47 The Colors of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter

by Adi Gandhi


While looking at modern renderings of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, I was struck by the consistent patterns of color I noticed: red for pomegranates, blood, and sexuality; white for Persephone’s purity; brown or black for Hades and the underworld. The coloring of this myth was interesting to me, since most of the art from ancient Greek that I found was lacking in color, and within the text of the myth itself color is not often mentioned apart from the red of the pomegranates. For my project, I wanted to imagine this myth in different colors, since I wanted to push back against the ideas that Hades’s cruelty should necessarily be tied to him having darker skin and that the abduction of Persephone should symbolize her loss of virtue.

After finding this painting by Simone Pignoni of Persephone and Hades done in the seventeenth century, I used Adobe Illustrator (thanks Pomona!) to create the four variations below. The top left is just the painting broken down into its original colors, as a way of showing what the colors of the myth have come to look like. In the top right image, I substituted many of the principal colors with other ones; I gave Persephone more brown-toned skin to associate brown with purity, Hades became green because I wanted to remove the negative associations from darker skin (and also remember the role that Gaia played in the abduction of Persephone), and I made the red flowers white as a way of inverting the inherently ‘sinful’ connotation they give to Persephone.

In the bottom right image, I converted the painting to grayscale to get a sense of what it would look like without color. Noticing that there was still an association of whiteness with virtue and blackness with evil, I inverted the colors to create the bottom left image and rethink the associations we often give to different shades and colors.


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

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