Allow me to clarify. I found an interesting choice words on the Wikipedia article on Hades.

Hades obtained his wife and queen, Persephone, through abduction at the behest of Zeus.

Retrieved 4/19/2018

It uses the word "behest." To my understanding, behest means ordered or commanded. If this word is held true in the original, it means not only did Zeus give Hades permission to take Persephone, he gave a divine command as King of the gods.

I ask for an answer that includes the original Greek (or language the original was written in) and a variety of translations of that work for cross comparison reasons.

For simplicity, the extent of the translation should be limited specifically to Hades going to Olympus, asking for Persephone and Zeus's response.

2 Answers 2


Athanassakis Homeric Hymn to Demeter 1-3
    Homeric Hymn to Demeter 1-3 (A.N. Athanassakis translation)

No Ancient Greek source that I have come across explicitly mentions Hades asking for Persephone. In one way or another they all say simply that Zeus gave Persephone to his brother, and that the giveaway method was the fairly common worldwide practice of bride-kidnapping, which in some instances would happen with the consent of the bride's father, often with the mother having no say in the matter.

The wording of that sentence in the Wikipedia article is the source of the confusion here, as it could be read to mean that out of the blue (as it were), Zeus accosted Hades and issued him this directive of "obtaining" Persephone. But that's not how the story really goes.

There is indeed a perspicuous ancient report of Hades following the expected custom of asking for his prospective bride's hand in marriage from her father. The source of the quote, however, is Roman, from Hyginus' Fabulae, regarding which see below.

The Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Your Wikipedia reference appears to have come out of the translation by Gregory Nagy, from Harvard University's Center for Hellenic Studies, of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (written c. the 500s BC), the relevant portion thereof being when Hades nabs Persephone in Lines 30-32:

She was being taken, against her will, at the behest of Zeus,
by her father's brother, the one who makes many sēmata, the one who receives many guests,
the son of Kronos, the one with many names. On the chariot drawn by immortal horses.
        (Emphasis mine)

Some other translations render it as follows:

Unwilling was Persephone, but her father's brother, Sovran and Lord of all, many-named Son of Kronos, with the abetting of Zeus, bore her away on his immortal steeds.
          John Edgar, 1891

So he, that Son of Cronos, of many names, who is Ruler of Many and Host of Many, was bearing her away by leave of Zeus on his immortal chariot—his own brother's child and all unwilling.
          Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White, 1914

So although she resisted,
the Ruler of Many and Receiver of Many
drover her away on his immortal horses
his own brother's child
—for Zeus had contrived it—
the son of Kronos with many names.
          Jules Cashford, 2003

By Zeus's counsels, his brother, the All-receiver
and Ruler of Many, Kronos's son of many names,
was carrying her away with his immortal horses, against her will.
          Apostolos N. Athanassakis, 2004

But her father's brother, Kronos' son of many names,
Lord of the Many Dead, stole the unwilling girl
away on his immortal horses, with a nod from Zeus.
          Diane J. Rayor, 2004

This is what is being translated above, from Evelyn-White's edition of the Greek text:

            τὴν δ᾽ ἀεκαζομένην ἦγεν Διὸς ἐννεσίῃσι
            πατροκασίγνητος, Πολυσημάντωρ Πολυδέγμων,
            ἵπποις ἀθανάτοισι, Κρόνου πολυώνυμος υἱός.

Here is a transliteration of it into Roman script:

            tên d' aekazomenên êgen Dios ennesiêisi
            patrokasignêtos Polysêmantôr Polydegmôn
            hippois athanatoisi Kronou polyônymos huios

The word ἐννεσίῃσι (ennesiêisi), which Nagy renders as "at the behest", also appears in Theogony 492, where Evelyn-White translates it as "suggestions".

Evelyn-White's and Rayor's renditions of the same word in the Hymn imply permission granted, where, respectively they have: "by leave [of]" and "with a nod [from]".

Edgar's version "with the abetting" makes it more conspiratorial between Zeus and Hades.

Athanassakis's "By Zeus's counsels" denotes advice or a strong suggestion to the prospective bridegroom.

Cashford straight-up makes Zeus the mastermind of the scheme, "For Zeus had contrived it".

Evelyn-White also uses the clause "the behest of Zeus" in his translation of the Hymn, although this is in Line 359, where the messenger-god Hermes has been sent to Hades with the command that Persephone, whose mother has been inconsolably searching after her, should be restored to Demeter in the upper world.

And Aidoneus, ruler over the dead, smiled grimly and obeyed the behest of Zeus the king.

"The behest of Zeus the king" is from Διὸς βασιλῆος ἐφετμῇς (Dios basilêos ephetmês).

The Theogony

Hesiod's Theogony, from perhaps a century or two earlier than the Homeric Hymns, in Lines 912-914 of Evelyn-White's 1920 translation (and the corresponding Greek text), while listing the wives of Zeus, says:

Also he came to the bed of all-nourishing Demeter, and she bare white-armed Persephone whom Aïdoneus carried off from her mother; but wise Zeus gave her to him.

