We’re rolling right along with these glimpses into the myths that inspired the many story lines in the final two books of my historical fantasy series, The Osteria Chronicles.
After taking a Valentine’s Day peek at the strange courtship of Apollo and Daphne, I figured we might as well stick with the problematic relationships and dive into the story of Hades and Persephone.
If you’re not already familiar with this myth, after reading it you’re going to start wondering if the Ancient Greeks had any notion of romance or if it was all just rape-y coercion.
That said, let’s take a glimpse at this creepy marriage.
First though, as with Apollo and Daphne, the sculptor Bernini (who I’m starting to wonder about), also captured a troublesome moment between Hades and Persephone. Again, we’ll get to the story behind this in a moment…
Hade and Persephone in Mythology
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter (who was the goddess of the harvest and grain and agricultural things like that). It’s not really clear if Persephone is a goddess, a demi-god, or what, but she was worshipped alongside her mother, she was immortal, and she was quite the looker.
Those good looks caught the eye of Hades, ruler of the realm of the dead. Persephone however wasn’t about to give up things like sunlight and fresh air to go shack up in the bowels of the underworld. Mom backed her up on this and said, “No way are you hooking up with that sulfurous-scented being.”
Hades wasn’t one to take pure revulsion as a relationship killer, so he went right to Zeus who said, “Yeah, go ahead and just kidnap her. I’m cool with that.” As with Daphne’s dad, I think we can count Zeus out of the running for Father of the Year. What is with these Greek fathers?
Persephone had no idea she was a marked woman and headed out one day to go pick some flowers. Hades cut a hole in the earth, sprang up, and in Snidely Whiplash fashion abducted her, and, well let’s just say that Bernini statue above is titled “The Rape of Persephone.”
Up on Olympus, Demeter is sitting around wondering where her flowers are and goes looking for Persephone. You know how it is when you can’t find something and you just get more and more frustrated and that frustration turns to anger? Well, Demeter, to put it mildly, gets a bit angry.
She casts the world in perpetual winter so nothing grows and the people begin to starve. Okay, so her anger is a bit misdirected but that’s a common theme among the gods. Luckily, Helios finally spills the beans about what Hades has done.
Like any good mom, Demeter demands Hades return her daughter. Hades complies, but only because he has one final trick up his sleeve. Before Persephone leaves, he makes a peace offering of some tasty (and antioxidant-rich) treats…pomegranate seeds.
Persephone takes a nibble then says, “Laters” (in Greek, of course). But just as she’s about to leave, Hades reveals his trick: Because she has eaten food in the underworld, she has to return there once a year for a period of several months.
Realizing she’s been duped yet again by this jerkwad of a husband, Persephone agrees. But during these months, Demeter again refuses to allow anything to grow. And so winter was born. When Persephone leaves the underworld after her forced stay, spring returns to the earth.
Not a bad story, huh?
In the Books
Up until The Battle of Ares: Book Five of the Osteria Chronicles, we really don’t see or hear much of Persephone. She does have a role to play in Book Four (The Bonds of Osteria), but it’s in books five and six that she really gets to shine.
I won’t give too much away, but her inability to leave Hades’s realm and her hatred for her husband play key roles in her efforts to save everyone from the titans who are thisclose to wiping the gods and humans from the face of Osteria.
And unlike the Ancient Greeks, I make sure Persephone gets her revenge on her husband.
In the sample chapter below, you’ll get a taste of exactly where Persephone and Hades’s marriage stands. Hope you enjoy it!!
But First…Yes, It’s Sales Pitch Time…
You can now pre-order the final two books of The Osteria Chronicles.
And if you need to catch up on this series in which the gods, heroes, and myths of Ancient Greece come to life, the first three books can be found in a handy dandy box set. If you’re ready to dive into a new world, just click on the titles below…
Okay, Onto the Sample Chapter
The Battle of Ares
Chapter 19 – Orpheus
Once I’m done playing for the monstrous, three-headed canine that Hades treats like his own child, I realize I’m alone in the temple-like cavern. Hades has wandered off somewhere with that huge brute Typhon, and Eury finished his chores long ago.
Actually, every moment since I turned my back on the world of the living seems long ago and a shudder runs through me at the thought that time might be different down here. After all, what need do the dead have for tracking the hours or days? How long have I already wasted entertaining the strange mutt? I get up and creep toward where Hades has gone.
