200-205 Cosmic Yoni symbol, a woman's handmade purse,
with meander, pomegranate (street fair, NYC)
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Baubo [Iambe] as Redeemer|
"In her grief [Demeter] leaves heaven and wanders desolate on the earth in search of her child. As she mourns, refusing to eat or drink, the earth loses its energy source and starts to become barren and infertile. Eventually Demeter arrives at Eleusis, some fifteen miles northwest of Athens. There, disguised as an old woman, she takes a job as a nurse. But she is still lost in grief, and continues to refuse to nourish herself, causing the crops to shrivel, and famine ensues. While at Eleusis, Demeter is visited by an older woman called Baubo [Iambe], who, on seeing the Goddess's sorrow, tries to comfort her. Her words have no effect, but then [in some versions of the myth] Baubo chooses to lift her gown, pointing out her naked vagina to Demeter. On seeing this bold display of womanhood, the goddess laughs, and shocked out of her suffering, accepts some sustenance. With this restorative act, life on Earth begins to return to normal. In this way, Baubo's actions are instrumental in restoring the world to balance, harmony and fertility."
from "The Story of V: a Natural History of Female Sexuality," p.20,
by Catherine Blackledge (2004)
Minoan table or small seat, from "Excavations in Eastern Crete, Vrokastro," by Edith Hall, 1914
___ ___ ___
The Laughless Rock
"Not every version of the holy story puts Demeter's act of mourning — her sitting in silence — in the palace of Keleos. There was another and perhaps older version according to which the goddess sat on a rock. There she sat 'without laughing.' [In the Mysteries] this 'laughless rock — agelastos petra — was seen only by those who entered the sacred precinct. Warned in a dream not to mention anything he saw in the inner sanctum, the pious Pausanias omitted to mention this rock in his description (I 38 7). The present-day visitor must look for it, within the Lesser Propylaia [17: 5], to the right of the Sacred Road. There, according to an old story, sat the goddess, not far from the Well of the Beautiful Dances, near the hollowed-out place in the mountain slope which was dedicated to the god of the underworld and sheltered the little temple of Pluto. [...] In various periods the Eleusinians knew of, and pointed out, at least three entrances to Hades: one through the well, a second here, and a third near the wild fig tree at Kephisos.
As the goddess sat there unlaughing, in Metaneira's quarters, or on the rock, a hearty serving maid, stepped into her role. Her name was Iambe, like the meter of iambic, that is, satirical poems, but in the feminine rather than the masculine form."
from "Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter," p.38,
by Carl Kerényi (1991)
___ ___ ___
Recognition & Humility
"Demeter reaches the door of the house; as she sets
foot on the threshold a brief epiphany occurs, filling
the doorway with divine radiance (L-189 ). Metaneira,
Celeus' wife, responds appropriately, being seized by
αἰδώς σέβας and δέος [awe, reverence and fear] (L-190);
she offers her κλισμός [seat / couch] to the goddess, but Demeter
refuses. Implicit in Metaneira's offer is the recognition
of the goddess' superior status. This is not to say that
Metaneira becomes aware of Demeter's true nature; for
the remarkable thing about this passage is that, while
there are all the elements of a full-scale epiphany in
the doorway, there is only a partial comprehension on
the part of the household of Celeus of the presence of
divinity. Metaneira's emotional response is appropriate to
divinity but intellectually she merely infers that Demeter
is high-born [...] (L-213-14 ). [...] Demeter refuses the κλισμός [couch]
and will only sit when offered the πηκτὸν ἕδος [jointed
seat = humble stool] by Iambe. [...] In this light, we are
meant to see the πηκτὸν ἕδος in opposition to the κλισμός, and
so Iambe stands in opposition to Metaneira as [humble] servant to
from "A companion to the Greek Lyric Poets," pp. 17-18,
by Douglas E. Gerber (1997)
___ ___ ___
Heqet = Baubo/Iambe in Egypt
"Fertility figures of various kinds are common throughout the world, [...] it becomes clear that they can be divided into at least three groups. 1. The Universal Mother or Isis type. 2. The Divine Woman or Ishtar type. 3. The Personified Yoni or Baubo type. [...In Egyptian mythology] the legend of Baubo is known only through the Greek accounts. This legend says that when Isis was mourning for Osiris, Baubo assumed the [squat] attitude represented in tlle figures,
and thereby made Isis laugh and cease from lamenting. The legend is clearly late, for Baubo is called indifferently the hostess of Isis, the nurse of Isis, and is even one aspect of Isis herself. She had a definite role in the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were, according to Diodorus, the same
as the Mysteries of Isis, while Herodotus (II, 59) says that in Greek Isis was called Demeter. The Egyptian origin of Baubo is accepted by classical scholars, who equate Baubo-Phryne (Frog-Baubo) with the frog-goddess of birth Heqt."
