I sometimes feel as if I am a modern Persephone, abducted by my husband to live in the underworld. An underworld in the classical sense, the ancient Greeks’ afterlife, the place where Hades, the ruler of the spirit realm, abides and where mythology finds its home.
I wasn’t kidnapped but somewhat constrained by my love for a Sicilian man, a sacrifice I endure out of devotion and a desire for adventures in an exotic land.
I have lived here in Sicily for nearly twenty years, in this world full of ancient mysteries like Persephone, who lives for six months each year as the Queen of the underworld.
We both live through the constraints our Husbands have created for us. We have eaten from the fruit of love—the first fruit of Adam and Eve. The food of the underworld, and so Sicily has become part of our destiny.
In a much less elevated role than Persephone, I find myself in a dark and strange land full of ancient traditions and histories which are confusing and intriguing at the same time. It is where the foundations of the upper world are, where everything begins and is born up onto the earth.
The shadows are deep and sinister; the devil is closer to us than we know.
I am strangely protected as if being married to a native of the underworld gives me a safe passage to observe this fascinating place, and I am slowly beginning to know the people of the underworld.
Keeping in contact with the world above is my, and I count down the days until I can see the summer’s light again. The darkness plays tricks on my eyes.
This place has the danger of becoming a prison; it is easy to be trapped by fear. At times this other world is the opposite of my world and me. Yet I have found another part of myself here.
I cannot resign myself to staying here forever; I need the light of my home, family, Australia and the rest of the world.
I don’t think life is telling me to live here for all of eternity like Persephone, but mine is a brief slice of time, enough to explore and find a piece of my voice. Sicily is where my ancestors come from, and for now, their voices speak to me. There have been times when my hands have trembled when I have been weak with tears, woe and vain worry. Depression is a dark veil that threatens me.
Yet, in a natural paradox, part of my genetic makeup and my family’s mythology comes from this place which makes me connect with many elements of life here. My fascination with the mysteries of Sicily keeps me enthralled. It is strange how I can be an insider and a foreigner simultaneously, but I have this constant flow between perspectives that balance one another. I have a flowing love and hate of Sicily, a persistent challenge.
I cannot push the comparison with Persephone too far as Hades abducted her in a contrived scheme with Zeus to marry her off. A plan which backfired when Persephone’s mother Demeter, the goddess of nature, plunged the world into an eternal winter, thanks to her grief at being separated from her daughter. I don’t think my mother has these powers, but all mothers are saddened when their young ones leave home.
Luckily, Zeus could make a deal with Demeter to share her daughter with the underworld. She was giving the world the relief of four different seasons instead of the eternal winter of a grieving mothers heart.
The legend of Demeter and Persephone is more than a nature myth that explains the cyclical movement of the seasons. It is the melodrama of a daughter being forcibly taken from her mother in an unnatural act of kidnapping with undercurrents of rape. All conveniently brushed over as a polite elopement between the gods in their secrete matrimonial arrangements.
The story is a beautiful melodrama filled with emotion. From a mothers grief, love and connection to her daughter. To Hade’s lust and deception of Persephone. To the eventual acceptance of the marriage and division of Persephone between the underworld and the earth.
If my mother had the power to plunge the entire planet into an eternal winter in my absence, I have no doubt she would. She once said to me in a candid moment after reading some of my articles about the beauty of Sicily commented: ‘You know I could grow to love Sicily if only it hadn’t stolen my daughter.’ A typically dramatic reflection is more Sicilian than she ever cares to admit.
I feel connected to the dialect and Sicily’s stories with a strange sense of nostalgia. A deep connection to the places that appertain to my maternal grandparents, my husband and me.
It is essential to understand my origins and reconnect with them. Yet, at times I battle with the weight of this world called Sicilia. At times it is as if my thoughts are crushing me.
Things become one hundred times heavier here; everything is magnified; fears become greater than everyday life, and ignorance is domineering.
Perhaps it’s the places history, its ancientness and innate sadness. Things are always more intense, from tastes to smells to emotions. It’s a certain magic that intensifies everything.
Sicilians still proclaim it is an earthly paradise, but I have found that beauty exists beside equal ugliness.
The difficult way Sicily trivialises the outside world and dissects every minimal aspect of daily life.
The world beyond Sicily has little significance, yet how can you live out your life before a local community, as if there is a microscope pointed firmly at themselves in a strange melodrama.
2 thoughts on “Life in the classical underworld”
Love this! Complimenti, Cristina
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