212-232 Female reproductive symbolism,
women's contemporary handmade cloth, India
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Rootcutters, Woodcutters &|
Demeter as Wet Nurse
"In Phigalia, Demeter was called Melaina, the black one, and her wooden cult effigy portrayed her with a horse's head. It was chthonic experience also that gave the female her power over plants in witchcraft. [...] Demeter as nurse in the Eleusinian palace promises to guard the queen's son from enchantments and from the plant cut at the base of its stem for magical purposes. Psychologially also, the role of nurse must have had chthonic associations since the wet nurse would ordinarily have been a woman [like Demeter] who had just recently lost the child of her own for whom her milk [here, psychologically her love] was intended."
from "The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries," p.113,
by R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. P. Ruck (2008)
Late Helladic (2nd mil. BCE) stylized "dancing" flower design from Korakou in Cyprus
___ ___ ___
Beginning to Recall Her Powers
"In her care of Demophoon, Demeter begins to recall [L-226-230] and remanifest her powers as a goddess. On the surface, she appears to be merely an old woman, competent to resume a motherly role with a child. But as goddess she is no ordinary mother. From the beginning, her nurturing transcends the human level, surpassing ordinary human limits. The child thrives from the presence of the goddess alone, receives 'transcendent' food, participates in a more-than-human realm."
from "Life's Daughter/Death's Bride: Inner Transformations Through the Goddess Demeter/Persephone," p.29, by Kathie Carlson (1997)
___ ___ ___
A Special Relationship
"It must be emphasized that the Hymn to Demeter is a literary work and probably was composed for recitation in a public context. It was not the sacred text of a cult that prized mystery as highly as the mysteries did, and we cannot assume all the actions it narrates signify what initiates actually did within the walls of the Eleusinian precincts. The Hymn, however, can be used in combination with other ancient information to paint a picture of the mysteries in broad strokes. It is likely, for example, that individuals somehow imitated Demeter's experiences during initiation and in doing so passed from grief to joy (ancient sources mention such a transition). [...] Thematically, too, the Hymn resonates with concerns addressed in the mysteries, most prominently the hope that a special relationship with Demeter and Persephone would protect one from the direst aspects of the mortal lot."
from "Ancient Religions," pp.99-100,
by Sarah Iles Johnston, (2007)
___ ___ ___
Gentle, sad and deeply mindful,
an old nurse firmly holding a large, joyful and godly-looking (and oddly resembling her), naked infant. Greek terracotta (probably from Athens, perhaps depicting Demeter's incarnation as an old woman at Eleusis, and if so, the child would then be Demophoôn),
ca. 300 BCE, British Museum. She wears a loose-fitting sleeved chiton (Gk. χιτών, tunic) and a sakkos [Gk. σάκκος, a soft woven cap usually covering a bun, with side curls exposed]. On Greek clothing: "Fashion, Costume, & Culture" by Sara Pendergast (2003)
___ ___ ___
The Role of Nurse Vs. Mother
"A nursing attitude accepts a child as it is, in its weaknesses, and does not spiderlike spin fantasies around it that can immobilize or make hazy the vision of the child. This 'distance' characteristic of the nurse type is what enables grandparents to relate to grandchildren in a freer-seeming and more-accepting way than with their own children. Demeter disguises herself as a grandmother. By her mourning she puts quite a distance between herself and her daughter. Such distance — seeming so out of touch with her own life force — is one of the things that characterizes depression — you need to be left alone and paradoxically cared for as you are, rather than being personally hovered over, and reminded that you are not being your old self."
from "The Moon & the Virgin: Reflections on the Archetypal Feminine" by Nor Hall, p.79 (1980)
___ ___ ___
and Demeter's Mysteries
"In poem (fr. 2) Sappho summons Aphrodite to her temple in a grove of apple trees. In this shrine the goddess is asked to 'pour gracefully into golden cups nectar that is mingled with the festivities.' [...] What is remarkable is the claim of these young women also to be 'companions' of Aphrodite and the degree of intimacy suggested by the goddess pouring nectar for them. [...] One may...compare the figure of Demeter, who in the Hymn to Demeter serves as a nurse to the mortal child Demophoôn. Foley (1993, p.88) observes that this humanizes the goddess and prepares for her role in the Mysteries."
