Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Week 14: Persephone's Soliloquy and Defense

   Mythology has always fascinated me. The references to Greek and Roman gods and heros in art, literature, psychology, business, science, music, media, and pop culture are a symbolic and illustrative mainstay. Yet, I am drawn to the stories because of the explanations they give for the unexplainable. Last week, spring arrived amid a range of snow and unseasonal weather in locales not too far from here. In lieu of the arrival of this unusual spring season, the book-of-the-week for week 14 is based on the Greek myth of how we got the seasons. It is a poem titled Persephone's Soliloquy and Defense.
Cover of paper dyed with walnut hulls and silk spine piece
   When my children were young I read them the story, The Origin of the Seasons, from the book Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William F. Russell, Ed.D. In this classic Greek myth, Persephone, the teenage daughter of Demeter (goddess of agriculture, marriage, and fertility) is abducted by Hades, god of the underworld and also brother of Zeus (King god and god of the Earth). When Demeter looses her daugher, she searches all over... neglecting her earthly responsibilities. This causes the crops to die, trees to wither, and the Earth to go dormant. Eventually Demeter realizes that Hades has Persephone in his realm in the underworld and has made her his queen. Demeter goes to her brother Zeus and demands he force their brother Hades to release Persephone. But Zeus claims he can't help. On her own, Persephone refuses to go along with the marriage and refuses to eat unless Hades releases her. Still, Hades holds her as his bride, hoping she'll change her mind.

   Meanwhile on Earth's surface, the crops have gone dormant without Demeter's blessings and the humans are suffering from a blighted world with no food, no forests, and no way to keep their families alive. They pray to Zeus to save them as they begin to die of starvation and cold. Finally Zeus decides to step in, so he goes to Hades and tells him to release Persephone. Hades agrees, but says the deal is off if Persephone eats anything before leaving. Then Hades throws a huge feast in honor of Persephone's return to Earth.... not telling her of the deal breaker if she eats. During the feast, Persephone relaxes her resolve and eats six pomegranate seeds. With this trickery Hades has his bride for life. Yet Demeter is just as adamant that she's going on strike unless she has her daughter back. Zeus resolves the conflict by having Persephone live half the year in the underworld as Hades queen, (one month for each pomegranate seed eaten) and the other six months she is free to return to her mother on Earth. When Persephone is on Earth with her mother, the earth blooms, crops grow, and we have the seasons of spring and summer. When she returns to Hades, Demeter lets the crops die, trees loose their leaves, and fall and winter arrive. That's how the ancient Greeks explained the seasons.

Used tea bags line the pages which are cut with windows

A red silk spine piece connects each page spread

Cut windows are strung with cotton threads through which weave the poem
   The poem was letterpress printed onto handmade paper with 10-point Sans Serif font. Then the poem was cut into strips, with each line on a separate paper strip. The paper strips were then woven into the threads within the windows so the poem reads as if it is a weaving.

last page...
   Myths have the tendency to address more than one area of the human condition. In the myth of Persephone and Hades, there are several issues which relate to human nature. The poem, Persephone's Soliloquy and Defense is one aspect of how this myth touches on issues still pertinent today.

Persephone's Soliloquy and Defense

How did I come to this darkness?
A man stole me from flowered fields,
in an iron chariot he looked at me
with empty eyes. Oh gray doom!
For what do you owe me this pain?

Many women live in shadowed prisons
serving, but yearning for beloved fields.
Yet I am not woman of mortal stock.
Alas, what is the fate of a goddess?
(she eats a seed from a pomegranate.)

How I hunger for light, for warmth
not for love. In Love's bottomless pool
I am drowning. (She takes another seed.)
Oh what vital juice, filling me with the heat I lack.

Tiny beads of garnet, I shall have bliss
twice at once. (She eats two seeds.)
What do I do with the finished flesh?
Swallow to avoid unsightly mess.
(Persephone sucks another seed.)

The color of a poppy, the taste of wine-
juice makes crimson my lips.
(She puts a sixth seed on her tongue.)
such a succulent gift from earth.

Harvest, how I miss my mother
like hunger that is lost forever.
This fruit is like her, nourishing.
But how does this ripe fruit grow
when I hear nothing grows on Earth?

Tis not fruit! Tis Hades!
(She drops the red-skinned pome.)
King of Death, how dare you
test upon me and hit my weakest mark
to damn me to a cursed life!

Zeus, I beg, let ignorance be my alibi.
I blame you for keeping me down so long,
that I withered like a droughted flower.
Shall I suffer from your cold neglect?
Dear Father, bend the rules for me,
daughter of Demeter.

Her sadness strips the olive trees
and turns green grass to straw,
Apollo takes the sun home early
due to the barren sight he saw.

Yes, spare me for my mother,
for her despair kills the grain.
Ah, your worshippers also suffer
as they starve and die as mortals do.
Grant me acquittal, to save the favored

before your gloried temples crumble,
for I will rule forever among the dead.
Yet, you will rule oblivion. 
Strike me a compromise, for I did not 
complete the crime of an underworld feast.
I will love Hades six months a year
for every seed resting inside of me.
But when the day and night reach
perfect harmony, set me free
so your mortals reap the harvest bounty.

There are so many wonderful myths. Which are your favorites?