Persephone is the Greek Queen of the Underworld. She is the only child of both Zeus and Demeter, born when Demeter was Zeus’ consort, prior to his marrying Hera. Persephone spent her childhood with her mother and playing with her half sisters, Aphrodite and Athena, and is described as bright and lovely both as a child and a young woman. Persephone was often worshiped alongside her mother Demeter, especially within the agricultural Eleusinian Mysteries. Persephone was also known by the name of Cora, as a maiden of spring’s bounty.
As she came of age, Zeus’ brother Hades became very attracted to her. Many believe that due to the darkness of the Underworld, which was his domain, he wanted someone who would brighten the place up and decided the young and radiant Persephone was the one to do that. Of course, Hades decided he didn’t need to bother with wooing Persephone in any traditional way. He did go to Zeus and asked for her hand, but when Zeus agreed, Hades simply tricked Persephone so he could abduct her to the Underworld. While she was picking wild flowers one day, Hades wrenched open the land of the meadow and snatched Persephone to bring her to the Underworld, where he intended to make her his Queen.
Demeter was furious that Hades had taken her beloved daughter, leading to one of the most well known fights in Greek Mythology. When she learnt of Zeus’ betrayal, and that there was no way she could bring Persephone back without Hades permission, Demeter proceeded to punish both Zeus and the Earth by putting the world into an eternal winter until her daughter was returned to her. This killed the agriculture, and caused much suffering to the people. The earth was barren and drought pursued so nothing could grow. Zeus eventually was forced to relent and sent Hermes to retrieve Persephone and return her to Demeter.
According to the legends, Persephone had actually become fond of Hades, and enjoyed being Queen of the Underworld. She missed her mother though, and was preparing to leave with Hermes, when she ate a pomegranate that Hades gave her. The accounts differ on whether or not Persephone knew what the consequences were for eating any food that came from the Underworld. Some stories say she was tricked into eating the pomegranate seeds, while others believe she knew full well what she was doing because she didn’t want to leave Hades behind entirely. Eating the fruit kept her bound to the Underworld for at least part of the year. Some stories claim it was half, some a third, but either way, she would never be able to leave the Underworld entirely.
Persephone was overjoyed to see her mother, and while Demeter wasn’t happy about the fact that her daughter would be going to back to the Underworld, Hermes helped them work out a compromise. Persephone would be living with Hades during the winter months (depending on the version, it could have been autumn and winter), and then she would stay with her mother the rest of the year. During the times Persephone was away from her, Demeter would grieve her and leave the earth barren until her daughter returned. The Ancient Greeks believed that this is what caused the seasons.
Persephone never slacked off in her duties as Queen of the Underworld, even during the months she visited her mother. She was the Underworld’s hostess, and never failed to receive visitors and guide them. Persephone assisted Psyche when she came to the Underworld as a test from Aphrodite in order to be reunited with her husband. Psyche needed to bring a beauty serum/sleeping potion back, and found Persephone very helpful. Persephone assisted Hercules by loaning him Hades’ three headed dog Cerberus to help him complete his Twelve Labors.
Persephone is usually portrayed in art as the maiden holding sheaths of grain and a torch, either with her mother Demeter, or her husband Hades. As a goddess, Persephone represents both dark and light in her capacity the Queen of the Underworld and having the knowledge of the darkness of the soul. But she is also the bringer of springtime, light, and a reminder of hope. In that, she represents both the young and innocent maiden, as well as the more mature woman with the knowledge to make conscious decisions.