Cheers to the Goddess of Spring


Thousands of years ago, when the majestic Mount Olympus was hidden somewhere above the clouds, other snow-capped mountains in Greece surrounded it. Goats and sheep grazed on rocky, flower-strewn hillsides while crystal-clear rivers meandered through dark forests between the shimmering waters of the Aegean Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the west. Certainly, the people of ancient Greece lived in a world of infinite beauty–but it was also a world of mystery and fear.

The ancient Greeks didn’t have advanced technologies to explain the natural phenomena affecting their daily lives, no Google answers available with just a few keystrokes, not even a dusty old set of Britannicas sitting on the bookshelf. When it came to understanding why the sun shone, the wind blew, the flowers bloomed or even why the seasons changed, they had nothing but their own imaginations to rely upon. And, boy, were those imaginations vivid (perhaps those fun-loving Greeks were paying a little too much tribute to Dionysus, their much-favored god of wine). 

I was reminded of all this in the wee hours of yesterday morning when I was startled awake by Boreas, that nasty old North Wind, howling through the wind chimes and kicking over the deck chairs. He didn’t scare me, though, because I had seen the previous night’s forecast and knew that Boreas and his brother Zephyrus from the west were simply ushering in yet another cold front in this Winter That Just Won’t End.

The ancient Greeks weren’t big fans of winter, either, and created stories to explain its despised existence.

Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, dearly loved her only daughter Persephone, goddess of the spring. Persephone was picking wildflowers one day when she spotted a wondrous, golden narcissus blooming in the field. Just as she bent to gather it, the poor girl was snatched by Hades, the dreaded god of the Underworld, who rose from a chasm in the earth and carried her back to the land of the dead to be his bride. When Demeter realized what had happened to her beloved daughter, she went into deep mourning and withheld her gifts from the earth–no plants would grow, no trees would fruit–and after a year of famine, it looked as if all of mankind would die as well. When Zeus, the supreme ruler, was unable to talk Demeter out of her grief, he shook his mighty thunderbolt and demanded that his brother Hades return Persephone to her mother. Although a disgruntled Hades was furious with his bossy big brother, he had no choice but to consent–but that sly dog tricked the starving girl into eating some pomegranate seeds before she left, knowing that anyone who tasted food in the Underworld was required to return there.

Demeter was grateful to have her daughter back–but sorrowed by the knowledge that it wasn’t forever. She restored the Earth’s fertility, allowing the fields and trees once more to be abundant and the flowers once more to turn the whole world bright and beautiful, but for four months of every year thereafter she grieved as Persephone was forced to return to the land of the dead, taking all that was bright and beautiful with her. Those months became known as winter, and even though Persephone joyfully “rose from the dead” each spring and blessed the earth with her presence throughout the summer and fall, it was always with the bitter knowledge of where she had been and where she must return.

(And now we know who to blame for this cold weather nonsense.)

The flower narcissus that aided in Persephone’s capture is more commonly known as a daffodil–and is one of my favorite flowers because, like Persephone’s return, it always signals the reappearance of spring. The ancient Greeks had an interesting story about its creation, too.

Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth whom all the girls loved. He did not return their love, though, leaving heartbroken maidens in a path of nonchalant destruction. One such maiden was Echo, the fairest of nymphs, who had been condemned with the inability to speak first. It was impossible for Echo to express her love to Narcissus, and when he spurned her like all the rest, she retreated in shame to a lonely cave where she was so consumed by grief that eventually all that was left of her was her hollow voice.

Nemesis, the goddess of righteous anger, was not pleased with Narcissus’ treatment of the young girls and decided to make him pay. She lured him to a shimmering lake, and when Narcissus bent for a drink and saw his own reflection, Nemesis made him fall in love with himself. (Can you believe it–a handsome young man in love with himself?)He finally realized the suffering he had inflicted upon the maidens by depriving them of the love of someone as handsome as he, and–unable to leave his own reflection–he slowly withered away and died on that very spot. When the nymphs sought his body to give it proper burial, it was gone–but in its place had sprung the beautiful golden flowers that bear his name to this day.

And speaking of this day, today is officially the first day of spring–the narcissus are starting to bloom, the geese are flying north, the spring peepers are chorusing their delight, and little sprouts of green are popping up here, there and everywhere. It’s time for Hades to loosen his grip on his bride, wave bye-bye, and send her back to her mama and the land of the living. Unfortunately, I’m not sure ol’ Hades is paying much attention to the natural phenomena, much less the calendar–the local forecaster, with all the advanced meteorological technologies at his disposal, is suggesting yet another round of wintry weather for later next week.

I hope he’s wrong–and let’s face it, he and his colleagues often are–but just in case he’s not . . .  it’s supposed to be sunny and warm in Greece next week, and I hear there are some beautiful beaches along its shores. So . . . who wants to join me? You bring the credit cards, and I’ll bring the sunscreen and antipasto salad, and we’ll pick up the baklava and spanakopita when we get there. We’ll invite Dionysus to join us, and we’ll drink a toast (or two) to Persephone, that desperately longed-for goddess of spring.

And if we run into Old Man Winter, we’ll buy him a one-way ticket to Hades (with your credit cards, of course) and fill his carry-on bag with pomegranate seeds for snacking.

daffodil2

The flower narcissus (or daffodil)–common in ancient Greece and southern Missouri–is a sure sign that spring is on its way.

dogwood2

Dogwood blooms are another common sight during Missouri springs.

pink dogwood - Copy

And the pink dogwoods are even prettier.

cheers

Cheers to the Goddess of Spring!

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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10 Responses to Cheers to the Goddess of Spring

  1. So happy I searched Spring on wordpress.com Reader – love your site! Happy Spring to you – Bren

  2. jeanjames says:

    I feel like I’m back in my Classical Mythology class reading Ovid all over again. I’ve been to those Greek islands, and I would steal to go back. I hate this winter and that evil Hades, but I loved this post; it makes me optimistic for Persephone’s return. Since my dafodils are still sleeping, I’ll remind myself of spring through your beautiful photos.

    • Thank you, Jean. I taught mythology for years and loved it–and would love to visit those Greek islands someday or maybe even climb Mount Olympus (although sunning on one of those glorious beaches is probably more my speed). We’ve had a much harder (colder, snowier, icier) winter here in southern Missouri than normal, and I’m just ready for it to be OVER. I hope your daffodils wake up soon!

  3. RayEtta says:

    Strange how when we are very young, it is hard to appreciate the mythology. The names are are so confusing, but it was fun to hear it now.

    • Thank you, RayEtta. You’re right–the names do make it so confusing and hard to follow, and if I were teaching it again, I would focus less on the names and more on the beauty of the stories.

  4. liliofthefield27 says:

    I don’t know, sister, I read this blog of yours, and, well, it’s all Greek to me. Ha!

    Just kidding, confederate one. What a lovely, lovely post. Your writing talent is simply food fit for the Greek gods, or is that Gods?…me brain aint workin’ today. Oh, how you awakened delicious memories of my so-far three trips to Greece, and swimming in the Aegean and Ionian Seas was WONDERFUL, darling! Nights spent in Athens, and on the islands of Crete, Santorini and Rhodes….aaaaahhh, those were good times, honey! I loved Turkey, too. Istanbul is one of my favourite cities.

    Yes, spring has sprung, the grass has ris, I wonder where them flowers is? Spring lifts my spirit so, and the infusion of natural vitamin D is just what Doctor Bombay from “Bewitched” ordered. Remember him? “Doctor Bombay! Doctor Bombay! Emergency! Come right away!” Let us change that to “Spring come right away”…and soon the lilies will bloom! 😉

    Odd, but this post also brought to my mind being in England in the spring of 2009, and visiting a gorgeous 16th Century church located just outside London. It is named St. Martin in the Fields…such a delightful name that, for some bizarre reason, evokes (in my brain) the joys and newly opened doors and windows to allow scented breezes in to visit with us. Ah, I ramble. 🙂

    Your writings are such a gin and tonic for my mind and heart…with a slice of lime thrown in for good measure. Now I must catch up and peruse your other latest literary offerings. As always, fantastic photos you offer! I love those Dogwood Blooms! Sirloin steak pie for dinner tonight, accompanied by a fine Italian red merlot.

    Cheers!

    Tiger Lil

    • Tiger Lil, you always give the grandest, most interesting compliments–“Your writings are such a gin and tonic for my mind and heart…with a slice of lime thrown in for good measure.” Love it!

      I am quite envious of your travels–THREE trips to Greece? Wow. And England is at the top of my travel wish list, so I’ll be adding St. Martin in the Fields to my long list of “must sees.” Ahh, someday … but in the meantime, Spring has finally sprung in the Ozarks, and for the last two days I’ve had the doors thrown open to welcome the stormy breezes. The dogwoods aren’t blooming just yet, but I am enjoying the daffodils while awaiting their arrival. Enjoy your merlot, and I hope Spring is soon visiting your little corner of the world as well. And, as always, thank you.

  5. bronxboy55 says:

    I was never a student at your school, but you’re still one of my very favorite teachers. Wonderful writing, as always — informative and entertaining. Beautiful photographs, too. (I hope winter ends before you get here!)

    • Thank you, Charles–what a wonderfully kind thing to say. As much complaining as I’ve done about this winter’s weather, I have also noticed that much of the worst of it has passed us to the north–and looks to have landed in your neck of the woods. I hope Spring will soon be brightening your days–and I selfishly hope that nasty Winter is not only long gone but also waits until AFTER my visit next fall to make its reappearance! I’m already starting to worry (just a little) about how strong the winds along the coast might be …

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