Motherhood & Other Mysteries

Sara Benincasa
13 min readNov 21, 2022
Detail from Madonna of the Pomegranate, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1487 (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

You’ve got to be careful with Greek mythology and other forms of journalism. In the past two years, I’ve listened to over a dozen audiobooks in this subgenre. At first I played them at night, wondering why I could never fall asleep afterwards. It took me a few months to accept that these are not soporific adult bedtime stories. Certain realities are best confronted in the light of day.

The myths that endure are the myths that are true. Such is the case with the mother-daughter tale of Demeter and Persephone, who is kidnapped by Hades to be his bride and co-ruler of the underworld. In agony, Demeter wanders the earth, refusing to let anything grow until her daughter is restored to her. After a trick by Hades to make Persephone eat six pomegranate seeds, Zeus commands the young queen to spend half the year with her mother, and half the year with her husband.

There are other details, depending whose version you read. For me, the story always holds multiple potential, contradictory truths:

1.) Everybody gets depressed during an extra-long winter.

2.) Grieving mothers will rain hell on people around them until they get answers.

3.) If you don’t keep close enough watch on your children, they may be taken from you.

4.) They may be taken anyway.

5.) If your parent keeps you too close and attempts to force an eternal codependence and pseudo-innocence upon you, you won’t see certain signs of horror until it is too late. It’s not your fault.

6.) When you are a girl, you are a moving target, regardless of how many street smarts may be instilled in you. It’s still not your fault.

7.) Men do terrible things. It is their fault. They will mostly go unpunished.

8.) Your kid may still end up preferring the company of their abusive partner — the one you despise with every ounce of your being — to you.

9.) Pomegranate seeds, while very tasty and rich in dietary fiber, can be a tool of deception.

10.) Parenthood is terrifying.

I have heard enough interpretations of this particular myth, from Homer to Ovid to Edith Hamilton to Stephen Fry to Robert Garland to Simon Lopez and beyond, to know…

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Sara Benincasa

Author, REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS & other books. Writer of scripts. Host of WELL, THIS ISN’T NORMAL podcast. Patreon.com/SaraBenincasa