Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Rape of Persephone

This story will also appear on the Neos Alexandria website. I wrote this today, in response to a long discussion about Persephone and Kore, and whether or not the "rape" was an actual forcible sexual act or something psychological. This is based on myth, but not bound by it. This is not primary source material - it is my fictional account of what may have happened to Persephone, and why, and where it led to.

The Rape of Persephone

Mother always was a wee bit controlling. Don't get me wrong, I love her dearly. Spending time with her, talking to her every day, playing little pranks on Zeus and Hades and my siblings and friends are all a part of our very close and loving relationship. However, Mother has this way of making things unbearable if you are with her for more than a few days. She is the epitome of the old saying: House guests, like socks and fresh vegetables, have a habit of going bad after about
three days.

My childhood was fairly carefree. I spent much of my time playing in the fields, enjoying exuberant games of tag and hide and seek with the nymphs and local children. We rarely lived on Olympos, although we did visit frequently. Hera always made it a bit uncomfortable when we were there, and looking back on it with the eyes of an adult, I can certainly understand why. Still, she was never mean to me, at least that I know of. My most joyous memories are of running wildly through the wheat fields, the golden feathery heads tickling my face, butterflies fluttering up out of reach and dancing as I smiled.

Then I began to change. My monthly time came upon me, and Mother explained that it was to do with fertility and childbearing. She also suggested that I begin to look for a husband, as I was not uncomely and would likely be attracting suitors soon. I didn't want this adultness thrust upon me, though. I wanted to dance, and sing, and play with the nymphs. I wanted to spin naked under the full moon, my hair a great halo of gold around me.

Then HE came, sniffing around. There's a feeling of power that you get when a "bad boy" takes an interest in you. I was flattered, of course. He was dark, yes, but also handsome and intelligent. He courted me privately, behind Mother's back. I suppose if he were to do it today, he'd be riding a motorcycle and wearing a lot of leather. Probably piercings, too. Then, he would just meet me in quite places when Mother was otherwise occupied. He'd find me swimming in the ocean, or
come upon me gathering eggs. I was a bit afraid of him, too. I knew who he was, King of the Underworld, and a denizen of darkness. There was always that special something about him, though, which I could never deny. The interest was mutual.

He ruined it for me, though. Rather than talking to me, he went to Zeus, and asked my hand in marriage. I wouldn't put it past him, manipulative bastard that he is, to have gone to Hera first. Perhaps he whispered into her ear about getting rid of me, so she wouldn't have to see Zeus's bastard offspring anymore. Who knows. Zeus thought it a good match, as did Hera. They didn't talk to Mother about it, though.

He found me that day, sitting on a hillside, drinking a cup of mead and enjoying the sunshine. I was playing a game with flowers ("He loves me; he loves me not..."), letting the white daisy petals drift away on the light breeze. He crept stealthily out of a nearby cave, and practically slithered over. We talked for a few moments, but I was desperately trying to get him to disappear before Mother's entourage of maids and naiads noticed him. That was when he snatched me up, as if I were a sack of grain, and toted me off into the darkness of his cave, his realm.

I screeched bloody murder, and clawed at his back, but it was no use. My interest in him was my own downfall: he was strong and capable, and knew me well enough to counter anything I might do. He also had the attitude of the victor, knowing that he had the permission of Zeus himself. Far off, I could hear Mother calling for me, and the other ladies running about searching, but even those faint cries faded to nothing. I felt terribly alone. I no longer felt like I had power over
this dark, almost sinister male. I had felt his strength, and his control, and it terrified me.

How could he do this? Didn't he understand that Mother would tear him to pieces and take his bloody remains to Mount Olympos, throwing them before my Father? Surely he was just playing a game... and yet, I knew from the first moment that it was no game. I simply hoped, and prayed.