I peer down the tunnel, but something scratches at my mind telling me I don’t want to cross paths with Typhon. It seems he’s come here often, but how can that be? Haven’t I only been here a day? Despite the sweat trickling down my neck, I shiver with disorientation.
I back away from the tunnel’s entrance and follow the wall of the cavern until I find another, wider opening. With no real idea of where I’m headed or where she might be, I begin wandering in the hope of stumbling across Eurydice.
When I made my stupid blunder at Charon’s boat, Eurydice had been whisked away, practically ripped out of my grasp by some unseen hand, and snatched back into the Chasm. But how deep does she reside now? How far might I have to go to find her? Hades assured me, well maybe assured isn’t the right word, that because he wants me here, because I serve a purpose as pacifier for his mongrel, he has put protections on me.
When was that exactly? I think it must have only been an hour or two, but it feels like weeks ago. Fear takes hold of me at my loss of any sense of time. It’s enough to launch me into madness. I hold tight to my harp. Its solid frame provides a small drop of reassurance. Anyway, with Hades’s protection, the dead will no longer see me as one of the living and shouldn’t be attracted to my flesh as they would to any other still-breathing being who dares to enter Hades’s realm.
Despite the tiny bit of confidence this supposed protection gives me, I keep my eyes and ears keenly on alert as I push through the heavy air in my explorations. I’m passing a side tunnel when I hear grunting and the clatter of bones. My speck confidence crumbles into dust. I mean, what if one of the dead decides to take a taste test of me anyway? I back away from the tunnel, my imagination running rampant with whatever might be moving down there.
My head swims with the horrible thought of where they will bite first. A leg? My neck? Or will they toy with me like a cat with a mouse? Fear halts me in my tracks. A bad idea. I don’t have time to react when I hear the crunch of a footstep behind me. A hand grips my shoulder. A noise somewhere between a squeak and a scream escapes my lips as I shrink away. Fully expecting a row of skeletal teeth to lay into me, I duck my shoulder down to avoid the creature’s bite. I scrunch my eyes shut, not wanting to witness my own demise.
“I thought it was you,” a heavily accented, strangely familiar voice says. “Recognized the lanky form of you.”
I open one eye, then the other. They widen in surprise.
He spreads his bony arms in a gesture of display. “In the flesh. Sort of.”
And he is. Unlike Eury who looks like nothing more than a skeleton covered in a dressing of skin, Stavros has some flesh on his bones. He’s far thinner, wasted I suppose one would say, than he was when he unwillingly mentored me in Portaceae, but I can still make out a slight swell of muscle under his skin. His face, although pale, looks the same, but gaunt as if he’s been on a strict diet for too long.
“But how? How are you in the flesh? You’ve been here for what, over a year, right?”
Stavros nods. “But I was murdered. Apparently we get special privileges. And you— I mean you were skinny as a skeleton to begin with, but you look like you’ve still got some flesh under that skin.”
I back away, suddenly wondering what he’s been eating down here. Reading the worry on my face, Stavros produces a dry laugh.
“Don’t worry. I haven’t taken up that habit. You have to be here far longer for those cravings to set in. So, out with it, how did you die?”
“I’m not dead.”
“Lad, you need to come to terms with it. It makes things so much easier.”
“No, I came here on my own. My wife. I followed her.” My throat catches. When I recover, I explain how I’d convinced Hades to set Eurydice free, his conditions on her leaving, how I nearly got her out, and my clumsy mistake that ruined everything.
“Had she been sick?”
“No,” I reply, not ready to recount how she died, how it had been my fault, how I had failed her.
I shake my head. The movement jars something. If Stavros was nothing more than a slimmer version of his old self because he was murdered, then Eurydice shouldn’t have changed much either. Perhaps the half-decomposed thing I saw when I failed her was nothing more than a trick of the strange air down here, of my fear-filled mind, or of Hades himself.
“Do all murdered people not change?” I ask hopefully.
“It’s not that easy, and I’ve made it my little obsession to understand the ins and outs of Hades’s logic, if he has any. There has to be clear evidence you came here directly after being murdered. Dying after lingering in the medics’ ward — even if only for a few hours — after someone injures you doesn’t count. And war victims don’t count either because they supposedly know what they’re getting into. Besides, those dead vigiles have a purpose.”
“A purpose?” A memory tickles the back of my mind.
“They can be summoned. An army of the dead. I’m not sure how it works exactly.”
