Persephone as a vegetation goddess and her mother Demeter were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which promised the initiated a happy afterlife. The origins of her cult are uncertain, but it was based on ancient agrarian cults of agricultural communities. In Athens, the mysteries celebrated in the month of Anthesterion were dedicated to her. The city of Epizephyrian Locris, in modern Calabria (southern Italy), was famous for its cult of Persephone, where she is a goddess of marriage and childbirth in this region.
Her name has numerous historical variants. These include Persephassa (Περσεφάσσα) and Persephatta (Περσεφάττα). In Latin, her name is rendered Proserpina. She was identified by the Romans as the Italic goddess Libera, who was conflated with Proserpina. Myths similar to Persephone's descent and return to earth also appear in the cults of male gods including Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, and in Minoan Crete.
The epithets of Persephone reveal her double function as chthonic and vegetation goddess. The surnames given to her by the poets refer to her role as queen of the lower world and the dead and to the power that shoots forth and withdraws into the earth. Her common name as a vegetation goddess is Kore, and in Arcadia she was worshipped under the title Despoina, \"the mistress\", a very old chthonic divinity. Günther Zuntz considers \"Persephone\" and \"Kore\" as distinct deities and writes that \"no farmer prayed for corn to Persephone; no mourner thought of the dead as being with Kore.\" Ancient Greek writers were however not as consistent as Zuntz claims.
In the religions of the Orphics and the Platonists, Kore is described as the all-pervading goddess of nature who both produces and destroys everything, and she is therefore mentioned along with or identified as other such divinities including Isis, Rhea, Ge, Hestia, Pandora, Artemis, and Hecate. In Orphic tradition, Persephone is said to be the daughter of Zeus and his mother Rhea, rather than of Demeter. The Orphic Persephone is said to have become by Zeus the mother of Dionysus, Iacchus, Zagreus, and the little-attested Melinoë.[c]
In mythology and literature she is often called dread(ed) Persephone, and queen of the underworld, within which tradition it was forbidden to speak her name. This tradition comes from her conflation with the very old chthonic divinity Despoina (\"[the] mistress\"), whose real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated into her mysteries. As goddess of death, she was also called a daughter of Zeus and Styx, the river that formed the boundary between Earth and the underworld. In Homer's epics, she appears always together with Hades and the underworld, apparently sharing with Hades control over the dead. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus encounters the \"dread Persephone\" in Tartarus when he visits his dead mother. Odysseus sacrifices a ram to the chthonic goddess Persephone and the ghosts of the dead who drink the blood of the sacrificed animal. In the reformulation of Greek mythology expressed in the Orphic Hymns, Dionysus and Melinoë are separately called children of Zeus and Persephone. Groves sacred to her stood at the western extremity of the earth on the frontiers of the lower world, which itself was called \"house of Persephone\".
The 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda introduces a goddess of a blessed afterlife assured to Orphic mystery initiates. This Macaria is asserted to be the daughter of Hades, but no mother is mentioned.
It was said that while Persephone was playing with the nymph Hercyna, Hercyna held a goose against her that she let loose. The goose flew to a hollow cave and hid under a stone; when Persephone took up the stone in order to retrieve the bird, water flowed from that spot, and hence the river received the name Hercyna. This was when she was abducted by Hades according to Boeotian legend; a vase shows water birds accompany the goddesses Demeter and Hecate who are in search of the missing Persephone.
Once, Hermes chased Persephone (or Hecate) with the aim to rape her; but the goddess snored or roared in anger, frightening him off so that he desisted, hence her earning the name \"Brimo\" (\"angry\").
When Echemeia, a queen of Kos, ceased to offer worship to Artemis, the goddess shot her with an arrow. Persephone, witnessing that, snatched the still living Euthemia and brought her to the Underworld.
The myth of a goddess being abducted and taken to the underworld is probably Pre-Greek in origin. Samuel Noah Kramer, the renowned scholar of ancient Sumer, has posited that the Greek story of the abduction of Persephone may be derived from an ancient Sumerian story in which Ereshkigal, the ancient Sumerian goddess of the underworld, is abducted by Kur, the primeval dragon of Sumerian mythology, and forced to become ruler of the underworld against her own will.
