This is the accompanying podcast with this essay (my first), with a synopsis of my home page as introduction and the general chthonic page.
The crypts of Winterfell
The only available access into this otherworld of the dead are cave systems, grottos or manmide barrows, crypts, mine shafts and tunnels. Though most people who only know a bit of mythology can make that connection, George tends to ease people into associative symbolism, like a teacher almost. He introduces us to the chthonic world with the Winterfell crypts instead of a cave, in Ned’s first chapter in the series. With this visit George is allowing the reader to make a meaningful association between a place below in the earth as the dwelling place of the dead. For clarity I marked the symbols of life and the living as orange, and that of death and the underworld black. Words and symbols that are claimed by both I marked purple.
They went down to the crypt together, Ned and this king he scarcely recognized. The winding stone steps were narrow. Ned went first with the lantern.
Even though the crypts are manmade and have a convenience such as a spiral staircase, it’s already made clear that access is not all that easy. The staircase is ‘narrow’, as if one needs to go through a tunnel to reach the destination. On top of that the two living need to bring with them a lanter, or torch – light.
He swept the lantern in a wide semicircle. Shadows moved and lurched. Flickering light touched the stones underfoot and brushed against a long procession of granite pillars that marched ahead, two by two, into the dark. Between the pillars, the dead sat on their stone thrones against the walls, backs against the sepulchres that contained their mortal remains.
Once inside George’s first descriptions of the place make it seem alive, a place where shadows ‘move and lurch’. It is the light of the living that causes the moving, the lurching, and so on. The crypts appear like a hall or dwelling with pillars and thrones. The dead are not just physical remains resting anonymously. They sit on thrones, bare swords in their laps. Together this makes the crypts where the dead are not dead-dead, but moving, looking, sitting, and ruling a hall – alive. The pillars marching two by two remind us of Ned and Robert. They each are pillars in their society, rulers who uphold law and order, working for a common cause, and they marched together in rebellion against a king. In the crypts, the living march against the darkness.
He led the way between the pillars and Robert followed wordlessly, shivering in the subterranean chill. It was always cold down here. Their footsteps rang off the stones and echoed in the vault overhead as they walked among the dead of House Stark. The Lords of Winterfell watched them pass. Their likenesses were carved into the stones that sealed the tombs. In long rows they sat, blind eyes staring out into eternal darkness, while great stone direwolves curled round their feet. The shifting shadows made the stone figures seem to stir as the living passed by …He looked at the stone figures all around them, breathed deep in the chill silence of the crypt. He could feel the eyes of the dead. They were all listening, he knew.
Where first the light of the living made the crypt come alive, the crypt Underworld soon starts to impact the living instead. Robert becomes silent and shivers from the cold. The underworld makes their footsteps ring and echo. Now it are the shadows that make the dead come alive, not the light, while the dead watch and listen. Death therefore is not final, but a difficult, challenging passage (the narrow staircase) and transformation to another realm, another life the hero can barely foresee, with a future left in darkness that can only be partially alighted in the near future. In short a chthonic voyage implicies that the hero’s life will alter drastically in a manner there is no going back from; a type of reincarnation into something or someone different. It should not be much of a surprise to us then that it is down below in the crypts that Robert Baratheon offers Ned the position of becoming his Hand, as well as the betrothal of Joffrey to Sansa.
“Lord Eddard Stark, I would name you the Hand of the King.”
Ned dropped to one knee. The offer did not surprise him; what other reason could Robert have had for coming so far? The Hand of the King was the second-most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms….It was the last thing in the world he wanted.
“… If Lyanna had lived, we should have been brothers, bound by blood as well as affection. Well, it is not too late. I have a son. You have a daughter. My Joff and your Sansa shall join our houses, as Lyanna and I might once have done.”…
For a moment Eddard Stark was filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. This was his place, here in the north.
By having Robert offer both of these in an Underworld setting, George is telling us that they both will lead Ned Stark, Sansa and their houses onto a path of life altering events there is no going back from. This ought not necessarily be ominous. Transformation is not necessarily bad or evil. In fact change is part of life. And yet Ned has a terrible sense of foreboding, in the crypts while he thinks of it as “his place”. Remember the phrase that imply that the “crypts are his place”. The sentence creeps up again in the same crypt chapter, and is of importance to understand the actual source of Ned’s power.
