Spring is finally here! If you’ve ever wondered why the sun gets a little bit warmer, the flowers bloom, and the trees start exploding with leaves in March, you have only to look to ancient Greek mythology to find your answer.
The Myth of Hades and Persephone
Hades was the God of the Underworld. One day, he saw the beautiful maiden Persephone, daughter of Demeter the Goddess of Harvest and Fertility, and decided to make her his bride. He appealed to his brother Zeus, King of the Gods. Zeus agreed to help his brother trap the young girl (charming) and caused a chasm in the earth beneath Persephone’s feet.
Hades sprang up from the underworld and grabbed the terrified maiden - the ground closed up again behind them as they plunged into the depths of the land of the dead. Demeter had gone to tend to her crops and when she returned, she found the nymphs crying. Overcome with grief, Demeter scoured the earth searching for her beloved daughter.
Her all-consuming grief led to the death of the bounty of crops on earth and humans called out to the gods pleading for a reprieve. Zeus took notice and forced Hades to return Persephone to her mother. While Hades agreed, he first tricked Persephone into eating four seeds of a pomegranate. In ancient Greece, it was believed that if you ate the fruit of your captor, you would be bound to return to them after release. Thus, Persephone was reunited with her mother, but for four months of every year is doomed to return to the underworld.
Queen of the Underworld
Persephone has come to symbolize vegetation and the rebirth inherent in the changing of seasons. As the dreaded Queen of the Underworld, the ancient Greeks thought it bad luck to even speak her name. Because of Demeter’s sadness over the loss of her daughter, we get four months of winter. But when the two are reunited, we are given the bounty of spring, summer, and autumn harvest.
The Persephone perfume was created with carefree maidens and springtime in mind. The top note is pomegranate as that was the fruit that doomed her to a life as Queen of the Underworld. Ylang-ylang, white musk, sweet grass, and sandalwood round out the fragrance.
Hades and Persephone in Art and Literature
I can’t quite figure out why this ancient tale appealed to me so much when I was a kid. Maybe because I was weird and fixated on death. Well it turns out I wasn’t so weird because the story of Hades and Persephone has been depicted in art for centuries!
In 1889, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote Demeter and Persephone, a poetic retelling of the tale told from the point of view of Demeter. You can read the poem in full here, but these are some of my favorite lines:
“O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams.”
It was these lines that inspired the Hades cologne. This fragrance has a dreamlike quality and features notes of belladonna, amber, oak moss, orris, opium, cypress, and narcissus.
In 1621, Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the sculpture, The Rape of Proserpina (the Roman version of Persephone’s name). It is housed at the Borghese Gallery and Museum in Rome, Italy and is on view to the public. The statue is featured in the main image on this post.
There are also quite a few retellings of this myth, especially in the YA realm. In the book Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, Hades and Persephone arrive toward the end and their banter is pretty hilarious.
When you think about it, this is a pretty dark, disturbing myth (which can be said for most fairy tales). But it does allow us to shed the darkness of the winter and enjoy the beauty of spring. Happy equinox!