Pop Culture

Persephone in the Media

Yesterday evening, I received the best email ever.  A high school student wrote in because she’s doing an assignment on Greek gods and goddesses in the media, and her goddess is Persephone.  She’s going to use a few of our articles to compare how Persephone, the goddess, had her voice taken from her and how Persephone, the magazine, wants to give all women a voice.   HOW NEAT IS THAT?

So we’re going to help her out.  Commenters, to your keyboards! Let’s brainstorm other instances when Persephone has appeared in pop culture so we can help her get an A+.

When we were starting to put this project together, the very first thing that was decided was the name.  We picked Persephone for several reasons.

1. My lifelong BFF has a wee daughter named Persephone who is brilliant, funny and full of fire.  She’s going to rule the world by the time she’s ten.

2. Persephone, the goddess, was a woman without a lot of choices and without a voice.  In the 6000 or so years since the Persephone myth originated, many women, all over the world, still don’t have choices or a voice.  The team of us who started the magazine are fortunate enough to be able to provide a platform for women who want to tell their stories to do so.

3. I’m slightly obsessed with Greek mythology.

I can rattle off a few examples of other places Persephone has appeared in pop culture, and I’m hoping that all of us together can make a great list for our Junior Persephoneer.  Let’s get this young woman an A!

Six Seeds: The Persephone Project – We heard word of this play from one of the producers, who will be writing a piece for us next week.  Six Seeds is a retelling of the Persephone myth through the eye of modern feminism, and it sounds fantastic.  It opens in NYC next week and runs from June 2 – 11.  Some of the Persephone editors will be attending opening night, and we’ll be writing more about it next week.

Firefly – In Joss Whedon’s short-lived and much-loved series, Persephone was one of the border planets frequently visited by the Firefly crew.

The Matrix Reloaded/The Matrix Revolutions – Persephone was a character played by Monica Bellucci.

Bones – In the second to last episode of this season, Booth chased down his nemesis on a ship named Persephone.

Wonder Woman – Persephone was one of Wonder Woman’s Amazonian sisters, but she betrayed her people and was killed by Hippolyta.

What examples can you name?

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

27 replies on “Persephone in the Media”

In Stephen King’s novel Duma Key, the antagonistic force is named Persephone, and is portrayed as a power of malignant creativity and death contained in an ancient porcelain sculpture of a woman.

(There’s probably some interesting analysis to be done there wrt the fear of female creative/genitive power – King IS a horror author – and the mythological Persephone’s role as a passive trigger for the cycle of death and rebirth. It’s a doorstop, though, so that’s probably well beyond the scope of her project.)

She also appears in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Demeter: though she doesn’t have a voice here either:

Where I lived – winter and hard earth.
I sat in my cold stone room
choosing tough words, granite, flint,
to break the ice. My broken heart –
I tried that, but it skimmed,
flat, over the frozen lake.
She came from a long, long way,
but I saw her at last, walking,
my daughter, my girl, across the fields,
In bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers
to her mother’s house. I swear
the air softened and warmed as she moved,
the blue sky smiling, none too soon,
with the small shy mouth of a new moon.

That’s from Duffy’s book The World’s Wife, which I highly highly recommend.

QoB reminds me that there’s a Tennyson poem as well:

Demeter and Persephone

Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies
All night across the darkness, and at dawn
Falls on the threshold of her native land,
And can no more, thou camest, O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,
Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb,
With passing thro’ at once from state to state,
Until I brought thee hither, that the day,
When here thy hands let fall the gather’d flower,
Might break thro’ clouded memories once again
On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale
Saw thee, and flash’d into a frolic of song
And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,
When first she peers along the tremulous deep,
Fled wavering o’er thy face, and chased away
That shadow of a likeness to the king
Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!
Queen of the dead no more — my child! Thine eyes
Again were human-godlike, and the Sun
Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,
And robed thee in his day from head to feet —
“Mother!” and I was folded in thine arms.

Child, those imperial, disimpassion’d eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother — eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother’s childless cry,
A cry that ran thro’ Hades, Earth, and Heaven!

So in this pleasant vale we stand again,
The field of Enna, now once more ablaze
With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,
All flowers — but for one black blur of earth
Left by that closing chasm, thro’ which the car
Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence.
And here, my child, tho’ folded in thine arms,
I feel the deathless heart of motherhood
Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe
Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence
The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,
Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,
And all at once their arch’d necks, midnight-maned,
Jet upward thro’ the mid-day blossom. No!
For, see, thy foot has touch’d it; all the space
Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,
And breaks into the crocus-purple hour
That saw thee vanish.

