42 Songs for Persephone

Rinny Williamson

TW: mentions of r*pe, abuse, and kidnapping

Reflecting on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, I am reminded of the incredible amount of songs that have been written on the topic of Persephone. I thought that it would be interesting to analyze some of the songs, specifically the ones that I have enjoyed enough to add to various playlists or recognized. I wanted to analyze how the songs treat the story of Persephone, specifically the light in which they portray her imprisonment in the underworld, her relationship with her mother, and the degree of agency they give her in the story.

The first song I wanted to review was Pomegranate Seeds by Julian Moon. My opinion is a little bit split on this song as far as how it presents the character of Persephone. The singer of the song is meant to represent Persephone (other than one of the choruses) and is speaking directly to Hades throughout the song. On one hand, the relationship between Persephone and Hades isn’t romanticized or presented as anything other than nonconsensual. Hades is presented as an antagonistic figure, referring to him as “devil” right at the beginning of the song. Interestingly, instead of showing the decision to take the pomegranate seeds as an act of manipulation or even as an accident, it’s explicitly a deal that Hades and Persephone make (“Devil, won’t you bargain with me?”). The line that discusses this even is the following:

He said, ‘Will you be mine,’
I said, ‘Yes, sir (Yes, sir!)
If you let me go,’
And he said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ (Yes, ma’am!)
‘Cause I get what I want, one way or the other
I’ll own your heart and soul, my lover
Six feet under”

On one hand, the result is still clearly not a willing choice made by Persephone. The idea of Persephone taking a more active role in bargaining without romanticizing the situation or making it into a romantic choice does not feel disrespectful to Persephone’s situation in the same way. However, it is misrepresenting the amount of power Persephone was able to have in the situation, and I do worry it might “girlboss-ify” her in the way we had expressed concern about in class.

The second song I wanted to discuss was Persephone by Stevie Bea. This song is very direct in its interpretation of Persephone’s time in the underworld. Instead of it being described as kidnapping, the song suggests that Persephone “ran off with Hades” willingly. The rest of the song is more about describing Persephone’s time with Hades as her coming of age and a chance for freedom for her. Persephone’s time in the overworld is now described as a “visit”, and the song even reassures the audience that “she’s still in love in the underworld”. The conflict of the song is between Persephone and Demeter, with Demeter being portrayed as an antagonistic figure trying to ruin the “young and dumb” Persephone’s young love and happiness and learning to accept her freedom.

This song has issues all the way through. The lyrics shamelessly paint the kidnapping of Persephone as her running away willingly. The story also turns the script around and makes Demeter out to be a villain who is too controlling of her young daughter. This song not only romanticizes the kidnapping and completely distorts the story, but also makes Persephone out to be a foolish young person and love. The disrespect to the actual story and the reality of Persephone’s situation is deeply insulting, and delivers a damaging misinterpretation of what was cruelty against a child. The song being to the tune of a catchy and upbeat love song is also frustrating, as the tone overall is so dishonest to the actual situation.

Persephone by Daisy the Great has very interesting lyrics, specifically because only the choruses make any mention of Persephone. The verses, instead of referring to the story of Persephone, describe the plight of a siren. These are both Greek mythological figures, so the usage of Persephone’s name for the title and choruses could be seen as coincidental and aesthetic. However, whatever the intention was, by placing these figures next to one another, it associates their stories with one another and allows for connection. The verses are beautiful, and I would highly recommend looking up all the lyrics, but by way of example, here is the third verse:

“The plight of the siren is
History wrote her as evil for men to avoid at all costs
Call her the temptress, the whore, always luring
Those good boys ashore, the pure virtuous
The plight of the siren is
Everyone’s always been
Scared of a powerful woman”

My feelings on this song are yet again conflicted. On one hand, the lyrics are beautiful and I love what they have to say about sirens and a completely different interpretation of the mythological creature. The interesting part arises when you remove the actual mythological figure of the siren and instead use the siren to represent any concept of a temptress in mythology. On one hand, this representation in connection with Persephone could be somewhat damaging, as it suggests the siren really is in love with the man she is connected to but is not believed to be so. On the other hand, it makes a great point about the way the men who are connected to these beautiful women are often forgiven for their actions, and instead, the victims are blamed.

