Some of the myths that the Greeks told explained the natural world around them. One such myth was the story of Persephone.
When the world was young, there was no such thing as winter or famine. The earth was bursting with life, and flowers and fruit could grow at once on the same tree. It was ruled by Demeter, goddess of the earth, and especially of grain and the harvest. She was the one who first taught men to sow and reap grain, and in those days it was an easy task.
Demeter had a daughter, Persephone, who was dearer to her than anything else. Unlike all the other gods and goddesses, Persephone never came to Olympus. She spent all her times playing in the forests and hills, dancing with the nymphs and making chains of flowers. Some of the other gods had wanted to court her, but Persephone had no desire for a husband, and Demeter had no desire to lose her daughter.
But there was one other god who never went to Olympus: Hades, the lord of the dead. He ruled over the shadowy Underworld, where the souls of all the dead were gathered. But one day, Hades went up to the mortal world to see the daylight. He went to Sicily, and there, in the field of Enna, he saw Persephone gathering flowers with the sunlight on her hair.
Immediately Hades desired her, but he knew that Demeter would never allow her daughter to marry. So without a word, he seized Persephone and lifted her into his chariot. He did not listen to her terrified cries, but cracked the whip on his horses, and they plunged down into the earth, which closed up to hide their passing. No sign was left but the flowers lying scattered across the grass where Persephone had dropped them when she was seized.
So Hades made Persephone his wife, and set her on a throne beside him in the Underworld; but she missed her mother and the sunlight, and she was little pleased to be the queen of shadows. Meanwhile, Demeter searched for her daughter in a frenzy. At last Helios, the god of the sun who sees everything, told her what had happened.
Filled with grief and rage, Demeter swore that until she saw her daughter again, nothing green would grow. So winter came upon the earth for the first time. Snow fell in the fields, crops failed, and animals ran mad. Everywhere was hunger and destruction. People prayed to the gods, begging for mercy, and at last the gods themselves went to Zeus and demanded that he do something.
Zeus decreed that Hades must let Persephone return to her mother, as long as she had not eaten any food from the Underworld. For the Fates had decreed that whoever ate food from the Underworld could never be entirely free from it, and even Zeus could not defy the Fates.
When Demeter heard Zeus's decision, she rejoiced. But when Hermes, the messenger of the gods, went down to the Underworld to fetch Persephone, he found that she had eaten six seeds from a pomegranate.
So the gods reached a compromise: for six months out of every year, Persephone lives in the Underworld with Hades her husband; and during that time Demeter mourns, and it is winter. But at the end of those six months, Persephone returns to her mother, and then we have spring.
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