The Goddess Who Died
*written by Gale*
Being denied the safety of her mother's arms, much less sunlight and all that grew of it, was as heavy a blow to Persephone as being denied her senses. All the warmth of the earth that she'd come to love and adore vanished as quickly as the flash of an eagle's wing across the sun; the green of the trees and plants, the bright blue of the sky, even the golden yellow of the sun -- all of these were gone from her life as soon as the world closed behind her kidnapper's fleeing chariot and enveloped her in darkness.
Beyond the gaping jaws of the guardian Cerberus, the Underworld unfolded itself to Persephone as a realm of nightmares, devoid of light. Every semblence she might have connected with the world she'd been removed of had been carefully hidden from her by cold, desolate shadows, and the darkest and farthest reaching of all these shadows was her objectionable groom, Hades.
Persephone was acquainted with only a few gods within the pantheon, and most all of them bore a perfected sort of innocence that could be found in the faces of the most lovely of human sons. Never once had she met a god who appeared as the lord of the Underworld. His youthened but ghostly face bore not a single line, and from beneath a headdress of amethyst and obsidian bands, hair that shined like silken strands of silver, even in the dark, billowed behind his frame, nearly as long as his cloak. That symbol of age, companied with his scrutinizing amber eyes, gave him an air of wizened regality that reminded her of his brother, Zeus, at his best.
It was the sight of those eyes that troubled her. Since the moment she stepped from his chariot and demanded she be returned to her mother, the revered keeper of spirits had taken to looking at her in such a way that vaguely resembled annoyance. That first time, he held her still in that gaze and very quietly said to her, "You know who I am and where you are. Be honored in the fact that you are the only Goddess to ever die. Go where you wish within the confines of my palace and do as you please, but do not try to leave. I am not a god without mercy. Truthfully say that you love Hades, Maiden of the Spring, and I will return you to the light."
Because Persephone had always considered herself a child of honesty, she held her tongue, no matter how unfair his condition was. Loving a man who'd taken her from everything she loved, all against her will, was impossible. But she wouldn't lie. Living in treachery was for mortals, after all.
The first nights were spent in solitude. The god of death and material wealth did not force her to share his bed with him, and she found herself surprised when he went so far as to offer her a separate room as well. He did not ask for her presence save for late in the evening when he hoped to take dinner with her in his throne room. A very special cushion fashioned of silks had been placed to the right of his throne, both of which were elevated upon a dais that overlooked the entire chamber and all of those that filled it. Even with the vast numbers that came and went, the place was always deathly quiet, and time passed so slowly there that it was enough to make Persephone wonder if boredom were the key to aging an immortal. She could never be sure if those that guested Hades' palace were spirits of the dead or not. All she knew was the faces changed night after night, specifically the spectre that offered fruits or breads or cheeses to her. Of course she did not eat, as she intended to put this place behind her one day, and everyone knew that one who ate of the food of the dead would one day have to return. At that point in
time, Persephone felt she would enjoy eternity a lot more if her husband did not take part in her corner of it.
And so times of repast were spent in uneasy silence. The young goddess would keep her eyes turned to her hands (folded carefully in her lap), but she did not eat nor speak or even move until he excused her. At that moment, she would rise from her seat next to him, descend from the dais, then turn to face him. It was the same every night.
She lifted her chin regally, meeting brave gaze with his impassiveness, and spake, "I wish to return to my mother."
Hades would stare down his nose at her, and when oftentime she expected for him to be at least annoyed by her continued defiance, his stony disposition would shift to one of the inquisitive, and he would ask her, "Do you love Hades, Maiden of the Spring?"
And always remembering the condition he'd given for her release, Persephone's face would fall, and without answering, she returned to her chambers.
Hades would not ask for her save that one time each day, and while they shared one another's presence, Persephone neither looked upon nor spoke to her husband save when she took her leave. The words were always a variation of the same.
"Please take me back to the surface."
"Say that you love Hades, and I will."
And no reply.
Boredom and curiosity can be devious partners, and eventually their trickery forced Persephone to one evening turn her head upward to look upon her groom. He neither seemed to notice nor care, which was all the better for her. She did not know if she could continue watching if he were to fix upon her with those eyes of his. The
entire evening, she studied his face and how he responded to the converging spirits around them. It occurred to her, then, that as she had done, he refused to take any food when it was offered to him. When not interrupted by some random distraction within the court, he had a faint look of distance about him, one that could have been attributed to daydreaming, or whatever the Underworld's equivalent to that was.
