A family story

I’ve been trying to write up the story of Demeter and Persephone for a Sunday school class. It has a very dark side to it, as do so many religious stories; the dark side is one of the things children like best about these stories. They are like Grimm’s fairy tales, filled with all the horrible things that children know exist in the real world but can’t talk about: Hansel and Gretel’s parents deliberately lose them in the woods; Siddartha Gautama abandons his wife and young child; Lot throws his daughters out to the crowd to be ravaged; Jesus is sentenced to a bloody death on trumped-up political charges; Persephone is abducted by the god of death, and in retribution her mother makes innocent human beings die in a massive famine. Sometimes I think that even though we adults try to put some kind of moral gloss on them, what children learn from these stories is that life is essentially amoral.

In any case, as I sat here today sorting through the details of the Persephone story, as presented in the Homeric hymns and in Ovid’s Metapmorphoses, I realized that many of the main characters in the story are closely related. Persephone is the child of Zeus and Demeter; Hades, Demeter, and Zeus are all children of Cronos and Rhea, and grandchildren of Gaia, mother earth. Not only that, but the Homeric hymn makes it clear that Zeus and Gaia (Persephone’s father and grandmother) set up the situation where Hades can abduct Persephone. Talk about a dysfunctional family!

I don’t want to emphasize this aspect of the story in the version for children, and the only way I can get it out of my head is to inflict it on you. So below you will find the dysfunctional family version of the Persephone story….

A Family Story

 Persephone was growing up.
 Grain goddess Demeter, her mother,
 Wouldn’t let her go.
 Farseeing Zeus, Thunder God,
 Conspired with Mother Earth
 To give the daughter away.

 Persephone was with her friends,
 The buxom daughters of Ocean,
 Picking sweet flowers in the fields.
 Persephone was drawn to one,
 The Narcissus, lured by beauty.
 She went to it, and stooped,–

 Below the earth, Hades,
 Brother of Zeus, grandson
 Of Earth, brother of Demeter,
 Toured his underworld realm.
 The dead fluttered past him.
 He looked up, saw Persephone stoop;–

 Hades rushed up and grabbed
 Persephone, who screamed, and called
 To Zeus, her father. Zeus, it seems,
 Heard nothing. Hades took her down
 To Tartaros, his dark dreary realm.
 And there she sat, his bride;
 Bored, with nothing to do.

 Demeter was distraught.
 Her daughter, gone! At last,
 She learned that Hades had her.
 Helios, the sun, said to her,
“And why not Hades? He’s rich.
 She has to get married sometime.”

 Demeter in her anger prevented
 Anything at all from growing.
 Famine came. The dead went to Hades.
 Zeus grew alarmed. This
 He had not foreseen. He offered
 To promote her to Olympos.

“No,” said Demeter. “I want
 My daughter.” And Hades smiled.
 Persephone went back to her mother,
 Carrying a seed inside her:
 Bored, she’d been curious, and eaten
 A bit of underworld pomegranate.

 Persephone still lives with her mother
 Eight months of the year. For four months,
 She lives in Tartaros with Hades.
 They had a baby together,
 Plutos, god of wealth,
 His mother’s favored child.

9 thoughts on “A family story

  1. Dan

    Will — Thanks!

    And yes, you’re right, it’s the moral thing to do, teaching kids that life sucks — they already know this, of course, and it’s more moral to be honest with them. I’d still rather say “amoral” than “immoral,” though — I think life is randomness and chaos, rather than malice.

  2. Jean

    Ooh, fun. And how about this version?

    A Family Story (part one)

    When Persephone was growing up, her mom, Demeter, was really, really overprotective. You know, like, she hovered. A *lot*. Drove P. everywhere, monitored her email accounts, called her all the time on her phone. P. couldn’t *move* without Mom-eter tagging behind.

    One cay, P’s dad Zeus, got fed up with the situation, put his foot down. “Enough of this crap,” he said to his wife. “Persephone needs to get OUT of the house! Experience Life!” So P’s dad Zeus P off with a couple of her friends, the somewhat ho-ho Ocean sisters, to the local mall.

    “Take your time, spend the day,” Zeus said. He gave P. his debit card. He was like that.

    At the mall, the Ocean girls and P. walked around, looking at stuff, trying on clothes, giggling at boys. Then, in a store window, P. saw a pair of incredibly awesome shoes. “Must have these!” she squealed, and ran into the store. The clerk in the store, a Brad Pitt lookalike named Narcisssus, sidled up to P. “Hi,” he said. With meaning.

    Unfortunately, right then, P’s uncle Hades passed by the store and saw Narci hitting up P. He grabbed P by the elbow and pulled her away. “We are going to the LIBRARY,” he growled.

    P. screamed, “I don’t WANT to go to the Library!”

    “Tough,” he said. He demanded her cellphone, and the debit card, and off they went.

    And there P. sat, all afternoon, bored, with nothing to do, nothing to buy, no one to text.

    By late afternoon, Demeter was distraught. Her daughter, gone! She called around to all P’s friends, until finally she learned that Hades had her. In the library. Demeter shivered. She knew P. would think this was a little version of hell. She cried to her husband, Zeus. And Zeus? He just shrugged. “She’ll be fine. I’ll go get her when the library closes at 9.”

    “Fine!” said Demeter. “Then YOU can just get your OWN dinner.” And she stormed upstairs to her room, and slammed and locked the door.

    Meanwhile, at the library…



  3. Dan

    Jean @ 4 — Like, totally!

    And now I want to know what happened at the library. Did it involve a bottle of pomegranate juice?…

  4. Jean

    Well, the Library scene? It got kind of weird. Uncle Hades is very — shall we say — moody. And it turns out? He’s like not REALLY an uncle after all. He’s a third shift custodian of the stacks in the BASEMENT of the library. P. is a little creeped out right now, let me tell you…and, YES, she does have a bottle of Pom.

    How did you KNOW?

  5. Dan

    Jean @ 6 — Wow, this is better than Twilight. Um. Right, what isn’t better than Twilight.

    Carol @ 7 — Yeah, I always wondered if those Brady kids got, you know, involved with each other.

  6. Jean

    I’ll take whatever compliments I can get. Better than Twilight, better than Harry Potter, better than Eat, Pray, Love. You name it. I’ll take it.

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