Kore / Persephone

1. Myth

According to Hesiod, Persephone is Demeter’s daughter by Zeus.1 The most important incident in her tradition seems to have been her abduction by Hades,2 while picking flowers in the Nysian plain.3 Persephone became the spouse of Hades and Queen of the Underworld.4 After an entire year from the abduction, her mother, who kept searching for her all over the earth, succeeded in securing Persephone’s return for two thirds of the year; furthermore, in gratitude for the hospitality she received by the Eleusinians during the long quest for her daughter she initiated their leaders to her mysteries.5

1. 1. Kore

Kore appears to have been Persephone’s cult name.6 It has been suggested that originally Persephone, Queen of Hades, and Kore, the daughter of Demeter, were not the same person.7 Persephone plays a leading role in the Orphic religion as mother of Zagreus-Dionysus by Zeus.8 The god was reported to have mated with Persephone in the form of a snake.9 Persephone’s name is also found in texts inscribed on the gold leaves that were buried with people who had been initiated into Orphism.10

2. Cult of Persephone in Asia Minor

Persephone/ Kore’s cult was particularly popular in Asia Minor where Demeter was assimilated with the Phrygian Cybele at least since the second half of the 5th c. BC.11 Hence, at Cyzikus Persephone was worshipped with the epithet Soteira (Saviour) and her festival was called Pherrephattia or Koreia or Soteria.12 In Sardis the wide-ranging assimilation of Cybele with Kore-Persephone during the first centuries of Christianity is evident in the local coins that often depict scenes from the myth of Proserpina.13 It has been argued, “to the Greek mind the Sardian Cybele seemed more like the Maiden Proserpine than the Mother Demeter”.

Among the amalgamated eastern and Greek attributes of the Sardian goddess her healing power was prominent and was particularly focused on the idea of restoring life to the dead. It was associated with certain hot springs, situated about two miles from Sardis in the front hills of Tmolus, which are still used frequently and are famous for their healing effect. As the hot springs constitute the plain manifestation of the divine subterranean power, the god of the underworld played a considerable role in the religious myth of the area. He appeared to claim and carry off as his bride the patron-goddess of the city, in the form of Kore-Persephone, as she was gathering a golden flower, the flower of Zeus, in the meadows near the springs; the games celebrated in her honour were called Chrysanthia; and it may be confidently inferred that crowns of the flower bearing the same name were worn by her worshippers. The name of “Zeus’s flower” is also mentioned on the coins.

3. Iconography

In images, Persephone appears as a young woman and is often accompanied by attributes such as torches, stalks of grain, sceptres, pomegranates and cocks. Her depiction as bride of Hades extended in later years to the representation of mortal maidens who would die unmarried. The abduction scene was not very popular before the 5th c. BC, while since then several representations of Persephone appear.

1. Hes., Th.912-14; cf. Od.11.217 the only instance where Persephone is called daughter of Zeus in the Homeric epics. Otherwise Homer does not explicitly refer to her relation with Demeter. However, cf. Apollod. 1.3.1 who addresses Persephone as the daughter of Zeus and Styx. Aesch. Choeph. 490 calls her Phersephatta, a name that also appears in vase paintings (e.g. Dresden 350) and Attic prose inscriptions; cf. Pl. Crat. 404c.

2. Hes.,Th.913-4 and Hom.h.Dem.: passim; N. Richardson 1974 and H.P. Holey 1993 have edited the text with commentary. Notice that Hesiod does not make any reference to the return of Persephone.

3. Zeus had given his full consent to Hades’ plans which infuriated Demeter when she found out. According to the story only Helios and Hecate witnessed the abduction. However, in Hom.h.Dem. 424-5 Persephone says that her mother was also present in the abduction. For nine days Demeter was roaming the earth in search of her daughter and on the tenth Hecate and Helios revealed to her the truth about Hades’ deeds and Zeus’ consent. The angry goddess abandoned the company of the gods and went to Eleusis where she served in disguise at the palace of king Keleus. Before leaving the place she revealed herself and asked the inhabitants to build her a temple. When a year was completed since the goddess started wandering over the earth and all nature laid barren Zeus arranged for Persephone to return to her mother. Hades could do nothing but obey; however, before returning Persephone, he gave her a pomegranate to eat. This meant that Persephone had to spend a third of the year with her husband in the Underworld before returning to the world of the living. As a result of her daughter’s return the goddess restores fecundity on earth and teaches her rites to the Eleusinians. Paus. 1.38.3; 1.39.1; 9.31.9; Panyasis fr.13 PEG; Bacchylides located the abduction in Crete (fr.47SM); cf. Phanodemos 325F27 where Attica is identified as the abduction spot.         