            αὐτὰρ ὁ Δήμητρος πολυφόρβης ἐς λέχος ἦλθεν,
            ἣ τέκε Περσεφόνην λευκώλενον, ἣν Ἀιδωνεὺς
            ἥρπασεν ἧς παρὰ μητρός: ἔδωκε δὲ μητίετα Ζεύς.

            autar ho Dêmêtros polyphorbês es lekhos êlthen:
            hê teke Persephonên leukôlenon, hên Aïdôneus
            hêrpasen hês para mêtros, edôke de mêtieta Zeus.

In Daryl Hine's translation (2005):

Next Zeus went to the bed of Demeter who nourishes many,
Who gave birth to Persephone who had white arms and whom Hades
Snatched from her mother; but Zeus in his wisdom gave her to Hades.

The Library

Written about half a millennium after the Homeric Hymns, (Pseudo-)Apollodorus' Βιβλιοθήκη (Bibliothêke), the "Library," refers to Hades by his epithet Πλούτων (Ploutôn), the "Wealthy" One. The sobriquet was eventually applied by the Romans to their version of this deity, whom they called Pluto. Most of the following translations of Βιβλιοθήκη 1.5.1 use this Latinised spelling of the name.

Pluto fell in love with Persephone and with the help of Zeus carried her off secretly.
          James George Frazer, 1921

Pluto fell in love with Persephone, and with Zeus' help secretly kidnaped* her.
          Keith Aldrich, 1975
              *Apparently a viable U.S. spelling of kidnap[p]ed(!), which I had never encountered before this. (Eep!)

Pluto fell in love with Persephone and, with the help of Zeus, he secretly abducted her...
          Robin Hard, 1997

Plouton fell in love with Persephone and secretly kidnapped her with Zeus' help.
          R. Scott Smith & Stephen M. Trzaskoma, 2007

                      From Frazer's edition of the Greek text:
            Πλούτων δὲ Περσεφόνης ἐρασθεὶς Διὸς συνεργοῦντος ἥρπασεν αὐτὴν κρύφα.
            Ploutôn de Persephones erastheis Dios synergountos hêrpasen autên krypha.

The Fabulae

With Hyginus writing in Latin, his Fabulae, naturally, contains the Roman names of the characters, so that Zeus is Jove or Jupiter, Demeter is Ceres, and Persephone is Proserpina. Fabulae 146 has the word Tartarus as a generic term for the entire Underworld, such as it came to be typically identified in Latin literature especially later into the Christian era.

According to Mary Grant's 1960 translation of the passage:

Pluto asked from Jove that he give him in marriage Ceres' daughter and his own. Jove said that Ceres would not permit her daughter to live in gloomy Tartarus, but bade him seize her as she was gathering flowers on Mount Etna, which is in Sicily.

R. Scott Smith & Stephen M. Trzaskoma's 2007 translation:

Pluto asked Jupiter if he could marry Proserpina, his daughter by Ceres. Jupiter said that Ceres would never allow her daughter to reside in the darkness of Tartarus; he told him, however, to abduct her while she was picking flowers on Mount Aetna, which is in Sicily.

The Ludwig Maximilian University’s 1872 edition of the Latin text, involving Moritz Schmidt:

Pluton petit ab love Proserpinam filiam eius et Cereris in coniugium [daret]. lovis negavit Cererem passuram ut filia sua in tartaro tenebricoso sit, sed iubet eum rapere eam flores legentem in monte Aetna, qui est in Sicilia.

In summary, Zeus (Jupiter) does not arbitrarily command Hades (Pluto) to kidnap Persephone (Proserpina). Hades asks for her first and then Zeus advises on the means of achieving this goal. Thus what is being performed at the behest of Zeus is this scheme that he has set in motion, and which, according to Line 9 of the Hymn to Demeter, is in place for the purpose of pleasing Hades.

De Raptu Proserpinae

There is one more Roman source which is relevant to your Question, namely De Raptu Proserpinae, "Rape of Proserpina," by a poet of the 300s AD, named Claudian. In it, Pluto does not ask Jupiter specifically for Proserpina, although he does demand a wife, threatening war between his realm and Heaven if his brother does not comply. Frighteningly so, Claudian's Pluto is genuinely powerful enough to issue such a demand to the king of the gods.

By the way, the communication between the brothers does not require the presence of the Underworld-King on Mt Olympus. Just as Zeus sends Hermes to Aïdoneus in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, similarly in De Raptu Proserpinae, Pluto sends Mercurius (the Roman Hermes) with his threatening demand to Jupiter, telling him, according to Maurice Platnauer's 1922 translation, to:

bear these my behests to proud Jove (1.92-93).

            proscinde Notos et iussa superbo redde Iovi.