He deposited me in a dark room, lit by an eiree glowing lichen, decorated in borgia greens and blood reds with gems embedded within the walls constructed of Mother Earth herself. I was beside myself with fear, unable to think or even speak clearly. I suppose I must have looked quite the ninny, dressed as I was for picnicking in a sunny field, my eyes grey with fear and as large as dinner plates. I simply stood there, holding my own arms, hugging myself, looking every
which way as if I could find an egress.

"I want you to be my wife." He was always so forthright. He never beat around the bush. "Be my queen. You deserve more than to live in Demeter's shadow." He leaned casually against the doorway, his dark robes blending in with the earthen walls. He seemed to be a disembodied head, talking at me, leering at me.

I sputtered. Be his wife? After he kidnapped me, and dragged me down here like some peasant wench? I'd see him rot in... Yes, well I was very upset and hadn't really processed the idea that we were already in the underworld. I spat out a vicious, "No!" and flounced off to the other side of the room/cave. As I stared at the bleak walls of dirt, the precious gems scattered so thoughtlessly throughout the borders of my new universe, I felt desolate. I wanted my mother! I began to cry.

I heard him leave, but didn't turn. Who knows what things went through his head. Did he feel remorse? I now know that sometimes he does, but at the time I saw him as a heartless ass. When I was certain he'd been gone for a while, I looked around the spacious room. There was a bed, of course, and a table, a chair, candles and even a lamp. A small hearth, vented to who-knows-where, burned in a corner that I hadn't seen walking in, and from this I lit the candles and the lamp. I made as much light as I could in that dim, dank world, trying desperately
to hold myself together and not cry.

I failed, as young girls are wont to do. Eventually, I threw myself bodily onto the bed, noticing the costly sheets and furs only peripherally, and sobbed for a very long time. The sound was absorbed by the walls, providing no vaulting echo as there was in my room on Olympos. I hated it here! It smelled of earthworms, and dirt, and mold, and mushrooms! Be his wife! Bah!

I'm the daughter of a goddess, and a goddess in my own right, but I still feel hunger sometimes despite not needing earthly sustenance. I had been accustomed to eating regular meals with the maids and children who were my playmates and friends. I felt hunger, and especially thirst. I resolved not to ask Hades for anything, because I knew for a fact that eating anything down here would doom me to stay. Even the smallest drop of water was not allowed. I set my chin, though it quivered a bit, and made up my mind to wait him out.

Days passed, I'm sure. It was difficult to tell underground, and the light was almost always the same in that room. After several refillings of the lamp from a container of oil I found, I had
thoroughly explored every aspect of my room. There was no door in the doorway, and no guard or fence to stop me leaving. I began to wander, carefully watching my way so I didn't become lost. In this way, I came to know the denizens of the underworld.

Several times, Hades summoned me, and I was brought before him by pale skinned, small breasted women who seemed to be the servants here. Each time, he asked me to marry him, and each time I turned away.

"I don't love you," I would repeat each time. At first, this was true. I didn't love him, and in fact I was very angry with him for causing this misery in my otherwise happy young life. Time heals, though, and Hades was very solicitous of my feelings. He was never under my power, and I saw now that he never had been when visiting me in my own realm. He had simply let me feel that power, to put me off guard. He controlled every aspect in this nether world, even me, but he
controlled it with great insight and caring.

After many summonses, my feelings began to change. I started accepting his dinner invitations, even though I neither ate nor drank at his table. I craved the company. I craved the upper world, the sun on my skin, and the arms of my mother wrapped around me. He was not
unpleasant to be around. As I have mentioned before, he was very easy to look at, with his rakish dark hair, and his strong, wiry frame. He was content to speak to me about anything except my leaving him. He even contrived games for us to play, using dice or coins or cards.
Slowly, my feelings for him softened, and I felt those quiet pangs of love.

I had made up my mind to accept his next offer of marriage, when I heard about Mother's tirade upon the world above. Mortal men were starving, it was said, because she had caused ice to cover the land, and all manner of food was dead or dying. I came to Hades, prepared to talk about what we should do, and discovered him talking to another young woman carrying a torch. A belt of keys hung at her waist, and her khiton hung strangely on her although she was quite pretty. A stab of jealousy pained my heart, and Hades felt it, and looked up to me. He beckoned me forth.