from "Female Fertility Figures," in "The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland," Vol. 64 (1934) by [Margaret Alice] M. A. Murray.
Cup or small mixing bowl,
Ialysos, Rhodes, illustrated in Edith Hall Dohan's "Decorative Art of Crete in the Bronze Age" (1907)
___ ___ ___
"We should note that χλεύῃς and παρασκώπτουσ' (L-202-203) do not refer to making jokes or telling funny stories, obscene or not, but instead involve personal abuse and invective directed at someone. [...] But Demeter does not react the way the gods usually do when insulted by mortals; not anger but laughter follows upon Iambe's raillery. As a result, Iambe 'even afterward, continued to please her in her rites.'"
from "The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns, pp. 234-235, by Jenny Clay (1989/2006)
___ ___ ___
Late Minoan, decorative plant forms, from Arthur Evans, The Palace of Minos (1921).
"In Achaia, a seven-day festival to Demeter was celebrated at the sanctuary of Mysian Demeter, where a man from Argos named Mysius was said to have given Demeter welcome (during her earthly wanderings). For the first few days, men and women participated, but on the third day, men withdrew, and women performed some secret ritual. On the following day, the men returned, and the women and men took turns laughing and jeering at one another. It is tempting to see these rites as a metaphor for procreation, seen from a male perspective: a man and woman do something together; the man withdraws; the woman does something secretive (e.g., conceive); the man then returns. Whether or not this is the case, the rites in Achaia seem to resemble those of the Thesmophoria and other known women's festivals of Demeter."
from "Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions Among Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greco-Roman World," p. 27, by Ross Shepard Kraemer (1994)
___ ___ ___
To Sit in Solemn Silence?
Thronôsis (θρόνωσις) in Ritual
Demeter sits on a fleece-covered stool in solemn silence, mourning the loss of Persephone. She fasts and refuses drink until she takes the sacred kykeon. [...] Although no textual evidence actually confirms that it was part of the ritual, such a period of silent mourning might be appropriate as an initial purificatory step in the mysteries. The iconography of a few Roman era depictions of an initiation of Heracles suggests that such a ritual may perhaps have been part of an Eleusinian festival.
from Radcliffe G. Edmonds, "To Sit in Solemn Silence? Thronosis in Ritual, Myth, and Iconography," American Journal of Philology, Volume 127, Number 3), Fall 2006, pp. 347-366
___ ___ ___
Demeter & Sarah's Laugh
in the Hebrew Scriptures —
the human kind
"Demeter responded to Iambe by laughing, drinking the kukeân (the 'mixed drink' described in the Hymn), and then treating with fire and ambrosia Demophoon, Metaneira's infant son, while remaining among the women of Eleusis. [...] Just as Demeter's bereavement had brought her to the mortal world, so her laughter was the human kind, not Olympian. It recalls the laughter of Sarah, Abraham's eighty-year-old-wife, when she discovered that she was pregnant. When Demeter laughed, together with mortal women she celebrated life's renewal in the face of age and death. Demeter saw women — like herself — whose sexual and reproductive powers belied appearance. Like Queen Metaneira, who had borne a son — 'late born, beyond all hope' (219) — like decorous Iambe, surprising in her mocking humor, so this decrepit old woman revealed incongruous energy."