Sometime during all this, Persephone came to decide her husband was a very strange god, indeed. Every one of their kind she had ever known took pride in their eternal youth, and yet Hades, while obviously proud, preferred to adorn himself with the characteristics seen most often in that of the older mortal man. Back on the surface, she could see the energy, the life her kindred posessed. The god of the dead appeared a ghost, himself, in every way. The characteristic darkness that surrounded them, while ever unchanging, did nothing to hide the glow that existed about him. Even the way he moved resembled that of the deceased; he appeared to drift rather than walk, the tattered ends of his cloak forming clouds of black mist around his feet when in motion. If it weren't for the fact that he had to physically take hold of her to kidnap her in the first place, she would have believed he was a dead mortal and not a god. He never referred to her by name, rather he used her title. And whenever he wished to indicate himself, Hades, he spoke as if that were another person entirely.
But as the evening drew to a close, Persephone realized something else, something that disturbed her more than she would have liked.
Hades behaved as though she wasn't even there.
She shouldn't have cared, cursed herself for how much it bothered her. In attempting to rationalize it, she realized that Hades was the only god, the only one like her, that she interacted with day to day. He was by no means a normal god, but normalcy be damned, he was the only one. What was worse, he was the one that brought her down here! Persephone turned her line of vision to the chamber ahead of her, sucking an indignant breath through her nostrils at the thought of that. Was she to be trapped here for the rest of eternity only to be ignored?
"Maiden of the Spring."
Heart leaping in her chest, Persephone's gaze jerked back to the form of her husband, who was now looking down at her as he always did when the night was over.
"You may return to your room now, if you wish."
Without her mind bidding so, the goddess could feel her body once again going through the motions they followed evening after evening, and she obeyed these impulses without question, coming to stand on the floor before the god of the underworld. What escaped from her lips this time, however, bore none of the cordial respect she commonly observed, but rather something close to a command. "Return me to my mother."
If her shift in tone affected him at all, Hades did not show it. His spectre's face remained unchanging as he returned his usual, calm reply, "Say that you love -- "
"I will never love you, God of Spirits!" she ground through clenched teeth, patience gone. The boom of her decree reverberated off the walls, passing along back and forth until what returned to her was nothing but a whisper. All movement in the room had ceased; the apparitions vanished. But what hit her hardest of all, what she least expected, was to find Hades' regularly cold demeanor shift. He grimaced as though physically stricken. Regret pulled at her heart as Persephone bit her lip, using all the strength she could muster to remove herself from the room as quickly as possible.
Finding herself alone in her own bedchambers again was in no way comforting. She stood fuming in the dark, all the while unsure as to whom she was angrier with, her husband or herself. To be brought into this place, practically ordered to love her captor, and then be ignored the entire time was certainly no way to win the bride's favor. And yet why did she have to care so much? Why did it matter that he paid her no mind? Shouldn't that have been what she wanted?
Persephone muttered a curse under her breath. What manner of god claimed a bride, then proceeded to behave as though he did not want her? It was infuriating! It was an outrage! It was --
"Maiden of the Spring."
She barely hid her gasp as she rounded on the open doorway; the halls beyond were barred from sight only by hanging curtains. While they waited now behind the God of the Underworld, they didn't sway, which might have indicated that they had been disturbed. It was as though he'd merely appeared there.
Persephone swallowed hard as the notion occurred to her that Hades might have been angered by her display in the great hall. Frankly, she didn't want to so much as guess what an older and obviously more powerful god could do to one like her when properly motivated.
Hades drifted further into the room; his jet and silver robes rustled almost unnaturally loudly in contrast to the common abyss of quiet the place held. Those folds of cloth that reached the floor dissolved and were as curls of smoke as he came to stand face to face to his now apprehensive bride. She stood about as high as his chest, so he was quite the giant to her already. The corners of his mouth were set in a frigid line across his pale face as his icy eyes drilled through her in a demanding stare.
Feeling herself falter, Persephone forced herself to look away, and with some bravado regained, she crossed her arms firmly over her chest.
When, for the second time since meeting him, she expected reproach, he surprised her with his continually unnerving placidness, coupled with an entirely unexpected response. "You truly are an ignorant creature."
Pain caught in Persephone's chest, and an indignant part of her, the part that refused to believe that what he'd said hurt her, bade her defense. "Am I, Hades?" she demanded, sarcasm lilting her voice, "You dragged me down here, tore me from everything I ever cared about, and you thought I should adore you for such an intrusion?"
"You are a Goddess and are therefore to be above such outbursts. Your behavior is ghastly."
"I am a Goddess who does not belong here, Hades!" she returned with a type of malice she never would have believed she could possess.
Again, just as toneless, "You may return to the surface, but first, you must understand."
"Understand what? Your condition was for me to love you, Hades, and I cannot do that."