"This is Hekate, sweetling," he introduced me. The other woman, Hekate, smiled at me. I returned her smile, somewhat hesitantly, as I had not interacted with someone from the upper world in many months. "She is here as an emissary from Demeter."

I whimpered quietly, and walked to Hades' side. He wrapped a protective arm around me, and held me close. I felt safe; I felt loved. I did not really wish to leave. The days and months of my
captivity had allowed me to see that the realm under the earth was a lovely one, in its own way. It had stunning beauties that the sun side could never know. I laid my hand over my love's hand, and noticed that the color of my skin had faded, and almost matched his own pallid flesh. I smiled a bit, and stood straighter.

"Lady Hekate, I thank you for coming in my mother's name. I do not wish to leave here, though. I love Hades, and if he will have me, I will become his wife." I could feel his arm tighten around my waist, and the glow of his smile seemed to light the room.

Hekate nodded sagely. "I suspected that was the case, however I promised your mother I would come. Are you aware of what she has done to the earth above, to the mortals and animals?" I nodded, and looked down. "She grieves for you, and believes you have been stolen away, and raped. Even the knowledge that Hades here had permission to do it has not assuaged her anger. She is content to allow the entire mortal realm to perish because of her unreasoning grief for you."

I met her eyes, and saw that she was telling the truth. Mother always did have that stubborn streak. I was a bit taken aback by the idea that my father had given Hades permission to abduct me, but I understood that "normal" means would not have worked with me. I required the time to truly feel his strength, and get to know his underworld, before I could become his queen. I nodded to Hekate.

"I know what to do. Will you join us for a meal, Lady Hekate?" Her status as a Titan allowed her the pleasure of joining us, without fear for her own safety. She watched me, curious, as I ordered the servants to bring us dark ale, and many foods that were special to this realm. They hastened to obey, Hades' dark gaze acknowledging my power over them. I felt my own power returning, not as power over another but over myself. Perhaps that is what Hades wanted me to gain in the first place.

I sat down to the meal, and I ate nothing. I watched as my husband-to-be enjoyed my choice of mushrooms and truffles and such. I watched as our guest sipped at the delicious ale brewed here within our own dark halls. For dessert, pomegranates were brought forth, and Hades cracked one open with deft fingers, and offered half to Hekate. She ate, lips and fingers darkening from the juice of the seeds, and she watched me.

I touched Hades' hand gently, and exchanged a knowing look with him. His fingers caressed mine, ever so gently, before he plucked three little seeds from the fruit in his other hand. These he offered to me, wordlessly, and I accepted, saying nothing. I ate those seeds, knowing exactly what I was accepting, and exactly what I was giving up.

The rest, as they say, is history. Mother was livid that I would "forget" and eat something in the underworld. At first, she railed at me, screeching like a barn owl. After a while, she cried, and begged me to ask Zeus to free me from my bondage to Hades. I listened and endured this spectacle for several hours, until she had wound herself down to a few damp tears.

"Mother, I love him. But more than that, in his own way, he needs me. The underworld needs me. I have the power to make men forget, and this power I will use there to soothe the souls meant to return in time to the earth. Hades needs a Queen, someone to share his power, not some slave girl to cower at his feet. Those he has by the bucketful, if he wishes them. I am different, though. And my time there has changed me. I am no longer a girl."

She cried more, and said some vile things to me. I know she did it because of her deep love for me, but it hurt. I endured it, though, with a calm face, and a calm mind. In time, she would come to see the wisdom of my marriage. She would come to love my children, and my children's children. We would have our time together each spring and summer, and the fall and winter would be my time with my marvelous, dark haired husband.

So the seasons were born, the myths say. Of course, there were seasons long before the myths came to be, but I'm sure the bards and storytellers and myth makers knew that. Raped? No, I was never raped, in body or in mind. I was simply taught a different way to be, and I was allowed to grow up.
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