The myth of Demeter and Persephone, worshipped in antiquity throughout Magna Graecia with a devotion rivaled only by the Southern Italian worship of the Christian Madonna, is perhaps the myth that resonates most powerfully for women of Southern Italian ancestry. Although geographically removed from the kingdom of Persephone, Italian American women carry Persephone's story as part of their cultural baggage. Persephone is a mythical traveler, a young woman who, willingly or not, adjusts to shuttling back and forth between two worlds. She understands the experience of living between different cultures, languages, identities. The story of Persephone provides a bridge, a life line between two groups of writers who have not, thus far, encountered each other, and yet share an ancient and rich cultural past. For Italian American women, claiming kin represents a gesture of literary and cultural emergence, assertion, and survival.
The earth is the foundation of all Greek mythology, for it was the abundance of the earth that caused the birth of the sky and the formation of the universe. This program begins in Eleusis, one of the oldest sanctuaries dedicated to Demeter and site of the Eleusinian Mysteries. We learn about Triptolemus, who taught mortals the art of agriculture, and visit Thessaly—home to the myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha, the Greek version of Noah’s Ark. We hear stories about Charon, and about Persephone’s reunion with her mother at Eleusis—whose stones are the silent witnesses to the ancient rites of spring and the orgies of autumn.