In this edition of O’Connor’s brilliant Olympians series, we’re introduced to Hades, the gloomy God of the Underworld.
Or rather, it tells the mother and daughter conflict between Demeter and Persephone, and later Demeter’s attempt to rescue her daughter. As O’Connor admits, this book is more about Demeter and her attempt to rescue her daughter, but Demeter: Goddess of the Harvest wouldn’t have the same ring as Hades: Lord of the Dead. Hades isn’t Sir not appearing in this comic, but he’s definately more a ball being thrown around in a conflict between mother and daughter. He’s mainly just very serious and stoic, and not particularly strongly characterized, which is an understandable choice. I mean after we’ve been given this….
No matter how good your Hades is, he will always be in this version’s shadow.
Persephone and Demeter instead were the ones who got to take center stage, with an unusual twist in their story. What is that twist? You see, the original stories of Persephone and Demeter go that Persephone (then Kore) was going to pledge herself a virgin, but Aphrodite didn’t want another Goddess (like Artemis and Athena) to not be under her power. As a result, she got her son Eros to shoot an arrow into the heart of Hades, making the gloomy King become desperately enamoured with the young Goddess.
While she was playing in a field of flowers, he dragged her underground and forced her to become his Queen. Meanwhile, Demeter was besides herself in grief and searched the world for her daughter, turning it into a blistering cold wasteland. She eventually learned that Zeus was behind this plot, and demanded that she be brought back. Zeus ordered Hermes to retrieve Persephone and bring her back. Meanwhile, Persephone was tricked into eating food of he Underworld- just six pomegranate seeds (which some have interpreted rather phallically)- and that meant she could never leave. However, a deal was forged that she would spend six months in the underworld with her husband, and six above ground with her mother, and so when Persephone was with her mother, there would be joy and spring, but when she had to return, Demeter would mourn and winter would come again.
Now, O’Connor in his notes mentioned that every time we see Persephone after this myth, she’s always there as the Queen of hell. So, by that logic, this would mean that all the mythological stories involving her would take place in the Winter months…
So O’Connor turned that little plot hole into a twist on the story. What if Persephone actually enjoyed being Queen of the Underworld (with all the power that entails?) What if Demeter was kind of an overprotective mum whom Persephone had to break free of?
In this, we see Demeter chase away every boy that went near Kore/ Persephone, and Persephone was having enough of it. Right before the abduction scene we have this little domestic:
Of course, the boy Demeter was trying to protect Kore/Persephone from was Apollo, an actual rapist who stalked the nymph Daphne to the point that she turned into a tree to escape him, but whatever. Throughout the story, we see Persephone bond with Hades and grow interested in the underworld and like a rebellious teenage girl going through her Goth phase, she took on a darker appearance and revelled in her new freedom.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this interpretation. I always loved the story of one mother’s epic journey to save her daughter, and the way she could stand toe to toe with Zeus as a force in her own right… Which she still does of course:
That scene was pretty amazing and Hera once again is the secret star of this series; she’s the only God in the room who’s not even remotely surprised- this is clearly the Goddess who’s been married to Zeus for centuries.
That was a badass moment but Demeter’s strength is a bit undermined by being the overprotective mother who in the end, was fighting for what even her own daughter didn’t want. It’s a very good take, but the original interpretation had such high emotional stakes, and a heroic Demeter, that it’s a shame we couldn’t have seen that followed through.
But still, forgetting the story I hoped to hear, the story I got was still very good and it has another new twist on the mythology. The story doesn’t begin with any of our players, but rather, how the Greeks viewed the afterlife. It was a gloomy world where everyone was just standing around for eternity, stripped of their memories, waiting for the end of time. The only ones spared this fate were the mythical heroes, and obtaining that status was so hard it was virtually undo-able.
However, after Persephone became Queen, a new rite was added to the funeral proceedings: a rite that allowed the pure of heart (by Greek standards) whom had lived a good life to be reborn until they eventually reached the Elysian fields. This is a very clever interpretation of an old myth.
VERDICT: Although I enjoy the traditional telling of the Persephone myth, with the heroic mother, this was still a very interesting and mythologically faithful spin on the old tale. Not only that, but it was an enjoyable read and definitely worth it if you’re interested in Greek mythology.