Child, when thou wert gone,
I envied human wives, and nested birds,
Yea, the cubb’d lioness; went in search of thee
Thro’ many a palace, many a cot, and gave
Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,
And set the mother waking in amaze
To find her sick one whole; and forth again
Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,
“Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?”
And out from all the night an answer shrill’d,
“We know not, and we know not why we wail.”
I climb’d on all the cliffs of all the seas,
And ask’d the waves that moan about the world
“Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?”
And round from all the world the voices came
“We know not, and we know not why we moan.”
“Where?” and I stared from every eagle-peak,
I thridded the black heart of all the woods,
I peer’d thro’ tomb and cave, and in the storms
Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard
The murmur of their temples chanting me,
Me, me, the desolate Mother! “Where”? — and turn’d,
And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,
And grieved for man thro’ all my grief for thee, —
The jungle rooted in his shatter’d hearth,
The serpent coil’d about his broken shaft,
The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; —
I saw the tiger in the ruin’d fane
Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee
I saw not; and far on, and, following out
A league of labyrinthine darkness, came
On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.
“Where”? and I heard one voice from all the three
“We know not, for we spin the lives of men,
And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!
There is a Fate beyond us.” Nothing knew.

Last as the likeness of a dying man,
Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn
A far-off friendship that he comes no more,
So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,
Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself
Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past
Before me, crying “The Bright one in the highest
Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,
And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child
Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power
That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom,
Should be for ever and for evermore
The Bride of Darkness.”

So the Shadow wail’d.
Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.
I would not mingle with their feasts; to me
Their nectar smack’d of hemlock on the lips,
Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.
The man, that only lives and loves an hour,
Seem’d nobler than their hard Eternities.
My quick tears kill’d the flower, my ravings hush’d
The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail’d
To send my life thro’ olive-yard and vine
And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.
Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears
Vere hollow-husk’d, the leaf fell, and the sun,
Pale at my grief, drew down before his time
Sickening, and tna kept her winter snow.
Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He
Who still is highest, glancing from his height
On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss’d
The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise
And prayer of men, decreed that thou should’st dwell
For nine white moons of each whole year with me,
Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.

Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn
Will see me by the landmark far away,
Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk
Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,
Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.
Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content
With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,
What meant they by their “Fate beyond the Fates”
But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,
As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,
To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,
Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,
To send the noon into the night and break
The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?
Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,
And all the Shadow die into the Light,
When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,
And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,
And made themselves as Gods against the fear
Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,
As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,
Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,
Shalt ever send thy life along with mine
From buried grain thro’ springing blade, and bless
Their garner’d Autumn also, reap with me,
Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth
The worship which is Love, and see no more
The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns
Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires
Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide
Along the silent field of Asphodel.

Persephone, as herself, has shown up in a few books I’ve read recently. In Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff, she shows up with a group of other retired gods as a sort of aging southern belle with lots of jewelry and lots of scarves, she seems to have settled into married life with Hades. In Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books she is also resigned to being married to Hades, but she’s selfish, slightly airheaded and a little bitchy. In The Shadow Thieves, by Anne Ursu, she is an elusive and mysterious patron to heroes and spirits, working under Hades’ radar to discomfit him.

What an awesome project! Hurry up and graduate, young friend, so we can put you to work!

I don’t have any additional media examples, but in the Firefly example, it’s interesting to note that most of the wealthy Core planets (most often associated with the Alliance) have mythological and literary names: Ariel, Osiris, Bellerophon, etc. However, the notable exceptions of Persephone, Hera, and Miranda were important planets for the Independents: their trading post, the site of their biggest defeat, and the planet that brought about their redemption and renewed their fight against the Alliance.

There’s a thesis in there somewhere.

Douglas Adams–Mostly Harmless the new 10th planet is named Persephone.

I felt pretty positive that there was some kind of Persephone reference in BSG, but I couldn’t figure it out. Google told me this: … so there is one, but I’m not that geeky, so I can’t claim that’s really me.

She definitely shows up in Sandman, and is a character in one of my favorite books Gods Behaving Badly.

Persephone is also the name of a planet in one of Douglas Adams’ books. The planet, mostly harmless, is later renamed Rupert. Funny enough, in our solar system a new planet was named Persephone before being downgraded to a dwarf planet (along with Pluto – cue link to Proserpina as Pluto is Hades’ equivalent) and renamed Eris.

In that telling, she’s the one who warns him not to look back, too, isn’t she? There’s an interesting correlation there between her own experiences with her time being split between worlds and the importance of not looking back, not second guessing, something along those lines.

Well no, Lady Persephone was not the most sympathetic character, but she was a rebel. Born of privilege she bucks the system in her own manner, as ridiculous and callow as it is, trying to find her own way.

Don’t worry we’ll see more of her. New episodes of UpDown have been ordered.

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