Other translations:

Fly hence, with speedy wing cut through the winde,
To thy vngratefull Sire thus speake our minde...
            Leonard Digges, 1617

"Bear to the haughty ruler of the skies,
"And swiftly speed thy flight, these my resolves—
            Jacob George Strutt, 1814

The dialogue delivered to Mercurius thereafter takes up a chunky paragraph in which Pluto, interestingly, never actually comes out and says that he wants Jupiter to give him a bride, rather he angrily complains that while his brothers are married and that Jupiter in particular has many happy children surrounding him, he himself has no one to keep him warm in the gloom of the nether world.

He paints an especially grim and miserable picture of his kingdom, which he thinks is "hideous", and now that Pluto has been allocated that portion of the cosmos, he asks, in Platnauer's words (1.103):

must thou also forbid our marriage?

            sed thalamis etiam prohibes?

For this, Digges has "Forbidd'st me Nuptiall rites", while Strutt makes it:

"Dost thou prohibit, too, joys that attend
"On wedded hours?

That phrase is the closest that he comes to articulating what he wants, amid the complaints and threats. So far in the text, there isn't much intelligible context for this statement: Pluto does not appear to be speaking about marriage to a specific person, nor have we been told of an episode in which Jupiter has prevented him from getting married. The problem seems to be, as Jupiter fears upon receiving the message, "who would dare such a marriage, who would wish to exchange the sun for the caves of Styx"?

Beyond that, Pluto might perhaps be addressing Jupiter as the head of the family, who in Roman culture (as in various other traditions around the world) is responsible for even his grownup siblings who share his estate (the family estate in this case being the entire universe). Perhaps Pluto is to be understood as expecting a marriage to be arranged by his brother who is higher than him (in both status and elevation).

The only portion of the poem which can be construed as Jupiter giving Pluto a command is a couple of lines (1.278-279) in which Jove refers to the scheme he has set up requiring the god of the dead to be ready to seize Proserpina while she is out "sporting in the level meadows by the first light of rosy dawn tomorrow" (my own gloss of Platnauer's translation of 1.221-222).

In Platnauer's version of the aforementioned 1.278-279:

Pluto, warned by his brother, made his way to the upper air.

            iamque viam Pluto superas molitur ad auras
            germani monitu.

Digges' version, written in the time of William Shakespeare and King James, is currently rather gnarly English, where the letters j and i are interchangeable, as are "u" and "v":

whil'st Pluto warn'd by Ioue
His iourney plot's

Strutt's version:

And now prepared to seek the upper skies,
Warn'd by the voice of Jove, Pluto arose


  • Aldrich, K.M. 1975. The Library of Greek Mythology, by Apollodorus. Coronado Press
  • Athanassakis, A.N. 2004. The Homeric Hymns, Second Edition. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MA
  • Cashford, J. 2003. The Homeric Hymns. Penguin, London
  • Digges, L. 1617. The Rape of Proserpine, Translated out of Claudian in Latine, into English Verse. Edward Blount, England
  • Edgar, J. 1891. The Homeric Hymns Translated into English Prose. James Thin, Edinburgh
  • Frazer, J.G. 1921. Apollodorus: The Library, with an English Translation, in Two Volumes. William Heinemann, London, & G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York
  • Evelyn-White, H.G. 1914. Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Loeb Classical Library (Book 57)
  • Hard, R. 1997. Apollodorus: The Library of Greek Mythology. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York
  • Hine, D. 2007. Works of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns: Works and Days; Theogony; The Homeric Hymns; The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice. University of Chicago Press, Chicago; & University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London
  • Nagy, G. 2016, Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University, Washington, DC, viewed 22 April 2018, https://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5292
  • Platnauer, M. 1922. Claudian, in Two Volumes. William Heinemann, London, & G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York
  • Rayor, D.J. 2004. The Homeric Hymns: A Translation, with Introduction and Notes. University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, CA; & University of California Press, Ltd., London, England
  • Smith, R.S., & Trzaskoma, S.M. 2007. Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology, Translated. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis/Cambridge
  • Strutt, J.G. 1814. The Rape of Proserpine: With Other Poems, from Claudian; Translated into English Verse, with a Prefatory Discourse, and Occasional Notes. A.J. Valpy; & Messrs. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown; & Josiah Conder, London

The Rape of Persephone as it was performed 24 000 years ago in Grotte Chauvet in five acts. This is a single panel at the furthest darkest end of the cave. It's read right to left:

The Rape of Persephone from the End Chamber at Grotte Chauvet

I feel like 'behest' might be too exuberant. I read it more like, yeah sure, why not?

Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon rolled dice for their share of the universe after defeating the Titans. Hades got the short roll and ended up with the Underworld. Later he feels like he got screwed. He was, after all, the one who took out Cronus. He sees Persephone and Hubba Hubba that would make life in the Underworld a little brighter! Zeus agrees so he will stop complaining. That's my read, anyway. Evelyn-White's Theogony is my go-to because he seems to catch the nuance and the details are unnervingly spot-on as though Hesiod wrote it from this panel or Evelyn-White added it in later.


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