from "Women's Cultic Joking and Mockery: Some Perspectives," by D. M. O'Higgins, in "Making Silence Speak: Women's Voices in Greek Literature and Society," p. 138, ed. by André Lardinois and Laura McClure (2001)
___ ___ ___
Knossos, decorated ceramic jug, bronze age
Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
Sappho's great poetic achievement, I believe, was to articulate a female desire so compellingly as to make it at once emotionally acccessible to men as well as women — although men's responses to it were shaped by far different relations of gender and power. [...] Consequently, as we learn from ancient critical pronouncements, anecdotal evidence and visual representations of the poet as cultural icon, male listeners and readers cherished Sappho's works as a socially permissible escape from the strict constraints of masculinity. In the symposium, singing one of [Sappho's] compostions — songs charged with the comforting presence of benign divinity and flooded with aching but sweet reciprocal desire — would have allowed men momentarily to "play the other."
from Marilyn B. Skinner, "Woman and Language in Ancient Greece, or, Why is Sappho a Woman?" in "Feminist Theory and the Classics," ed. by Rabinowitz and Richlin, 1993
___ ___ ___
Homeric Hymn to Demeter
edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation
Hugh G. Evelyn-White
Art & Photo Illustrations
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Homeric Hymn to Demeter |
English Ancient Greek Transliteration
• Greek-English Glossary
IAMBE'S JEST : 190-205
Then [Metaneira] was siezed by awe and reverence
and pale fear.
___ τὴν δ' αἰδώς τε σέβας τε ἰδὲ χλωρὸν δέος εἷλεν:
___ tên d' aidôs te sebas te ide khlôron deos heilen
She yielded* to [Demeter] her seat and urged her to sit down.
___ εἶξε δέ οἱ κλισμοῖο καὶ ἑδριάασθαι ἄνωγεν.
___ eixe de hoi klismoio kai hedriaasthai anôgen.
But Demeter, bringer of seasons, bestowing splendid gifts
___ ἀλλ' οὐ Δημήτηρ ὡρηφόρος, ἀγλαόδωρος,
___ all' ou Dêmêtêr hôrêphoros, aglaodôros,
would not sit upon the bright* couch,*
___ ἤθελεν ἑδριάασθαι ἐπὶ κλισμοῖο φαεινοῦ,
___ êthelen hedriaasthai epi klismoio phaeinou,
but stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down,
___ ἀλλ' ἀκέουσ' ἀνέμιμνε κατ' ὄμματα καλὰ βαλοῦσα
___ all' akeous' anemimne kat' ommata kala balousa,
until Iambe set in place for her, careful, knowing,
___ πρίν γ' ὅτε δή οἱ ἔθηκεν Ἰάμβη κέδν' εἰδυῖα
___ prin g' hote dê hoi ethêken Iambê kedn' eiduia
a jointed seat* and threw over it a silvery fleece.
___ πηκτὸν ἕδος, καθύπερθε δ' ἐπ' ἀργύφεον βάλε κῶας.
___ pêkton hedos, kathuperthe d' ep' argupheon bale kôas.
Then she sat down,* holding her veil in her hands
before her face.
___ ἔνθα καθεζομένη προκατέσχετο χερσὶ καλύπτρην:
___ entha kathezomenê prokateskheto khersi kaluptrên:
a long time on the stool, voiceless because of her sorrow
___ δηρὸν δ' ἄφθογγος τετιημένη ἧστ' ἐπὶ δίφρους
___ dêron d' aphthongos tetiêmenê hêst' epi diphrou,
and greeted no one by word* or by sign,
___ οὐδέ τιν' οὔτ' ἔπεϊ προσπτύσσετο οὔτε τι ἔργῳ,
___ oude tin' out' epeï prosptusseto oute ti ergôi,
but never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drink
___ ἀλλ' ἀγέλαστος, ἄπαστος ἐδητύος ἠδὲ ποτῆτος
___ all' agelastos, apastos edêtuos êde potêtos
because she pined* with longing for her deep-bosomed daughter,
___ ἧστο πόθῳ μινύθουσα βαθυζώνοιο θυγατρός,
___ hêsto pothôi minuthousa bathuzônoio thugatros,
until jesting with her, Iambe careful, knowing,*
___ πρίν γ' ὅτε δὴ χλεύῃς μιν Ἰάμβη κέδν' εἰδυῖα
___ prin g' hote dê khleuêis min Iambê kedn' eiduia
and with many a quip,* moved the holy lady
___ πολλὰ παρασκώπτουσ' ἐτρέψατο πότνιαν ἁγνήν,
___ polla paraskôptous' etrepsato potnian hagnên,
making her smile and laugh and have a merry heart.*
___ μειδῆσαι γελάσαι τε καὶ ἵλαον σχεῖν θυμόν:
___ meidêsai gelasai te kai hilaon skhein thumon:
And [Iambe] pleased her moods* in aftertime* as well.
