was simply a ridiculous accusation, since you are not really a doctor at all."
Plato, Cratylus 400d & 404b (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods :]
Sokrates : Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . Pherephatta [Persephone]!--How many people fear this name, and also Apollon! I imagine it is because they do not know about correctness of names. You see they change the name to Phersephone and its aspect frightens them. But really the name indicates that the goddess is wise;for since things are in motion (pheromena), that which grasps (ephaptomenon) and touches (epaphôn) and is able to follow them is wisdom. Pherepapha, or something of that sort, would therefore be the correct name of the goddess, because she is wise and touches that which is in motion (epaphê tou pheromenou)--and this is the reason why Haides, who is wise, consorts with her, because she is wise--but people have altered her name, attaching more importance to euphony than to truth, and they call her Pherephatta."
Plato, Republic 427b (trans. Shorey) :
"The burial of the dead and the services we must render to the dwellers in the world beyond to keep them gracious." [N.B. "Dwellers in the world beyond" are the gods of the dead and the shades of men.]
Callimachus, Fragment 478 (from Etymologicum Florentine s.v. Klymenos) (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"[Persephone] the spouse of Klymenos (the Famous One) [i.e. Haides], host of many (polyzeinos)."
Lycophron, Alexandra 44 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"She [Skylla] who feared not Leptynis [i.e. Persephone], goddess of the underworld." [N.B. Skylla was slain by Herakles but restored to life by her father Phorkys.]
Orphic Hymn 57 to Chthonian Hermes (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"[Hermes] who constant wanderest through the sacred seats where Haides' dread empress, Persephone, retreats; to wretched souls the leader of the way, when fate decrees, to regions void of day . . . for Persephone, through Tartaros dark and wide, gave thee for ever flowing souls to guide."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 16 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Ethemea, of the race of Nymphae (Nymphs), who was stuck with the arrows of Diana [Artemis] when she ceased worshipping her. At last she was snatched away alive by Proserpina [Persephone] to the Land of the Dead."
Ovid, Heroides 21. 45 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[A maiden laments the death of her lover :] Ah me, at the very time of marriage cruel Persephone knocks at my door before her day!" [N.B. Here Persephone is the personification of death.]
Seneca, Hercules Furens 547 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Driven headlong to the depths, bold to tread ways irretraceable, dist thou see Sicilian Proserpina's [Persephone's] realms?"
Seneca, Hercules Furens 658 ff :
"All the world's holy powers, and thou [Haides] who rulest the all-holding realm, and thou [Prosperina-Persephone] whom, stolen from Enna, thy mother [Ceres-Demeter] sought in vain, may it be right, I pray, boldly to speak of powers hidden away and buried beneath the earth."
Seneca, Hercules Furens 1100 ff :
"Let the heavens hear his mighty groans, let the queen of the dark world [Proserpina-Persephone] hear, and fierce Cerberus, crouching in his lowest cave . . . let Chaos re-echo the outcries of his grief."
Statius, Thebaid 8. 10 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Upon the Stygian shores . . . not yet had the Eumenis [Erinys] met and purified him [the new dead ghost] with branch of yew, not had Proserpine [Persephone] marked him on the dusky door-post as admitted to the company of the dead."
Statius, Silvae 2. 1. 145 (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"Tis the seventh day [after death], and already those eyes are dull and cold, and Juno of the Underworld [Proserpina-Persephone] hath clasped him and seized in her hand the lock of hair."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 222 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"[Isis in the guise of Persephone speaks :] ‘I , whom you now behold, shine brightly in the darkness of Acheron and reign in the inner Stygian depths.’"
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 10. 25 ff :
"He [the corrupt physician] made a pretence of dispending the celebrated potion called by more learned people ‘The Health Offering' (Salus Sacra), a drug necessary for easing gastric pains and dissolving bile; but in its place he substituted another draught, ‘The Death Offering’ (Proserpina Sacra) [i.e. a draught of poison]."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4. 152 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"I will pass even to Akheron the River of Pain of my own free will, and with rapture even amid the many lamentations of all-forgetting Lethe, I will tell the dead of my fate, to awaken pity and envy alike in merciless Persephoneia."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 12. 213 ff :
"[Dionysos transforms his dead friend Ampelos into a grape-vine :] ‘For you Haides himself has become merciful, for you Persephone herself has changed her hard temper, and saved you alive in death for brother Bakkhos (Bacchus). You did not die . . . You are still alive, my boy, even if you died.’"
