Greek Mythology: Hades

I love Meg Cabot.

I love the story of “Hades and Persephone.”

So this is just making me really really happy

And this book jacket is super pretty too

It’s coming out in April so I’ll have to be patient. But until then, lets look at the ancient bad boy the novel is based on.

The Myth

Marble sculpture of Hades and Persephone by Bernini, circa 1620's

I may have liked the “Hades and Persephone” myth in all those Greek mythology books I read in grade school for the same reason I loved reading the books of Esther and Ruth in the bible: the romantic aspect. I was also agog over “Cupid and Psyche” even though the version I first read didn’t have the part where Psyche redeems herself and gets Cupid back. She just turned into an owl and forever called out for her lost love.

The basic story is this: Persephone (pronounced pur-seff-oh-knee) is the beautiful daughter of Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest and Zeus, ruler of the Gods. Demeter loved her very much and kept her in the countryside. Hades, god of the Underworld noticed the radiant beauty of Persephone and received the tacit approval of Zeus to take her as his wife. As Persephone was picking flowers in a field one day, Hades appeared and dragged her to the Underworld.

Demeter, distraught by her daughter’s disappearance, searches for Persephone while abandoning her duties. The world plunges into winter as crops wither and die. Demeter eventually discovers, either from a shepherd boy or the sun god Helios, what happened to her daughter.

Demeter goes to Zeus, demanding her daughter returned. Zeus must do this or else let the whole world starve because of Demeter’s grief. Meanwhile in the Underworld, Persephone has refused to eat anything. But Hades convinces her to eat pomegranate seeds (either four or six). When Demeter arrives in the Underworld it is too late, Persephone has eaten the food of the Underworld and is a law that if you eat in the Underworld you must stay there. A compromise is reached to prevent Demeter from killing the world: Persephone must stay in the Underworld a month for every seed she consumed, the rest with her mother. So from then on, whenever Demeter is with her daughter, the world is warm and bright. But when Persephone is with Hades, Demeter despairs and we have winter.

The Interpretation

 

Greek Vase 450-400 BC, attributed to Codrus Painter

 

How you see Hades depends on the interpretation and version. Traditionally the myth is titled The Rape of Persephone which is definitely not in those treasury of Greek myths from my grade school library so my view of him has always been a little softer. In the classic version Hades doesn’t do very well to my usual standards: he abducts Persephone and while it’s never explicitly stated in the story that he rapes her, the title definitely does. Then he tricks her when it looks like she’s going to be rescued so she has to come back to him.

Yeah, as far as the classic story goes, he’s a big D. He doesn’t get a F because he had Zeus’ approval and in the context of the time period and the mythology Hades actions aren’t as crazy as a modern hero. Or….I don’t know. Maybe he does get an F. Context can really change things but it can make us try to justify things that aren’t justifiable. I mean, just because racism was accepted once doesn’t mean it was right. I’m honestly not sure how to grade the classical Hades. So he gets two: in context of the myth its a D, by today’s standards he gets a big ol’ F.

Edit: With some time and thought, I realise that trying to justify him by the context of his own time period..doesn’t work. The mores of the period don’t excuse the crime and classical Hades gets an F.

Which leads me to: why do I love the story so much?

I think the nostalgic film lens is on for me. When I first read the myth, it was presented in a way that made me feel sorry for Hades, the way we feel sorry for David Bowie in Labyrinth.

 

I'm sorry, I really couldn't resist putting him in.

 

I think a lot of others have this same lens. As I was refreshing my memory about the myth and reading up on the original story, I found a site called Goddess Gift that “celebrates the Goddess withinand their telling is gentler. Hades is excused for his actions:

One can hardly blame Hades because the underworld, in Greek mythology,  was the realm of the sleeping and the dead. It probably needed some “brightening up”, and the young goddess Persephone’s radiance would assuredly liven up the place.

And the story notes that Persephone grew to love Hades though she missed her mother. Which makes me wonder several things:

1) When did the myth turn so romantic?

2) Do I still like this myth so much?

There are a few reasons number one could have happened and it would be an interesting scholarship/research project to take on for any interested person. (Maybe me someday, who knows?) With my limited scope of knowledge these are my theories:

a) The rape/abduction aspect was downplayed enough by those who retold it that someone with a basic knowledge of the myth wouldn’t realize how unromantic the story is until they researched (aka me). And when they did research they either weren’t bothered by the negative portions of the story or just looked past them.

b) The rape/abduction aspect didn’t seem like that big a deal to the writers who were adapting the tale. After all, the 1980’s wasn’t too long ago and was filled with romance novels where rape was just another way of saying I love you. (Or writers liked the basic framework of the story and changed it to be not as bad, like Meg Cabot is probably doing.)

Which leads to question number 2, do I still like the story?

I think that like Meg Cabot and P.C. Cast (whose Goddess of Spring I still have to get my hands on) I like the idea of the dark hero who loves the bright heroine and wants to keep her with him. I appreciate the classical version of the myth but I don’t find it romantic. (Not that many Greek myths were truly romantic. A good portion deal with the different ways Zeus cheated on his wife.) I like some of the artistic interpretations this myth has inspired (like this and this)

I do feel guilty though, like I’m downplaying the rape/abduction so that I can enjoy the story without being bothered. I’m not sure what to make of that. I’m hoping that at least my ambivalence has made for an exciting review. I’d like to hear what all of you think about it.

Breakdown

I’m going to grade this a little differently because of the way the review has gone and because of the flexible nature of mythology:

Classical Hades in the context of Greek mythology: D

Classical Hades by today’s standards: F

Watered-down version/framework of Hades: B







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5 Responses to “Greek Mythology: Hades”


  1. 1 Jessica November 23, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Interesting story, I definitely give the guy an F though. Rape is rape is rape, so no points for him there. Even if it was semi accepted the word still implies that the woman did not want it, and the man took it anyway. The semi acceptance probably just stems from a more male dominated culture. But anyway I can see why Cabot would make a story out of it. Sounds interesting. And yes, Zeus is a manwhore. A shapeshifting furry manwhore.

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