___ ἣ δή οἱ καὶ ἔπειτα μεθύστερον εὔαδεν ὀργαῖς
___ hê dê hoi kai epeita methusteron euaden orgais.
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Ancient Greek Other Meanings|
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191 ἑδριάασθαι |
yield - vacate - left open [her seat]
191, 193 κλισμοῖο / klismoio
seat - couch - also, inclination, slope
193 φαεινοῦ / phaeinou
bright, radiant, brightly-shining, cf. Sappho of the stars obscured by the greater light of the moon (frag. #34)
196 πηκτόν / pêkton
well put together, compacted, well-built - of wood-work
pêkton ἕδος = a chair of several pieces - jointed seat - a stool well-crafted
197 καθεζομένη / kathezomenê
sit down - remain seated - sit still as suppliant - seated meditation
199 ἔπεϊ / epeï
word - utterance - word of a deity - oracle
199 ἔργῳ / ergôi
action - deed - gesture or sign
201 μινύθουσα / minuthousa
pine - waste away - become smaller or less, decrease
202 χλεύῃς / khleuêis
make a jest of - mock - jest - joke
202 κέδν' εἰδυῖα / kedn' eiduia
careful, knowing - trusty and wise - knowledgeable about worthy things
203 παρασκώπτουσ' / paraskôptous' (see παρα-σκώπτεῖν)
with a quip - by way of a jest - with a mock or jeer
204 ἵλαον θυμόν / hilaon thumon
merry heart - propitious mood - N.J. Richardson (1974): "The line  is progressive: first Demeter smiles, then she laughs and finally she is in a propitious mood. The form is that of a 'tricolon crescendo.'"
205 ὀργαῖς / orgais
moods - natural impulses or propensity - temperament - disposition
205 μεθύστερος / methusteron
living on - aftertime - afterwards - for posterity - hereafter -
according to N. J. Richardson (1974), Iambe's importance in the Demeter cult obscurely hinted at here
Similar to many double spiral designs in ancient Greek decorative art and jewelry, a "double hook" Mandelbrot fractal, from Wikipedia |
"Beyond the known" —
myths, dreams & laughter
"Both myths and dreams portray beliefs, concepts and a way of questioning and making sense of existence. They convey ideas that transcend reason as a way of moving us beyond the known. Mythology's primordial imagery existed long before the written records and similarly, dreaming employs the area of the mind that existed before language. These fantastic adventures awaken the sleeping hero to the prospect of metamorphosis. Utilizing a type of hybridization, a myriad of ideas can be blended into profound morsels meant to teach us about our inner world. Just as myths orchestrate laughter, healing and renewal, dreams, too, are often comical, and offer inspirational direction during times of transformation."
from "The Mythology of Sleep: the Waking Power of Dreams," pp. 1-2, by Kari Hohne (2009)
Woman Dancing, Fresco, Knossos, Crete, ca. 1600-1450 BCE
Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Belly Laughter"The belly laughter that Baubo provokes dispels Demeter's depression and restores her will. [...] The belly goddess personifies — deifies, really — the power of life to reach beyond death. She is the life-restoring force not only in the Greek story of Demeter but also in the Egyptian myth of Isis and in the Japanese myth of the sun goddess Amaterasu. [...] The belly goddess in her many guises lives in the origin of human consciousness. She is the sacredness of women's bellies."
from "The Woman's Belly Book: Finding Your True Center for More Energy, Confidence and Pleasure," p. 53, By Lisa Sarasohn (2006)
The Careful Wisdom of Iambe (L-195)
"[in regard to Demeter and Iambe] we should ask what the
myth implies about how both mocker and target viewed
what was happening in the episode. Why, for example,
was Demeter's reaction one of mirth and not of anger?
