Ancient Greece

Persephone and the Pomegranate: Art in Ancient Greece

Rachel Witte 24 September 2018 min Read

How has a simple, yet beautiful fruit, been the centre of attention throughout history? The pomegranate is symbolic in many cultures and religions, not just art in Ancient Greece. But for the purpose of this post, the intersection of myth and art in Ancient Greece takes the centre stage.

art in Ancient Greece
Detail of the inside of a pomegranate. Source: Pixabay.

In the Ancient Greek world, the pomegranate was symbolic of funerary rituals, beliefs, and death. The mythological story of Persephone and Hades highlights its importance in the art of Ancient Greece.

The Mythology

Persephone – goddess queen of the underworld, wife of the god Hades. Daughter of Demeter. Known as Kore (the maiden) in her role as the goddess of Spring’s bounty.

One day when Persephone was in a meadow, she was kidnapped by Hades and taken to the Underworld to be his bride. Her mother Demeter, despaired at her disappearance, searched for her throughout the world accompanied by the goddess Hekate (Hecate) bearing torches. When she learned that Zeus had conspired in her daughter’s abduction she was furious and refused to let the earth fruit until Persephone was returned. Zeus consented, but because the girl had tasted of the food of Hades – a handful of pomegranate seeds – she was forced to forever spend a part of the year with her husband in the underworld. Her annual return to the earth in spring was marked by the flowering of the meadows and the sudden growth of the new grain. Her return to the underworld in winter, conversely, saw the dying down of plants and the halting of growth.

art in Ancient Greece
Sarcophagus with the Abduction of Persephone by Hades, ca. 200-225 AD, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The Art in Ancient Greece

There seems to have always existed an intersection between mythology in art; this could not be more true than with the Ancient Greeks. They used mythology to understand their own lives in the best way they knew how: visually.  There are a plethora of artworks in which we can view the Ancient Greek mythology in regards to Persephone. In the above sarcophagus, the pomegranate does not take centre stage; however, the artworks below show a focus on the fruit in Ancient Greece as it relates to the fruit itself and to Persephone as a kore, or young maiden.

art in Ancient Greece
Terracotta Pomegranate, Classical, 5th-4th Century BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Kore Pomegranate, art in Ancient Greece
Woman with Pomegranate, ca. 575 BC, Berlin State Museums
Pomegranate Kore Acropolis, art in Ancient Greece
Pomegranate Kore, ca. 580-570 BC, Acropolis Museum, Athens

For more info: Check out DailyArtMagazine’s section on the Ancient World!

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