The Rape of Proserpenie, (c. 1684) by Luca Giordano (Source - Wikipedia)

Demeter, Greek goddess of grain and agriculture, was one of the twelve Olympians who had a daughter with her brother, Zeus. The child’s name was Persephone and one day, while she was out picking flowers with nymphs and naiads of the ocean, she spotted a pretty flower known as the narcissus. She joyfully went over to it to pick it when all of a sudden the earth opened up and out of it came Hades, king of the underworld, who swiftly carried her away to his kingdom where he forced himself upon her.

Demeter was distraught and after nine days of wandering and searching for her beloved teenage daughter, she spoke to Helios the god of the sun. He had observed what had happened and told her that Zeus had given Hades permission to marry his daughter so she was doomed to live in his underworld kingdom, known as Tartarus, forever.

Demeter and Demophon

As Demeter wandered full of sorrow at the loss of her daughter, she came across the city of Elusis. She disguised herself as an old woman and while drinking at a well she met the four daughters of the city’s king and queen, Keleos and Metaneira. They offered to give her food and shelter if she would agree to nurse their baby brother Demophon, an offer which she gladly accepted.

Demeter Mourning Persephone (1906) by Evelyn de Morgan
(Source - Wikipedia)

Demeter however had an agenda of her own and in a bid to replace her lost child, attempted to make the boy an immortal by putting him in the fireplace each night (protecting him from death by covering him with ambrosia). One night, Queen Metaneira walked in on the process and was horrified at what she saw.

This angered the goddess who chastised the queen as now that her plan had been discovered, Demophon could no longer become immortal. She threw the baby to the ground and stormed out of the royal palace, after which the young boy was inconsolable. He was no longer willing to be nurtured by his mother or sisters as he was used to an immortal nurse; soon after, the only son of the king and queen of Elusis died.

The Compromise of Demeter

When her attempt to replace Persephone with Demophon had failed, Demeter turned her attention back to finding her daughter and in her renewed sorrow, stopped all crops from growing. This caused a great famine that threatened to wipe out all of mankind which would have deprived the gods of the honour of sacrifice that humans bestowed upon them.

A 5th century clay relief of Hades and Persephone in Tartarus
(Source -

In a bid to prevent this, Zeus ordered Hades to release Persephone from Tartarus and return her to her mother immediately. However in accordance with the rules of the underworld, this was not possible as during her stay there, she had eaten one seed from a pomegranate and once a soul had eaten in Tartarus, they were never allowed to leave.

The three Olympians knew a compromise had to be made so it was decided that Persephone would spend two thirds of the year on earth with her mother, but had to return to the underworld to be with her husband for the remaining third of the year.

While she agreed to the compromise, Demeter did not like it one bit so she vowed that when her daughter was away from her side, the world would be plunged into winter. Because of her sorrow, all of mankind would have to endure a season when no crops would grow and the winds would blow cold; only when her daughter was returned to her in the spring, would she again bestow her gifts to the world.

The Return of Persephone (1891) by Frederic Leighton
(Source - Wikipedia)


Hunt, J.M. [Internet]. 2013. Greek Mythology - Other Gods. San Diego State University. Available from: [Accessed September 27, 2013].

Vandiver, E. [Video Lecture]. 2002. TTC - Classical Mythology. Whitman College

Zabel, G. [Internet]. 2006. Demeter and Persephone. University of Massachusetts, Boston. Available from:,%20Empedocles,%20Plato/Demeter%20and%20Persephone.htm [Accessed September 27, 2013].