For MYTHS of Persephone as queen of the underworld see:
(1) The Rape of Persephone (Hades abducts her to the underworld)
(2) Persephone Favour: Sisyphus (allows return from the dead)
(3) Persephone Favour: Orpheus (allows wife to return from the dead)
(4) Persephone Favour: Alcestis (returns her to the living)
(5) Persephone Favour: Heracles (quest in the underworld)
(6) Persephone Favour: Psyche (quest in the underworld)
(7) Persephone & the Creation of Man (men return to her in death)
See ALSO other related sections on this page.
MORE information on the underworld see the REALM OF HAIDES
PERSEPHONE GODDESS OF ELYSIUM & REINCARNATION
The Mysteries of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone promised initiates passage to a blessed afterlife.
Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 1 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"[After the return of Persephone from the underworld :] Rich-crowned Demeter . . . straightway made fruit to spring up from the rich lands, so that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers. Then she went, and to the princes [of Eleusis] who deal justice, Triptolemos and Diokles, the horse-driver, and to doughty Eumolpos and Keleus (Celeus), leader of the people, she showed the conduct of her rites and taught them all her Mysteries, to Triptolemos and Polyxeinos and Diokles also,--awful Mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead [i.e. passage to Elysion], down in the darkness and gloom."
Pindar, Dirges Fragment 133 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"But, as for those from whom Persephone shall exact the penalty of their pristine woe, in the ninth year she once more restoreth their souls to the upper sun-light; and from these come into being august monarchs, and men who are swift in strength and supreme in wisdom; and, for all future time, men call them sainted heroes."
[N.B. Pindar appears to be saying that the soul is judged in Hades and, if found guiltless, passes on to the realm of Elysium. It must, however, return to earth twice more and suffer two more deaths. Then, finally, Persephone releases it from the cycle--it returns to earth once more to live life as a righteous king, hero or sage, before being sent to the paradisial Islands of the Blest.]
Pindar, Dirges Fragment 137 :
"Blessed is he who hath seen these things [i.e. the Eleusinian Mysteries] before he goeth beneath the hollow earth; for he understandeth the end of mortal life, and the beginning of a new life given of god."
Pindar, Dirges Fragment 129 :
"For them [in Elysion (Elysium)] the sun shineth in his strength, in the world below, while here 'tis night; and, in meadows red with roses, the space before their city is shaded by the incense-tree, and is laden with golden fruits. Some of them delight themselves with horses and with wrestling; others with draughts, and with lures; while beside them bloometh the fair flower of perfect bliss. And o'er that lovely land fragrance is ever shed, while they mingle all manner of incense with the far-shining fire on the altar of the gods. From the other side sluggish streams of darksome night belch forth a boundless gloom."
Plato, Meno 81a ff (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Sokrates : There were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry [i.e. the priests of the Mysteries]; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words, they are these : mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness. ‘For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again [i.e. reincarnation]; from them arise glorious kings and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining time are they called holy heroes amongst mankind.’"
Statius, Silvae 5. 1. 253 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman poetry C1st A.D.) :
"Whenever a shade approaches that has won the praise of a loving spouse, Proserpine [Persephone] bids summon joyful torches, and the heroines of old come forth from hallowed bowers and scatter the shades of gloom in radiant light, and strew garlands and Elysian flowers before her."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 222 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"[Isis in the guise of Persephone speaks :] ‘You will dwell in the Elysian fields, while I, whom you now behold, shine brightly in the darkness of Acheron and reign in the inner Stygian depths.’"
For MORE information on the blessed afterlife see REALM OF ELYSION
GODDESS OF NECROMANCY & GHOSTS
Haides and Persephone presided over the oracles of the dead and the rites of necromancy (nekromankia)--summoning and communion with the ghosts of the dead.