“Teeth,” I blurt, suddenly recalling Jason fighting naked in the Colchian Arena to save me and the others on the ship Argoa from being enslaved by Aeetes, the mad ruler of the kingdom of Colchis. “I think they sprout from dragon teeth.”
“Makes as much sense as anything else down here. Anyway, I still haven’t figured out why, but Hades seems to think it’s only fair murder victims get to continue mostly as we once were. We do odd jobs down here, keep the place in order. It actually feels like a prison, if I’m honest. I think I’d almost rather be a mindless flesh-eater than being aware of the interminable passing of time.”
“So this status, is it Hades who makes the call of who gets to stay—” I gesture toward Stavros’s arms.
“Fleshy. That’s what I call it anyway. Yeah, when Hermes brings in murder victims, Hades makes the call of whether they get to stay fleshy or not fleshy.”
Despite the heavy air, the lightness of hope fills me. If Eurydice is still as she once was, if she’s like Stavros, we could have a life down here. I don’t have to give her up.
“I have to go,” I say excitedly. “I have to talk to Hades.” I’m already turning away, striding back toward the cavern, when I realize I’m being rude. I call back, “Nice meeting you again,” but find Stavros keeping pace with me.
“I’m going with you. Do you have any idea how boring it is down here with hardly anyone to talk to? Besides, you probably don’t even know your way back to the cavern.” I halt, shifting on my feet and glancing in one direction then the other without any clue of which way I came from. How far have I gone from the cavern? For that matter, how long have I been wandering? Stavros smirks. “Thought not. Come on. I’ll show you. I’ve got this place all mapped out in my head. Well, most of it. Some areas you just don’t enter no matter how dead you are.”
Stavros does know the Chasm well. We slip through a few side tunnels I hadn’t noticed and, in what seems like less than a quarter of the time I’d been wandering, we’re back in the temple-like cavern. Eury Stephanos is still absent, the massive three-headed dog is still snoring, but Hades has returned. He’s resting his hand on one of the stone columns and leaning in, trying to place a kiss on a very reluctant woman.
Stavros clears his throat. Hades’s head jerks toward us. Taking advantage of the distraction, the woman shoves him back. Hades tugs at his tunic as if casually straightening it and squares his shoulders. “Do you think a wife should at least kiss her husband?” he asks us.
“Do you think a husband should force himself on his wife?” the woman, whose rounded arms and face show no hint of her being one of the dead, retorts without any hesitation. Cerby grunts and Hades shoots the woman a scolding glare. When one of the dog’s heads starts to whine, I strum a few bars of the lament I wrote for Eurydice and the head resumes snoring alongside the other two.
“What do you want?” Hades asks.
“Oh, not that again.” Hades throws up his hands, then marches toward his throne. “You had your chance. It’s not my problem you messed up,” he says, slumping into the hard piece of furniture.
“No, I realize that,” I stammer, “but you made a mistake with her.”
His wife laughs, truly amused. “It’s not the first mistake he’s made.”
“Hush, Persephone.” Hades sits upright and glares at me. “What do you mean I made a mistake?”
My throat goes dry, but I don’t back down. I will do right by Eurydice even if it’s the last thing I do. I swallow my fear and find strength by picturing my wife smiling up at me on our wedding day.
“She was murdered. She shouldn’t be like the other dead. She should be like him,” I say, pointing to Stavros.
Hades sighs irritably, slaps his hands on the arm rests of his throne, then pushes himself up. He goes around to the rear of the amethyst throne and pulls out a book that’s as thick as my arm is long. With a snap of his fingers, it hovers as if the Chasm’s thick air won’t let it fall.
“The name again?” His voice drips with bored annoyance.
Hades speaks her name and the pages flutter. “New arrival,” he adds as the pages flip back and forth between the front and middle sections of the huge book. “Nymph.” At this final clarification, the book settles onto a page. Hades runs a long finger down it.
“Dog attack,” he says. “I suppose that’s technically murder, but technicalities don’t quite cut it here.”
“No,” I protest. “It wasn’t a dog. It was one of the Dol. He was in wolf form when he attacked her.”
Hades slams the book shut. “It says dog attack.”
My heart sinks. The air in here is so heavy, I haven’t any energy left to argue. I turn aside so Hades can’t see my disappointment. Stavros puts his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. When I glance up, I see Persephone scowling at her husband.