275-280 Transfiguration: ("richly wreathed" with grain) Demeter Mourning Persephone,
painting by Evelyn De Morgan (aka Evelyn Pickering, English Pre-Raphaelite) (1906)
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Evelyn De Morgan's Painting|
of "Demeter Mourning"
"De Morgan's painting of Demeter [illustrated above] shows the goddess in a golden robe that matches the color of the ripe grain decorating her blond hair. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter described her as a 'bright goddess' and observed that 'from the divine body of the goddess a light shone afar, while golden tresses spread down over her shoulders, so that the strong house was filled brightness as with lightning' [L-275-280]. De Morgan's glowing figure of Demeter and the dawn sky behind her overpower the darkness of the rocks in the foreground, and the barren. rocky ground, blasted by Demeter's grief and anger, is offset by signs of renewed life. [...] The dawn sky is a recurrent allegory of resurrection in De Morgan's paintings, while the grain serves not only as an attribute of the beneficent Demeter but as a reminder of the wheat symbolizing rebirth through the Messiah in the Christian tradition.
De Morgan's painting is unusual in showing Demeter alone, since male artists of the nineteenth century typically focused on the abduction of Persephone...or her return from the underworld.
Joseph Kestner, in Mythology and Misogyny [52, 238-239], has suggested that these images of Persephone are attempts to reinforce male (and industrial) authority in the face of a myth that was clearly based on matriarchal (and agricultural) tradition."
from "Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body," p. 96, By Elise Lawton Smith (2002)
___ ___ ___
"Metaneira probably has as much to contribute to Demeter's growth and transformation as any other female in the story [...] After lashing out at Metaneira, Demeter reveals her identity, then she softens her tone [L-268-274]. This appears to be an attempt at reconciliation. Demeter does not dwell on her angst or harbor resentment. Instead she gives Metaneira and the people of Eleusis the opportunity to mollify her by building a temple in her honor. She gives them a way out of the quandary in which they find themselves. [...] Demeter's tone of reconciliation is perhaps an indication, as Kathie Carlson observes in Life's Daughter/Death's Bride [p.30], Demeter recognizes that she has shared in Metaneira's erroneous — and very human — assumption about the finality of death. Metaneira forcefully brings home the point to Demeter that what appears in human eyes to be a catastrophe of gargantuan proportions may not be a catastrophe after all. Instead it may be the precursor to empowerment and new life. In other words, through Metaneira's very human reaction to the death of her son, Demeter may have recognized that, like Metaneira, she may have misunderstood the apparent death of her daughter."
from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," p. 88,
by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
___ ___ ___
Early bronze age, Cycladic vase, with net designs, Phylakopi,
Melos, early 3rd millennium, BCE.
___ ___ ___
Plato's Great Vision
at the Temple at Eleusis
"Plato tells us that beyond this ephemeral and imperfect existence here below, there is another Ideal world of Archetypes, where the original, the true, the beautiful Pattern of things exists for evermore. Poets and philosophers for millennia have pondered and discussed his conception. It is clear to me where Plato found his 'Ideas'; it was clear to those who were initiated into the Mysteries among his contemporaries too. Plato had drunk of the potion in the Temple of Eleusis and had spent the night seeing the great Vision."
from "The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries," pp. 29-30,
by R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. P. Ruck, Huston Smith (2008)
___ ___ ___
Recollection of Archetypes
"One must needs understand the
language of Forms, collecting many sense impressions into a unity [...] and remembering a knowledge we beheld aforetime. [...] Whoever employs such memories rightly is always being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect."
from the "Phaedrus / Φαῖδρος" (sec. 249 b-c), by Plato (ca. 370 BCE)
___ ___ ___
Sanctuary at Eleusis Excavated
"The mysteries at Eleusis were kept secret so successfully that scholars are by no means agreed about what can be said with any certainty, particularly about the highest and most profound elements of the worship. The sanctuary at Eleusis has been excavated, and buildings connected with the ceremonies have been found, most important among them being the temple of Demeter, where the final revelation of the mysteries was celebrated. But no evidence has been unearthed that might dispel the secrecy with absolute certainty once and for all." [L-273-274]
from "Classical Mythology," p.245,
by Mark P. O. Morford, Robert J. Lenardon (1999)
___ ___ ___
Why Did Demeter Choose
the Hillock for her Sanctuary?
