Of all the Greek myths that there are, this is one of my favourites. The rape of Persephone.
As soon as I saw this statue I was completely mesmerised by it. It is called the Rape of Proserpina or Abduction of Proserpina (Ratto di Proserpina) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the year 1622. As he was Italian he used the Roman names of the Greek gods. In this post I will refer to Proserpina by using her actual Greek name: Persephone.
I know the story by heart as it’s one of my favourites, and as intense as it is, only a very intense piece of art could represent it the best way. Bernini did it. And majestically.
Who were Persephone (Kore) and Hades?
Persephone (also known as Kore, ‘young girl’ in ancient Greek) is the daughter of Demetre, goddess of corn and harvest. Hades was the god of the Underworld, therefore god of all the dead, good and bad, and god of all the precious gems and stones that are found in the the underground. He was lonely, very grumpy and very unlucky with women. Every attempt of seduction failed miserably. He never left the Underworld unless he had business to do or when he is overcome by sudden lust. Tired of his failed attempts he asks his brother Zeus to give him Kore as his wife. Kore (in greek means ‘young girl’) was a young joyous girl, daughter of Demeter, jealous goddess of harvest and agriculture. Zeus knew that by giving his consent he would have to confront the severe Demeter so he unwillingly gave the permission to his older brother to take Persephone to the underworld.
The coming of Kore to the Underworld symbolises the beginning of autumn and then winter, as the mother cried her daughter disappearance by shutting down any agriculture growth and prosperity on Earth. This fact prompted to her name changed into Persephone, which means ‘her who brings destruction‘ in terms of life and vegetation. Negotiations were made in such way that it was decreed that Persephone would spend six months in the underworld with her new husband (autumn and winter) and the rest of the year with her mother Demeter (spring and summer).
This piece of art is a delicate balance of violence and seduction, bodies binding together with excellent attention paid to details that give it an effect of firmness and strength.
Persephone’s desperation is remarkable in this piece of work as her eyes and tears portray the fear and anger upon being taken away from her mother, Demeter, and her home town to be dragged in the Underworld.