I. NECROMANCY OF ODYSSEUS
Odysseus was instructed in necromancy by the witch Kirke (Circe) so that he might commune with the prophetic ghost of the seer Teiresias. According to the author of the Odyssey the rites were performed on the border of the underworld. Later authors, however, say that Odysseus visited the Nekromanteion (Oracle of the Dead) at Cumae in southern Italy or Thesprotia in western Greece.
Homer, Odyssey 10. 495 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Kirke (Circe) instructs Odysseus in the rites of necromancy :] ‘You must visit the house of dread Persephone and of Haides, and there seek counsel from the spirit of Theban Teiresias (Tiresias). The blind seer's thought is wakeful still, for to him alone, even after death, Persephone has accorded wisdom; the other dead are but flitting shadows . . .
‘And when you have sailed through the river Okeanos (Oceanus), you will see before you a marrow strand and he groves that are Persephone's--the tall black poplars, the willows with their self-wasted fruit; then beach the vessel beside deep-eddying Okeanos and pass on foot to the dank domains of Haides. At the entrance there, the stream of Akheron (Acheron) is joined by the waters of Pyriphlegethon and a branch of Styx, Kokytos (Cocytus), and there is a rock where the two loud-roaring rivers meet. Then, lord Odysseus, you must do as I enjoin you; go forward, and dig a trench a cubit long and a cubit broad; go round this trench, pouring libation for all the dead, first with milk and honey, then with sweet wine, then with water; and sprinkle white barley-meal above. Then with earnest prayers to the strengthless presences of the dead you must promise that when you have come to Ithaka (Ithaca) you will sacrifice in your palace a calfless heifer, the best you have, and will load a pyre with precious things; and that for Teiresias and no other you will slay, apart, a ram that is black all over, the choicest in all the flocks of Ithaka.
‘When with these prayers you have made appeal to the noble nations of the dead, then you must sacrifice a ram and a black ewe; bend the victims' heads down towards Erebos, but turn your own head away and look towards the waters of the river. At this, the souls of the dead and gone will come flocking there. With commanding voice you must call your cmorades to flay and burn the two sheep that now lie before them, killed by your own ruthless blade, and over them to pray to the gods, to resistless Haides and dread Persephone. As for yourself, draw the keen sword from beside your thight; then, sitting down, hold back the strengthles presences of the dead from drawing nearer to the blood until you have questioned Teiresias. Then, King Odysseus, the seer will come to you very quickly, to prophesy the path before you, the long stages of your travel, and how you will reach home at last over the teeming sea.’"
Homer, Odyssey 11. 10 ff :
"[Odysseus travels to the underworld to consult the ghost of the seer Teiresias :] The vessel came to the bounds of eddying Okeanos (Oceanus), where lie the land and city of the Kimmeroi (Cimmerians), covered with mist and cloud. never does the resplendent sun look on this people with his beams . . . dismal gloom overhangs these wretches always. Arriving there, we beached the vessel, took out the sheep and then walked onwards beside the stream of Okeanos until we came to the place that Kirke (Circe) had told us of.
There, Perimedes and Eurylokhos (Eurylochus) seized the victims and held them fast, while I myself drew the keen sword from besie my thigh and cut a trench a cubit long and a cubit broad. Round it I poured a libation for all the dead, first with milk and honey, then with sweet wine, then with water; over this I sprinkled white barley-meal. Then with earnest prayers to the strengthless presences of the dead I promised that when I came to Ithaka I would sacrifice in my palace a calfless heifer, the best I had, and would load a pyre with precious things; and that for Teiresias and no other I would slay, apart, a ram that was black all over, the choicest in all the flocks of Ithaka.
When with my prayers and invocations I had called on the peoples of the dead, I seized the victims and cut their throats over the trench. The dark blood flowed, and the souls od the dead and gone came flocking upwards from Erebos--brides and unmarried youths, old men who had suffered much, tender girls with the heart's distress still keen, troops of warriors wounded with brazen-pointed spears, men slain in battle with blood-stained armour still upon them. With unearthly cries, from every quarter, they came crowding about the trench until pale terror began to master me.