"The Eleusinian Demeter is the Grain Goddess, and the whole story of Demeter and Kore is an allegory of the death and rebirth of grain. The Greater Mysteries took place in September at the season when the autumn rains were expected which would bring nature back to life again. Offerings of the first fruits of the harvest were made generally to the two Goddesses, and the grain was kept in large underground storerooms in the sanctuary. Stalks of wheat are among Demeter's attributes, and the climax of the Mysteries was the revelation to the initiate of a reaped ear of wheat. Furthermore Demeter was the goddess of the threshing floor. [...] And here, perhaps we have the answer to our question of why a projecting spur of hill [or hillock, L-272] was designated as the site of the sanctuary. Such a site would have been suitable for a threshing floor as threshing floors are normally placed on projecting spurs of hills where they will catch the breeze so necessary for the winnowing process."
from "The Sacred Threshing Floor at Eleusus," by Eugene Vanderpool, in Hesperia Supplements, pp. 172-174, Vol 20 (1982)
___ ___ ___
Realities in Retrospect
"Every reference [in the Hymn to Demeter] has a local coloring and special reference. The [Maiden's Well] overshadowed by an olive-tree near which Demeter had rested, the stream Kallichoros and the temple-hill, were familiar and interesting places in the eyes of every Eleusinian. [...] And though all these incidents [in the Hymn to Demeter] were sincerely believed by the Eleusinians as a true history of the past, and as having been the real initiatory cause of their own solemnities, it is not the less certain that they are simply myths or legends, and not to be treated as history, either actual or exaggerated. They do not take their start from realities of the past, but from realities of the present, combined with retrospective feeling and fancy, which fills up the blank of the aforetime in a matter at once plausible and impressive."
from "History of Greece," Volume 1, pp. 33, 57-58,
by George Grote (1851)
___ ___ ___
"The transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8 has parallels with Greek mythology that also would have likely evoked thoughts of gods walking the earth in human form. [...] A prominent example comes from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. [...] When she chooses to reveal her true identity, her transformation is described in terms reminiscent of Jesus' transfiguration: "the goddess changed her stature and her form, thrusting old age away from her: beauty spread round about her...and from the divine body of the goddess a light shown afar. Like Demeter, Jesus reveals his divine nature by thrusting away his humble disguise in exchange for resplendent clothing."
from "Descending Spirit and Descending Gods: A "Greek" Interpretation of the Spirit's "Descent as a Dove" in Mark 1:10" by Edward P. Dixon, in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 128, No. 4, 2009
___ ___ ___
Unmasking the Divine
"Metaneira represents the human perspective that can't get beyond itself, can't give credence to or recognize the Divine when the latter is disguised. [...] Yet it is also Metaneira's interference that forces Demeter to reveal herself [...] Metaneira's interference is needed to set in motion a deeper revelation and fulfillment of the divine dimension within the myth."
from "Life's Daughter / Death's Bride: Inner Transformations through the Goddess Demeter / Persephone," p.30, 31, by Kathie Carlson (1997)
___ ___ ___
Demeter's Real Priorities
& Real Form
"Metaneira interrupts the immortalization process. Thwarted a second time in trying to make a child forever her own, Demeter's anger flares up again, this time at Metaneira. Forcibly reminded of the real situation — that Persephone is the real object of her love and Zeus is the real object of her anger — she resumes her real form [L-275-276]. She tells the daughters of Keleos to tell their father who she is, and he builds the temple she orders. She returns to the reality of her divinity and the exercise of her real powers."
from "The Narcissus and the Pomegranate," p. 67, by Ann Suter (2002)
___ ___ ___
Ancient Crete flower motif, used in a votive amphora at Knossos, edited and adapted from an illustration in the "Palace of Minos," by Arthur Evans (1921)
___ ___ ___
Foreshadowing the Rebirth of
the Demeter-Persephone Myth
in the Ecological Age
"It is true that [In the Victorian age] the industrialized world was rapidly approaching the last historical moment when an agricultural interpretation of the myth of Demeter and Persephone could hold Western reader's attention. For millennia, the agricultural cycle had been the basis of life, as indeed it still is in much of the developing world, but in the West, the economy was shifting in ways that would radically reconstruct our relationship with 'nature.' Yet this very shift created, in some quarters, a new sensitivity to what was being lost — not only a way of life, but a way of seeing, a pattern of perception and feeling."
from "Persephone Rises, 1860-1927: Mythography, Gender, and the Creation of a New Spirituality," p. 85, by Margot Kathleen Louis (2009)
___ ___ ___
Amphora with sacred emblem, from "Excavation at Vrokastro Crete," by Edith H. Hall, 1914
___ ___ ___
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
And forthwith she [Demeter] said to well-girded Metaneira:
___ καί ῥ' ἄμυδις προσέειπεν ἐύζωνον Μετάνειραν:
___ kai rh' amudis proseeipen euzônon Metaneiran:
Unknowing,* you mortals and without sense,* whether good
___ νήιδες ἄνθρωποι καὶ ἀφράδμονες οὔτ' ἀγαθοῖο
___ nêides anthrôpoi kai aphradmones out' agathoio
your lot* that comes upon you, nor can you foresee* the bad.
