051-061 Earthrise, viewed from the Moon, Apollo 8, NASA Photo|
According to Helen F. Foley (1994), in this section "the text emphasizes the isolation of Demeter [an Earth Goddess] and Hecate [Moon Goddess] from the rest of the universe."
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Hekate (Moon) as Counselor —|
Why the Mysteries Can't Be Told
"Much like a counselor or therapist,
Hekate's role does not permit her to give us all the answers — even though she may be well aware of all the answers [L-058]. As an objective outsider, one who is not intimately involved with the situation, she can have a clearer understanding than Demeter since the latter is carrying a great deal of emotional and psychological baggage with her that can cloud her vision. Hekate's role is to set Demeter — and us — on the right path, provide us with guidance, and ask us the questions that will spur us on to arrive at the answers for ourselves. Death and renewal involves process, and the process of working our way through the labyrinth to get to our destination is as important as the destination itself. In other words, how we arrive at the right answer is as essential a part of the journey as discovering what the right answer is. In this capacity, Hekate assists Demeter as she [Demeter] makes her own journey to the underworld and experiences her own process of death and renewal."
from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," p. 81,
by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
Ancient Greek vase from Knossos, illustrating
goats (with crescent horns) and discs representing phases of the moon, ca. 10th c. BCE.
See additional wild goat symbols,
including goat as hybrid plant form (symbol of life, or Zoe), and horn as meander.
Among ancient archetypes (see, for example Red Pine's introduction to the Tao Te Ching, 1996), the phases of the moon often represent a spiritual journey, nurtured first in the darkness/womb of the new moon and evolving into light and immortality (full moon). The well-known Taoist symbol represents these two phases
in cyclical rotation.
___ ___ ___
Goddess of Boundary Lines
"Hecate is [the moon] goddess of boundaries. She stands guard not only at crossroads and doorways, but also at the dividing line between life and death. She is the mistress of souls, whom she guides in both directions across the line. It is in this function that the Homeric Hymn to Demeter mentions her: she is witness to the descent of Persephone [L-54-58], the daughter of Demeter, in Hades, and her return to the living daylight [L-438-440]. Since she holds power over souls and daemons, she is a patron deity of magicians (Johnston 1990 21-18, 143-148)."
from "Proclus' Hymns: Essays, Translations, Commentary," p.258, by Rudolphus Maria Berg / R. M. Van Den Berg (2001)
___ ___ ___
"When the Hekate of our Hymn reports to Demeter and Demeter to Helios what they know of the abduction of Persephone, they both tell of receiving information by ear but having failed to see what happened. Later, when Demeter proffers her demand that Persephone be returned to the surface of the earth, she swears to withhold the fruits of the earth until she has seen her daughter with her own eyes. [...] Visual clarity is an ideal and influences the way many [ancient] Greeks think about reality. [...] For Plato, what is real in an object is its eidos, translated sometimes as form and sometimes as idea, but essentially it is the surface of an object, whose visual form can then be grasped as an idea, a concept. [...] The culminating rite of the Eleusinian Mysteries is called the Epopteria which means the things that have been seen. [...] What Demeter demands of the gods will be fulfilled in the presence of the participants of her rite — her daughter must be seen as she emerges from the darkness of the underworld." [L-409]
from "Persephone Unveiled: Seeing the Goddess and Freeing Your Soul," p. 30, by Charles Stein (2006)
___ ___ ___
Peano Curve as Meander
Like Necker's Cube, an optical illusion in this image creates a shift between background and foreground as the eye moves from top to bottom. If the "background" evokes the past and the "foreground" the present or future, there is additionally an ambiguity, or fluidity in time. Likewise ancient myths take the reader back in time in order to illumine questions in the present.
___ ___ ___
Edith Wharton & Hecate's "News"
"[In Edith Wharton's 'Pomegranate Seed' (1912)] Wharton's concern with language is explicit from the start. Demeter wonders 'what word' [L-053] Hecate can bring her of Persephone, and Hecate answers, 'Word have I.' Demeter exclaims, 'I need / Thy word as parched valleys need my rain!' Hecate has solid information, emotionally nurturing to Demeter, and Hecate's 'word' is figured as material nourishment; the verbal act of one goddess happily parallels the physical act of the other."
