This masterpiece by Peter Paul Rubens depicts the imaginary scene from Greek Mythology when Hades raped Persephone, kidnapped her and dragged her with him to the underworld. Hence the title of the painting is The Rape of Proserpina (Persephone in Greek Mythology).
The story, in a nutshell, is that Hades saw Persephone (the goddess of spring) and wanted her for himself, so he lured her away from her company of nymphs using a great, beautiful flower. Then he kidnapped her, raped her, and forced her to become his wife and live with him in the underworld. He had a secret agreement on this with his brother, Zeus, and when Demeter (goddess of the harvest and Persephone’s mother) pleaded with Zeus to get her daughter back from the underworld, he turned a deaf ear to her request. Demeter, grief-stricken by the loss of her daughter, abandoned her duties as a goddess and no more crops would grow, which leads to fewer offerings to the gods and a great famine striking the land.
The gods felt the gravity of the situation and Zeus was forced to agree to Demeter’s request, so he sent Hermes to the underworld to tell Hades that Persephone had to be sent back to her mother.
All that time, Persephone was so sad, and she refused to eat or drink anything with Hades in the underworld. However, at the news of her release, she naively accepted to eat seven seeds of pomegranate upon Hades’ request before leaving the underworld.
She went back up to her mother, and after the tearful happy moments of their reunion passed, Demeter learned about her daughter’s silly mistake of eating anything in the underworld. She told her daughter that for every seed of pomegranate she ate, she had to spend a month with Hades in the underworld and for the rest of the year, they could be together.
In Greek mythology, they believe that this was the origin of having seasons because spring would come with Persephone’s five-month stay with her mother, but winter would last the seven months she was away.
Interesting story from Greek mythology, but the more interesting thing is what we, as writers, can get out of it, and the painting, of course.
The story depicts a violent moment which deprived the world, according to Greek mythology, from eternal spring. Now we only have a short span of spring. But here I ask myself and you, would we know and appreciate spring if we had it all the time? Without the harsh winter, how could we ever crave the warmth of spring? How about something we write that celebrates the bad side of a thing for it was the only reason we appreciated the good side. Maybe a poem, or a story.
Based on the same idea, I wonder, can we accept and embrace a bad action that leads to good results? How can we judge, if we can at all? If we benefit from the good situation the bad action created, do we have the right to hail the bad and forget about the person or people who were negatively affected by it? It is your call to judge or not to judge, to cheer the bad or to denounce it, but let’s put this idea as the center of a theme, maybe for a poem or a story, and explore where this might take us. Can you think of some positive results of a crime or even a war? Well, don’t think about it; write about it.
Now let’s think about it in the other way round. What if you were there at the scene of a crime like that in Rubens’ painting? What if you had the chance to try and save the young innocent girl from the claws of that monster— but I am not talking exclusively about Hades and Persephone here, for, in my opinion, any girl being raped is innocent, and any rapist is a monster no matter what. However, as writers, we have the freedom to go where logic dares not. What if you were there and you knew there was a great chance to get killed trying to save this girl, which will lead to her getting raped anyway, and you dead, or you could be an onlooker and stay alive to do something about it at a larger scale? It’s a bit of a dilemma, is it not? Well, let me put it this way, what if one of your characters faces a situation like that? Where would the story lead us from there? So what are you waiting for? Come on! Grab your closest writing tool and start writing.
Now, what do you do?
Now you have many ideas to write about. Either the theme of contrast between the good and the bad, the theme of promoting the acceptance of the bad when it leads to something good, or avoiding something good when it might lead to something bad. What will your hero do and be like is a question whose answer you have to write?
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