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ENGL 270 Orientation Readings

The Story of Persephone from Homeric Hymns

Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth and harvest. Demeter was responsible for the growth of plants and crops, and Persephone helped her.

Pluto, god of the Underworld, wanted to marry Persephone and asked Zeus's permission to do so. Zeus avoided answering Pluto's request, however, knowing that Demeter would never agree. (After all, who would want their daughter to live in the Underworld?) One day, Pluto found Persephone alone, kidnapped her, and took her down to Hades. As they entered Hades, they passed by Cerberus -- the three-headed dog who guards the gates of the Underworld to keep the dead from leaving.

When Demeter discovered that her daughter was missing, she stopped taking care of the crops and began to search for Persephone. The crops withered and died. Eventually, Demeter discovered that Persephone was Pluto's prisoner in Hades. She pleaded with Zeus to make Pluto release her daughter. The gods also wanted Zeus to persuade Pluto to let Persephone go, because the humans would starve without any crops.

Zeus ordered Pluto to free Persephone, as long as she hadn't eaten any food in Hades. Just before he set her free, Pluto tempted Persephone to eat a few pomegranate seeds from his garden. Because Persephone had eaten from Pluto's garden, she had to spend part of the year in the Underworld and part on earth with her mother.

So, every year when Persephone is in the Underworld, Demeter is sad and lets the plants die. When Persephone returns to earth, her mother is happy and tends the plants so they bloom and flourish


The Pomegranate by Eavan Boland

The only legend I have ever loved is
 the story of a daughter lost in hell.
 And found and rescued there.
 Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
 Ceres and Persephone the names.
 And the best thing about the legend is
 I can enter it anywhere. And have.
 As a child in exile in
 a city of fogs and strange consonants,
 I read it first and at first I was
 an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
 the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
 I walked out in a summer twilight
 searching for my daughter at bed-time.
 When she came running I was ready
 to make any bargain to keep her.
 I carried her back past whitebeams
 and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
 But I was Ceres then and I knew
 winter was in store for every leaf
 on every tree on that road.
 Was inescapable for each one we passed.
 And for me.
 It is winter
 and the stars are hidden.
 I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
 my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
 her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
 The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
 She could have come home and been safe
 and ended the story and all
 our heart-broken searching but she reached
 out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
 She put out her hand and pulled down
 the French sound for apple and
 the noise of stone and the proof
 that even in the place of death,
 at the heart of legend, in the midst
 of rocks full of unshed tears
 ready to be diamonds by the time
 the story was told, a child can be
 hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
 The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
 The suburb has cars and cable television.
 The veiled stars are above ground.
 It is another world. But what else
 can a mother give her daughter but such
 beautiful rifts in time?
 If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
 The legend will be hers as well as mine.
 She will enter it. As I have.
 She will wake up. She will hold
 the papery flushed skin in her hand.
 And to her lips. I will say nothing.


The Pomegranate by Lousie Gluck

First he gave me his heart. It was red fruit containing many seeds, the skin leathery, unlikely.

I preferred to starve, bearing out my training.

Then he said Behold how the world looks minding your mother.

I peered under his arm: What had she done with color & odor?

Whereupon he said Now there is a woman who loves with a vengeance, adding Consider she is in her element: the trees turning to her, whole villages going under all in hell the bushes are still burning with pomegranates.

At which he cut open & began to suck. When he looked up at last it was to say My dear you are your own woman, finally, but examine this grief your mother parades over our heads remembering that she is one to whom these depths were not offered.


Last Updated: 05/04/2015
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