He took her down to the Underworld, the realm of the Dead. A man in black piloted a narrow wooden boat on a winding. snaky river. A three-headed dog simultaneously barked, growled, and spat. Thousands of souls moaned in agony. Thousands of souls cried in pain. And thousands of souls carried on silently, expressing quiet desperation.
He took the child to bed and had his way with her.
He offered her a wide selection of fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, and meats. Terrified and forlorn, she refused to eat. Day passed into night. Night passed into day. Still she refused to eat.
Meanwhile, Persephone’s mother Demeter searched the heavens and earth for her child. She asked the Olympians f they had seen her daughter and they all replied in the negative. She neglected to ask Hades because he was not on Olympus. He only came once or twice a year. He was not welcome in Olympus and no deity was welcome in the Underworld besides him.
Demeter neglected her temples and her fields. Farmers prayed to her to sustain their crops. She ignored them and the crops withered. Lush green fields became brown and dusty. Leaves fell from trees making them look like skeletons of their former selves.
Persephone did not want to eat. But her body cried out for nourishment. Her young will fought with her aching limbs. She looked at a table that Hades had set for her. He had filled it with food, including some of her favorites like olives, honey, beans, and a juicy ripe red pomegranate. She peeled the skin. She plucked the seeds, shining like rubies, from the fruit and ate them one by one until six seeds were in her mouth.
Just then, the sky above the Underworld shook violently. A swirling cyclone of wind appeared. Demeter and Zeus, King of the Olympians, descended from the sky. When she saw Persephone, Demeter shrieked with joy. “Persephone, Persephone, my dear, my heart, you are here!” Persephone ran into the waiting arms of her mother.
Hades was furious. He demanded Demeter return Persephone to him and leave his world. Demeter could not believe him. She asserted that Persephone was her daughter and she belonged with her.
Zeus was the brother of both Hades and Demeter. He knew he had to settle this otherwise there would be war on Olympus. He said, “This shall be our test. If the child has eaten in the Underworld, she belongs to Hades. If she has not, she belongs to Demeter.”
Hades smiled, his teeth glaring wickedly. He produced the peeled pomegranate as his proof.
“But it’s barely touched! This is injustice!” Demeter cried out.
Zeus declared, “She has eaten six seeds. For each seed, she shall spend one month of the year in the Underworld. Since she has eaten six seeds, so she will spend six months of the year here with Hades. The other six months she will spend with Demeter in the world above.”
Demeter was still angry and seethed silently. But she knew if she protested she could lose Persephone forever.
And so every year, for six months, Persephone descends to the Underworld. For this time, Demeter in her grief, neglects the plants of the earth. For those six months, the leaves fall and the crops refuse to grow. And for the other six months, the flowers are fragrant and the fields are green.