Mighty is the great goddess Demeter. She gives fertility to the land and without its beneficial power nothing grows in the shady forests, meadows or lush fields.

Hades kidnaps Persephone

The great goddess Demeter had a young, beautiful daughter, Persephone. Persephone’s father was the great son of Cronus himself, the Thunderer Zeus. Once upon a time, the beautiful Persephone, along with her oceanid friends, played carefree in the blossoming Nise Valley. Like a light-winged butterfly, the young daughter of Demetrius came running from flower to flower. She plucked gorgeous roses, fragrant violets, snow-white lilies and red hyacinths. Persephone was carelessly mad, not knowing what fate her father Zeus had ordained for her. De could think that she would not see the clear sunlight again soon, that she would not soon enjoy the flowers and inhale their sweet scent. Zeus gave her in marriage to his gloomy brother Hades, the ruler of the realm of the shadows of the dead, and with him she was to live in the darkness of the underworld, deprived of the light of the scorching southern sun.

Hades saw Persephone as she went mad in the Nise Valley, and immediately decided to steal her. He begged the goddess Gaia to create an unusually beautiful flower. The goddess Gaia agreed, and a wonderful flower blossomed in the valley of Nise; its intoxicating aroma spread to all sides. Persephone saw the flower, she reached out, grabbed the stalk, and tore it off. But suddenly the earth dissolves and in a golden chariot, drawn by black horses, the ruler of the realm of shadows of the dead, the gloomy Hades, appears. He grabbed the young Persephone, put her on his chariot, and in an instant disappeared with his fast horses into the bowels of the earth. Persephone barely managed to shout. The cry of terror from Demeter’s young daughter spread far and wide; he reached both the abysses of the sea and the high bright Olympus. No one saw the gloomy Hades kidnap Persephone, only the god Helios, the Sun, saw it.

Hades kidnaps Persephone, Luca Giordano

The goddess Demeter heard Persephone’s cry. She quickly found herself in the Nise Valley, looking everywhere for her daughter, asking her friends, the Oceanids, but she was nowhere to be found. The Oceanids did not see where Persephone had disappeared.

Severe grief over the loss of her only beloved daughter gripped Demeter’s heart. Dressed in dark clothes, for nine days, alien and indifferent to everything else, the great goddess Demeter wandered the earth, shedding bitter tears. She looked everywhere for Persephone, begging everyone for help, but no one could help her in her grief. Finally, only on the tenth day, she went to the god Helios – the Sun, and with tears in her eyes asked him:

“Oh, radiant Helios! You travel in a golden chariot high in the sky all over the earth and all the seas; you see everything, nothing can be hidden from you; if you have at least a little mercy on me, an unhappy mother, tell me where my daughter Persephone is, tell me where to look for her! I heard her cry, they stole her from me. I was looking for her everywhere, but I couldn’t find her anywhere!”
The radiant Helios replied to Demeter:

“Great goddess, you know how I respect you and you see how I grieve as I watch your grief. Know: the great cloudman Zeus gave your daughter to his gloomy brother, the ruler Hades, who stole Persephone and kidnapped her in his horrified kingdom. Overcome your heavy grief, goddess; great is your daughter’s husband, she became the wife of the mighty brother of the great Zeus.”

This made the goddess Demeter even sadder. She was angry with the thunderer Zeus for giving Persephone to Hades‘ wife without her consent. She left the gods, left the bright Olympus, took the form of an ordinary mortal, and, dressed in dark clothes, wandered among mortals for a long time, shedding bitter tears.

Stopped all growth on the ground. The leaves of the trees withered and fell. The forests stood bare. The grass burned; the flowers loosened their colorful wreaths and withered. There were no fruits in the orchards, no green vines, no heavy, juicy grapes ripening in them. The once fertile fields were desolate, not a single stalk in them. Life on earth died. Hunger reigned everywhere; crying and moaning could be heard everywhere. Doom threatened the entire human race. But immersed in grief for her tenderly beloved daughter, Demeter saw nothing, heard nothing.

Finally, Demeter came to the town of Eleusis. There, by the city walls, she sat in the shade under an olive tree on the “stone of sorrow,” next to the “well of the virgins.” Demeter sat motionless like a real statue. Her dark robe came down in straight folds. Her head was relaxed, and tears and drops fell from her eyes one after another. Demeter sat like that for a long time, lonely and inconsolable.

The daughters of the Eleusinian king Kelei saw her. They were surprised to see a crying woman in dark clothes by the well, approached her and asked her sympathetically who she was. But the goddess Demeter did not reveal herself to them. She said that her name was Deo, that she was a native of Crete, that she had been kidnapped by robbers, but she escaped from them and after long wanderings reached Eleusis. Demeter asked Kelei’s daughters to take her to her father’s house; she agreed to become their mother’s maid, look after the children, and work at Kelei’s home.