Then with urgent voice I called my comrades to flay and burn the two sheep that now lay before them, killed by my own ruthless blade, and over them to pray to the gods, to resistless Haides and dread Persephone. As for myself, I drew the keen sword from beside my thigh, seated myself and held back the strengthless preseences of the dead from drawing nearer to the blood before I had questioned Teiresias."
Homer, Odyssey 11. 210 & 11. 386 :
"[Odysseus performs the rites of necromancy and is approached by the ghost of his mother. He queries her :] ‘Is this some wraith that august Persephone has sent me to increase my sorrowing and my tears?'
So I spoke, and the queen my mother answered me : ‘Alas, my child, ill-fated beyond all other mortals, this is no mockery of Persephone's; it is all men's fortune when they die. The sinews no longer hold flesh and bones together; these are all prey to the resistless power of fire when once the life has left the white bones; the soul takes wing as a dream takes wing, and thereafter hovers to and fro . . .’
Meanwhile there appeared [before Odysseus] a whole company of women, sent by Persephone the august; and these were the wives or the daughters of great men. They gathered flocking round the dark blood [of the sacrificial black sheep] all together. So they came forward one after another, and each in turn told me her lineage, for I left none of them unquestioned . . .
Then, when chaste Persephone had dispersed this way and that the souls of those many women, there came before me in bitter sorrow the soul of Agamemon . . . Then there came before me the soulds of Akhilleus (Achilles) and Patroklos (Patroclus) , of noble Antilokhos (Antilochus) and of Aias (Ajax) . . . and the soul of the fleet-foot son of Peleus went pacing forth over the field of asphodel . . . Other souls of the dead and gone still stood there sorrowfully, each of them questioning me on whatever touched them the most . . . Indeed I might then have seen [more of] those men of past days I wished to see, but before I could, there came before me with hideous clamour the thronging multitudes of the dead, and ashly terror seized hold of me. I feared that august Persephone might send against me from Haides' house the Gorgoneion (gorgon's head) of some grisly monster. I made for my ship at once, telling my comrades to step aboard and to loose the cables."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E7. 7 & 34 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"He [Odysseus] sailed Okeanos (Oceanus), and offered sacrifices to the souls, and by Kirke's (Circe's) advice consulted the soothsayer Tiresias, and beheld the souls both of heroes and of heroines. He also looked on his mother Antikleia and Elpenor, who had died of a fall in the house of Kirke . . .
[Upon returning to Ithaka Odysseus slew the suitors :] After sacrificing to Haides, and Persephone, and Teiresias, he journeyed on foot through Epeiros (Epirus), and came to the Thesprotians, and having offered sacrifice according to the directions of the soothsayer Teiresias, he propitiated Poseidon."
Lycophron, Alexandra 697 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"The grove of Obrimo [i.e. the grove of Persephone near Avernos in Italy], Kore (Core, the Maiden) who dwells beneath the earth, and Pyriphleges (the Fiery Stream), where the difficult Polydegmon hill [in Italy] stretches its head to the sky . . . and the lake Aornos [i.e. lake Avernus near Cumae in Italy] rounded with a noose and the waters of Kokytos (Cocytus) wild and dark, stream of black Styx . . . he [Odysseus] shall offer up a gift to Daeira [Persephone] and her consort, fastening his helmet to the head of a pillar." [N.B. In this account Odysseus visits the necromantic oracle at Cumae.]
II. NECROMANCY OF THE CUMAEAN SIBYL & AENEAS
The Cumaean Sibyl guided Aeneas through the underworld by means of the Oracle of the Dead near Cumae. Virgil's account is only quoted in part here.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 14. 113 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"He [Aeneas] besought leave to pass down to Averna (the Underworld) and meet his father's ghost. And she [the Sibyl told him :] ‘. . . You shall achieve your aim and with my guidance you shall [visit the underworld] . . .’