Certainly Iambe herself would have no guarantee that
Demeter would be gladdened, since in many other contexts
in life, insult and mockery, not to mention obscenity, are
construed as 'fighting words.' Somehow Iambe managed
to make it clear that her words were humorous and, above
all, ironic. They were not, in short, intended to be
taken literally as an insult, and Iambe had to calculate that
Demeter would understand this as well. Several unarticulated
premises, then, underlie Iambe's decision to use verbal mockery
to cheer up Demeter."
from "Making Mockery: the Poetics of Ancient Satire," pp. 50-51, by
Ralph Mark Rosen (2007)
Iambe & Hekate — ceremonial worship
of other goddesses in supporting roles
"In the enlarged representation of the Eleusinian ceremonies, which became established after the incorporation of Eleusis with Athens, the part of Iambe herself was enacted by a woman or man in woman's attire, of suitable wit and imagination, who was posted on the bridge over the Kephissos, and addressed to the passerby in the procession, especially the great men of Athens, saucy jeers probably not less piercing than those of Aristophabnes on the stage. The torch-bearing Hekate received a portion of the worship in the nocturnal ceremonies of the Eleusinia: this too is traced, in the Hymn, to her kind and affectionate sympathy with the great goddesses."
from "History of Greece," Volume 1, p. 57, by George Grote (1851)
More productive simply to
savor Demeter's laughter
"I have often wondered how I might respond if I could read one of Baubo's [Iambe's] quips — if it had been miraculously preserved after transciption and dutiful annotation by some erudite Alexandrian grammarian of the first century. Would I smirk, faintly smile, chuckle, or perhaps, double over with impolite guffaws? Maybe I would miss it entirely. Humor has an ephemeral quality, and archaic jokes can become soggy after the passage of twenty centuries. The great wit of Aristophanes, which reputedly delighted Athenian audiences (all men) has lost much of its savor through time and translation. Therefore, instead of yearning for Baubo's lost jokes, it is probably more productive to notice Demeter's reaction, her laughter."
from "The Metamorphosis of Baubo," p.39,
by Winifred Milins Lubell (1991)
At the crossroads — Iambe / Baubo
"You will know Baubo [Iambe] when you meet her Mystes. Her sense of humor shines, even in the midst of helping you navigate the murky waters of grief. She models the playful attitude you need to take on and gives you permission to play again and even be outrageous like her sometimes. Baubo is everywhere for you to meet her, Mystes. You just have to be ready to recognize her when she crosses your path."
from "Demeter's Mysteries: The Secret Path to Happiness," p. 36, by Marguerite Chiang (2002)
Iambe's Diligence = Actions"Iambe is twice described [in the Hymn to Demeter] by the formulaic κέδνὰ εἰδυῖα, 'knowing' or 'diligent' (lines 195 and 202). [...] Iambe may be a servant, but the epithet ... also stresses the fact that only Iambe succeeds in making contact with the mourning Demeter. [...] Rather than dwelling on Iambe's servile status or her old age, features mentioned again and again by later sources, the Hymn lays stress on her actions. Indeed...nothing happens until Iambe makes significant changes in the situation. In the first case she makes Demeter sit down on a stool, in the second she makes the goddess laugh."
from "The Idea of Iambos," 168-69, by Andrea Rotstein (2010)
For the sake of the rites,
all is remembered
"Metaneira...is filled with 'shame and reverence and pale fear,' and she offers the old nurse a seat on the bed, but neither she nor any of the others suspect that she is a goddess (L-190-91). 'Doso' refuses the bed, instead sitting on a stool brought to her by a woman called Iambe, and does not eat or drink until Iambe tells her jokes. She refuses wine 'because it is not lawful,' but eats a mixture of barley, water and mint known as a kykeon. Even this she takes 'for the sake of the rite' (L-207-11). By referring in this way to the rituals that will be practiced in the future, the poet suggests that everything the goddess says and does while in Eleusis is to be remembered."
from "Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths," p. 43, by Mary R. Lefkowitz (2003)
in the Female Sphere of Influence
"In a rich tapestry of female networking, the [Hymn to Demeter] illustrates women working to help other women, women sharing knowledge with other women, and women learning from the experiences of other women. Although males are present in the myth and serve as catalysts to the action, their presence is tangential to the central concerns of the narrative. The Demeter and Persephone myth focuses on female dilemmas of female protagonists as they are articualted in the female sphere of influence."
from "Women and Goddesses in Myth and Sacred Text," by Tamara Agha-Jaffar, p.69, 2005
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