___ αἶσαν ἐπερχομένου προγνώμεναι οὔτε κακοῖο:
___ aisan eperkhomenou prognômenai oute kakoio:
For now in your thoughtlessness* you've wrought hurt
___ καὶ σὺ γὰρ ἀφραδίῃσι τεῇς νήκεστον ἀάσθης.
___ kai su gar aphradiêisi teêis nêkeston aasthês.
For — be witness, the oath of the gods, relentless water of Styx:
___ ἴστω γὰρ θεῶν ὅρκος, ἀμείλικτον Στυγὸς ὕδωρ,
___ istô gar theôn horkos, ameilikton Stugos hudôr
deathless him and unaging all his days
___ ἀθάνατόν κέν τοι καὶ ἀγήραον ἤματα πάντα
___ athanaton ken toi kai agêraon êmata panta
your dear son I would have made and bestowed lasting honor,
___ παῖδα φίλον ποίησα καὶ ἄφθιτον ὤπασα τιμήν:
___ paida philon poiêsa kai aphthiton ôpasa timên:
but now he can in no way death and the fates escape.
___ νῦν δ' οὐκ ἔσθ' ὥς κεν θάνατον* καὶ κῆρας ἀλύξαι:
___ nun d' ouk esth' hôs ken thanaton kai kêras aluxai:
Yet shall imperishable* honor ever rest upon him, since
___ τιμὴ δ' ἄφθιτος αἰὲν ἐπέσσεται, οὕνεκα γούνων
___ timê d' aphthitos aien epessetai, houneka gounôn
of mine he lay upon and slept in my arms.
___ ἡμετέρων ἐπέβη καὶ ἐν ἀγκοίνῃσιν ἴαυσεν.
___ hêmeterôn epebê kai en ankoinêisin iausen.
But, as the years move round and when he is in his prime,
___ ὥρῃσιν δ' ἄρα τῷ γε περιπλομένων ἐνιαυτῶν
___ hôrêisin d' ara tôi ge periplomenôn eniautôn
the sons of the Eleusinians shall wage [mock] battle*
and fierce cry
___ παῖδες Ἐλευσινίων πόλεμον καὶ φύλοπιν αἰνὴν
___ paides Eleusiniôn polemon kai phulopin ainên
with one another continually [for all days to come].
___ αἰὲν ἐν ἀλλήλοισιν συνάξουσ' ἤματα πάντα.
___ aien en allêloisin sunaxous' êmata panta.
Lo! I am Demeter the honorable, she who is the greatest
___ εἰμὶ δὲ Δημήτηρ τιμάοχος, ἥτε μέγιστον
___ eimi de Dêmêtêr timaokhos, hête megiston
source* of help and joy* to mortals and immortals.
___ ἀθανάτοις θνητοῖς τ' ὄνεαρ καὶ χάρμα τέτυκται.
___ athanatois thnêtois t' onear kai kharma tetuktai
But now, let a great temple and an altar below it
___ ἀλλ' ἄγε μοι νηόν τε μέγαν καὶ βωμὸν ὑπ' αὐτῷ
___ all' age moi nêon te megan kai bômon hup' autôi
be built by all the people at the city border and its sheer walls
___ τευχόντων πᾶς δῆμος ὑπαὶ πόλιν αἰπύ τε τεῖχος
___ teukhontôn pas dêmos hupai polin aipu te teikhos
situated upon the hillock* rising above [the spring of]
___ Καλλιχόρου καθύπερθεν ἐπὶ προὔχοντι κολωνῷ.
___ Kallikhorou kathuperthen epi proukhonti kolônôi.
And I myself will teach my rites,* that hereafter
___ ὄργια δ' αὐτὴ ἐγὼν ὑποθήσομαι, ὡς ἂν ἔπειτα
___ orgia d' autê egôn hupothêsomai, hôs an epeita
you may reverently* perform them to win my heart's favor.
