Narcissus Poeticus (Poet's Narcissus, an old world bulb species)
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)
___ ___ ___
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)
___ ___ ___
Love as Myth-Weaver
"Socrates says love is a Sophist;
Sappho says a myth-weaver."
~ "Orations," Maximus of Tyre, (2nd c.)
"In general, the attribution of deliberate choice to things incapable of it produces a pleasing effect, as when Sappho questions her lyre, and the lyre answers her: 'Come, divine lyre, speak to me and find yourself a voice,' and the lines which follow."
~ Hermongenes, "Kinds of Style"
(more at Sappho's Word )
___ ___ ___
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)
___ ___ ___
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)
___ ___ ___
Illustration of Crocus Sativus, from Koehler's Medicinal Plants (Book 2, 1887)
___ ___ ___
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-blossomed 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)
___ ___ ___
"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)
___ ___ ___
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)
___ ___ ___
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)
___ ___ ___
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 Walter Pater, p. 52, (1875 / 1920)
___ ___ ___
7th c. Greek Aryballos (Louvre)
with mythic-journey emblems —
the circles of dots are phases of the moon, the horse & bird are symbols of travel, the dots along the handle and around the top represent footprints of the human journey, and the petals may represent the flowering of the path.
Author of the Hymn to Demeter,
Not a Priest, but a Poet
Initiated into the Mysteries
"Great as is the poetical value of the hymn, perhaps its chief interest lies in the fact that it is the most ancient and the most complete document bearing on the Eleusinian mysteries. There is nothing esoteric or official in its tone; the writer was not a priest, but a poet whose primary object was to describe, in fitting language, the pathetic and beautiful story of Demeter and Persephone."
"The author was clearly familiar with the mythology and topography of Eleusis, and must have been initiated into the mysteries. In no early Greek document, perhaps, is 'local colour' so clearly marked. [...] In language, the poem is more closely connected with the hymn to Aphrodite than with any other in the collection. The writer was evidently a close student of Hesiod. A passage containing the names of Ocean nymphs is borrowed from the Theogony.
"[T]here is no reason to suspect the presence of any interpolated passages; there is indeed no single line which may have not been original. The story moves in a simple and straightforward way from beginning to end, and all the episodes fall into their proper places. [...] The theory that the Hymn is practically untouched is adopted in the present edition."
from "The Homeric Hymns," (p.9ff), T. W. Allen, Edward E. Sikes (1904)
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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)
Head of Demeter, wreathed in grain, with triple pendant earring, and wearing a neckband, silver Tetradrachm coin of Syros, ca. 200 BCE
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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)
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Daughters of Oceanus
"Persephone's relationship to Demeter, her youthfulness, and her association with flowers and 'springtime' in the Hymn supports the allegorical interpretation of Persephone as young vegetation, as the tender shoots of newly planted grain. Her association with the 'daughters of Oceanus' deepens her imagery as a goddess figure. The nymphs were deities of rivers, springs, and childbirth, and the local cults of Persephone often centered around springs and grottoes. There is evidence that the original site of worship of Persephone at Eleusis was located at the spring Parthenion and nearby cavern there."
from "Tales of Two Women: Comparative Study of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the Book of Ruth," p.18, L. B. Daleen Leitner (1984)
___ ___ ___
as a Trojan Horse?
Like the hero of our ancient myths, [in our dreams] we embark on an adventure through a strange landscape to discover bizarre clues about our real identity, and therefore our destiny. Just as the hero is presented with a paradox or puzzle to solve, the bizarre nature of our dreams becomes an important aspect in understanding how dreams help us to move beyond our walls. [...] Remember the soldiers of Troy and how they allowed the Greek's wooden horse beyond their walls simply because it was not viewed as a threat? In the same way that we dismiss some symbols as nonsense, something profound has cleverly devised a way to fertilize the psyche by condensing a difficult and complex idea into often humorous symbolism.
from "Why Dreams are Bizarre," by Kari Hohne (2009) (online)
"Persephone" is the Whole Myth
with all its Ramifications
"I have come to understand...through my involvement with this myth, the difference between relating to a myth and relating to a mythological figure. it seems vitally important no longer to identify with only one character in the myth, Persephone, nor to focus on one episode within the story, Persephone's forced abduction by Hades. This transformation was not something at which I deliberately aimed. There was rather a gradual and seemingly inevitable discovery how all of the elements of the myth necessarily belong together, so that I now see that the myth is a mythos, the plot, the action, not the figure abstracted from it. Persephone is the one about whom this story, with all its ramifications, is told."
from "The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine," by Christine Downing, p.33 (1981/2007)
Homeric Hymn to Demeter (Δημήτηρ)
edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation
Hugh G. Evelyn-White
Art & Photo Illustrations, Citations
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Homeric Hymn to Demeter |
Ομηρικοί Ύμνοι — Εἲς Δημήτραν
English Ancient Greek Transliteration
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, gold-bladed,* 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.
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001 Δήμητρ' / Dêmêtr' (Δημήτηρ)|
Demeter - "Mountain Mother" - Earth Goddess, see notes below and in-depth, etymology of Demeter's name at wikipedia
001 ἠύκομον / êukomon
lovely-haired - rich-haired
001 σεμνὴν / semnên
awesome - revered - august - holy (N.J. Richardson/1974 says the word is first used here in epic, and particularly in relation to Demeter and Persephone, see also Lines 478 & 486, fem. pl., referring back to the goddesses)
001 ἄρχομ' / arkhom' (ἄρχω)
begin - start out with - open a conversation
001 ἀείδειν / aeidein
to sing - praise - celebrate
002 τᾰνύ-σφῠρος / tanusphuron
with long tapered ankles or feet
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 -
(various terms for Zeus' "assent" to the rape/abduction repeat at Lines 9, 30, 78, 91)
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, or gold-bladed, as an epithet for Demeter, may refer to the Cretan double-axe or labrys, according to Emily Townsend Vermeule, Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Vol. 57, No. 307, 1959, pp. 4-16 [see notes below]
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
005 βαθυκόλποις / bathukolpois
deep-bosomed (depth of heart / loving kindness)
006 αἰνυμένην / ainumenên
take - take hold of - gather - sieze - (as metaph. siezed by longng)
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 - honor
011 ἀθανάτοις / athanatois
deathless - immortal - undying - perpetual - the immortals
012 ῥίζης / rhizês
root - base - foundation - origin
012κάρα / kara
head - face - top - crest - bloom
013 ὀδμή / odmê
odor - smell - scent - perfume
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)]
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 Homeric Hymns," T. W. Allen and Edward E. Sikes (1904)
Provenance of the Extant Manuscript
"Until 1777 all of our manuscripts of the hymns opened with the Hymn to Apollo. It was then that Christian Friedrich Matthaei, a professor of Greek in Russia, found the book known as Mosquensis (hereafter simply “M”) in the library of the Synod in Moscow, which begins instead with our only copies of the hymns to Dionysus and Demeter. Based on the watermarks, it has been dated to the early 15th century, and according to what Matthaei was told, it was found in a stable, 'where it must have sat for many years among chickens and pigs.' At some point the manuscript was torn, leaving two damaged sections at lines 387-404 and 462-79, which a second scribe (known as “m”) attempted to repair from conjecture, probably sometime in the 16th century. Other than M, there is only a small amount of fragmentary evidence for the hymn, and, although there are some possible signs of the hymn’s influence in classical times, the number of direct quotations is very small, and all of them are late, suggesting that it was best known in the Hellenistic period (Richardson)."
from "The Hymn to Demeter, p. 2, by Nicholas Smith, (Online Resource), 2007
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 Greek Proem —
The Song's Own Introduction [Lines 1-3]
The poet states the subject of the hymn, and gives a brief summary of the story. The first word of an epic poem often formed a kind of title giving the main subject. That is followed here by the attributes of the deity. In the second line the poet recapitulates [the main] subject since it is in fact a double one, Demeter and Persephone [... and likewise does the same] at the end of the poem [Lines 492-3] and returns to the single subject ["remember you"] in the traditional closing line."
