For day five of Beauty & the Beast Week, I have decided to focus on the connection between the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone and the myth of Eros and Psyche. Just as Eros and Psyche is one of the origins to Beauty and the Beast, Hades and Persephone is the one of the origins of the Death and the Maiden motif! So this post is meant to further explain the similarities between the two tale types by going over the comparisons between the myth of Hades and Persephone and the myth of Eros and Psyche.
Hades and Persephone are two of the main players in the Greek myth that is used to explain the turning of the seasons. Hades is the Greek God of the Underworld, making him a King ruling over the domain of the dead. Persephone was a young Goddess of Springtime and flowers who was the only child of the Goddess of Harvest, Demeter. Hades is literally considered to be the embodiment of death and Persephone with her innocence and association with life in bloom (flowers and Spring) is the ideal maiden to balance this Death and the Maiden motif. Many consider their story to be the earliest version of the Death and the Maiden motif!
I went over the Eros and Psyche tale in greater detail in an earlier post this week. So I will be briefly noting important parts for comparison here. Eros was the son of Aphrodite and a God of Love. He was sent by his mother to punish a young woman whom locals had begun to worship for her beauty instead of Aphrodite. This young woman was Psyche, a beautiful and kind human woman who never asked to be worshipped. Although Aphrodite had intended to get Eros to make Psyche fall in love with a monster of some sort using his own love arrows, he was so beguiled by Psyche’s beauty that he pricked himself on a love arrow! This would lead to a set of circumstances where they married but he never revealed his face to her, and only came at night to see the woman he loved. She was in a beautiful palace alone during the day and fully provided for, but grew to miss her sisters, who were sent for and sowed seeds of discontent telling her that the reason her husband would not reveal himself is that he was a vile monster of some sort. Of course, Psyche would use a candle to see her husband at night, but was shocked by his godly beauty and dripped wax on him waking him. Eros saw that she was also holding a knife and left her feeling betrayed. Later Aphrodite would send Psyche on many tests to prove her love for Eros, and eventually, Psyche would win back her husband!
It is obvious why Eros and Psyche’s story is considered one of the pre-cursors to the modern versions of the Beauty and the Beast tale type. We can also see parallels to the tale of Hades and Persephone. Hades stole Persephone away to the Underworld to be his Queen before their marriage, taking her from a field where she was picking flowers with her Nymph handmaidens. This abduction was sanctioned by Persephone’s father Zeus, who gave her hand in marriage to Hades, but Demeter was never informed of her daughter’s pending nuptials, or of what had happened when her daughter was taken. This left Demeter searching for information. Hekate, Goddess of Witches, took pity on her plight and took her to see Helios (as the embodiment of the sun he could see anything that the sun fell upon). He was able to tell Demeter that Persephone was taken by Hades. Demeter was livid that this happened, even more so when she found out that Zeus had been compliant in the whole affair. It would lead to Persephone being brought back to her mother (after Demeter blighted the crops until she was brought back), but only after she had eaten the food of the Underworld, pomegranate seeds to be specific, and was therefore forever bound to the land of the dead. This is where Zeus’ proclamation that she would spend half of the year with her mother and half with her husband came. The seasons change based on Demeter’s moods, Winter is when Persephone has been away and Demeter is depressed and not blessing the crops.
Now, how does Eros and Psyche’s story relate to Hades and Persephone’s? Well, both have a young maiden who is taken from her home to be married off to a man whom many have reason to fear. Persephone is a Goddess, but a young and innocent one, and Psyche does not even know whom her husband is leading to fear. Both stories also have a God who is hiding something from a mother, neither Hades nor Zeus tell Demeter about the plan for Persephone, and likewise, Eros does not initially tell his own mother Aphrodite about falling in love with and marrying Psyche! There is even a conflict that temporarily separated the lovers in each myth, Eros leaving Psyche until she proved her love and Persephone needing to leave Hades for a part of each year. Finally, I would like to mention that Persephone herself appeared in the Eros and Psyche tale. The last task that Aphrodite set for Psyche was to go to the Underworld to get a beauty potion from Persephone. In my opinion that is the last thing that fully links the two myths!
I hope you have enjoyed this comparison between the myth of Hades and Persephone and the myth of Eros and Psyche. Which myth do you find more interesting? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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- Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Bride and Grooms from Around the World edited by Maria Tatar
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton
- Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch