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.