from "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter," by N. J. Richardson, p.136 (2002)
Painted plaster lily sprays, Palace of Minos, Knossos, Crete
The Religion of the Mysteries — |
Mystics & the "Great Goddesses"
"[T]here were, in the most ancient days, two distinct religions in ancient Greece [....] The first was the official religion, corresponding to the external and visible world; the second was the religion of the Mysteries, corresponding to the inner world of the soul. It was, in a sense, the religion of the under-side of things, of the subterranean — that is to say, inner — realities, through which can be opened the door of the invisible world, of the Beyond. The first taught that the gods must be reverenced according to consecrated rules and rites; the second introduced the soul of the mystic to awe-inspiring secrets and renewed its forces at the primordial springs of being. Hence the name of 'Great Goddesses,' which was given only to Demeter and Persephone." [...] Demeter, the divine and universal Mother, was the oldest of the Greek divinities."
from "The Invisible Greece: Demeter and Persephone" in "Selected Occult Writings" by Edouard Schure, p. 196, translated by Eva Martin from the French, (orig. pub. 1912/1928)
Golden Double Axe (Labrys)
Inscribed with a Name For Demeter
"The inscription on the Boston [Museum of Fine Arts] double-axe reads [as the letters illustrated above] without any word dividers. The first sign does not occur in this form in [Greek] Linear B, but may be the prototype for i, no or se, most probably i. The last three signs are da, ma, te. Two interpretations leap to the eye: I-da-ma-te may be "(dedicatory prefix) Demeter," or "Ida Mater," the mother goddess of Mount Ida. Both interpretations suit Minoan religion nicely. Demeter, the Greek goddess of earth and its fruits, has her origin in the Aegean Bronze Age, and her cult center at Eleusis is of tremendous antiquity. She is exactly the type of mother-fertility goddess influencing the cycles of growth and decay, birth and death, which we expect of Minoan religious imagination. Ida is a prominent mountain in Crete, and indeed the word "Ida" appears to mean "mountain" in the pre-Greek Mediterranean languages, so that with the second interpretation of the axe we would find a familiar Minoan figure, "the mountain mother" or the goddess on the mountain whose presence is assured through gems. If the Boston axe names the goddess of the sacred cave at Arkalochori with one of these appropriate names, its importance for Aegean religion can hardly be overestimated.
"On coins of Heraklea Salbace one finds the attributes of Demeter — corn, grapes, cornucopia — on the obverse, and on the reverse the double axe itself, wreathed with a sacral fillet as so often in Minoan Art. Another coin shows the goddess carrying the axe."
from "A Gold Minoan Double Axe" by Emily Townsend Vermeule, Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Vol. 57, No. 307, 1959, pp. 4-16
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 —]
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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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)
Demeter & Goddess-Preeminent Neolithic
"This Earth/Mother religion stands in marked contrast to the male-centered Mystery religions of Osiris, Dionysus, and Orpheus; or to the Hebrew and Christian stories of Isaac and Jesus; all of which involve a ritual sacrifice or agonizing death of a young male son and/or god. The Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone embodies the values of the relatively peaceful farming and trading mother-clan societies of the Goddess-preeminent Neolithic, before the sacrifice of sons in war became common practice as patriarchal warrior clans forced their way to power. [...]
"My reading of the testimonia and archeological data finds that the Mysteries of the mother and daughter goddesses were essentially mysteries of love." [...] Demeter's rites flourished for almost two thousand years at Eleusis, a small town fourteen miles northwest of Athens."
from "The Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone: Fertility, Sexuality and Rebirth," by Mara Lynn Keller, in "Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion," p.28 (Spring, 1988)
Mortal/Immortal — Liberation
"The Hymn to Demeter is shaped above all to explain the origin of the Mysteries. The poem suggests that the Mysteries emerge from a breakdown of the boundaries between mortals and immortals. […] The religious experience provided by the Mysteries represented a significant yet apparently complementary alternative to the relation between life and death, divine and human familiar to us from the Homeric epics."
from "Interpretive Essay on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," by Helene P. Foley, in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, ed. by Helene P. Foley, p. 150 (1993)
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Illustrations: Koehler's Crocus Sativus from Wikimedia. Photo (Top): Poet's Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), an old world, flowering bulb species, native to Greece and the Mediterranean. Photo credit (TOP): earlywomenmasters.net
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