from "Persephone rises, 1860-1927: Mythography, Gender, and the Creation of a New Spirituality," p.78,
by Margot Kathleen Louis (2009)
___ ___ ___
to the Subconscious
"People longing for an idyllic antidote [...] may sometimes forget the real miracle was not 'Greek serenity' but Greek fearlessness — the evident possibility that these immensely sophisticated people were in touch with the savage beginnings of their own civilization. Both Taylor and Shapiro made it clear that rituals necessary to purge fears of drought — the rituals, say, that provide the background to the 'Hymn to Demeter' — were still emotionally important to the people who invented democracy, built the Parthenon, and asked questions about how we know what we know. They were civilized men and women with access to the unconscious. Since they weren't afraid, they had no need to simplify things, and they made drama, not melodrama, the struggle of right against right rather than right against wrong."
from "Great Books: my adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf and other indestructible writers of the western world," p. 135, by David Denby (1997)
___ ___ ___
Quest for the Missing Map:
Persephone as Nancy Drew
"In an important psychological/sociological contribution, psychoanalyst and social researcher Carol Gilligan, (1982) relates the myth of Persephone to her research on contemporary female adolescence, comparing the mysterious disappearance of the sense of self in female adolescents to an underground map 'kept secret because it is branded by others as selfish and wrong' (p.51). (We would add that this secrecy relates to the sexuality emerging at adolescence.)
from "A Story of Her Own: The Female Oedipus Complex Reexamined
and Renamed" by Nancy Kulish, Deanna Holzman, p.43: (for Gilligan, 1982, see "In A Different Voice."
___ ___ ___
Understanding the Hymn
through Our Own Creativity
"Greek religion had no formal theology, no priestly class of interpreters of an authoritative divine scripture. Greeks experienced religion through ritual and myth. The myths (and though sometimes more slowly, the rituals) were endlessly changed and re-imagined for every generation by its artists and poets."
from the "Theology of the Mysteries," by Helene P. Foley, in "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p.84 (ed. by Foley, 1994)
___ ___ ___
Homeric Hymn to Demeter
edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation
Hugh G. Evelyn-White
Art & Photo Illustrations
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HECATE'S WITNESS : 051-061
But when the tenth enlightening* dawn had come,
___ ἀλλ' ὅτε δὴ δεκάτη οἱ ἐπήλυθε φαινολὶς ἠώς,
___ all' hote dê dekatê hoi epêluthe phainolis êôs,
Hecate [moon goddess] met* her, with a torchlight held
in her hands,
___ ἤντετό οἱ Ἑκάτη, σέλας ἐν χείρεσσιν ἔχουσα
___ ênteto hoi Hekatê, selas en kheiressin ekhousa
and straightway* spoke to her and told her the news:*
___ καί ῥά οἱ ἀγγελέουσα ἔπος φάτο φώνησέν τε:
___ kai rha hoi angeleousa epos phato phônêsen te
"Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons,* bestowing
___ πότνια Δημήτηρ, ὡρηφόρε, ἀγλαόδωρε,
___ potnia Dêmêtêr, hôrêphore, aglaodôre,
what god of heaven or mortal man*
___ τίς θεῶν οὐρανίων ἠὲ θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων
___ tis theôn ouraniôn êe thnêtôn anthrôpôn
has snatched* away Persephone* and pierced with sorrow*
___ ἥρπασε Περσεφόνην καὶ σὸν φίλον ἤκαχε θυμόν;
___ hêrpase Persephonên kai son philon êkakhe thumon;
For I heard* her cry, yet saw* not with my eyes
___ φωνῆς γὰρ ἤκουσ', ἀτὰρ οὐκ ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν,
___ phônês gar êkous', atar ouk idon ophthalmoisin,
who it was. But I tell you immediately truly all [I know]."
___ ὅστις ἔην: σοὶ δ' ὦκα λέγω νημερτέα πάντα.
___ hostis eên: soi d' ôka legô nêmertea panta.
Thus spoke Hecate. And she answered her not a word* —
___ ὣς ἄρ' ἔφη Ἑκάτη: τὴν δ' οὐκ ἠμείβετο μύθῳ
___ hôs ar' ephê Hekatê: tên d' ouk êmeibeto muthôi
the daughter of rich-haired Rhea — but herself,* sped
___ Ῥείης ἠυκόμου θυγάτηρ, ἀλλ' ὦκα σὺν αὐτῇ
___ Rheiês êukomou thugatêr, all' ôka sun autêi
eagerly* with her, holding flaming torches* in her hands.
___ ἤιξ' αἰθομένας δαΐδας μετὰ χερσὶν ἔχουσα.
___ êix' aithomenas daïdas meta khersin ekhousa.
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051 φαινολίς / phainolis |
enlightening - light-bringing - light-giving - shining of morning (blocking the stars) (Sappho)
052 ἤντετό / ênteto
meet - stop - greet - approach with prayers - entreat
053 ῥά / rha
there and then - straightway - without delay - then
053 ἀγγελέουσα / angeleousa
news - message - report - word of - bear a message - reported of
According to Hymns, Allen and Sikes (1904):
"The news which Hecate gives is that she heard Persephone's
a circumstance which certainly was unknown to Demeter."
