Persephone and Zagreus

Currenlty there is a discussion ongoing on a list regarding the myth of Persephone. This conversation has included some analysis of the Homeric hymn as well as analysis of some of the symbols within the myth of her kidnapping/arranged marriage. I have written before some of my thoughts on this subject when I celebrated the marriage of Persephone this fall with the equinox, but the reoccurance of this subject has brought it foreward in my mind again.

To break it down we have Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter (and also the mother of Zagreus via Zeus prior to her marriage to Hades, which makes it an interesting component among some writers..like a fragment from Aeschylus which seems to refer to Hades, “the hospitaler” (ie hospitaler of the dead) as the sire of Zagreus, and so make an interesting transition between the Olympian Zeus, and Zagreus the lightening-bearing hier, and that of Hades as represented as his sire (or stepfather) after the death of Zagreus and his remains mixed with that of the titans in the human substance). So the maiden Persephone (clearly not strictly virginal as we understand the word) is wed to Hades in an arranged marriage by her father, and presumably in agreement by Hera, her stepmother who has been depicted in Argos according to Pausanias holding the pomegranate, the fruit which united Persephone with Hades by which she was to return. Apparently there were also devotional offerings to Hera at Samothrake in the form of pomegranates. Therefore Zeus by his arrangement, and Hera by the sacred fruit which Clement of Alexandria says had sprung from the blood of Zagreus, cause the mystic progression of humanity from the mysteries by the decent of Persephone from the abode of the divine.

I do find it interesting that during the Thesmophoria that the women participating, again according to Clement, would not touch the fruit of the pomegranate being that it had sprung from Zagreus’ blood. This appears to suggest that this seed was taboo for what it represented, the departure of the divine from among the gods to the mortal world (both in the case of Zagreus from whom the pomegranate sprung in his death, and Persephone who by accepting this seed into her own being shares this fate, both being essentially a part of the mortal suffering and cycle of life and death)…the seed buried within the cool hard grasp of the earth. It probably was considered a great holy symbol as much as part of the mythic grief of Demeter which likely echoed the mythic grief of Persephone too at the death of Zagreus. But Persephone returns by the grace of the pomegranate seed (for this gives her equally return even as it pulls her back), the fruit of Zagreus, even as he is reborn to Dionysos and returns after labors to return to the gods. And it is said that part of the mystery play at Eleusis Demeter returns with the infant Dionysos born of Persephone. She is the glorious divine goddess carrying the divine infant…a promise.

There is just so much to it, and so much beauty. The genitals of Zagreus were said to have been preserved in Samothrake by the Kaiberoi…but for what purpose? It seems as a reflection of the generation powers of Ouranos. Except whereas the genitals of Ouranos fell into the ocean and created even as they were lost, those of Zagreus were preserved to continue generation (which is a bit reminiscent very vaguely of the Egyptian Osiris with the exception that Isis had to magically reconstruct the phallus). There are four things then of Zagreus that we get from myth all of which is remarked upon by Clement too. 1. that in myth his body is consumed by the titians, and when Zeus smites them their ashes combined with the divine essence of Zagreus becomes the clay of Zeus in creating humanity. 2. The Kaiberoi retrieve the genitals (I am assuming this is what is meant by virila..but it might refer to internal organs in general which likely would have included the genitals) of Zagreus, thus preserving and honoring the genitive power of the god who becomes Dionysos reborn from the thigh (consider this location) of Zeus. 3. The beating heart Clement says is taken up by Athena in a chest, and 4. Apollon buries the physical remains of Zagreus on Parnassus from which after the flood human beings are remaid from the bones of the earth at this location where they land, which seems to reaffirm the connection with Zagreus.

In contrast Persephone doesn’t meet with such gruesomeness directly associated with death, but she descends to the chthonic world, the mortal earthly world, away from the divine where she accepts the seed of rebirth (via the pomegranate). Therefore like her son she becomes attached directly to mortal existance, and like Zagreus/Dionysos she returns to the abode of the gods which is represented by the birth of her child in the mystery play of Eleusis. In both caseshere is the woe, the copious tears of the mother, the fruit of the child, the regeneration so to speak, and a return to the divine world. She uniquely tied to the living earth, to the mortal world, in ways that her mother is not. For while Demeter is the mother of the dead in so much that is directly tied to the earth which recieves the dead into its embrace, Persephone herself is the queen of mortal humanity as the wife of Pluto (which is both another name for Hades but is also the name of a god considered a son of Demeter by Iason) who is the deliverer of wealth and plenty indescriminately.

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11 thoughts on “Persephone and Zagreus

  1. Another interesting bit of information regarding the pomegranate is that it is sacred to Hēra, the reason for this being that pomegranates are round and filled with seeds, reminding of testicles. Since procreation was an important aspect of marriage (Hēra’s domain), the fruit was sacred to her. So when Haídēs gives Persephónē the pomegranate seeds and she accepts them and eats them, this symbolically means she agrees to marry him, thus sealing her fate.

    Just thought I’d mention it 😉

  2. Thanks for making the additional note on the subject 🙂 I knew that they were connected to Hera but was still puzzling out how…this makes a great deal of sense, especially when linked back into my thoughts in this post.

  3. I was always under the impression that Zagreus was born to Persephone (not Kore) after her marriage to Hades. Also that pomegranates were sacred to Hera long before any of this happened.

    • Nope. Zagreus is the child of Zeus and Persephone. He seduced her in the form of a serpent and Zagreus was born. Hera, according to myth, became jealous that this child was to be the hier of Zeus and was honored by all the gods and titans (and Zeus set this child up and gave him his thunderbolts). Hera then conspired with some titans to destroy Zagreus for which the titans tricked him and roasted him. Zeus became angry and destroyed them. The heart of Zagreus is said to have been fed to Semele which rebirthed Zagreus as Dionysos. Zagreus is most certainly the son of Zeus. References to Zagreus as the son of Hades tends to refer to Zagreus as the slain god, and the son of Persephone rather than literally the son of Hades. Theoi.com has some good quotes under their page about Zagreus.

      • I knew he was born of Persephone and Zeus…I remember it as after her marriage to Hades which is why he was able to visit her in the form of a snake. Being that the child was born during that marriage would be enough of a reason for Hades to be called the father.

      • Ah I guess I misunderstood what you were saying in your comment then. Personally I have never read any ancient text that said specifically when he was born chronologically. I am not entirely sure how I decided this, but I am open to revising this opinion of when it happened (before or after her marriage to Hades) when I come across it 🙂
        As for the pomegranate..there are many different things regarding it of course. Aphrodite planting it, sacred fruit of Hera, and then the myth of Zagreus has it being born from the blood of Zagreus. Myths are tricky in trying to put things directly in linear form…but this is the only thing that I know of that speaks of the creation of the pomegranate. But I am not concerned so much with order in this case. That it was born from Zagreus’s blood connects it with him, just as it is connected with Hera and Persephone, and to a degree with Aphrodite if she is said to have planted pomegranates. Considering Hera’s relationship with Aphrodite in marital affairs, and the impact of Zagreus and Persephone on the being of humanity it appears all interconnected to me and these relationships I find more important 🙂

  4. Ah found it. Nonnus says that Zeus visited Kore when Demeter had hid her in cave from her suitors.

    “Nonnus, Dionysiaca 6. 155 ff :
    “[Demeter hid Persephone in a cave in Sicily to escape her many suitors:] Ah, maiden Persephoneia! You could not find how to escape your mating! No, a drakon (dragon) was your mate, when Zeus changed his face and came, rolling in many a loving coil through the dark to the corner of the maiden’s chamber, and shaking his hairy chaps he lulled to sleep as he crept the eyes of those creatures of his own shape who guarded the door. He licked the girl’s form gently with wooing lips. By this marriage with the heavenly drakon, the womb of Persephone swelled with living fruit, and she bore Zagreus the horned baby”

    • Thanks for finding it 🙂 This looks familiar so I must have read it before too. But I think we are getting different things from it. I am seeing this conception occuring prior to her marriage to Hades since Demeter is hiding her away, and the conception occuring with her mother unawares. I guess it is all in how we interpret it 🙂

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