Yep. The “It’s a mortal custom” is really a thing.
Anyway. Happy Friday. Or whatever you celebrate.
So, people who ship Hades and Persephone really wig me out. At my women’s college, we read the Hymn to Demeter and looked into the female conflicts in it. A lot of our time was discussing the mother-daughter relationship, and Persephone’s sexual blossoming — really figuring out her agency in regards to her sexuality.
But, what we all unanimously decided, was that Persephone was abducted by Hades in collusion with Zeus. Their relationship was really not consensual, and entirely orchestrated by the men in her life. And yes, she might have “grown to love him,” but within the context of her capture, doesn’t it sound more like Stockholm syndrome, or accepting the fate of an arranged and forced marriage?
I really think there are many ways to interpret this story. I’m not an expert, but I have read several works on this topic. Most agree that either Persephone was the sole ruler of the Underworld and Hades was added later, as the Greek culture became more patriarchal, or that their marriage was completely consensual at the very beginning (her abduction is not mentioned in Iliad or in Odyssey) and – once again – her kidnapping was added later to diminish her authority.
So in this context you can say that Persephone’s story is really the story of how female deities were stripped of their power and were turned merely into consorts/mothers/daughters of male gods. Persephone slowly progresses from a powerful queen (pre-Homeric myth) to a passive victim (Ovid).
But there is also a more symbolic meaning to the abduction myth, one you already mentioned. Persephone ceases to be a young girl and becomes a woman, not only in the senses of discovering her sexuality, but also taking on more adult responsibilities and more power. In this interpretation Persephone is never tricked into eating the seeds and willingly remains with Hades. Look on how she accepts his gift only after he promises to share his power equally with her. There are pretty good hints that Persephone knows perfectly what will happen when she eats the seeds and only lies to Demeter about being tricked, because she recognizes Demeter would be hurt by her daughter’s decision.
There is yet another symbolic interpretation of this myth. Persephone has to go back to the surface not only because Demeter demands her daughter back, but also because without her the life cannot continue. She is the goddess of spring and in a sense also life itself. When she comes back to her husband all things on the Earth die or go to sleep. Her travelling back and forth between both realms symbolizes the circle of rebirth and Persephone has power over both life and death.
Even if we go with the most literal interpretation of the story we have to remember the historical context. In the antiquity women were often kidnapped and forced to marry their captors and in this sense Persephone’s story is not unusual. And yet even in her abduction myth both she and Demeter are still given a lot of power. Demeter is able to almost single-handedly force the powerful Olympian gods (Zeus, the King of the Gods, included!) to fulfill her request and get her daughter back from Hades. Yes, Persephone still eats the pomegranate, but if you go with the interpretation that she does so willingly, she becomes the one who chooses her final fate, not her father or her husband, thus once again giving her a lot of power in the story.
Persephone really gets the best deal of all Olympian goddesses in Greek Mythology. Not only is she a powerful queen, but her husband never cheats on her (Leuce and Minthe are later additions from Roman times), which is much more than you can tell about the rest of the pantheon (Hera and Zeus come to mind). She also has a lot of influence over her husband. Many people trying to get something from Hades (Orpheus for example) go to her first, because they know she is the only person capable of changing his mind.
In our times the story carries a lot of unfortunate implications about girl falling in love with her captor, but in the antiquity it was actually a story about woman being wronged by the men and still coming on the top of things at the end.