054 ὡρηφόρε / hôrêphore
bringer of seasons - leading on the seasons - bringing on the fruits
in their season [ see L-054, 192 and 492 ]
054 ἀγλαόδωρε / aglaodôre (ἀγλαό-δωρος)
bestowing splendid gifts - bringer of good gifts
[ epithet unique to Demeter, see L-054, 192 and 492 ]
ἀνθρώπων / anthrôpôn
man (masc. sg.) - human - fellow
056 ἥρπασε / hêrpase
seize hastily - snatch up - seize - overpower - overmaster -
captivate - ravish - to be a robber
056 Περσεφόνη / Persephone
Persephone — the literal meaning of the name is uncertain (it may have not originated in Greek) — but it could mean "great wisdom" if it derives from a linguistic variation on Περ (great) + σοφός (widsom). In fact, Line 37 states that Persephone has a "strong mind" or "great mind" (μέγαν νόον/megan nόon. Such an epithet is in keeping with the grandeur of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Hecate is here the first to speak the name in the hymn.
056 ἤκαχε / êkakhe
pierced with sorrow - sorrowing - mourning - grieving in [heart]
057 ἤκουσ' / êkous' (ἤκουσεν)
hear - hear of - hear tell of - know by hearsay
057 ἴδον / idon
see - behold - see mentally - perceive
surely - unerring - infallibly
059 μύθῳ / muthôi
word - speech - command - thing said - lit. myth
060 αὐτῇ / autêi (fem dat sg.)
herself - [to see] for herself - of one's/her own accord
061 ἤιξ' / êix' (ἤιξεν)
eagerly - be eager after - dart - shoot - fly - turn eagerly to
061 δαΐδας / daïdas
fire-brand - torch - pine torch - pine-wood
Greek Amphora jug, 6th c. BCE, Met Museum|
(showing fertile land, with three-leaf sprig arising)
Kore (Κόρη, Girl), another name for Persephone, is
the feminine form of koros, literally "sprout"
Adapted from Wikipedia, a Peano curve fractal as labyrinth,
similar to innumerable fractal like
meanders on pottery from the Greek Geometric period (ca. 900-700 BCE), when the ancient Greek wandering hero myths (preceding the Hymn to Demeter), were transcribed into written texts.
Connecting Earth's Moon (Hecate) & Fertility
"Celibacy, or being predominantly in the company of women, leaves menstruation tending to coincide with the new moon, and ovulation, if it occurs at all, with the full. Science has not yet been able to explain why the moon's periodicity matches a woman's reproductive periodicity precisely, or the links to ovulating and bleeding at the new and full phases of the moon. It is possible, however, that there is a biological connection, as many species use the phases of the moon to co-ordinate their reproductive cycles for optimum fertility. It is also now recognized that the uterine lining of a woman's womb fluctuates in its receptiveness to implantation, although it remains to be seen whether it is most receptive at new moon. Curiously, in gardening lore, the advice over the centuries has been to sow seed when the moon is new."
from "The Story of V: a Natural History of Female Sexuality," p. 243,
by Catherine Blackledge (2004)
The Erotic and our Courage to Descend
to Deepest Consciousness
"The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women this has meant a suppression of the erotic.”
from "Audre Lorde's “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in "Making Sense of Women's Lives: An Introduction to Women's Studies," p.530,
edited by Michelle Plott, Lauri Umansky (2005)
Hecate Deity of Liminal Zones
"Hecate's association with death was linked to her role as the deity of liminal zones. This facet of the goddess is powerfully presented in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter....Therein, Hecate is witness to the abduction of Demeter's daughter, Persephone, by Hades, god of the Underworld. [...] It is Hecate who assists the grieving mother in her quest for her daughter; taking a firebrand, Hecates leads the way to Helios and Persephone's location is revealed; hence she receives the epithet, phosphoros ('light-bringer'). When mother and daughter are reunited, Hecate is there, witnessing the transition of Persephone from the land of the dead to the land of the living. The Hymn also tells us that Hecate becomes the young goddess' attendant and substitute queen [L-438-440] , meaning that when Persephone spends [two-thirds] of the year with Demeter, it is Hecate who takes her place as
queen of the dead."
from "Drawing Down the Goddees" by Marguerite Johnson, published in the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, p.316 (2009)
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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE, (Top) Earthrise, viewed from the Moon, Apollo 8, NASA Photo.
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