Persephone is a goddess of Greek mythology, often represented wearing a robe and sometimes carrying a pomegranate or a bundle of wheat or other grain. Persephone protects food crops but is also known as the queen of the underworld, because according to a collection of ancient poems called the Homeric Hymns, the king of the underworld, Hades, kidnapped her.

Family Tree

Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, respectively the chief god and the goddess of agriculture and harvest, according to Greek mythology. Her offspring include the god Zagreus and the goddess Melinoe, whose father was also Zeus. Melinoe wandered the earth at night with ghosts, bringing fear to the mortals. With Hades, she had three daughters called the Erinyes, or Furies, goddesses who avenged perjury, bad conduct of sons against their parents and crimes against the gods.

The Rape of Persephone

The story of Persephone's abduction is also known as the rape of Persephone. The Homeric Hymns tell how Hades kidnapped Persephone when she was gathering flowers in the Vale of Nysa. According to the legend, her mother Demeter became deeply concerned and did not protect the fields, thus causing famine among mortals. Persephone had eaten a pomegranate seed in the underworld, linking her forever with Hades. Thus she was obliged to live in the underworld for one-third of the year, being able to return to her mother's company for the rest of the time.

Other Names

In Roman mythology, Persephone is called Proserpina, but the family tree and legends are the same. In southern Italian town of Locri, the goddess was worshiped as the protector of marriage. In Greece, she was also called Persephoneia, Persephassa, Persephatta, Pherepapha, Perifona and Kore, which simply means "maiden." Those names reflected different local dialects used in the ancient world.

Persephone in Art

Many artists have used Persephone as inspiration for their work down the centuries. From the Italians Giovanni Bellini and Titian (who completed the deceased Bellini's work) came "The Feast of the Gods" in the 16th century. American Thomas Hart Benton painted "Persephone" in 1939. Perhaps the most famous artwork with Persephone as subject is Bernini's 17th-century "The Rape of Proserpina," a baroque marble sculpture located in the Galleria Borghese, in Rome.