Kelei’s daughters took Demeter to their mother Metaneira. It never crossed their minds that they were bringing a great goddess to their father’s house. But when Demeter was brought into the house, she touched the top threshold of the door with her head, and the whole house was illuminated by a wonderful light. Metaneira rose to meet the goddess; she realized that the stranger her daughters had brought to her was no ordinary mortal. Kelly’s wife bowed low to her and invited her to sit in her queen’s place. Demeter refused; she sat silently in the maid’s usual place, still indifferent to everything that was going on around her. But Metaneira’s maid, the merry Yamba, seeing the stranger’s deep sorrow, tried to cheer her up. She nimbly served both her and her mistress Metaneira; her laughter sounded loud and her jokes poured out. Demeter smiled for the first time since her grim Hades had stolen her daughter, and agreed to taste food for the first time.

Demeter stayed with Kelei. She took care of the upbringing of his son Demophont. The goddess decided to make Demophont immortal. She held the boy on her goddess’s breast, on her knees; it breathed the immortal breath of the goddess. Demeter smeared him with ragweed, and at night, when everyone in Kelei’s house was asleep, she wrapped Demophont in diapers and put him in the hot furnace. But Demophont did not receive immortality. Once Metaneira saw her son lying in the furnace, she was terribly frightened and began to beg Demeter not to do so. Demeter was angry with Metaneira, pulled Demophont out of the furnace, and said,

“Oh, unreasonable woman! I wanted to give immortality to your son, to make him invulnerable. Know that I am Demeter, who gives strength and joy of mortals and immortals.”

Demeter revealed to Kelei and Metaneira who she was and took her ordinary image of a goddess. Divine light spread over Kelei’s chambers. Goddess Demeter stood upright, majestic and beautiful, her golden hair falling on her shoulders, divine wisdom shining in her eyes, fragrance flowing from her clothes. Metaneira and her husband fell to their knees in front of her.

Goddess Demeter ordered a temple to be built in Eleusis near the spring of Calichora and remained to live in it. At this temple Demeter herself began solemn celebrations.

The grief for her tenderly loved daughter did not leave Demeter, she did not forget her anger towards Zeus. The earth was still barren. The famine became more and more intense, as not a single grass grew in the fields of the farmers. In vain did the oxen of their owners pull the heavy plow on them – their work was in vain. Whole tribes died out. The cries of the hungry rose to the sky, but Demeter ignored them. Eventually, the smoking sacrifices on earth in honor of the immortal gods stopped. Doom threatened all living things. But the great cloudman Zeus did not want mortals to die. He sent to Demeter the messenger of the gods Iris. She quickly flew on her rainbow wings to Eleusis, for the temple of Demeter. And he called her, begged her to return to the bright Olympus among the gods. Demeter remained deaf to her pleas. Other gods were sent by the great Zeus to Demeter, but the goddess did not want to return to Olympus before Hades returned her daughter Persephone.

Then the great Zeus sent to his gloomy brother Hades Hermes, as fast as a thought. Hermes descended into the horrified kingdom of Hades, appeared before the ruler of the souls of the dead sitting on a golden throne, and surrendered the will of Zeus to him.

Hades agreed to let Persephone go to her mother, but before that he let her swallow a grain of pomegranate fruit, a symbol of marriage. Persephone ascended in her husband’s golden chariot, accompanied by Hermes; the immortal horses of Hades flew – no obstacles existed for them and in an instant reached Eleusis.

Forgetting everything out of joy, Demeter rushed to meet her daughter and grabbed her in her arms. Her beloved daughter Persephone was with her again. Demeter returned to Olympus with her. Then the great Zeus decided that two-thirds of the year Persephone should live with her mother, and for one-third to return to her husband Hades.

Pinax of Persephone and Hades, Reggio Calabria

The great Demeter restored the fertility of the earth and again everything turned green and began to bloom. The forests were covered with tender spring leaves; flowers variegated green lawn in the meadows. Soon the grain fields were planted; orchards blossomed and began to smell; the greenery of the vineyards shone in the sun. The whole of nature woke up. All living things rejoiced and glorified the great goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

But every year Persephone leaves her mother, and each time Demeter sinks into grief and dresses in dark clothes again. And all nature mourns the past of Persephone. The leaves on the trees turn yellow and the autumn wind blows them away, the flowers bloom, the fields are deserted, winter comes. Nature sleeps to awaken in the joyous glow of spring – when she returns to her mother from the unhappy kingdom of Hades Persephone. And when her daughter returns to Demeter, then the great goddess of fertility with a generous hand pours her gifts to the people and blesses the work of the farmers with a rich harvest.