So I’m reading this interesting article on the differences between the Eleusinian and Sicilian traditions about Persephone, some of which were quite significant. For instance in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter Zeus gives Persephone to Haides as part of a deal they’ve struck but in Ovid’s Metamorphoses Dis is worried that Typhoeus being buried under Aetna is going to damage his underworld kingdom and while wandering about Italy to check Venus has Cupid shoot him with an arrow, which causes him to fall in love with Proserpine. And later Homer has Haides trick Persephone into eating the pomegranate seeds but in Ovid she willingly plucks the fruit from the branch in order to become queen of the dead.
Although the article’s author doesn’t mention it, there are a number of Greek and Roman sources about Persephone’s Southern Italian cult which describe her as an infernal Hera or Juno of the underworld – something that makes sense if her condition is a result of a choice she undertook of her own volition and not seen as just a cruel accident of fate. This form of Persephone has a lot more to do with love, marriage and other life-cycles of womanhood than her purely Greek counterpart – though often with a strong chthonic undercurrent. (I.e. the reminder that all such changes are a brush with death and are thus analogous to it.)
But the thing that I found the most interesting was the discussion of Persephone as the spirit of Sicily itself.
I was also quite take by San Secondo’s modern Italian version of the story, Il Ratto di Proserpina:
Proserpina: For the first time I have to make an important decision. On the one hand the tenderness of my mother, the sweetness of this land … the quiet dreams … on the other hand … a desire of finding out new things … seeing … acting … doing. If I stay here, what shall I do? I could at the most give the birdseed or pasture the flock. But, at the same time, this America, with its skyscrapers, its whirling of money … I am afraid I am not modern enough.