A sigh. "You must come to love Hades before you can move on. For your sake, Maiden of the Spring, and for mine, and for the sakes of the mortals we govern." He never let down his eerie gaze, speaking slowly, now, with purpose, "You see, I am different from most other gods because I have died. I am as dead as the Spirits that dwell here. I am Hades, and this is my world, my reality, my responsibility. I realized my place in the tapestry of fate." Without warning, and for the first time since he sought to bring her down here, Hades touched her, using that leverage to make her look at him again. "You have not. And that is why you are ignorant."
Persephone felt angry tears bite at the corners of her eyes. Blast it all, she did have a place. A happy place, with her mother, under the sun, where she could pick flowers all day and content herself with nothing at all if she wished. There was no hate, no darkness, no cold. Only peace. That was her place. And Hades took her from it. Feeling her resolve coming back again, she forced a scowl and turned away once more.
Soundlessly, Hades drew closer. "I am not worried."
Bitterly she retorted, "I suppose you wouldn't be. You had the power to bring me here. I suppose you could do more. I admit that I cannot do much to fight that. But my heart is my own, and you could no sooner will it to stop beating than turn it toward you."
"Toward Hades." Again, he came in contact with her again, this time grasping her wrist, gently. "I have seen what you think of your place in the way of things, Maiden of the Spring. Now allow me to show you what comes of it."
He led her out of the palace, past one of the many gates, and amid the dark, Persephone was in awe to find herself faced with what appeared to be a meadow. For as far as her sight could reach, flowers and thin trees waved in a breeze that she could not feel, as though they danced on their own. All bore stems and leaves of a shimmering silver as opposed to the upper-world's green, and all else bore hues of porcelain cerulean and violet. As there was almost nothing she adored more than flowers, the Maiden of the Spring found herself severing from her husband's grip to kneel and examine those that were at her feet.
For an instant, she felt as though she were home again, until she reached out to touch one of the buds and was shocked to find her hand pass right through it. Almost like....
"A spirit?" she whispered, then, her attention finally returning to her groom, "What is this place?"
Gently, "This is one of the many asphodel fields that exist here in my realm. Plant spirits. They take up the greatest amount of space here in the Underworld because they so greatly outnumber humans. They, and the animals, are the first creatures to experience Reincarnation. Rebirth after death. You see?" He gestured, and surely enough, as Persephone looked, she noted many of the flowers, at one time, would vanish, only for more, completely different flowers and plants to take their place. "So many greeneries live and die that the Underworld, as vast as it is, would have no room for them if they did not do this. One day, when the world is not so young and the race of man becomes more vast, those that tire of the Elysian Fields may start life over again as well."
Persephone nodded, thinking she understood, then with realization, "What has that to do with me?"
"Firstly, Maiden of the Spring, I wish to point out that despite your belief that you carried on a peaceful existance, you are only innocent because you are ignorant, as I have said before." When she wrinkled her nose in disagreement, he explained, "You, too, have taken lives. Lives like these." He indicated the asphodel again.
"But -- " The idea of being a killer did not quite fit when she thought of it. Not in this manner. "But they're only plants."
Hades stiffened at her side, and when he spoke again, it was with a kind of firmness she'd never heard there before. It bordered, even, on anger. "They are born as living creatures. They grow and feel and die just as any human being that passes through my gates. How do you think it is for them, Maiden of the Spring, when you and every other foppish maiden that populates the human race, as well as our kind, pick your flowers then place them on display? Just how did you feel toward me when I placed you on display before my court and ignored you? How much worse would it be if I simply left you that way until you withered away? It's the same, and it's murder, whether you or anyone else chooses to acknowledge it."
Persephone gaped at him, practically trembling at his grave analogy. The realization this brought with it was just as difficult to bear. Her? A murderer? No...no, that wasn't right.... She cast her gaze upon the field again, the vanishing and appearing foliage, and it made her wonder... Tears sparkled in her eyes again.
"And this is what I see every day. I see everything that no other god cares to see."
"Why, Hades?" she asked him, her voice echoing and empty on the air, "If I am as you say, then why did you choose me as your bride?" Part of her dreaded the thought that she'd been damned to this place, to be kept and shunned by someone as punishment for picking flowers.
She dared think the noise she heard issue from his throat was a sigh of patient agitation, "We as gods are not so entirely different from the mortal man. Like man we are born, and we grow to adulthood. You have existed in your youth for far longer than you should have, Maiden of the Spring. It was time you were shown what kinds of places we gods must take in the world. And because my protective and oblivious niece could not help you do that, I made the decision to do it myself."
Persephone winced at the verbal attack on her mother. "Not love, then?" she uttered.