In a roundabout way, this does apply to the way the modern-day often views the story of Persephone, making Persephone out to be an active agent who was doing something bad and daring by going with Hades, as though she were indulging in some sort of secret desire. On the other hand, it is once again unfair to Persephone to portray her as a hopeless romantic when she was really only hopeless in the sense that the story was set on disrespecting her agency. Still, the point of the lyrics are fascinating, and I enjoyed the interesting way these figures were connected.

The last of the songs I want to look over is Persephone by Tamino. This song takes a completely different angle and portrays the story from the perspective of Hades. The song right away starts suggesting specific motivations for Hades, saying that Hades was “only here to break [Persephone’s] heart in two”. This leads into what is overall a strange mix of a coming-of-age and “beauty and the beast” interpretation of the myth, suggesting Hades is ruining Persephone’s innocence and also becoming better due to her kindness and light. The overtones of the song are positive, romantic, and even sexual, leaning into what is supposed to be the sensual aspects of the power dynamic with lines like “when I watched your first bathing, I only warned you with a lowered voice”. The musicality of the song lends itself to this, as well. The song ends up concluding that, after Hades has protected Persephone and Persephone has made him a better person, that she could not help but fall for him:

“And you’ve noticed it,
There is something right here
You have come to love, yes you’ve come to love
What you always will fear.”

This song makes the egregious hot-take that, yes, there is an extreme power dynamic between these two characters, but actually it’s sexy and Persephone can’t help but like it. This song horrendously not only makes out their dynamic to be sexy and romantic but does so from Hades’ perspective while leaning into the non-consensual aspect of things. Taking a story about kidnapping and rape and choosing the point of view of the kidnapper and rapist to make a sexy song about was, to put it lightly, a bad move.

Although I enjoyed a lot of these songs, I wasn’t super happy with the messages that they were communicating. I am no expert in songwriting or music in general, but I became very interested in the idea of writing my own song on the subject, one that doesn’t romanticize the event or portray Persephone in a way that misattributes any of the events. I also wanted to be careful not to turn Persephone into an object to be manipulated. She is a victim, and she is her own person. These do not need to be mutually exclusive ideas. I wrote the words down for a song — I have an idea of what it would sound like, but I’ll have to record it later. I wanted to give a moment of hopefulness despite all the frustration I hold for the people who romanticize the story — Persephone is immortal, and the origin of her story is as well. There will be an account there of what happened to her, no matter how people continue to twist it. I hope to find some power in that.

“What happened to Kore”

I didn’t choose to go
But they blame me in the end
How could I have known
That from then I was condemned?

Pomegranate seeds,
Why can’t I just be free?
How could I ever know a seed
Would turn around and bury me?

To marry me

Spring, summer, then come fall
Instantly, I lose it all
Lead astray, one might say
Whatever happened to Kore?

Romantic to be allowed to leave
To the world that I have known
As if it were a gift for me
To return to my own home

Pomegranate seeds,
Death eats them whole
I have been made queen
Queen of the illusion of control

Elusive control

Spring, and summer, then come fall
Instantly, I lose it all
Lead astray, one might say —
What happened to Kore?

Demeter weeps when I am gone,
But what about my tears?
My name is nothing if not reminding me
How I give my years

Pomegranate seeds,
Was it a mistake or lie?
What good is ruling the Underworld
When the one you hate will never die?

But neither will I

Spring, and summer, then come fall
Instantly, I lose it all
Lead astray, one might say —
What happened to Kore?

Spring, and summer, then come fall
Instantly, I lose it all
Lead astray, one might say —
What happened to Kore?

Spring, and summer, then come fall
Instantly, I lose it all
Lead astray, one might say —
What happened to Kore?

I’ll rise up from the underworld
Like daffodils in spring, they say —
I’ll tell them, so remember
What happened to Kore


Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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