Life and death
When Robert wishes to pay his respects to the dead we expect him to be as solemn as Ned in his conversation. We expect him to speak in a hushed voice, to remain formal, and certainly not be jolly. Death is serious, silent, blind, cold, formal. But as soon as Robert hits the stairs that lead into the crypts his speech and his behaviour shouts “life!” at us like a celebration.
“You need to come south,” Robert told him. “You need a taste of summer before it flees. In Highgarden there are fields of golden roses that stretch away as far as the eye can see. The fruits are so ripe they explode in your mouth—melons, peaches, fireplums, you’ve never tasted such sweetness. You’ll see, I brought you some. Even at Storm’s End, with that good wind off the bay, the days are so hot you can barely move. And you ought to see the towns, Ned! Flowers everywhere, the markets bursting with food, the summerwines so cheap and so good that you can get drunk just breathing the air. Everyone is fat and drunk and rich.” He laughed and slapped his own ample stomach a thump. “And the girls, Ned!” he exclaimed, his eyes sparkling. “I swear, women lose all modesty in the heat. They swim naked in the river, right beneath the castle. Even in the streets, it’s too damn hot for wool or fur, so they go around in these short gowns, silk if they have the silver and cotton if not, but it’s all the same when they start sweating and the cloth sticks to their skin, they might as well be naked.” The king laughed happily.
Life is a feast of the senses, of summer, fertility, flowers blooming, fields of roses, of juicy sweet fruit exploding in your mouth. Life is laughter, fireworks, seeing, tasting, shouting, sparkling, laughing, breathing. And as far as Robert concerns life is everywhere, as far as the eye can see, cheap, good and everyone is alive.
But life is not too fond of death.
Robert snorted. “Bogs and forests and fields, and scarcely a decent inn north of the Neck. I’ve never seen such a vast emptiness. Where are all your people?”
“Likely they were too shy to come out,” Ned jested. He could feel the chill coming up the stairs, a cold breath from deep within the earth. “Kings are a rare sight in the north.”
Robert snorted. “More likely they were hiding under the snow. Snow, Ned!”… “The Others take your mild snows,” Robert swore. “What will this place be like in winter? I shudder to think.”
Death is wilderness, empty, no people, cold, snow, winter. And yet notice how as early as this in te crypt chapter the Underworld already claims “breath” as its symbol. Meanwhile the two men could not contrast each other more. While lively Robert has become unrecognizably fat and wild in Ned’s eyes, Ned seems unchanged, frozen in time to Robert.
Yet the huge man at the head of the column, flanked by two knights in the snow-white cloaks of the Kingsguard, seemed almost a stranger to Ned … until he vaulted off the back of his warhorse with a familiar roar, and crushed him in a bone-crunching hug. “Ned! Ah, but it is good to see that frozen face of yours.” The king looked him over top to bottom, and laughed. “You have not changed at all.”
Our first glimpse of Ned through Bran’s eyes depicts a solemn, grim and stern man who takes care of his appearance, but looks older than his years already.
Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell. (aGoT, Bran I)
The first meaningful thing we see Ned do is judge and deal a death blow to a deserter of the Night’s Watch who was scared witless. It is only through his interaction with Bran and Catelyn that we learn that this stern, cold and formal man loves his wife and children, tells stories by the fire, squeezes his wife’s hand, builds a small personal sept for her, and can smile at the thought of his best friend Robert coming. And yet he is serious, and non-smiling down in the crypts.
“I bedded a fishmaid once who told me the lowborn have a choicer way to put it. The king eats, they say, and the Hand takes the shit.” He threw back his head and roared his laughter. The echoes rang through the darkness, and all around them the dead of Winterfell seemed to watch with cold and disapproving eyes.
Finally the laughter dwindled and stopped. Ned was still on one knee, his eyes upraised. “Damn it, Ned,” the king complained. “You might at least humor me with a smile.”
“They say it grows so cold up here in winter that a man’s laughter freezes in his throat and chokes him to death,” Ned said evenly. “Perhaps that is why the Starks have so little humor.”
Note how Robert as the embodiment of life tries to actively liven up the place with roaring laugher. But eventually silence and thus death wins and is unaffected. And Ned is the Underworld’s accomplice by not even humoring life with a smile. If Robert embodies ‘life’ in the crypt chapter, then Ned embodies ‘death’. It is as if Zeus came down from Mount Olympus to visit his brother Hades in his gloomy realm that turned Hades into such a sourpuss. Not cheered, Zeus invites his brother over to join him at Mount Olympus, so he can learn to laugh and live again. Indeed, our earliest introduction to Robert and the rebellion fits with the image of a Zeus.
Fifteen years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy. Six and a half feet tall, he towered over lesser men, and when he donned his armor and the great antlered helmet of his House, he became a veritable giant. He’d had a giant’s strength too, his weapon of choice a spiked iron warhammer that Ned could scarcely lift.
Sky Father Zeus became king of the gods after he and his siblings deposed the Titans. His paranoid, cruel father Cronus ate all his siblings fearing that one day they would depose him. Zeus’ mother Rhea hid him, and Zeus made his father throw up his siblings. Once the Titans were banished to Tartarus, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon split the rule amongst each other, with Hades (which means ‘Unseen’) ruling the underworld, Poseidon the sea and Zeus ruling Olympus. As a sky god, Zeus was a thunder and lightning god, with thunderbolts for weapons. Another thunder god in Norse myth is Thor whose weapon was a warhammer. Though Zeus was married to the goddess Hera, this fertilty god was quite the philanderer, fathered many sons and daughters with numerous women, who all had something divine or heroic in them. Green with envy, Hera was always intent on causing the death of his out-of-wedlock children.
In aSoIaF we are quickly introduced to the thundering king of Westeros Robert who won a throne, deposing and ending the Targaryen dynasty after starting a rebellion against cruel, paranoid king Aerys. The Lord of Storm’s End won the war with his warhammer and by successfully hiding long enough while he was wounded with the whores of the Peach and Stoney Sept. After winning the throne, the victors (Robert, Ned and Stannis) divided the realm mainly amongst themselves – Robert as king of Westeros, Eddard ruling the cold and deadly North (far away and many years unseen) and Stannis as Master of Ships. Robert has many bastards with women all over Westeros, and whenever Cersei has the chance, she will try to have his bastards killed. And finally there are Jon Arryn’s cryptic words, “The seed is strong”, pointing out that all of Robert’s bastards are recognizably his.
Lyanna, Persephone of Winterfell
By the time Ned and Robert actually stand in front of Lyanna’s statue we have already been given plenty of references to Greek mythology, basically leading us by the hand to the echoes of one of the most famous Greek Chthonic myths – the rape of Persephone1.
Persephone – who also goes by the name Kore (‘maiden’) – was the beloved daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter. Not wanting to part with her daughter, Demeter rejected suitors for her daughter and hides her out of sight of the Olympian gods. Meanwhile, Hades had fallen in love with the beautiful Persephone and Zeus gave Hades the permission to steal her. While Persephone gathered flowers in a field, Hades erupted from the earth on his horses and took her with him to his Underworld. Demeter went in search for her missing daughter and neglected the land (in some versions she actively forbids the earth to produce). Eventually, the sun god Helios informed Demeter where to find Persephone, while Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to her mother as people suffered from famine. But before Hades surrendered Persephone to Demeter he gifted her a pomegranate from which Persephone ate several seeds. And whomever ate food or drank a beverage in the Underworld would be forever bound to it. And so each year, Persephone had to live in the Underworld for as many months as she ate seeds (4 or 6). There she reigned as Queen of the Underworld to ensure that the curses of the souls of the dead come into effect. And in the months that Demeter missed her daughter nothing would grow. This myth explained the origin of the seasons, and makes Persephone the link and balance between life and death itself.
When we first see Lyanna in the crypts, not only do we get a description of her as a maiden (sixteen, child-woman) and a beauty, but Robert’s protests against Lyanna being down in the crypts and where she ought to be is very much akin to Demeter lamenting her daughter living with Hades. It is almost as if he accuses Ned of abducting her North to rule as Queen of the crypts of Winterfell. And yet, our temporary Hades insists that Lyanna chose to be buried there, to call it home, just like Persephone ate the seeds of the pomegranate.
Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child-woman of surpassing loveliness. Ned had loved her with all his heart. Robert had loved her even more. She was to have been his bride.
“She was more beautiful than that,” the king said after a silence. His eyes lingered on Lyanna’s face, as if he could will her back to life. Finally he rose, made awkward by his weight. “Ah, damn it, Ned, did you have to bury her in a place like this?” His voice was hoarse with remembered grief. “She deserved more than darkness …”
“She was a Stark of Winterfell,” Ned said quietly. “This is her place.”
“She should be on a hill somewhere, under a fruit tree, with the sun and clouds above her and the rain to wash her clean.”
“I was with her when she died,” Ned reminded the king. “She wanted to come home, to rest beside Brandon and Father.” He could hear her still at times. Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black… “I bring her flowers when I can,” he said. “Lyanna was … fond of flowers.”
The king touched her cheek, his fingers brushing across the rough stone as gently as if it were living flesh. “I vowed to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her.”
“You did,” Ned reminded him.
“Only once,” Robert said bitterly…. “In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted. “A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves.” (aGoT, Eddard I)
Robert’s words in this paragraph are often seen as one who has no respect or understanding for the way Northerners bury their dead. But as I’ve shown the clash in the crypt chapter is not so much about Northern versus Southern culture, but of Life versus Death. His idea of Lyanna’s burrial is as unorthodox for the Southerners as it is for Northerners. Robert went down into the crypts intent on marching against darkness and have life conquer death. He wants to retrieve Lyanna from the Underworld. He is King of Westeros, Zeus, and if he wills it, he can command Hades to surrender Persephone so she can join the gods in the heavens. Where Ned made her Queen of the Winterfell Underworld, Robert wants to make her Queen of the Heavens and Life, or as close to it as symbolically possible. A hill is as near to the heavens as possible, the elements (sun, clouds and rain) are also heavenly symbols, and a fruit tree symbolizes life. But there is nothing left for Robert to do but kill the man he blames for Lyanna’s death over and over in his dreams.
Ned insists that this is Lyanna’s home, her place, where she belongs. If Ned has Hades aspects through making Lyanna a Queen of the crypts, he also has Hermes aspects. The messenger god Hermes was one of the gods capable of traveling to and fro Olympus and the Underworld. Like the ferryman Chaaron, Hermes is capable of guiding souls down to the Underworld, or up again – a psychopomp. It is Hermes who guides Persephone back to her mother Demeter, back home, like Ned takes Lyanna home.
Home is Winterfell. The name – where winter fell (starts or ends) – is another link to the theme of seasons, and thus harks back to Persephone’s myth. In other words, Winterfell, the Stark women and especially Lyanna are established as being crucial in keeping or restoring the balance of the seasons, of life and death already in the fourth chapter of the complete series. More, Winterfell is the location where Lyanna’s home and Underworld conjoin. If Winterfell was Demeter’s home, she need not miss her daughter so.
Notice too how some symbols of Robert’s life speech on the spiral steps that lead into the crypts suddenly have gotten an association with death and the Underworld. These words can mean life and/or death, depending on the context.
In that first introduction of Lyanna in the crypts, George ties her up to several symbols of Persephone in quick succession, and adds more to it later on in the books and series. These are Persephone’s attributes, symbols, roles and relations:
- Corn Maiden, coveted by several men
- The seasons: especially winter when hidden and spring when she surfaces
- Fertility, harvest, stalk of grain
- Fruit, pomegranate, trickster fruit of the dead or binding
- Flowers, wreath of flowers, symbolizing birth, death and spring
- Bats symbolizing death and rebirth
- Torch symbolizing Demeter’s search for her
- Abduction, the archaic meaning of “rape”
- Death & life
- Queen/Goddess of the Underworld
- Ensuring the curses of souls are visited upon
- A box containing a secret, the highest Eleusinian Mystery. Only the highest initiates know its secret and it was death to divulge it to the public. Its secret died with the cult when at the end of the 4th century the Goths razed the last remnants of the site.
- Her brother, the swift horse Arion
- Her daughter, moon nymph Melinoe, who harasses her targets with strange nightmares
- Her son Zagreus-Dionysus, god of wine and madness
- Her son Iacchus-Dionysus, torch bearer, divine child, light bringing star in the night
- Her mother Demeter searching for her daughter, while the land is in ruin
Just quickly perusing the above list in thought should make your mind go ‘ting, ting, ting, jackpot!’ Lyanna was a maiden, a child-woman of sixteen of surpassing beauty. Robert associates her with a fruit tree and summer elements of nature. Rhaegar gives her a wreath of blue roses at the tourney of Harrenhal organized by House Whent with bats for a sigil during the false spring.
It was the year of false spring, and he was eighteen again, down from the Eyrie to the tourney at Harrenhal. He could see the deep green of the grass, and smell the pollen on the wind. Warm days and cool nights and the sweet taste of wine. (aGoT, Eddard XV)
The tourney is Lyanna’s first public appearance in Westeros, and this coincides with a time when people believe the winter to have ended. Note also how the spring symbols in Ned’s memory are grass, pollen and wine. All these are agricultural symbols, related to cultivation of the land and harvest, including the wine. But after the tourney Lyanna is once again out of public view, and about a year later she’s abducted. Spring did not follow through and winter returned. It ties Lyanna to the false spring, and the false spring to Lyanna, and both to Persephone related agriculture symbols, without explicitly writing “corn maiden”.
Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.(aGoT, Eddard XV)
Aside from Persephone’s wreath, the crowning event by Rhaegar ties to another abduction myth: Paris choosing who was the fairest goddess and the ensuing abduction of the wedded Helen. When the goddess of strife is not invited (for obvious reasons) to a wedding, she sends a golden apple as gift for ‘the fairest’. Before long Hera, Athena and Aphrodite bicker amongst themselves over it. Zeus appoints Paris as judge to end the quarrel. Each goddess attempts to bribe him: Hera offers power, Athena offers wisdom and Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful mortal woman. Since Aphrodite is able to instill lust and desire in a human for whomever she wishes, and she inspires desire for Helen in Paris, he declares Aphrodite as the fairest. Cersei is established as a jealous and power hungry Hera, queen of Westeros. She believes herself to be far more beautiful in comparison to Elia and Lyanna and cannot accept that Rhaegar would never have chosen her if given the chance. Elia might not have Cersei’s striking beauty, and we know but little about her, but we are told that though the marriage between Elia and Rhaegar was not one of love, it was one of mututal understanding and friendship. She is our Athena. When Rhaegar declares Lyanna the “queen of love and beauty”, Lyanna takes Aphrodite’s part – the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure (or shall we call it ‘joy’?) and procreation. Since characters are mortals and not truly gods or goddesses, George can easily conflate Aphrodite and Helen as one.
Aphrodite links to Persephone in two ways. As the “fairest”, Aphrodite gets the golden apple, which makes her an “apple bearer”. But this is also an epiteph for Demeter, Persephone’s mother. If Demeter is the goddess of cultivation, including bearing apples, Persephone is the vegetation and fruit itself, and thus the golden apple. The second link between them is through the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. Persephone’s myth is an echo of Ishtar’s journey into the Underworld. Ishtar was not the goddess of the Underworld – her sister was – and she was not abducted, but she traveled there to retrieve her dead husband and kept as a prisoner there. While this fertility goddess was imprisoned all sexual activity ceased, until the heavenly gods intervened and had her freed again. Ishtar was also the goddess of love and the planet Venus, and thus the equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite.
So, when Rhaegar later abducts Lyanna not ten leagues away from Harrenhal, he is both Hades as well as Paris of Troy, with Lyanna conflating Persephone, Aphrodite and Helen into one. Like Helen’s abduction was followed up with war against Troy and Troy’s ultimate downfall, Lyanna’s abduction sparked the events that eventually led to the rebellion, plummeting Westeros into civil war that ruined ruling House Targaryen.
Persephone’s abduction is called the “rape of Persephone”, and Robert and Bran believe Rhaegar raped Lyanna, regardless of the woman’s personal feelings or wishes. Note how Bran uses the phrase “carried her off and raped her”. The Latin word “rapere” means “to carry off”, and it is this Latin verb that is the root of the word “rape”. So, in the archaic sense, Bran is saying twice the same thing.
“Unspeakable?” the king roared. “What Aerys did to your brother Brandon was unspeakable. The way your lord father died, that was unspeakable. And Rhaegar … how many times do you think he raped your sister? How many hundreds of times?” His voice had grown so loud that his horse whinnied nervously beneath him.(aGoT, Eddard II)
“Robert was betrothed to marry her, but Prince Rhaegar carried her off and raped her,” Bran explained.(aGoT, Bran VII)
Lyanna dies amidst rose petals in a bed of blood, a term exclusively associated with a birthing bed. The birthing bed ought to be another symbol of life – new life – and yet it immediately ties to a death bed, since that new life often means the death of the already existing life. Ned searched, finds her and fights the Kingsguard. He takes her home as well as erects an unprecedented statue for her in the subterranean crypts, thereby making her Queen of the crypts. Let me remind you that all direct Stark kin and relatives are buried in the crypts – uncles, brothers, sons, aunts, sisters and daughters as long as they are born Stark, as evidenced by the crypts already having empty tombs ready for all of Ned’s children.
