Persephone’s Capture: Duality in Myth
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Persephone’s Capture: Duality in Myth
“To see life as a poem and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for you” (Campbell, 1988, p. 65). Like poetry, myth uses recurring themes, symbolism, and metaphor, but myth is not about fanciful stories. Myth is about what it means to be human, our story in its entirety, and how to live in harmony with your society. Sometimes, as is the case in Levi-Strauss’s analysis of hare-lips, twins, and children born feet first, several myths of varying cultures have similar symbols, speaking to the similarity of humans no matter the culture. Sometimes, as in the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of these symbols can grow to encompass the entirety of a culture’s beliefs as a “master symbol.” In both examples, the myth is shown to be symbolic, not factual, and this is the foundation of studying myth. By identifying and comparing the symbolism inherent in myth, one can envision the universal nature of man.
One common theme in myth is that of duality, whether it be male/female, good/evil, Heaven/Hell, life/death or spring/winter. A well-known Greek myth about this duality is that of Persephone. Persephone, sometimes called Kore when associated with spring as the Maiden of Corn, was a beautiful child, loved by her mother, Demeter. Demeter was the Greek goddess responsible for bountiful harvest, grain, and growth, and Persephone/Kore was a fitting version of her. One day, she was in the fields with her mother and found a beautiful flower. She was so entranced by it that she did not hear the ground opening behind her. Hades, King of the Underworld, rose up with his horse-drawn chariot, abducted the girl, and took her back to the Underworld to be his Queen. Demeter realizes her daughter is missing and goes on a search, forgetting about her duties. The world experiences its first season of winter as the crops wither and die because the mother is in mourning. She discovers the location of her daughter, but Hades has tricked Persephone into eating a number of pomegranate seeds, sealing her fate. In some tellings, she adapts well to her new role as Queen of the Underworld and greeter of new souls, but in all accounts, she misses her mother as well. Eventually, a balance is stricken. Persephone comes to the middle ground of Earth to be with her mother as Kore, Goddess of Rebirth in the spring, and Demeter’s happiness is seen in the new life given to plants across the Earth. She then returns to her throne in the Underworephld with Demeter returning to her mourning for the fall and winter.
Duality is emphasized symbolically throughout this myth. The obvious example is in spring and winter, with spring emphasizing youth, happiness, and rebirth, while winter shows Demeter as a sad, old crone, and death of the crops. The goddess Persephone herself is a great example of duality. She is at once Kore, child goddess of grain, youthful and joyous at the feet of her mother, and Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, grim and terrifying at the side of her husband. Duality not only discusses, in Campbell’s view, a reference to before the transcendent entered into the field of time, and the balance required for a full life, but also the common human belief that to understand, appreciate, and experience the good, one must also experience the bad.
Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of Myth. New York: MJF Books.
Moro, P. & Myers, J. (2010). Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion. Eighth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Strong, L. (n.d.). The Myth of Persephone: Greek Goddess of the Underworld. Retrieved June 30, 2012 from http://www.mythicarts.com/writing/Persephone.html
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