She showed him in the glade of Juno Averna [Persephone] a gleaming golden bough and bade him break it from the trunk. Aeneas did her bidding and saw the riches of Orcus' [Haides'] frightful realm and his own ancestors and the aged ghost of great-hearted Anchises."
Virgil, Aeneid 6. 138 ff (trans. Day-Lewis) (Roman epic C1st B.C.) :
"[The Cumaean Sibyl instructs Aeneas in the rites of necromancy :] ‘Between, there lies a forest, and darkly winds the river Cocytus round the place. But if so great your love is, so great your passion to cross the Stygian waters twice and twice behold black Tartarus, if your heart is set on this fantastic project, here's what you must do first. Concealed in a tree's thick shade there is a golden bough--gold the leaves and the tough stem--held sacred to Proserpine [Persephone] : the whole wood hides this bough and a dell walls it round as it were in a vault of shadow. Yet none is allowed to enter the land which earth conceals save and until he has plucked that gold-foil bough from the tree. Fair Proserpine ordains that it should be brought to her as tribute. When a bough is torn away, another gold one grows in its place with leaves of the same metal. So keep your eyes roving above you, and when you have found the bough just pull it out : that branch will come away quite easily if destiny means you to go; otherwise no amount of brute force will get it, nor hard steel avail to hew it away.’"
III. NECROMANCY OF TEIRESIAS
In Statius' Thebaid the seer Teiresias performs necromancy to commune with the dead to discover the cause of a curse-plague afflicting the city of Thebes.
Statius, Thebaid 4. 410 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"He [the seer Tiresias] prepares the rites of Lethe [i.e. Nekromankia], and makes ready beforehand to evoke the monarch [Haides] sunk below the confines of [the Theban river] Ismenos where it mingles with the deep, and makes purgation all around with the torn entrails of sheep and the strong smell of sulphur, and with fresh herbs and the long mutterings of prayer . . . [Tiresias] bids the dark-fleeced sheep and black oxen be set before him . . . Then he entwined their fierce horns with wreaths of dusky hue, handling them himself, and first at the edge of that well-known wood [i.e. one sacred to the goddess Hecate] he nine times spills the lavish draughts of Bacchus into a hollowed trench, and gifts of vernal milk and Attic rain [i.e. honey] and propitiatory blood to the Shades below; so much is poured out as the dry earth will drink. Then they roll tree trunks thither, and the sad priest bids there be three altar-fires for Hecate and three for the maidens born of cursed Acheron [i.e. the Erinyes]; for thee, lord of Avernus [Haides], a heap of pinewood though sunk into the ground yet towers high into the air; next to this an altar of lesser bulk is raised to Ceres of the Underworld [i.e. Persephone]; in front and on every side the cypress of lamentation intertwines them. And now, their lofty heads marked with the sword and the pure sprinkled meal, the cattle fell under the stroke; then the virgin Manto [the daughter of Tiresias], catching the blood in bowls, makes first libation, and moving thrice round all the pyres, as her holy sire commands, offers the half-dead tissues and yet living entrails, nor delays to set the devouring fire to the dark foliage. And when Tiresias heard the branches crackling in the flames and the grim piles roaring--for the burning heat surges before his face, and the fiery vapour fills the hollows of his eyes--he exclaimed, and the pyres trembled, and the flames cowered at his voice : ‘Abodes of Tartarus and awful realm of insatiable Mors (Death) [Thanatos], and thou, most cruel of the brothers [Haides], to whom the Shades are given to serve thee, and the eternal punishments of the damned obey thee, and the palace of the underworld, throw open in answer to my knowing the silent places and empty void of stern Persephone, and send forth the multitude that lurk in hollow night.’"
Statius, Thebaid 4. 520 ff :
"[The blind seer Tiresias describes his visions as he performs the necromantic rites :] ‘Himself [lord Haides] I behold, all pale upon the throne, with Stygian Eumenides [Erinyes] ministering to his fell deeds about him, and the remorseless chambers and gloomy couch of Stygian Juno [Persephone].’"
