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The Rape of Persephone

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
Relief of the Rape of Persephone

Original kept at the Musée Saint-Raymond, Antiquities Museum of Toulouse
Neo-Attic style; Early Roman Empire

This work is a white marble sculpture that measures 43 to 46 centimeters with a thickness of four and half centimeters.
Discovered at Martre-Tolosane (Haute-Garonne) during the excavation of the Roman villa of Chiragan (1897-1899), this relief is a picture that captures the well-known Greco-Roman myth of the kidnapping of Persephone by Hades.
Emerging from the earth, the god of the underworld and underground forces, Hades, kidnaps his niece, Persephone with whom he is in love. The winged cherubs symbolize Hades’s feelings and his victory in this ordeal.

Persephone, carried on Hades’s shoulder, puts up a struggle and cries out. The present forces confront each other under the form of Hermes directing the road to the underworld from behind the quadriga and an armed Athena who desperately tries to stop the chariot.
Two of Persephone’s companions witness the scene. One remains in shock while the other tries to cut the horses’ reins. The horses convey all of the violence of the kidnapping.
The racing chariot depicted in such a way depicts the voyage to the underworld and the surpassing of physical human limits.

The Myth of the Rape of Persephone 

The Rape of Persephone” is a poem composed by Claudian circa 395 A.D.

Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, is also known as Kore. 
Without Demeter’s knowledge, Zeus promised Persephone to his brother Hades. While the young girl was picking flowers one day in the Sicilian countryside with her companions and carefree nymphs, she caught a glimpse of a beautiful narcissus which she approached and picked.
At this instant, the earth opened, and Hades came out of the crevasse on his chariot and kidnapped his niece.
Demeter, mad with grief because she did not know who had abducted her daughter, went out to find her and wandered around the world for nine days and nine nights. At the end of this period, the Sun, emotionally moved, told her the name of the abductor.
To get her revenge, Demeter leaves Olympus and prevents the growth of all plants on Earth. Worried for the future of the mortals, Zeus sends Hermes to the Underworld to find Persephone and bring her back to her mother under one condition: she had not eaten anything during her journey in the underworld. Hades, predicting Zeus’s ruse, gave his wife pomegranate seeds. Thus, he thought that he could keep Persephone.
However, the god was obliged to accept a compromise. Persephone would stay with him only six months of the year and with Demeter the other six months. This deity’s legend is easy to interpret. Persephone is trapped in the underworld just like grains of wheat buried underground in autumn and winter. It is also a view of death associated with the Greek religious practices known as the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Persephone’s return to her mother corresponds with the renaissance of vegetation with the return of spring and life’s prosperity during the summer.

Generally speaking, Persephone is best known as Hades’s wife, the majestic queen of the underworld’s kingdom.
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