In his 1985 book on Greek Religion, Walter Burkert claimed that Persephone is an old chthonic deity of the agricultural communities, who received the souls of the dead into the earth, and acquired powers over the fertility of the soil, over which she reigned. The earliest depiction of a goddess Burkert claims may be identified with Persephone growing out of the ground, is on a plate from the Old-Palace period in Phaistos. According to Burkert, the figure looks like a vegetable because she has snake lines on other side of her. On either side of the vegetable person there is a dancing girl. A similar representation, where the goddess appears to come down from the sky, is depicted on the Minoan ring of Isopata.
Walter Burkert believed that elements of the Persephone myth had origins in the Minoan religion. This belief system had unique characteristics, particularly the appearance of the goddess from above in the dance. Dance floors have been discovered in addition to \"vaulted tombs\", and it seems that the dance was ecstatic. Homer memorializes the dance floor which Daedalus built for Ariadne in the remote past. A gold ring from a tomb in Isopata depicts four women dancing among flowers, the goddess floating above them. An image plate from the first palace of Phaistos seems to depict the ascent of Persephone: a figure grows from the ground, with a dancing girl on each side and stylized flowers all around. The depiction of the goddess is similar to later images of \"Anodos of Pherephata\". On the Dresden vase, Persephone is growing out of the ground, and she is surrounded by the animal-tailed agricultural gods Silenoi.
Despoina and \"Hagne\" were probably euphemistic surnames of Persephone, therefore Karl Kerenyi theorizes that the cult of Persephone was the continuation of the worship of a Minoan Great goddess. It is possible that some religious practices, especially the mysteries, were transferred from a Cretan priesthood to Eleusis, where Demeter brought the poppy from Crete. Besides these similarities, Burkert explains that up to now it is not known to what extent one can and must differentiate between Minoan and Mycenean religion.[j] In the Anthesteria Dionysos is the \"divine child\".
Some information can be obtained from the study of the cult of Eileithyia at Crete, and the cult of Despoina. In the cave of Amnisos at Crete, Eileithyia is related with the annual birth of the divine child and she is connected with Enesidaon (The earth shaker), who is the chthonic aspect of the god Poseidon.Persephone was conflated with Despoina, \"the mistress\", a chthonic divinity in West-Arcadia. The megaron of Eleusis is quite similar to the \"megaron\" of Despoina at Lycosura. Demeter is united with her, the god Poseidon, and she bears him a daughter, the unnameable Despoina. Poseidon appears as a horse, as usually happens in Northern European folklore. The goddess of nature and her companion survived in the Eleusinian cult, where the words \"Mighty Potnia bore a great sun\" were uttered. In Eleusis, in a ritual, one child (\"pais\") was initiated from the hearth. The name pais (the divine child) appears in the Mycenean inscriptions.
At Locri, a city of Magna Graecia situated on the coast of the Ionian Sea in Calabria (a region of southern Italy), perhaps uniquely, Persephone was worshiped as protector of marriage and childbirth, a role usually assumed by Hera (in fact, Hera seems to have played no role in the public worship of the city); in the iconography of votive plaques at Locri, her abduction and marriage to Hades served as an emblem of the marital state, children at Locri were dedicated to Proserpina, and maidens about to be wed brought their peplos to be blessed. Diodorus Siculus knew the temple there as the most illustrious in Italy. During the 5th century BC, votive pinakes in terracotta were often dedicated as offerings to the goddess, made in series and painted with bright colors, animated by scenes connected to the myth of Persephone. Many of these pinakes are now on display in the National Museum of Magna Græcia in Reggio Calabria. Locrian pinakes represent one of the most significant categories of objects from Magna Graecia, both as documents of religious practice and as works of art.
The temple at Locri was looted by Pyrrhus. The importance of the regionally powerful Locrian Persephone influenced the representation of the goddess in Magna Graecia. Pinakes, terracotta tablets with brightly painted sculptural scenes in relief were founded in Locri. The scenes are related to the myth and cult of Persephone and other deities. They were produced in Locri during the first half of the 5th century BC and offered as votive dedications at the Locrian sanctuary of Persephone. More than 5,000, mostly fragmentary, pinakes are stored in the National Museum of Magna Græcia in Reggio Calabria and in the museum of Locri. Representations of myth and cult on the clay tablets (pinakes) dedicated to this goddess reveal not only a 'Chthonian Queen,' but also a deity concerned with the spheres of marriage and childbirth. 59ce067264