4. Persephone seems to share the powers of Hades; see Th. 704 where he claimed that Sisyphus acquired his disguise (furlough) from Persephone. See T. Ganz, Early Greek Myth. A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources (Balitmore – London, 1993) p. 64-69. 

5. The mysteries promised a better life after death and they were in accordance with the Orphic preaching. For the Orphic versions of the tale see Apollod.Bibl.1.5.1; frs 49 and 51 (Kern); eur.Hel.1310-8; Claudian PR.2.204-31; Diodorus DS5.3.1-4 placed the abduction in Sicily. For later versions see Ovid.Fast.4.502-60 and Met.5.533-50; Hyg.Fab.147; Apollod.1.5.3 and 2.5.12.

6. See Hom.h.Dem.439; Lasos fr.702PMG; Eur. Her.Main. 609 and early Red-figure vases (e.g. Eleusis 596). Despoina seems to have been another cultic name of Persephone, mostly traced in Arcadia. For the special cult of Persephone and her association with Aphrodite in Locri, see C. Sourvinou-Inwood, “Persephone and Aphrodite at Locri: A Model for Personality Definitions in Greek Religion”, JHS 98, 1978, p. 101-21.

7. See Zuntz, G., Persephone. Three essays in religion and thought in Magna Graecia (Oxford 1971), p. 75-83. However, it seems that this contradiction between the two characters was eliminated by the time of Hesiod quoted in n1 because he definitely acknowledges that the maiden whom Hades abducted to make his queen was in fact the daughter of Demeter.

8. For Dionysus-Zagreus see Alcmaionis fr3PEG; Aesch.fr.228R (possibly son of Hades) and Agypt.fr.5R (Hades himself). Eur.Cret.fr.79Aus (= 472 N2); Callim.fr.43.115 and 643(Pf.); Nonn.5.563-7; 6.206-10; Lycophr.Schol.355. M.L.West 1983: 154

9. Pindar apud Meno 81b = fr 133 SM. Notice that snakes had a role in Demeter’s tradition also: in the Hesiod (fr.226MW) the snake Cychreides comes from Salamis to Eleusis to become an attendant of Demeter.

10. The temple of Kore Soteira at Sparta was reputed to have been built by Orpheus. See Paus. 3.13.2.

11. Eur.Hel.1301-45 and Melanippid.764PMG. Thesmophoria, the second important festival in honour of Demeter was also popular throughout Asia Minor (Paul 1 Corinth.20:20 and Luke 8:26-33). It is worth mentioning that Persephone had competed with Aphrodite over Adonis, an eastern deity whose cult is a variant of the Attis-Cybele cultic pattern. See Apollod. Apollod.Bibl.3.14.4; Ovid.Met.10.503-739.

12. See Paus.8.31 for this festival in Arcadia. One of the reasons for Persephone’s widespread cult in Asia Minor was her close association with Hecate who seems to have been of eastern origin (most probably Karian) and was worshipped as Soteira. Chaldaean oracles that extensively reported Hecate as Saviour have been studied by Johnston, I.S., Hekate Soteira (Atlanta 1990). As commented above, Hecate was believed to have led Persephone back to the Upperworld; Hom.h.Dem.438-40 cf.ll.54-73. Hecate along with Demeter and Persephone form the first example of a triple goddess in the Helladic world. Also see C.M. Edwards, C.M.,  "The running maiden from Eleusis and the early classical image of Hekate", AJA, 90, 1986, p. 307-318.  

13. Proserpina is the Latin name of Persephone. See Ramsay, W.M. The letters to the seven churches of Asia (London 1904), Ch. 25. Cybele was the patron deity of the city and two columns of her temple are still visible near the banks of the Pactolus.