Making Silence Speak: Women's Voices in Greek Literature and Society, edited by André Lardinois, Laura McClure, (2001, pp 77-78)
___ ___ ___
At Her Breast
"It is clear that Demeter does not breastfeed Demophoôn. The Hymn says explicitly that he eats nothing nor suckles, but that Demeter anoints him with ambrosia, breathes on him, and puts him in the fire [l-235-240]. The references to nursing that occur in the exchanges between Dôsô and the Eleusinian women [L-226, 231] need to be taken in the more general sense, as caring for a child, given the Hymn's explicit statement concerning her age."
from "The Old Women of Ancient Greece and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p. 46, in Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 130, by Louise H. Pratt (2000)
___ ___ ___
Nursing Mother & Green Demeter
"From the account of Pausanias [Gk., Παυσανίας, 2nd c. CE.] we should gather that Ge Kourotrophos, Earth the Nursing-Mother, and Demeter Chloe, Green Demeter had a sanctuary together; perhaps they had by the time of Pausanias, but the considerable number of separate dedications to Demeter Chloe makes it probable that at least in earlier days these precincts, though near, were distinct.
The union of Ge Kourotrophos and Demeter Chloe is not the union of Mother and Maid, it is the union of two Mother-goddesses. Of the two Demeter belongs locally not to Athens but to Eleusis. Ge Kourotrophos is obviously the earlier and strictly local figure. But Demeter of Eleusis, from various causes, political and agricultural, developed to dimensions almost Olympian, and her figure tended everywhere to efface that of the local Earth-Mother, hence we need not be surprised that the number of dedications to Demeter is larger than that of those to Kourotrophos. Kourotrophos appears among the early divinities enumerated by the woman herald in the Thesmophoriazusae, and the scholiast, in his comment on the passage, recognizes her antiquity: ' either Earth or Hestia; it comes to the same thing; they sacrifice to her before Zeus.' Suidas states that Erichthonios was the first to sacrifice to her on the Acropolis, and instituted the custom that 'those who were sacrificing to any god should first sacrifice to her.'"
from "Primitive Athens as Described by Thucydides," pp. 82-83,
by Jane Ellen Harrison (1906)
___ ___ ___
Terracotta, conical lekythos-oinochoe (combination oil flask and jug) with unusual double handle, Greek, 8-7th c. BCE, the parallel mark motifs on the surface were created with a toothed wheel. The snake design is a symbol of rebirth, since snakes shed their skin. The flask may celebrate Demeter & Persephone. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
___ ___ ___
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
DEMETER NURSES DEMOPHOŌN : 212-232
[...] And of them all, well-girt* Metaneira first began to speak:
___ τῇσι δὲ μύθων ἦρχεν ἐύζωνος Μετάνειρα:
___ têisi de muthôn êrkhen euzônos Metaneira:
Blessings,* lady! For I think you not lowly, but of parents
___ χαῖρε, γύναι, ἐπεὶ οὔ σε κακῶν ἄπ' ἔολπα τοκήων
___ khaire, gunai, epei ou se kakôn ap' eolpa tokêôn
to be goodly born*: for reverence is conspicuous* in your eyes
___ ἔμμεναι, ἀλλ' ἀγαθῶν: ἐπί τοι πρέπει ὄμμασιν αἰδὼς
___ emmenai, all' agathôn: epi toi prepei ommasin aidôs
and grace,* the same as in [the eyes of] law-giving kings.
___ καὶ χάρις, ὡς εἴ πέρ τε θεμιστοπόλων βασιλήων.
___ kai kharis, hôs ei per te themistopolôn basilêôn.
Yet, what the gods send us, we perforce, though grieved,
___ ἀλλὰ θεῶν μὲν δῶρα καὶ ἀχνύμενοί περ ἀνάγκῃ
___ alla theôn men dôra kai akhnumenoi per anankêi
must suffer as mortals, for a yoke is set upon our necks.
___ τέτλαμεν ἄνθρωποι: ἐπὶ γὰρ ζυγὸς αὐχένι κεῖται.
___ tetlamen anthrôpoi: epi gar zugos aukheni keitai.
But now, since you are come here, all I have I will give.
___ νῦν δ', ἐπεὶ ἵκεο δεῦρο, παρέσσεται ὅσσα τ' ἐμοί περ.
___ nun d', epei hikeo deuro, paressetai hossa t' emoi per.
Rear* me this child, late born and beyond my hope,
___ παῖδα δέ μοι τρέφε τόνδε, τὸν ὀψίγονον καὶ ἄελπτον.
___ paida de moi trephe tonde, ton opsigonon kai aelpton
whom the gods gave me, a son much prayed for.*
___ ὤπασαν ἀθάνατοι, πολυάρητος δέ μοί ἐστιν.
___ ôpasan athanatoi, poluarêtos de moi estin.
If you should raise him till he reach the full measure of youth
___ εἰ τόν γε θρέψαιο καὶ ἥβης μέτρον ἵκοιτο,
___ ei ton ge threpsaio kai hêbês metron hikoito,
any one of woman-kind that sees you will straightway
___ ῥεῖά κέ τίς σε ἰδοῦσα γυναικῶν θηλυτεράων
___ rheia ke tis se idousa gunaikôn thêluteraôn
envy, so great a reward would I give for his upbringing.
