Myth Adaptations: The Persephone Story

Our leading lady goes by many names. Common among these are the Roman Proserpine / Proserpina and the Greek Persephone. Another is Korē, which simply translates to "maiden." Classical Athenian playwright Euripides even goes as far as to refer to her as arrētos korē, "the unnamed maiden" (Lincoln 230). This moniker seems pretty suitable: even as the protagonist, she is often relegated to being a placeholder, a blank slate to project one's own feelings on, rather than a character in her own right.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. As poet Louise Glück reminds us in her poem, "Persephone the Wanderer":

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, id, superego. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

Myths (and all stories, really) are essentially metaphors used to understand the world, in the way that humans understand best: in relation to other humans. Persephone's story is less about her and more about her initiation into adulthood, and thus any woman's initiation — a timeless, universal plot that has been told and retold and experienced for countless thousands of years, with each new author and generation putting their own spin on it.

In this essay series, I plan to take a deeper look at what sets these adaptations apart in their attempts to update this and similar timeless themes, specifically in regards to women’s perceived roles in society at the time. This is still going to be quite lengthy, and so I'm going to break it up into a couple of chapters, linked to below:

(To summarize: my major motivation in writing this, I guess, is that I really hate how this myth is treated and interpreted in modern "feminist" circles, completely denying the reality of what the world used to be like (or frankly still is like, even in the most "progressive" spaces) and substituting some meaningless fluff that "feels" better because it doesn't make them think about the injustices of the world. I also wrote a separate rant about a similar idea a while ago, explaining how it's necessary to, at the very least, understand, acknowledge, and question existing power structures if you're going to call yourself any kind of activist. I feel like channeling my frustration over all of this into a series of essays is probably much more productive than the alternative: getting into useless fights on Tumblr and screaming into a pillow until I cry, y'know?…)

Works Cited

Lincoln, Bruce. "The Rape of Persephone: A Greek Scenario of Women's Initiation." The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 72, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1979), pp. 223-235. Online.