___ εὐαγέως ἔρδοντες ἐμὸν νόον ἱλάσκοισθε
___ euageôs erdontes emon noon hilaskoisthe
So saying, the goddess transformed her stature and appearance,
___ Ὣς εἰποῦσα θεὰ μέγεθος καὶ εἶδος ἄμειψε
___ Hôs eipousa thea megethos kai eidos ameipse
thrusting old age away: beauty shone round about her
___ γῆρας ἀπωσαμένη: περί τ' ἀμφί τε κάλλος ἄητο:
___ gêras apôsamenê: peri t' amphi te kallos aêto:
and a lovely fragrance wafted from her sweet-smelling robes,
___ ὀδμὴ δ' ἱμερόεσσα θυηέντων ἀπὸ πέπλων
___ odmê d' himeroessa thuêentôn apo peplôn
and dispersing,* afar out, the splendour from her
immortal body —
___ σκίδνατο, τῆλε δὲ φέγγος ἀπὸ χροὸς ἀθανάτοιο
___ skidnato, têle de phengos apo khroos athanatoio
the goddess alight,* her golden tresses cascading
___ λάμπε θεᾶς, ξανθαὶ δὲ κόμαι κατενήνοθεν ὤμους,
___ lampe theas, xanthai de komai katenênothen ômous
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Ancient Greek Other Meanings|
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256 νήιδες / nêides |
unknowing of - unpractised in - powerless - feeble
256 ἀφράδμονες / aphradmones (ἀφρᾰ/δ-μων)
without sense - without sense to forsee
257 αἶσαν / aisan
one's lot - destiny - luck - dispensation - destiny decreed
257 προγιγνώσκω / prognômenai (also προγεωργ-γῑνώσκω)
foresee - prognosticate - know, perceive, or understand beforehand - know before being told - in Zen, one of the gifts of enlightenment
258 ἀφραδίῃσι / aphradiêisi
folly - thoughtlessness - heedlessness
259 Στυγὸς /Styx
The river across which the souls of the dead are ferried, one of the five rivers in Hades.
259 κῆρας ἀλύξαι / kêras aluxai
the fates escape - calamity escape (interprets mortality as human fate, but which can be transcended by way of Demeter's intervention or participation in the Eleusinian Mysteries, see Lines 480-482 )
263 ἄφθιτος / aphthitos
imperishable - unfailing -
266 πόλεμον / polemon
war - battle - fight - or single-hand combat
[an athletic ritual to honor Demophoön]
269 τέτυκται / tetuktai
source - preparation - cause - make so - creator
269 ὄνεαρ / onear
means of strengthening - refreshment - help - that which
brings profit - advantage - boon
269 χάρμα / kharma
joy - source of joy - delight
272 Καλλιχόρου / Kallikhorou
Calichorus / Kallikhoron - lit. "lovely dancing" - (another name for the Maiden's Well, see Line 99 )
272 κολωνῷ / kolônôi
hillock - small hill - hilltop - peak
273 ὄργια / orgia
mysteries - secret rites - secret worship - rites practiced by the initiated (also at L-476)
274 εὐᾰγής / euageôs
lawful - reverent - free from pollution - pure - holy
278 σκίδνατο / skidnato
to be spread or scattered - disperse
278 φέγγος / phengos
the light - splendour - lustre - of daylight - of moonlight -
of the light of the eyes
279 λάμπε / lampe
give light - send out beams of light - shine - metaphorically:
be glorious - shine forth - be famous or conspicuous
Ceramic bowl with shell forms, Kamares Cave, MIddle Minoan I,
(1900-1800 BCE), illustration from Arthur Evans' "The Palace of Minos, a comparative account of the successive stages...at Knossos," Vol. 4, 1921
Demeter Re-owns Her Powers
"Like the shadow that follows our every movement, we tend to project our disowned power and non-integrated qualities onto the situations we face. [...] 'Everyone carries a Shadow,' Jung wrote, 'and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.' When these unrecognized aspects work their way into experiential reality, they can confront us in the guise of another. Through conflict, we are given the opportunity to learn from one masked as the enemy, but who has come to make our inner truth accessible."
from "The Mythology of Sleep: The Waking Power of Dreams," p. 161, by Kari Hohne (2009)
"The seasons come round in their due order —
only in Greece did they give birth
to human images so lovely."