___ ζηλώσαι: τόσα κέν τοι ἀπὸ θρεπτήρια δοίην
___ zêlôsai: tosa ken toi apo threptêria doiên.
Then richly-wreathed Demeter answered her:
___ tên d' aute proseeipen eustephanos Dêmêtêr:
___ τὴν δ' αὖτε προσέειπεν ἐυστέφανος Δημήτηρ:
And to you, also, lady, all hail, and may the gods
give you good!*
___ καὶ σύ, γύναι, μάλα χαῖρε, θεοὶ δέ τοι ἐσθλὰ πόροιεν:
___ kai su, gunai, mala khaire, theoi de toi esthla poroien:
Gladly will I take up* the boy, as you bid me,
___ παῖδα δέ τοι πρόφρων ὑποδέξομαι, ὥς με κελεύεις,
___ paida de toi prophrôn hupodexomai, hôs me keleueis,
and will rear him, nor do I expect any folly
___ θρέψω κοὔ μιν, ἔολπα, κακοφραδίῃσι τιθήνης
___ threpsô kou min, eolpa, kakophradiêisi tithênês
of bewitchment* to harm him nor [potions of] rootcutters,*
___ οὔτ' ἄρ' ἐπηλυσίη δηλήσεται οὔθ' ὑποτάμνον:
___ out' ar' epêlusiê dêlêsetai outh' hupotamnon:
for I know an antidote far better than the woodcutter's,
___ οἶδα γὰρ ἀντίτομον μέγα φέρτερον ὑλοτόμοιο,
___ oida gar antitomon mega pherteron hulotomoio,
and I know, as to woeful bewitchment, an excellent safeguard.
___ οἶδα δ' ἐπηλυσίης πολυπήμονος ἐσθλὸν ἐρυσμόν.
___ oida d' epêlusiês polupêmonos esthlon erusmon.
Thus spoken, she took* him to her incense-fragrant* bosom,
___ ὣς ἄρα φωνήσασα θυώδεϊ δέξατο κόλπῳ
___ hôs ara phônêsasa thuôdeï dexato kolpôi
with her divine hands: and his mother rejoiced in her heart.*
___ χείρεσσ' ἀθανάτῃσι: γεγήθει δὲ φρένα μήτηρ.
___ kheiress' athanatêisi: gegêthei de phrena mêtêr.
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Ancient Greek Other Meanings|
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212 ἐύζωνος / euzônos|
well-girt - richly-girded - richly-belted - well girdled (epithet of women)
213 χαῖρε / khaire
blessings - fare-thee-well - hail, welcome
214 ἀγαθῶν / agathôn
goodly-born - well-born - gentle - aristocrats
214 πρέπει / prepei
to be clearly seen - to be conspicuous - to be distinguished in
214 αἰδὼς / aidôs
reverence - respect for others - compassion - majesty
215 χάρις / kharis
outward grace or favor, beauty, kindness, goodwill or kind feeling towards
215 βασιλήων / basilêôn
kings - see the comparison to kingliness also at L-103 , both suggesting masculine power in Demeter (she is described also as very tall in L-189 when she bumps her head against the lintel of the doorway)
219 τρέφε / trephe
rear - bring up - educate - foster
220 πολῠάρᾱτος / poluarêtos (πολῠ-άρᾱτος)
much-wished-for - much-prayed for - much-desired
225 ἐσθλὰ / esthla
good - good fortune - good luck - prosperity, lot (compare with Sappho: "This lot may I win, golden-crowned Aphrodite.")