IV. GHOST VISITS THE ARGONAUTS
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2. 915 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"For the goddess Persephone sent up to them [the Argonauts] the mourning ghost of Aktor's son [who had died during the expedition of Herakles against the Amazones], who craved to see some men of his own kind, if only for a moment."
V. NECROMANCY OF MEDEA
Witches, such as Medea, were practitioners of the necromancy. Medea employs this chthonic power in a spell to restore Aeson's youth.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 7. 242 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Medea uses her magic to restore Aeson's youth :] Two turf altars she built [for the ritual], the right to Hecate, the left to Juventas (Youth) [Hebe], wreathed with the forest's mystic foliage, and dug two trenches in the ground beside and then performed her rites. Plunging a knife into a black sheep's throat she drenched the wide ditches with blood; next from a chalice poured a stream of wine and from a second chalice warm frothing milk and, chanting magic words, summoned the Deities of Earth (Numina Terrena) and prayed the sad shades' monarch (Rex Umbrarum) [Haides] and his stolen bride [Persephone] that, of their mercy, from old Aeson's frame they will not haste to steal the breath of life . . . [She then applied the potion to the body of Aeson] and Aeson woke and marvelled as he saw his prime restored of forty years before."
VI. ORACLES OF THE DEAD
The Oracle of the Dead (Nektromanteion) in Thesprotia was a shrine sacred to the netherworld gods Haides and Persephone. The oracles of the daimones Amphiaraus and Trophonios in Boiotia were also necromantic.
For MORE information on the necromantic oracles see:
Cult of Haides & Persephone
GODDESS OF CURSES & MISTRESS OF THE ERINYES
Persephone was the mistress of the Erinyes (Furies)--underworld daimones who punished the crimes of filial betrayal, impiety and murder. She despatched them when curses were invoked in her name.
Homer, Iliad 9. 450 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"[Phoinix tells the tale of his curse :] ‘I first left Hellas . . . running from the hatred of Ormenos' son Amyntor, my father; who hated me for the sake of a fair-haired mistress. For he made love to her himself, and dishonoured his own wife, my mother; who was forever taking my knees and entreating me to lie with this mistress instead so that she would hate the old man. I was persuaded and did it; and my father when he heard of it straightway called down his curses, and invoked against me the dreaded Erinyes that I might never have any son born of my seed to dandle on my knees; and the divinities, Zeus Khthonios (of the Underworld) [i.e. Haides] and Persephone the honoured goddess, accomplished his curses.’"
Homer, Iliad 9. 565 ff :
"Meleagros (Meleager) lay mulling his heart-sore anger, raging by reason of his mother's [Althaia's] curses, which she called down from the gods upon him, in deep grief for the death of her brother, and many times beating with her hands on the earth abundant she called on Haides and on honoured Persephone, lying at length along the ground, and the tears were wet on her bosom, to give death to her son; and Erinys, the mist-walking, she of the heart without pity, heard her out of the dark places."
Aeschylus, Libation Bearers 489 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Orestes [prepares to slay the murderers of his father] : O Gaia (Earth), send up my father to watch my battle!
Elektra : O Persephone, grant us indeed a glorious victory!
Orestes : Father, remember the bath where you were robbed of life."
Orphic Hymn 29 to Persephone (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Praxidike (Exacter of Justice), subterranean queen. The Eumenides' [Erinyes'] source." [N.B. Praxidike is a title of Persephone as avenger of the dead.]
Statius, Thebaid 1. 46 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"[Oidipous (Oedipus), who had blinded himself upon discovering that he had killed his father and married his mother, summons the Erinyes to punish his sons for their scornful treatment of him :] Oedipus with avenging hand probed deep his sinning eyes and sunk his guilty shame in eternal night . . . yet with unwearied wings the fierce daylight of the mind hovers around him, and the avenging Dirae [Erinyes] of his crimes assail his heart. Then he displays to heaven those empty orbs, the cruel, pitiful punishment of his own lie, and with blood-stained hands beats upon the hollow earth, and in dire accents utters this prayer : ‘Gods [Haides, Persephone and the Erinyes] who hold sway over guilty souls and over Tartarus crowded with the damned, and thou O Styx, whom I behold, ghastly in thy shadowy depths, and thou Tisiphone, so oft the object of my prayer, be favourable now, and further my unnatural wish . . . Sightless though I was and driven from my throne, my sons, on whatever couch begotten, attempted not to give me guidance or consolation in my grief . . . and they mock my blindness, they abhor their father's groans . . . Do thou at least, my due defender, come hither, and begin a work of vengeance that will blast their seed for ever!’"
