"Abduction of Persephone" section 1 of diptych

Alice McMahon

Galena, United States

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Featured in the group “Image Writing”
charcoal on prepared board, 30 × 30″ for an exhibition at 33 Contemporary Gallery, Chicago

Based on a poem by
Edna St. Vincent Millay –
Prayer to Persephone

Be to her, Persephone,
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to her, “My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here.”

the essential message of the poem—the idea of a queen of life and death so gracious that she sees every frightened child—even ones that won’t always admit they need help—as worthy of her time and affection.

The abduction of the goddess Persephone and the mythological “reason for the seasons”
The maiden Persephone is picking narcissus flowers in a field and the earth suddenly opens before her and Hades, god of the underworld, rides up on his chariot and abducts her. The story of Persephone is also the story of her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest. When she learns of Persephone’s disappearance, she does what any mother would do: search high and low for her, and when she cannot find any trace of her, is wracked with grief. She takes out her anger on the mortal world over which she presides and causes winter to come over the land. It is said by The Fates that whoever consumes food or drink in the underworld is doomed to spend eternity there. Upon eating six pomegranate seeds, Persephone unknowingly binds herself to the realm of Hades and must stay one month in the underworld for each seed she has eaten. Ascalaphus was an underworld daemon who managed the orchards of Hades. When he reported to the god that Persephone had tasted of the pomegranate seed, the angry Demeter buried him beneath a rock. Later Ascalaphus was released from this prison, but the goddess transformed him into a screech-owl. Because of her mother’s status, Persephone is allowed to live half of the year on earth with her. Demeter rejoices to be reunited with her child and spring returns to the land.
Like all great myths, this one transcends time and cultures and speaks to the depths of human existence. It also strikes a deep chord in my life at the present moment. I thoroughly understand Demeter’s grieving and desperate point of view, as a mother of young adults who have starting their leave-taking. Many times as my children have raged and pushed me away in the throes of their coming of age, I have had to remind myself that this is normal; this is what they must do. I try not to take the battles personally, and I see that they are going through the painful process of expressing and finding their authentic selves. They must push me away; and I must allow it. At some point we are called to the journey, to become the heroine in our own lives and take a bite of what life has to offer.

Artwork Comments

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