Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Persephone and the Creation of Mankind


In one obscure myth Persephone was accredited with creation of mankind from clay (in place of the usual Prometheus). A divine dispute ensued over which god should possess him, with the result that he was awarded to Zeus and Gaia in life, and to Persephone in death.

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 220 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :

"When Cura [i.e. Koure, Persephone] was crossing a certain river, she saw some clayey mud. She took it up thoughtfully and began to fashion a man. While she was pondering on what she had done, Jove [Zeus] came up; Cura asked him to give the image life, and Jove readily grant this. When Cura wanted to give it her name, Jove forbade, and said that his name should be given it. But while they were disputing about the name, Tellus [Gaia or Demeter] arose and said that it should have her name, since she had given her own body. They took Saturnus [Kronos] for judge; he seems to have decided for them : Jove, since you gave him life [text missing, presumably he was given control of the fate of men] let her [Persephone] receive his body [after death]; since Cura fashioned him; let her [Gaia] posses him as long as he lives, but since there is controversy about his name, let him be called homo, since he seems to be made from humus."

Persephone and the Creation of Man

I was young when it happened, and the world seems to have mostly forgotten about it. Since that crafty Prometheus came and told his own version of the story, I just let things pass.

It was long before I went to live in the Underworld with my husband. The meadows with their butterflies and daffodils were my constant companions. That warm immortal afternoon, when a day could last literally forever and be more beautiful than could be imagined, I was dancing down by a river. The river was so soothing on my bare feet, and the rocks were smooth. The water was clear and blue. As I danced along the banks of the river I marveled at the different textures I could feel beneath my feet. The cool wetness of the water, the soft brush of green grasses, the smooth bumps of the rocks, and the squish of the red clay between my toes. As I felt the clay, I had an idea. I got down on my knees and gathered some of the wet clay in my fingers. It was like making dolls, and I would play with them and they would be my companions. I shaped the figure with two legs, a slender torso and graceful arms. I sculpted a head with a face - ears, eyes, a nose and a mouth. I gave the figure luxurious hair on its tiny head. You may ask if I created Man or Woman first, but to tell you the truth I don't remember. I created both, together, equal.

As I held the clay woman in my hands, I heard steps behind me. I looked up to see my father. It wasn't often that I saw him, as I spent all my days with my mother. He smiled warmly at me.

"What have you made, Kore?"

I held it up so he could see. "I haven't given it a name yet," I said. "Can you bring it to life?"

He nodded and touched the clay figure. It sprang to life and began to happily dance on the banks as well. Zeus animated its partner as well.

"Since I made them, I was thinking about calling them Kore in my own honor." We gods are very proud.

My father chuckled. "No, dear daughter. It is I who gave them life. We shall call them after me."

Next thing we knew, my great grandmother Gaia approached. "I felt you," she said "you made these creatures from my own body. I claim them. We will name them for me."

We argued for some time over the issue. It was finally decided, since Gaia was Zeus's grandmother, they would ask an intermediary - Gaia's son and Zeus's father, Kronos.

You may think I had never been to the underworld before I married. You would be wrong. It seems so long ago, I was in the image of a little girl. Imagine, a 6 or 7 year old girl, with her two live dolls going deep into the underworld with her Great Grandmother and her Father - hand in hand. Kronos had been banished to Tartarus during the battle that gave power to the Olympians. And why it was that they would chose his counsel in this matter seemed beyond my comprehension. We all explained our positions to my grandfather. He watched the two clay figures dance and frolic about as they had no idea where they were.

"There is a lot of depth here," Kronos said finally. "And there are things at play that we will have not seen come to pass yet. While they live, Zeus they will honor you and your brothers on Olympos most high. They will belong to Gaia during that time. And when they die, they will be passed into the care of your daughter." I didn't know then he was telling me my very own fate then. "It does not matter what they are called, let them be called Human as they are made from humus."

So we released the people who began to populate the world. And as my story would later play out, I found myself the queen of the land of the dead and as each soul returned to me after they died I remembered that I created them with my very own hands. And that is why I protect them for all eternity.

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