Hades risked placing a hand upon her shoulder as he knelt beside her. The smokey folds of his cloak circled around the two of them, and for the first time in the longest, Persephone felt warm. "I did not say that," he whispered. "I would not have gone so far as to petition Zeus to have you for my bride if that were so. But in that position, Persephone," that single word was enough to catch her entirely; it was the first time he'd called her by name, "as my queen, you can do a great deal of good for the mortal creatures of this world."
"But death," she objected, without any force in her voice, "how is death good for them?"
"Death is in no way evil," Hades countered, "Evil is a human construct. It exists nowhere in nature, which death is a part of. It is the ultimate fairness, a chance for weary spirits to rest after long hardship. Nothing changes that."
"Then how is my inclusion in it to make things any better?"
"Persephone, what you do not understand is that, aside from myself and those lesser gods that work beneath me, there are no gods in Olympus that care enough for this world we live in to deal with this part of mortal existance. They prefer to know nothing of it, and they fear being touched by it. Because of that, they can never be as close to the mortal world as I think that we were meant to be. They cannot be close to humans because they cannot sympathize with them in this respect. By coming here, you've taken the first step to bridge that gap. You can love the world above much better if you can love and understand what it all comes down to, where it all comes back to, where it all sprang from to begin with. The Underworld. Hades."
He rose, then, and when they were no longer close, the cold came back. Persephone hardly noticed for his words. Hades. The name for not only a god but for the Underworld as well. It'd been this place he'd spoken of so many times.... "Being who I am, Persephone," he went on, "it is not my place to be a selfish god. If I had brought you here only wanting you to love me, then I would be no better than a human, myself."
As she did not get to her feet to follow him, he must have guessed that she intended to stay and think a moment longer, for with a flurry of mist, he returned to the waiting gate. He paused, though, as if reminded of something, "And aside from my single, nightly requests for an audience with you, I have not in any way imposed my
attention upon you, Persephone, because you appeared to make it clear to me that you did not want it. Has that changed?"
Having forgotten that she even asked about his previous lack of acknowlegement of her, she turned toward him, surprised. She hadn't expected for him to answer at all. To respond to his query, though.... She frowned down at her hands, in search of the best possible words, "If I am to be your bride, Hades, then yes, I would wish that you do not overlook me. Do not -- display me."
And strangely enough, his expression softened. "A request I would be more than happy to fulfill. But I have never overlooked you, Persephone. I have always been aware of you."
"Then I would like to know it as well." She rose and joined him at his side. Even if she did not have the sun to guide her, she knew it was growing late, for she felt in need of sleep. That was excuse enough to return to the palace with him, anyhow.
"Do you understand what I meant now, Persephone?"
With quite a bit of conviction, she bravely met his gaze and said, "Yes, Hades. I do understand."
And those eyes that often held her awed seemed to glisten with pride, and she dared think regret as well, when he murmured, "Then it will not be long until you may return to the surface again. I will keep my word," and swept past her with such abruptness that all she could do was stand there dumbfounded until he'd nearly disappeared into the palace ahead of them.
Finding her wits, she called after him, "Hades!"
He stopped in place and risked a look back at her.
Persephone swallowed, then caught up with him, "I have a condition."
Puzzled and intrigued, she could not tell which, he raised an eyebrow, "Do you?"
"I shall not go back to the surface unless you can give me your word that I may always return here."
A rare smile found Hades' face. For a moment, Persephone thought it did not fit him at all, until he settled into it, and it appeared more natural, made his eyes shine even more. An ashen hand found and cradled hers briefly, and then, with no small amount of pleasure in his voice, he concluded, "Have your dinner tomorrow night, and we shall see."
The Palace in the Underworld - Quoted from page 39 of Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes:
"Somewhere in this vast region is Pluto's palace, but beyond saying that it is many-gated and crowded with innumerable guests, no writer describes it. Around it are wide wastes, wan and cold, and meadows of asphodel, presumably strange, pallid, and ghostly flowers. We do not know anything more about it. The poets did not care to linger on this gloom-ridden abode."
To Explain the Ending - "Have your dinner tomorrow night, and we shall see." :
The way that EH explains that Persephone is bound to return to the Underworld is that she eats the food of the dead. This is Hades' way of ensuring she can come back.
The Title - The story is called the Goddess Who Died, which may confuse a few readers. Once or twice, I say in the story that Hades considers himself dead. Edith Hamilton refers to Persephone having died when she was taken to the Underworld, so one can assume that she means that whoever goes to the Underworld and lives there must indeed be dead. That is what death is in the myths, and in the story.
Further Notes (Not from the book):
"Evil is a human construct." - A reader has asked the question: If Death is not evil, then why was picking the flowers such a bad thing? Human beings are the only creatures on Earth that pick flowers and wear and display them because they think they're pretty.