The Seeds of Death

In order to understand why Persephone intentionally chooses to guarantee her return to the Underworld, we have to see what the Kore is like before entering the Underworld and what she is like when she emerges.

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     The Return of Persephone  by Frederic Leighton, 1981 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton, 1981 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before her abduction, the Kore is a young maiden with a generic name, denied a unique identity, and referred to as an extension of her mother. She never speaks. The only sound she makes is the shrill cry to her father as she is being abducted, but even that is reported in the indirect voice.

Persephone in the Underworld is a powerful queen whose authority extends over all that has died. But there’s a catch. If she leaves the Underworld, she’ll never be allowed to return. Her power becomes meaningless. If she stays, she’ll never be able to exit. 

Homer tells us Persephone’s leap for joy occurs immediately after Hades explains the extent of her power. This suggests a causal relationship. Could it be possible that her joy is due to recognition that if she wishes to sustain her power, she must be able to rotate between upper and lower worlds? Such ability would make her virtually unique among the gods since only Hermes shares the same privilege. But she would have greater power than even Hermes. Unlike him, she can influence what transpires in her domain. The shades residing in the Underworld would appeal to her for help. Furthermore, her presence in the upper world would enable her to enjoy the benefit of sacrifices and honors from mortals eager to win her favor for when they die. Without the ability to navigate periodically between both worlds, her stature would greatly diminish.

Recognizing the truth in Hades’ words, Persephone assumes responsibility for her transformation and exercises choice. She opts to take on her role as a conduit. She guarantees her periodic return to the Underworld by intentionally consuming the seeds of death.

Persephone has been transfigured by her experience. She does not pine away or wallow in self-pity because of her victimization. She accepts what has happened to her and uses the experience to propel herself to a higher level of development and growth. No longer subject to the authority of either her mother or Hades, she creates a third space for herself that is independent of both and one that transcends the limitations of both worlds. Loss is thereby transformed into an opportunity for growth.

Persephone’s consumption of the seeds of death demonstrates her awareness that the seeds of death are her vehicle for a new life. In order to be re-born as a powerful, autonomous being, her old self must die.

How this awareness can benefit us will be the subject of my next post.


AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar