Narcissus Poeticus (Poet's Narcissus)
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Below: Meander design,
ancient Greek amphora, Athens
No one may enter here
who does not love geometry
"What is the relationship between the geometric pattern of the labyrinth and the structure of the myth? [...] The question is crucial when seeking the meaning of a 'way' that the ancient mysteries led to, because geometry has always been traditionally integrated with the esoteric tradition. The inscription above the gate of Pythagorus's school — 'No one may enter here who does not know geometry' — is a sort of complement to that other dictum —
'know thyself' (γνῶθι σεαυτόν)."
from "The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth," p. 25, by Patrick Conty (2002)
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A female author?
for the Hymn to Demeter
"According to Ann Suter, a woman may have composed this anonymous hymn. The focus on Demeter's power, Persephone's coming of age, and the mother-daughter relationship, as well as the de-emphasis of Zeus, may point in that direction. We know that female poets [during the 7th-6th c. BCE], such as Sappho and Korinna, composed dactylic hexameter verses. In examining the Hymn to Aphrodite, Richard Janko notes a number of verbal parallels between its opening and Sappho's epicizing narrative of the wedding of Hektor and Andromache. Korinna says she reworks 'stories from our fathers' time' and sings of 'heroes male and female.' It is possible that other women composed hymns or epic verse, although their performance venues certainly would be more limited than those for traditional bardic poetry."
from "The Homeric Hymns, Translation, Introduction & Notes," p. 11, by Diane J. Rayor (2004)
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Setting the Scene
"As often in early hexameter , the first word in the poem names its subject, Demeter. In the Greek text, lines 1-11 set the scene for this hymn in one long sentence which juxtaposes the peaceful and unknowing innocence of Demeter and her daughter against the willfullness and raw power of Zeus and his brother. The collusion of the girl's great-grandmother, Gaia, in this forced marriage, seems initially troubling, although her consent replaces that of the absent Demeter and provides a hint of the ultimate reconciliation with which the hymn will end. [...] At Eleusis , worshippers gathered spring flowers in celebration of Persephone's return, but their actions also recall the scene of her abduction."
from "The Homeric Hymns," pp. 33-34, by Susan C. Shelmerdine (1995)
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How can Zeus be "granting"
if Hades is "abducting" (L-003)?
[In the Hymn to Demeter] the collocation of ἥρπαξεν [snatch away/abduct] and δῶκεν [granted/given] in the third line is both shocking and paradoxical. If Zeus gives his daughter in marriage, in accordance with his paternal perogatives, why must Hades carry her off. The reasons become immediately manifest: not only Persephone's unwilingness but also Demeter's resistance or lack of consent to the union if she had known about it. [...] The striking juxtapositon of giving and carrying off already contains the germ of the whole ensuing narrative.
from "The Politics of Olympus," by Jenny S. Clay, p.209 (2006)
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Illustration of Crocus Sativus, from Koehler's Medicinal Plants (Book 2, 1887)
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Persephone as Plant-Hunter
"The idyllic scene reflects the pre-agrarian age, when a young woman might well go on a 'hunt' for medicinal herbs and plants with magical properties (L-226-230). [As regards the plants collected] it is not clear in each case whether the flower was in fact the same as that which bears the name in the modern world. Certainly, in the case of the hundred-blosssomed narcissus, we are dealing with a magical thing, not a botanical specimen."
from "Persephone Unveiled: Seeing the Goddess and Freeing Your Soul," pp. 21-22, by Charles Stein (2006)
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"The ἀνθολογἰα [anthologia, 'flower gathering'] of Persephone is a feature in most of the accounts of the rape. It may have been introduced as a natural girlish act, and so have no mythological importance; [....] On the other hand, flowers play a considerable part in ritual connected with deities of vegetation, so that the ἀνθολογἰα may be paralleled by festivals such as the ὴροσάνθεια [erosantheia] (Heysch.), at which Peloponnesian women gathered flowers. There was an actual ἀνθολογἰα in the mysteries at Atra; see Svoronos p. 235."
from "The Homeric Hymns," p.16, by Thomas William Allen and Edward Ernest Sikes (1904)
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Flowers and Korai
"Among the most common flower-based activities associated with young women [in Attic Greece], all familiar from literature, are the gathering of flowers, the use of gathered flowers to dye yarns for weaving, and the plaiting of flowers into garlands to wear on their heads or otherwise bedeck themselves, frequently for religious purposes. [...] The activity of young women gathering brightly colored flowers and dropping them into the broad pocket ((kolpos) , formed by lifting up the overfold of the peplos, is a common image in Greek literature of all periods."
from "The Poetics of Appearance in the Attic Korai," p.152, by Mary Clorinda Stieber (2004)
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Myth a "Breathing Entity"
"A myth becomes a breathing entity only when we strip it of its superficial covering and allow it to reveal its many layers of meaning and interpretation. It is only by penetrating to its hidden depths can we begin to decipher the ways in which the myth continues to address the perennial concerns of humankind."
from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," p. 2,
by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
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Divinities of the Countryside
"Greek conceptions of space and time were shaped by ideas that identified the world of nature with the world of the gods. The gods were thought to control the forces of nature and were believed to have their own place in the natural world. The countryside was thought to have been the home of the gods long before the birth of the first humans, and local political charter myths always placed human struggle for survival or human competition for political dominance in the context of the divine world."
from "Placing the Gods: Sanctuaries and Sacred Space in Ancient Greece," p. 199, by Susan E. Alcock, Robin Osborne (1996)
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Weaving Flowers & Scents
"Weaving the names of the flowers [...], the writer sets Peresphone before us, herself like one of them — kalykôpis — like the budding calyx of a flower — in a picture [...] which, in its mingling of a quaint freshness and simplicity, with a certain earnestness, reads like a description of some early Florentine Design, such as Sandro Botticelli's Allegory of the Seasons. By an exquisite chance also, a common metrical expression [L-013-14] connects the perfume of the newly created narcissus with the salt odour of the sea."
from "Greek Studies, A Series of Essays," by Waler Pater, p. 52, (1875 / 1920)
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Multi-Levels of Meaning in
the Hymn to Demeter
"The myth has many levels of meaning, including personal, sociological, archetypal, and ecological. It has been associated with the vegetal cycle, the mother-daughter relationship, coming to terms with death, death and rebirth, the rise and intrusion of patriarchal religions, and the suppression of the goddess-centered religions, and has been interpreted as a metaphor for the initiation of women moving from one developmental stage to another (puberty and old age) or from the role of mother or daughter into a more comprehensive identity."
from "Initiation through trauma: A comparative study of the descents of Inanna and Persephone (Dreaming Persephone forward)," p. 238, by Hollie Jeanne Hannan (2005) (Illustration: traditional Japanese design.)
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Homeric Hymn to Demeter
edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation
Hugh G. Evelyn-White
Art & Photo Illustrations, Citations
Demeter Books | Summary | Next
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Homeric Hymn to Demeter |
Ομηρικοί Ύμνοι — Εἲς Δημήτραν
English Ancient Greek Transliteration
Greek-English Glossary Cast of Characters
THE NARCISSUS : 001-014
Demeter,* rich-haired, awesome* deity, I begin to sing —
___ Δήμητρ' ἠύκομον, σεμνὴν θεόν, ἄρχομ' ἀείδειν,
___ Dêmêtr' êukomon, semnên theon, arkhom' aeidein,
herself and her trim-ankled daughter, she whom Hades
___ αὐτὴν ἠδὲ θύγατρα τανύσφυρον, ἣν Ἀιδωνεὺς
___ autên êde thugatra tanusphuron, hên Aidôneus
rapt away,* but granted* by heavy-thundering,
___ ἥρπαξεν, δῶκεν δὲ βαρύκτυπος εὐρύοπα Ζεύς,
___ hêrpaxen, dôken de baruktupos euruopa Zeus,
Apart* from Demeter, of golden sword,* of glorious fruits* —
___ νόσφιν Δήμητρος χρυσαόρου, ἀγλαοκάρπου,
___ nosphin Dêmêtros khrusaorou, aglaokarpou,
she was playing with* the girls of Oceanus, deep-bosomed,
___ παίζουσαν κούρῃσι σὺν Ὠκεανοῦ βαθυκόλποις
___ paizousan kourêisi sun Ôkeanou bathukolpois
and flowers gathering: roses and crocuses, also lovely violets,
___ ἄνθεά τ' αἰνυμένην, ῥόδα καὶ κρόκον ἠδ' ἴα καλὰ
___ anthea t' ainumenên, rhoda kai krokon êd' ia kala
throughout the soft meadow,* irises as well and hyacinth
___ λειμῶν' ἂμ μαλακὸν καὶ ἀγαλλίδας ἠδ' ὑάκινθον
___ leimôn' am malakon kai agallidas êd' huakinthon
and the narcissus — set as a snare,* for the bloom-like* girl,*
___ νάρκισσόν θ', ὃν φῦσε δόλον καλυκώπιδι κούρῃ
___ narkisson th', hon phuse dolon kalukôpidi kourêi
by Gaia [Earth]* at the will of Zeus to please* the Host of Many.
___ Γαῖα Διὸς βουλῇσι χαριζομένη Πολυδέκτῃ,
___ Gaia Dios boulhsi carizomenh Poludekth,
Marvelous,* radiant* — it was a thing of awe* to see
___ θαυμαστὸν γανόωντα: σέβας τό γε πᾶσιν ἰδέσθαι
___ thaumaston ganoônta: sebas to ge pasin idesthai
whether for the deathless gods or for mortals.
___ ἀθανάτοις τε θεοῖς ἠδὲ θνητοῖς ἀνθρώποις:
___ athanatois te theois êde thnêtois anthrôpois:
And from its root grew a hundred blooms,
___ τοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ ῥίζης ἑκατὸν κάρα ἐξεπεφύκει:
___ tou kai apo rhizês hekaton kara exepephukei:
smelling most sweetly, so that all the wide heaven above
___ κὦζ' ἥδιστ' ὀδμή, πᾶς τ' οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθεν
___ kôz' hêdist' odmê, pas t' ouranos eurus huperthen
and the whole land* laughed for joy* and the sea's salt swell.
___ γαῖά τε πᾶσ' ἐγελάσσε καὶ ἁλμυρὸν οἶδμα θαλάσσης
___ gaia te pas' egelasse kai halmuron oidma thalassês.
Ancient Greek Other Meanings|
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001 Δήμητρ' / Dêmêtr' |
see in-depth etymology of Demeter's name at wikipedia
001 σεμνὴν / semnên
awesome - revered - august - holy
001 ἀείδειν / aeidein
to sing - praise - celebrate
003 ἥρπαξεν / hêrpaxen
rapt away - snatch away - carry off - seize hastily - captivate - ravish - to be a robber
003 δῶκεν / dôken
grant - allow - esp. in prayers - permit - provide
003 βαρύκτυπος / baruktupos (βᾰρῠ-κτῠπος)
heavy-sounding - loud-thundering - epithet of Zeus, also of the sea
004 νόσφιν / nosphin
apart - apart from - without consent of -
[ see also of Zeus in his temple at L-27 ]
004 χρυσαόρου / khrusaorou
of golden-sword, with a sword of gold, gold-bladed, as an epithet for Demeter, metaph. like a stalk of ripe grain (see Homeric Hymns 1973, Thelma Sargent, p.xii)
004 ἀγλαοκάρπου / aglaokarpou / (ἀγλαό-καρπος)
of glorious fruits - bearing beautiful or goodly fruit - giver of the fruits of the earth
[ see also of olive trees at L-23 ]
005 παίζουσαν / paizousan
play with (acc.) - play like a child - sport - dance - play amorously - jest
007 λειμῶν' / leimôn'
meadow - any moist, grassy place - (later, freq. metaph. for any bright, flowery surface - an embroidered robe)
008 δόλον / dolon
snare - bait - any trick or stratagem
008 καλυκώπιδι / kalukôpidi / (κᾰλῠκ-ῶπις)
like a budding flower in face - bloom/calyx-like -
blushing - roseate
008 κούρῃ / kourêi
Kore (κούρῃ, Κώρα) - girl - maiden - virgin - daughter (see at L-005)
009 χαριζομένη / carizomenh
oblige - gratify - give graciously - please - indulge
010 θαυμαστὸν / thaumaston / (θαυμ-αστός)
wonderful - marvellous - admirable - excellent - in an extraordinary way, strange - absurd
010 γανόωντα / ganoônta
radiant - look fresh and smiling - glorious - glitter - gleam
010 σέβας / sebas
awe - reverential awe - reverence - worship - honour
014 γαῖά / gaia
land - country - potter's earth - earth (see also capitalized and personified as Planet Earth, Γαῖα / Gaia at L-9)
014 ἐγελάσσε / egelasse
laughed - a laugh being raised - laughed for joy [ see L-429 ] - made giddy [by the perfume, Burton Raffel (1970)]
Ann Suter: on The Female Poet
of the Hymn to Demeter
"Until now, most work on female authorship in the ancient world has been on lyric poets, for the excellent reason that very little in other meters by women has survived to us. But we know that women composed in other meters; we know that they composed in the epic hexameter. We know that women entered musical competitions, and we know that they composed for performance at women’s festivals and for the cults of goddesses. There is, in short, no a priori reason why a woman should not have composed the HDem.
"Richardson notes as well, that '[m]any words and forms are found in the Hymn which do not occur in Homer, Hesiod, or other early epic (Hymns, Cycle, inscriptions, etc.).' He lists peculiarities in diction, formulae, forms, usage, and the treatment of the digamma. Could this wide-ranging difference from its companions in Archaic hexameter indicate that the Hymn is part of a separate female tradition, another strain of the oral tradition? Skinner suggests the possibility of such a female poetic inheritance in the lyric tradition, and O’Higgins one for iambic poetry. There perhaps existed such in the hexameter tradition also, if the HDem. is any guide.
"It has long been noted, but never explained, that there are no clear and unambiguous references to the Hymn in literature until the post-Classical period, 'no direct mention of the Homeric Hymn and scarcely anything which can reasonably be identified even as a reminiscence or echo of it' in classical literature. Likewise, the myth of Persephone’s abduction and Demeter’s wanderings in search of her seems unknown to Attic vase painters until the second half of the 5th century, and even then, references seem to be to a version different from the Hymn’s. If the Hymn, and the core story upon which it is based, were the work of women, and performed only at all-women’s festivals, it is quite understandable that it would not be readily available to the eyes and ears of a male public and included in their artistic productions, especially given its depiction of Zeus."
from "Beyond the Limits of Lyric, The Female Poet of the Hymn to Demeter,"
by Ann Suter, Kernos 18 (2005)
The Hymn to Demeter
— Myth Summary —
"Persephone, while gathering flowers on the Nysian plain,
is carried off by Hades, with the connivance of Zeus.
Her cry reaches the ears of Hecate and Helios: Demeter,
too hears her voice, but does not see the rape, or know
the name of the ravisher. Distracted with grief, the mother
wanders for [nine] days seeking news of her daughter. She meets
Hecate, who does not know that Hades has done the deed;
but the two goddesses go together in quest of Helios,
from whom they learn the truth. Then Demeter, angry with Zeus, leaves Olympus and visits
the earth in the guise of an old woman. Reaching Eleusis,
she meets the daughters of King Celeus, and is engaged to nurse their brother Demophon. She would make the child
immortal, but is thwarted by the curiosity of his mother
Metaneira. She reveals herself to the Eleusinians, commands
them to build her a temple, and departs from Eleusis. But she
is still wrathful with the gods, and causes a great dearth,
so that mankind is in danger of perishing from famine. So Zeus
sends Hermes to bring back Persephone from the underworld.
Hades, however, has given the maiden a Pomegranate seed to eat,
which binds her to him; and Demeter, after a joyful meeting with her daughter, tells her
she must now stay with Hades for a third part of every year. [Encouraged by her mother Rheia] the wrath of Demeter is now appeased and she makes the fruits of the earth to grow again, and instructs the chiefs of Eleusis in the performance of her rites, the knowledge of which is necessary for happiness [... in this world and the next]."
adapted from the Introduction to the
Hymn to Demeter, in "The Homeric Hymns," ed. by Thomas William Allen and Edward Ernest Sikes (1904)
The Heroic Mysteries of Demeter
"To the celebrant, participation in the [Demeter] Mysteries provided life without fear in the face of death. Most likely originating in Crete, the Mysteries were open to all. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter offers a mythical explanation for the institution of what later became the most exalted of the mystery cults of antiquity. [...] In its entirety, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter comprises a female version of the heroic quest that plays a core role in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern epic from as early as the Sumerian Gilgamesh. The Triumph in this drama was not simply about human survival and recovery from abduction and violation, but the overcoming of a specific vision of death that snatched away the young, the barely begun, the still maturing Persephone."
from "Lost girls: Demeter-Persephone and the Literary Imagination, 1850-1930, p. 23, by Andrew D. Radford (2007)
What are the Homeric Hymns?
"The Homeric Hymns are distinguished from other hymnic poetry both by their meter, the dactylic hexameter, and by the formulae the poet employs at the beginning and at the end of each poem. The ancients called these poems hymns and specifically, prooimia, preludes, that is, because the poets used them as warm-up pieces for the singing or recitation of longer portions of the Homeric epics. Of the extant Homeric Hymns, four, to Demeter, Apollon, Hermes and Aphrodite, are long enough to have been recited or sung independently. However, we cannot be sure that they too were not used as preludes to even more ambitious compositions."
from "The Homeric Hymns, Translation, Introduction, and Notes," p. xii, by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (1976)
What is Dactylic Hexameter?
"The Homeric Hymns are composed in dactylic hexameter, which is the normal meter of Greek and Latin epic poetry. Each line (hexameter) has six measures (= metra) or feet, which may be either dactyls (diagrammed — u u ),* or spondees (diagrammed — —) with dactyls predominating, expecially in the fifth foot, which is spondaic about 1 out of 20 times in the Iliad and Odyssey. Line 11 of this Hymn is such a "spondaic" verse. The first verse of this Hymn is analyzed (or 'scanned') as follows."
*[short is u and long is —]
||¯ ˘˘ ¯
||˘ ¯ ¯|
from "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p. iii, by Julia Haig Gaisser (1980)
Hymn to Demeter as Educator
"[T]he ultimate goal of the mimesis performed [by the ancient Greek poets] or their interpreters was to lead to the audience's identification with the beings evoked. From the outset, the drive to modify the behavior of a mass of human beings posed an ethical and political challenge. This was where the real stakes were located. Poets could be looked upon as genuine educators because they strove to modify the behavior of the public they were addressing by presenting the beings evoked as models. [...] As 'educator,' the poet gave form and transmitted that which constituted the identity of a community, that is, in a way, its very conscience."
from "How Philosophers Saved Myths: Allegorical Interpretation and Classical Mythologym" pp. 6-7, by Luc Brisson (1996/2004)
Flowerpower Photos | Next
Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th C. BCE. Koehler's Crocus Sativus from Wikimedia; Multi-levels of Meaning, Japanese traditional design. Photo (Top): Poet's Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), an old world, flowering bulb species, native to Greece and the Mediterranean, photo credit: earlywomenmasters.net
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