Ned stopped at last and lifted the oil lantern. The crypt continued on into darkness ahead of them, but beyond this point the tombs were empty and unsealed; black holes waiting for their dead, waiting for him and his children. Ned did not like to think on that. (aGoT, Eddard I)
Bran explains the statues to Osha: Lyanna and Brandon Stark were not supposed to have statues, because they were neither king or lord of Winterfell, but in the way he words it, it is evident that them being buried there is not abnormal, only the statues. Note: Bran does make a mistake though, one he is not aware of and Luwin does not correct him on it: Ned was beheaded, not Rickard Stark. Although one can barely fault Eddard from refraining to tell his seven year old son (since he last saw him) that his grandfather was cooked alive in his armor, hanging above wildfire. Remember that “almost at the end now” for later sections of this essay.
They were almost at the end now, and Bran felt a sadness creeping over him. “And there’s my grandfather, Lord Rickard, who was beheaded by Mad King Aerys. His daughter Lyanna and his son Brandon are in the tombs beside him. Not me, another Brandon, my father’s brother. They’re not supposed to have statues, that’s only for the lords and the kings, but my father loved them so much he had them done.” (aGoT, Bran VII)
Ned’s answer to Robert also emphasizes that Lyanna’s burial place is in the crypts of Winterfell, because she was a Stark.
“She was a Stark of Winterfell,” Ned said quietly. “This is her place.”
And even though Ned may have been raised several years in the Vale, the rules and customs about them seem commonly known to many at Winterfell. Certainly a maester and Old Nan would know if it was against the crypt rules to have Stark daughters and sisters buried there. And from a chthonic point of view it does not make sense to exclude women from the realm of the dead.
Now how do horses tie in to Persephone? When Poseidon lusted after Demeter, she attempted to escape him in the form of a mare, while he chased her as a stallion, and caught up with her. Poseidon fathered two foals on Demeter – the stallion Arion and the mare-woman Despoina (“mistress). Arion was immortal and the fastest horse. His sister Despoina eventually gained a woman’s form and became integral to a pre-Classic Arcadian mystery cult regarding her and her mother. In that age, Poseidon-horse was an Underworld figure, so that the “rape of Demeter” is echoed in the Classic myth of the “rape of Persephone” by Hades. It is little wonder then that by Classic times Despoina became conflated with Persephone. Hence we could expect to see horse references with Lyanna, for both herself as well as one of her brothers.
Lyanna is numerously referred to as an extremely swift horserider, a centaur (a definite Greek mythological link), or half a horse (the description of a centaur) together with her brother Brandon. The oldest reference to immortal, swift Arion is in Homer’s Illiad.
… there is no man that shall catch thee by a burst of speed, neither pass thee by, nay, not though in pursuit he were driving goodly Arion, the swift horse of Adrastus, that was of heavenly stock …(Illiad, 23.346)
Compare this with the horseriding references for Lyanna.
Both horses were lathered and flagging by the time he came up beside her, reached over, and grabbed her bridle. Arya was breathing hard herself then. She knew the fight was done. “You ride like a northman, milady,” Harwin said when he’d drawn them to a halt. “Your aunt was the same. Lady Lyanna. But my father was master of horse, remember.” (aSoS, Arya III)
Lady Barbrey Dustin: “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
Roose Bolton: “… Domeric. A quiet boy, but most accomplished. … He played the high harp, read histories, and rode like the wind. Horses … the boy was mad for horses, Lady Dustin will tell you. Not even Lord Rickard’s daughter could outrace him, and that one was half a horse herself. Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. A great jouster must be a great horseman first.” (aDwD, Theon III)
Homer describes Arion as the fastest horse there is, and no man shall catch it. Lyanna is described as a centaur, half a horse. Surely no one can ride faster than her. And yet, Arya who is acknowledged by Harwin to ride like her aunt is caught up by him during her attempt to flee the Brotherwood without Banners. Meanwhile Roose Bolton claims that not even Lyanna could outrace his son Domeric. We could dismiss that as a father’s boast, but notice the other aspects about Domeric: quiet, accomplished, playing harp, reads histories, great promise in the list who could have been a great jouster. These are all descriptions used for Rhaegar2 by those who knew him. It implies that Lyanna could not outrace Rhaegar if she attempted to flee from him as Arya tries to outrace Harwin. I am not saying anything new here, I suppose. Similar connections have been made before to argument the mysterious events regarding the Knight of the Laughing Tree. But let us not forget that in relation to Persephone it also fits the abduction. Rhaegar as Hades did not burst from the earth to abduct Lyanna, he was able to catch up with her.
There is a lot of speculation what Lyanna’s tomb, which is a box, might contain secretly regarding her relation to Rhaegar (the abduction) or her supposed child Jon (the result of the ‘rape’). Jon joined the Night’s Watch to be the “light that brings the dawn as night gathers”, establishing him as Persephone’s Iacchus.
As a conclusion to the comparison between Lyanna and Persephone even the ambiguity of either maiden’s wishes or feelings with regard to their abduction fits. Out of the Greek myth of Persephone’s abduction we know everyone’s thoughts and feelings, but for Persephone’s.
|Persephone’s abduction||Lyanna’s abduction|
Neither Persephone or Lyanna seemed to have shown behaviour of resentment toward their abductor, or made attempts to escape. Not even Ned shows resentment to Rhaegar over this. Nor do we have declarations of love voiced by either woman towards their captor. If Persephone’s wishes were known to the Greeks it would solely have been to those actually initiated into the mysteries of her and her mother cult. It is possible that George may leave Lyanna’s feelings about Rhaegar and the abduction an unsolved mystery to be forever debated, as much as it is a mystery whether Persephone loved Hades. And whether we will learn if Rickard Stark gave Rhaegar his secret permission like Zeus gave Hades permission is also open to discussion.
Lyanna as Persephone and her tie to the false spring should make us consider how both Sansa’s and Arya’s identies are lost at the same time Winter has been officially declared. Both Stark sisters are “undercover”. Littlefinger offers Sansa a pomegranate. Arya descends down the knoll of the HoBaW into an old mine, the vault with nothing but faces of the dead. If in earlier chapters she still sometimes remembered some of the living, this is absolutely absent in her last chapter of the book. Then she only remembers the dead: Ned, Lommy, etc… Arya is thus symbolically fully immersed in the Underworld.
During this same winter their late mother, Lady Stoneheart, has a distinct Demeter-Fury like role in using the Brotherhood without Banners to search for her daughters. While Lady Stoneheart definitely has other Norse mythological features making her ruler of the Underworld in her own right, the Demeter features relate to her taking on phsyical Fury aspects (bleeding eyes) and conducting her search in the most ravished region of Westeros – the Riverlands that have been scorged on Tywin’s orders since the start of aGoT.
Another Lyanna echo as a Persephone is Margaery Tyrell, introduced to us by Renly showing Ned her portrait and asking him whether she does not look like Lyanna. At least the golden roses of Highgarden add to the connection. Ned’s dismissal of her as looking like Lyanna, arther makes Margaery Tyrell akin to Lyanna, but not exactly. In fact her story has more commonalities with the Mesopotanian Ishtar, who is akin Persephone, but not exactly. I will come back to these echoes of the Persephone myth, but they each desserve their own essay.
The visit to the crypts of Winterfell sets up Lyanna Stark as an model or archetype of Persephone, who was basically declared Queen of the Underworld by her Hades like brother, Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell. Robert marches in there almost with the intent to wrestle her free from the Underworld, restore her to the living and heavens. Meanwhile Rhaegar declared her as the ‘fairest’ and abducted her, whereby her story conflates into that of Aphrodite, Helen of Troy and Persephone into one. Persephone related figures and models reappear throughout the story.
If we’d compile a list with all the associations we get this:
1. The root of the word rape comes from the Latin ‘rapere’, which means ‘to carry off’. In ancient times the term ‘raptus’ meant an abduction, not necessarily sexual violence (but could include it). It did not even imply the woman was carried off against her will, but only against the will of the person who had legal authority over her – father, brother or husband and in Persephone’s case Demeter. So, what we would consider an ‘elopement’ nowadays would have been been referred to as a ‘rape’ in ancient Greece and Rome. That said, the stealing of a woman against her guardian’s consent in myths of ancient Greece, could also be against her will and include sexual violence.
2. Rhaegar’s harp play and how he makes Lyanna weep also echo another Greek chthonic character: namely Orpheus. Orpheus’s wife Eurydice died in the forest, by a snakebite while she attempted to escape a Satyr, shortly after her wedding to Orpheus. He traveled to Hades and moved Hades and Persephone to tears with his songs and lyre. They agreed to let Eurydice return, but only if he did not look back before both of them were returned to the world above. Orpheus looked too early, and he lost his Eurydice for a second time, until he finally joined her upon his own death.
15 thoughts on “Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts”
how nice to see you’ve started a blog featuring your very insightful essays! Congratulations are in order – both in respect of design and content 🙂
Time hasn’t allowed me to indulge in aSoIaF of late but the chthonic theme has also been on my mind for a while now. You offer a brilliant analysis, which ties into some of my thoughts regarding the connection between these underworld themes and the background story presented in the World Book in particular. We have the mystery of the labyrinths for instance: I’ve compiled a lot of information suggesting they were used as a refuge at one point in time, most likely during the long night. There are several probable hints to this – the Winterfell Crypts for one, which served as a refuge for Bran, Rickon and co., the place in Braavos called the “Warren”, a Holy Refuge, the Reyens of Castamere who thought they would be safe in their underground mine turned home.. there’s lots more. The conversation between Ned and Robert you’ve quoted above is another interesting clue:
Robert snorted. “Bogs and forests and fields, and scarcely a decent inn north of the Neck. I’ve never seen such a vast emptiness. Where are all your people?”
“Likely they were too shy to come out,” Ned jested. He could feel the chill coming up the stairs, a cold breath from deep within the earth. “Kings are a rare sight in the north.”
Robert snorted. “More likely they were hiding under the snow.
Ned’s reply to Robert’s enquiry about the people being too shy to come out is coupled with the cold breath from deep within the earth, almost as if George is telling us that at some point, people did hide beneath the earth. I like how you point out “breath”, and indeed, breath is what life and survival is all about; the breath from the deeps is cold but the suggestion is that the deep is life as well.
Drawing on your analysis of Lyanna as Queen of the Undeworld, I would say she is my missing link; she most likely parallels the so called tiger-woman whom the BSE married. The connection is Leng, it’s labyrinths, its ten thousand tigers and the Old Ones. The tiger-woman must have been a woman from Leng, a woman with the ability to skinchange cats (most likely scenario). Like Lyanna, the likelihood that she was abducted is high – her people would have retreated to the labyrinths to escape the carnage of the BSE’s reign just like the Stark and Reed kids soughtrefuge in the crypts. Anyway, I’m still working on this. Thanks for linking to my blog – I really need to find time to work on mine – I shall be linking to you when I do 🙂
Love your list of symbols at the end of the essay too!
Hi Lady Evolett! Thank you. I thought you were probably busy with other stuff in life. The analysis used to be up on the forum (this part + the cursed souls of Eddard and Robert, which is a continuation on this one), before the switch. In the trail of the red stallion I (under parallelism section), I take a little more timeto go into detail of Lyanna as Despoina. As I mentioned in here, Despoina was an Arcadian daughter of Demeter and became conflated with Persephone, but the symbolism surrounding her makes her the more wilder version of the classic era Persephone: female dancers with animal heads, flutes, a veil instead of a box, daughter of Poseidon who was a chthonic figure in the Arcadian mythology, ties to Hecate (magic, necromancy, crossroads) and the goddess of hunting. And it is theorized Despoina was the Arcadian equivalent of the Mynoan Lady of the Labyrinth, and the suspicion that the labyrinth symbolized life-rebirth.
I recently found this blog, after reading your post on the use of Bears and Bear Folklore in ASOIAF over at Westeros.org. I find all of this fascinating and I am very impressed with your research and analysis. I plan to continue reading through your essays and I’m sure that I will be posting the occasional comment or question as I go. I am also a big fan of the work that Lucifer Means Lightbringer is doing with his blog and Podcasts. The more I learn about ASOIAF through the hard work and analysis of people like yourself, the more impressed I am by the depth and complexity of GRRM’s writing. It is no wonder that each book takes so much time to write. I am sure that each of your essays takes a considerable amount of time and effort to produce. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the work you are doing and sharing with other ASOIAF fans through your blog. I believe I found you on Twitter and signed up to follow your account. There were only a few tweets on the account, so I hope it is the really you.
Yes, that is my twitter account that I made years ago, but never really got into using 🙂 And thank you. Yes, it takes longer than I wish to, and each new one always leads to several new discoveries of insights worth exploring (where I have to salvage first drafts into concepts to work on later), and they get longer and longer LOL. Lml’s essays and podcasts are awesome! And inspiring!