Hades and Persephone: Death, Rebirth, Winter and Spring

Hades the dark god of the Underworld abducted the maiden Persephone on a spring like day while she was gathered flowers in a meadow with nymphs. As queen of the dead she ruled below earth during the barren Winter to return at Spring with the rebirth of the upperworld. The myth of the seasons was transformed during the plagues of medieval Europe into Death and the Maiden in which the ephemeral beauty of a virgin or lady is contrasted with a skeleton personifying Death. American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne retold the story of Persephone in The Pomegranate Seeds from Tanglewood Tales (1853). Virginia Frances Sterrett illustrated the children’s book in 1921. The Baroque marble sculpture The Rape of Proserpina by Italian Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 –1680) provides a more carnal vision of the myth. German printmaker Sebald Beham (1500-1550) depicted Death pursuing a Lady in his engraving, like Persephone she is holding flowers. Edvard Munch (1863–1944) had an early fascination with death, his mother and sister both dying of tuberculosis when he was a child. The Norwegian Expressionist shows the Maiden in an erotic embrace with Death.