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Demeter & Persephone


10 min 5 sec

Story summary

Aphrodite makes Hades fall in love with Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the crops. He snatches her while she is picking flowers in a meadow with a nymph and takes her down to the Underworld. The nymph is left holding Persephone’s torn dress but she weeps so much at her disappearance that she dissolves into a pool of salty water.

Demeter searches in vain for her daughter and in her sorrow ceases to care for the world. At last, however, she finds Persephone’s torn dress in a pool and realises what has happened. She goes to Mount Olympos where she confronts Aphrodite and asks Zeus to restore her child. He agrees to do so provided Persephone has not eaten any food in the Underworld. When Demeter learns that Persephone has eaten six pomegranate seeds she threatens to make the earth barren if she does not get her daughter back. A compromise is reached — for half the year Persephone will live on earth with her mother; for the other half, she will live in the Underworld.

  • Starting-points
  • Pause points
  • Questions for discussion
  • Suggested activities
  • Try asking how many of the six Olympian gods who were swallowed by Kronos the class can name (Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus)
  • Hades, god of the Underworld, plays an important part in this story. What do the children imagine Hades would look like? What would it be like to be god of the Underworld? What might the Underworld look like?
  • Demeter, goddess of the crops, is also a central character in this story. What do the children think she might look like? What adjectives do they think might be appropriate to describe the goddess of the crops?
  • Another goddess, Aphrodite, also features in this story. What did we learn about her in the story of Pandora? (She is the wife of Hephaistos, god of fire and crafts; she is the goddess of love.) See what else, if anything, the children know about Aphrodite. How powerful a goddess do the children think she might be?
  • This story deals touches upon important issues of consent and bodily autonomy, and as such may provide an opportunity to explore these ideas with the children as appropriate for your class and level. You may wish to open with questions and discussion about respecting each other, personal boundaries, and looking after other people. There is a suggested activity looking at these issues, which could be completed before the story is listened to.

1 min 34 sec: ‘Take both of them with one of your arrows!’

  • What do we learn about Aphrodite at the start of the story? (She controls the hearts of both mortals and immortals.) Does she sound like a caring, loving goddess? What does the storyteller mean when he says that mortals and immortals dance to her tune?
  • What does Aphrodite ask her son, Eros, to do? (She wants Eros to shoot Hades with one of his arrows so that he falls in love with Persephone.) Why? (She wants to control the hearts of everyone, even the god of the Underworld.)

3 min 56 sec: … and then she was gone, into the darkness below.

  • How is Hades’ kingdom described? (A vaulted land of gloom, a dismal empty place.) What happens when mortals’ souls go there? (They forget everything.)
  • How is Hades himself described? (Magnificent; impassive; eyes as dark and deep as open graves; has cold, grey skin and cold, grey fingers.)
  • How do you think Persephone feels when the ground opens up and Hades appears?

6 min 2 sec: At last she knelt to drink from a pool and found the water salty.

  • What does Demeter do when she hears a rumour that something awful has happened to Persephone? (She searches night and day for her daughter. She pulls out her hair and tears her dress.)
  • Why is Demeter’s behaviour potentially so damaging for mortals? (Mortals depend on Demeter for all their food and, with the weather becoming so unpredictable there is a danger that the crops will no longer grow.)
  • Why is the water salty? (It is the remains of the weeping nymph.) What does the nymph have that might give Demeter a clue as to what has happened to Persephone? (Persephone’s torn dress.)
  • How do you think the story will unfold?
  • What aspect of the natural world does this story help explain?  Do you think it is a convincing explanation of the seasons?
  • In this story who do you think is/are the most powerful of the Greek gods — Aphrodite, Demeter, Hades, Zeus or the Fates? Give reasons for your choice.
  • Who do you feel most sorry for in this story — Hades, Demeter, Persephone or the nymph? Give reasons for your choice.
  • This story includes vivid descriptions of several of the Greek gods. Have the children draw a picture of one or more of the gods, and label their features with details from the story.
  • Choose an aspect of the natural world (e.g. thunderstorms, earthquakes, floods) and make up a story explaining its origins.
  • This story provides a ‘way in’ for exploration of issues of consent and respect with children.
    • For example, offer students a selection of greeting to choose from (wave, hug, high five, handshake) when they meet each other, you and perhaps another adult or teacher. Everyone (including you as the teacher!) decides which greetings they are happy with – perhaps write them on stickers to be worn during the activity – and then the children should go around the room (maybe do this after a lunch break or first thing in the morning) greeting each other in a way that both parties are comfortable with.
    • If this activity is done before the story is listened to it could be tied into a discussion about respect and characterisation in the story. Have the children list all the individuals and their actions who do not respect the wishes of others in this story (e.g. Hades and Persephone, Aphrodite towards Hades and Persephone)