226 πρόφρων / prophrôn
gladly - willingly - with forward mind - readily - freely
226 ὑποδέξομαι / hupodexomai
take up - harbor - take into one's house - bear patiently
228 ἐπηλυσίη / epêlusiê
coming over one, esp. by spells, bewitching
228 ὑποτάμνον / hupotamnon
root-cutter - lit. cut away [medicinal or magical plants] underneath, Persephone, in picking the 100-bloom narcissus in the beginning of the myth, is herself a magical plant-hunter
230 ἐπηλῠσία / epêlusiês (ἐπηλ-ῠσία)
coming over one, esp. by spells - bewitchment
231 δέξατο / dexato
take upon oneself - accept - receive something at the hand of another
231 θυώδεϊ / thuôdeï
smelling of incense, fragrant (implies incense offerings in temples to Demeter)
232 φρένα / phrena
heart (as seat of the passions) - deeply in oneself (not superficially)
Barnsley type fern FRACTAL geometric design,|
as leptosporangiate tree fern, from Wikipedia
Complexity in Plant Fertility
"We do not know if Aphrodite and Demeter were originally the same goddess, but by historic times they were pretty well distinguished, at least in epic, as the goddesses of animal and vegetable fertility, respectively. Demeter's gift to human beings is the grain. Aphrodite in the H. Aphr. causes the animals to mate along her path, and her ultimate gift to Anchises is a glorious progeny. [...] In the H. Dem., this simple and uncomplicated tale has split and multiplied, and its main plot was drawn into the Journey, Withdrawal and Return, and the Wrath of God. Various aspects of the single relationship of Goddess and mortal (or mortality) have, furthermore, been distributed among several different relationships between different characters. Instead of one goddess on whose presence the success of the crop depends, there are two in the H. Dem."
from "Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns," pp. 44-45, By Cora Angier Sowa (1984)
A "Betwitchment" - The Demeter Myth
"For [D. H.] Lawrence, this intricately textured [Demeter] myth was a deep mine in which his fellow writers could excavate for untold imaginative treasures. [...] Lawrence revelled in the fact that philosophers, historians, theologians, linguists, political theorists, anthropologists, and literary critics all had some cause to ponder the dual goddess of Demeter-Persephone, though it was difficult to claim as the legitimate and exclusive territory of any one intellectual discipline. His radically revisionist treatment of Persephone in his 1920 novel The Lost Girl, is anchored to some extent in a feeling of wonder at the sheer resilience and bewitching fascination of this ancient narrative, weathering the decline of antiquity, surviving the Middle Ages to emerge resplendent in the Renaissance. The several versions of the myth and the confusion attending the names of Kore, Demeter, and Persephone in no way diminished the richness with which the myth gathered symbolic overtones; in fact, the several glosses permitted a wide range of associations to accrue over the centuries."
from "The Lost Girls: Demeter-Persephone and the Literary Imagination, 1850-1930, p. 24, by Andrew D. Radford (2007)
Magic & Incantation
"The link between magic and the power of persuasion, and even of song itself, was widely known in antiquity. As knowledge of magical practices in the ancient world has increased, scholars have begun to identify traditional magical formulas in poetic texts. Examples of literary adaptation of magical language in the Greek tradition are found in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Sappho 1 (Voigt), in the binding song of Erinyes in Aeschylus' Eumenides, and in various literary fragments. Richardson observes that Demeter in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter employs language suggestive of magical incantations when she p;romises to protect Demophoôn from witchcraft (L-228-30). He singles out triple repetition, double chiasmus, anaphora, and assonance as stylistic features that contribute to the incantatory effect of Demeter's speech. Line 228 also resembles in both form and content a couplet near the end of a hexametrical incantation inscribed on a lead amulet from Phalasarna, Crete (c. 400), suggesting that the poem of the hymn was reflecting traditional incantatory language."
from "Spoken like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama," p. 82, by Laura McClure (1999)
Demophoön First Initiate
"On a thematic level, certain aspects of the hymn's narrative have been linked to the symbolism of the cult. The recurrent motifs of seeing and hearing in the poem may derive from phases in the ritual. Likewise, Demeter's partial epiphany on entering the house of Celeus, followed by her full revelation on departure, has been taken as an allusion to the gradations of initiation. Finally, and perhaps on a more abstract level, Demophoön has been identified as the first initiate."
from "The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns," p. 204, by Jenny Strauss Clay (1989/2006)
Through the media, through popular culture, through education, through socialization, and through religion, we are told that women are unintelligent, powerless, shallow and inconsequential. [...] Fairy tales are particularly effective in packaging these pernicious messages.[...] They articulate the proposition that we are totally inept at redeeming ourselves and need the muscular arm of a handsome Prince Charming to rescue us from our miserable, humdrum lives, and not coincidentally, from the cruelties inflicted on us by nasty, jealous women — women who are typically depicted as postmenopausal females. They tell us that Prince Charming will come to our rescue only if we are passive, supine, asleep, or virtually dead. And, of course, we have to be unnaturally thin, virginal, and very, very beautiful as part of the bargain."
from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," p. 82, by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE, (Top) Photo: earlywomenmasters.net, women's contemporary handmade cloth, India Import, street fair, NYC
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