Statius, Thebaid 1. 110 ff :
"From her [the Erinys Tisiphone's] shoulders falls a stark and grisly robe, whose dark fastenings meet upon her breast : Atropos [one of the Moirai] and Proserpine [Persephone] fashion her this garb anew."
Statius, Thebaid 5. 155 ff :
"They [the Lemnian women] pledged their solemn word [to slay their husbands], and thou wast witness, Martian Enyo, and thou, Ceres of the Underworld [i.e. Proserpina-Persephone], and the Stygian goddesses [the Erinyes] came in answer to their prayers."
Statius, Thebaid 8. 10 ff :
"Upon the Stygian shores . . . not yet had the Eumenis [Erinys] met and purified him [the newly dead ghost] with branch of yew, not had Proserpine [Persephone ] marked him on the dusky door-post as admitted to the company of the dead."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 31. 28 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Hera, angered by the success of Zeus' bastard son Dionysos., seeks to cause him harm :] Away she went to the gloomy all-welcoming court of Haides; there she found Persephone, and told her a crafty tale : ‘Most happy I call you, that you dwell so far from the gods! You have not seen Semele at home in Olympos. I fear I may yet see Dionysos, one born of a mortal womb, master of the lightning after Zagreus [Persephone's son], or lifting the thunderbolt in earth-born hands. Cornbringer, you have robbed! Beside the Nile with his harvests they hold a festival for another, instead of your sheafbearing mother Demeter; they tell of a spurious bountiful Deo, bullbred, horned, Inakhos's daughter Io [i.e. Egyptian Isis] . . . He [Zeus] rescued Semele's son [Dionysos] from the flaming fire, he saved Bakkhos (Bacchus) from the thunderbolt, while still a baby brat . . . But Zagreus the heavenly Dionysos he would not defend, when he was cut up with knives! What made me angrier still, was that Kronides gave the starry heaven to Semele for a bridegift,--and Tartaros to Persephoneia! Heaven is reserved for Apollon, Hermes lives in heaven--and you have this abode full of gloom! What good was it that he put on the deceiving shape of a serpent, and ravished the girdle of your inviolate maidenhood, if after bed he was to destroy your babe? Lord Zeus holds the starry hall on Olympos; he has given the briny sea to his brother [Poseidon] the water king for he prerogotive; he has given the cloudy house of darkness to your consort [Haides]. Come now, arm your Erinyes against wineface Bakkhos, that I may not see a bastard and a mortal king of Olympos . . . Be the avenger of my sorrow . . . Let not Athens sing hymns to a new Dionysos, let him not have equal honour with Eleusinian Dionysos, let him not take over the rites of Iakkhos who was there before him, let not his vintage dishonour Demeter's basket!’
The whole mind of Persephoneia was perturbed while she spoke, babbling deceit as the false tears bedewed her cheeks. Goddess bowed assent to goddess, and gave her [the Erinys] Megaira to go with her, that with her evil eye she might fulfil the desire of Hera's jealous heart."
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 44. 198 ff :
"Dionysos waited for darksome night, and appealed in these words to circle Mene (Moon) in heaven : ‘O daughter of Helios (the Sun), Mene (Moon) of many turnings, nurse of all! O Selene (Moon), driver of the silver car! . . . If thou art Persephoneia, whipperin of the dead, and yours are the ghosts which are subservient to the throne of Tartaros, let me see Pentheus a dead man, and let Hermes thy musterer of ghosts lull to sleep the tears of Dionysos in his grief. With Tartarean whip of thy Tisiphone, or furious Megaira, stop the foolish threats of Pentheus . . .’