"[This section of the Hymn to Demeter] follows the long and beautiful episode of the rearing of the child Demophon by Demeter, disguised as an old serving woman. The episode was full of meaning to the Greeks, because the goddess was to them always Kourotrophos, the Child-rearer, but to us who no longer connect seed-sowing and child-bearing it has lost much of its significance. At last Demeter casts aside her disguise and in a splendid speech [L-255-274] to the people at Eleusis proclaims her godhead. [...] The seasons come round in their due order; only in Greece did they give birth to human images so lovely."
from "Mythology," p. 85, by Jane Ellen Harrison (1924)
Spheres of Resolution and Revelation —
[T]he conclusion of the myth indicates a carefully balanced relationship between gods and humans. Thus, an important factor in the myth is the care with which the myth observes two different levels of beings and the
refusal to confuse two diverse spheres, that of the gods and that of
humans. Second, within the two diverse spheres, there is a division
of another sort, for the first set of divine events consists of a
conflict/resolution duality. The second set, that of divine-human
events, consists of a disguise/revelation duality. In each of the
dualities, from conflict to resolution and from disguise to revelation, an event of a particularly strong character is required to effect
the transformation. In the first case, mediation [by Zeus] is required to satisfy the demands of the various deities [...] In the second case, the event consists of a revelation in which Demeter's appearance, i.e., her "reality," undergoes the change from a nurse to a goddess (both of which she is, of course).
from "Mythical and Cosmological Structures in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," pp. 5, in NUMEN, Vol. 29, Fasc. 1 (Jul.), by Larry J. Alderink (1982)
Divine Mitigation of the Human Condition
& Bright Return to the Mother
"The resolution of Demeter's story involves divine mitigation of the human condition on many levels. Insofar as Persephone's experience represents mortality, her consignment to the underworld is not absolute, but is relieved by her annual visits to Olympus. [...] Demophoön may be consigned once again to mortality when Demeter puts him down on the earth but he (like Anchises' son Aeneas) has gained the status of a hero [...]. And the cult established by Demeter in Eleusis, the Eleusinian Mysteries, offers anyone who is initiated into it a better experience after death. [... Demeter's] joyous reunion with Persephone evidently prefigures the final revelation of the Mysteries and the happier afterlife that initiates can look forward to."
from "Homeric Hymns," p. xix-xx, translated by Sarah Ruden, with Introduction and Notes by Sheila Murnaghan (2005)
Milesian plate from Naukratis, 7th c. BCE (British Museum)
The Greek meander on the rim, typical of the period, effortlessly solves or manages various obstacles and their complexity (see notes below).
The Splendor of Light |
& Archaic Greek Poetry
"The Greek Poetry of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. gives us a picture of an aristocratic society that fought its local wars, indulged in political intrigue, and was forever on its guard against the rise of the merchant class and the threat of tyranny, but that for the most part delighted in all that was radiant and delicate. Its poets wrote of flowers, food, and wine; of music, song and dance; of clothing, jewelry, and scent, of horses. fishes. and birds, and above all of what was, to use one of their own favorite words, poikilos, 'variegated.' They took pleasure in the subtle variations in pitch of flute and lyre, of human and bird song, and in the play of light upon surfaces of all kinds: silver trinkets, golden snake bracelets, birds' plummage, embroidered slippers, fluttering leaves, the sea's surface, wrought cauldrons, the starry sky. Often they described these objects with what we should call color words — green, dark blue, crimson, purple, tawny — but which seem to denote a quality of light, rather than specific hues."
from "Archaic Greek Poetry: An Anthology," by Barbara Hughes Fowler, p.ix (1992)
Compare with Iris (Iridescence) as Messenger L-310 ff
Demeter's Mycenaean Roots
"'The Hall of Rites' telesterêon, which must have been built when Eleusis came under Athenian control some time at the very end of the 7th century, is not mentioned in the hymn. [...] The terrace structure now referred to as the temenos, seems to have been built in the eighth century. However, it is not this structure, but rather the one described as Megaron B — situated on the east slope of the citadel of Eleusis — that must be the temple referred to in the Hymn to Demeter [L-270-274]. It was discovered by Kourouniotes in the excavation of 1931 and 1932 and it dates from Mycenaean times (15th-13th cc, B.C.)."
from "The Homeric Hymns, Translation, Introduction, and Notes," p. 73, by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (1976)
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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE, (Top) "Richly wreathed" Demeter Mourning Persephone, oil painting by Evelyn De Morgan (1906)
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