USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Greek myths’
Myths

The Myth of Persephone

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked EAL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a religious myth she grew up learning in school.

 

CS: “So how did you learn this myth?”

EAL: “I was really into Greek mythology as a kid and my mom bought me like a big book of Greek mythologies and we’d read them together as bedtime stories when I was really young.”

CS: “Can you tell me the story?”

EAL: “So basically Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the god of harvest. She was very carefree, beautiful, and like vibrant. And so Hades, who is the God of the underworld, who is like dark and depressing, saw her and said he wanted her to be his wife. So she was playing in the field and his chariot comes up out of the ground and he abducts her and takes her to the underworld. And then because she was in the underworld and Demeter was so upset, winter came because she was heartbroken about the abduction of her daughter. And while Persephone was in the underworld she ate six seeds so like she has to stay in the underworld since she ate the food of the dead for six months, so that kind of explains the seasons. So the summer she can be with Demeter and its like the harvest season, and then the winter she has to be with Hades and that’s why it’s winter.”

CS: “Did you ever hear varied versions of this myth?”

EAL: “Yeah I’ve heard it before, maybe without the season aspect, so I think there’s definitely variations that leave that out. In others they’re married, but in the version I’ve read she doesn’t love him at all and is just kind of stuck with him.

 

Background:

The participant is a freshman at the University of Southern California and was raised in Chicago, Illinois with a strong Christian religious background. Her mom introduced her to mythology, mostly Greek and Egyptian, at a very young age.

Context:

An in person conversation recorded while walking to an event.

 

Analysis:

I found this myth really captivating because I also used to love Greek mythology and was an avid reader of myths such as this one. I hadn’t heard this version before in regards to how that is where seasons originate. I believe when I used to read Greek mythology it was from a children’s book so it makes sense why details such as that would be left out. It is interesting to see how folk myths, even when tied to religion, still have variations from one to the next.

 

Legends
Material

Athena and a Bow and Arrow

Informant A is a 17-year-old Sophomore at USC studying Biomedical Engineering with an emphasis on Neuroscience. She is ¼ Greek Cypriote, ¼ German and ¼ Argentinian but she strongly identifies with the Greek side of her. She spent 9 years in Greek school and goes to Greece every summer. She speaks Greek with her grandparents.

A: Let me think of some good legends that I’ve grown up with…mostly the Greek myths. We would, um I knew them in English when I was younger because we got introduced to them in elementary school, and then I told my grandparents I was really interested in them and so they actually found me a Greek version so that I could read it in Greek and solidify my learning there. But we would talk about, um well mostly the PG ones, you know Greek mythology. And one of the ways children were often entertained in Greece was to tell them these myths and stories. These stories were used not only to pass time, but to also carry down values.

The one, I think the one that we would talk about the most is Athena. So Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, but also the Goddess of war, and her affinity is the olive branch, but also the bow and arrow. And my grandparents have always been like, ‘You’re a little Athena! You like to learn, but you’re also really feisty, so you got the war in you’ and to actually perpetrate that, my grandfather once actually went to our backyard and cut a little branch off of an olive tree and made a bow and arrow out of it for me. Kind of a fake one because you couldn’t actually shoot with it, but he like sharpened an arrow, like not sharp enough to kill an animal, but sharp enough to hit a target. And we had that fun together making that, because he’s an engineer so he like makes random stuff. He taught me a lot like how to measure batteries, and play with a solder machine, so I had a lot of fun sharing that with him and learning about what I could do. And actually too Athena is the goddess of weaving, which is why I knit with my grandmother, it’s a fun way to create with her and connect, which is how you leave a legacy, by creating something meaningful.

Me: So do you still have this bow and arrow?

A: Oh gosh I think I left it in Cypress. I’m sure it’s in a closet somewhere with my name on it. I must have been like nine or ten so it’s been a while.

Me: So you talk about how your family prized you for being like Athena, would you say that this is prized in the larger Greek community? Like you say Athena has the wisdom but also like the fire behind it.

A: Absolutely. I think that’s something that really encompasses all the women in my family. My family is mostly women. Although the ‘take charge’ role in mostly cultures is dealt with by men, in my family it is the women who are the strong ones. My family mostly grew up in the Cypress villages farming though which is why they value me going to school so much, and starting early, and are so amazed by how much I know and how I wanted to learn more, just like the values Athena prizes.

 

Analysis:

Here informant A talks about some of the values that her Greek culture prizes and how her family compares her to the Greek Goddess Athena. The Greek legends and myths are extremely important and popular to them, so much so that the Greek stories and their values will come up within conversations in her family. She also talks about the folk item, the bow and arrow, that came out of the conversations with her family and also emphasizes how important these values of strength and wisdom especially are to them, enough so that her grandfather would take the time to make a bow and arrow for her.  She also explains a bit about how unlike most cultures, the Greek myths, like Athena, have influenced her family to prize strong women rather than only strong men.  Her grandfather was proud to show her bits about engineering and then encourage her to be an engineer, instead of some culture where this might be frowned upon.  These stories also helped tie together the informants family and connect the generations.

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