While Bakkhos (Bacchus) yet conversed with circling Mene (Moon), even then Persephone was arming her Erinyes for the pleasure of Dionysos Zagreus, and in wrath helping Dionysos his late born brother."
Suidas s.v. Persephone (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Persephone : An Underworld spirit (katageios daimon). Elektra says : ‘O house of Haides and Persephone! O Hermes of the Underworld and holy Ara (Curse) and divine Erinnyes (Furies)! You who watch over those dying unjustly and those being robbed of a marriage bed: Come! Help avenge the murder of our father!’"
GODDESS OF SPRING GROWTH & GRAIN SEED
Persephone was the goddess of spring growth and more specifically of the sprouting of the grain seed. The earth flourished when she returned from the underworld each spring.
Orphic Hymn 29 to Persephone (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"[Persephone] associate of the Horai (Seasons), essence bright, all-ruling virgin, bearing heavenly light. With fruits abounding, of a bounteous mind, horned, and alone desired by those of mortal kind. O vernal queen, whom grassy plains delight, sweet to the smell, and pleasing to the sight: whose holy form in budding fruits we view, earth's vigorous offspring of a various hue . . . Hear, blessed Goddess, send a rich increase of various fruits from earth."
Orphic Hymn 43 to the Horae :
"[The Horai (Seasons)] attending Persephone, when back from night the Moirai (Fates) and Kharites (Charites, Graces) lead her up to light; when in a band harmonious they advance, and joyful found her form the solemn dance. With Mother [Demeter] triumphing, and Zeus divine, propitious come, and on our incense shine; give earth a store of blameless fruits to bear."
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2. 26 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"The entire bulk and substance of the earth, was dedicated to father Dis [Haides] (that is, Dives, ‘the rich’, and so in Greek Plouton), because all things fall back into the earth and also arise from the earth. He is said to have married Proserpina (really a Greek name, for she is the same as the goddess called Persephone in Greek)--they think that she represents the seed of corn, and fable that she was hidden away, and sought for by her mother. The mother is Ceres [Demeter]."
For MYTHS of Persephone as the goddess of grain and spring see:
The Rape of Persephone (story of her seasonal return to earth)
For MORE information on Persephone as a spring-time goddess in cult see:
Cult of Demeter & Kore
SACRED PLANTS & FLOWERS
The shades of the dead wandered the fields of asphodel in the underworld. It was a drab, ghostly-grey plant, edible but extremely bland. Haides is holding a sprig of asphodel in the bas-relief picture at the top of this page (image R14.1).
Suidas s.v. Asphodelos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Asphodelos (Asphodel) : A bulbous plant, having long leaves and an edible stem; and its seed when roasted and the root chopped up with figs fetches a high price. [It is] sacred to Persephone and the underworld [deities]. Also Rhodians wreath Kore (Core) [Persephone] and Artemis with asphodel . . . But the place in which it grows must be pronounced oxytone, as in Homer : ‘over the asphodel meadow.’"
TITLES & EPITHETS
Persephone had a number of poetic and cultic titles and epithets.
Maiden, Girl (korê)
Of the Earth
Bringer of Fruit
Exacter of Justice
The Romans also had several titles for the goddess including Juno Inferna (Infernal Queen), Averna (Of the Underworld), Stygia (Of the Styx), and Cure (Kore).
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th - 7th B.C.
- The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th - 4th B.C.
- Aesop, Fables - Greek Fables C6th B.C.
- Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Pindar, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Greek Lyric I Sappho, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th B.C.
- Greek Lyric III Lasus, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th B.C.
- Greek Lyric IV Bacchylides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
- Greek Lyric V Scolia, Fragments - Greek Lyric B.C.
- Greek Elegaic Theognis, Fragments - Greek Elegaic C6th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Libation Bearers - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Plato, Cratylus - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Meno - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Plato, Republic - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Callimachus, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Lycophron, Alexandra - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- The Orphic Hymns - Greek Hymns C3rd B.C. - C2nd A.D.
- Nonnus, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Heroides - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Aeneid - Latin Epic C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Poetry C1st A.D.
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Novel C2nd A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.