Minoan Bird Vase
280-295 Archeological Museum of Herakleion, Minoan depiction of a bird
and flying fish, expressing intense awareness (Vase, 1350-1300 B.C.)

  Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE


Clay Lekythos (λήκυθος, used for oil or perfume) with meander, dramatic lacquer and black-figure painting, 5th century BCE, Hermitage Museum.

Shock & Transition
"Metaneira's obstruction causes Demeter to reveal herself with Metaneira, as a witness. Metaneira has no comparable manifestation of power. And, although Metaneira's interference precipitates Demeter's self-revelation, Demeter's interference ultimately causes Persephone to emerge from darkness into light. Thus, in the embedded tale, the actual figure who moves from hidden to manifest is the outsider/intruder (Demeter), while in the main narrative it is the child/victim Persephone." [...] The emphasis on Demeter, together with the evanescence of Demophoön and Metaneira, allows a more general focus on humans and their relationship to the gods. With the inauguration of the Mysteries, the focus of the poem shifts from Demeter's relationship with Demophoön to her relationship with humankind as a whole."

from "The Homeric hymn to Demeter: translation, commentary, and interpretive essays, p. 195, edited by Helene P. Foley, citation by Nancy Felson-Rubin and Harriet M. Deal (1993)


Goddess-octopus emblem, seaweed, late Minoan pottery design, from Gournia free graphic, from "Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World for Craftsmen," by Flinders Petrie (1930/1974)
___ ___ ___

Play of Perspectives
"Metaneira welcomes Demeter to her house with words of sympathy for her ancient, downtrodden state: [...]; but soon afterward Metaneira is herself suffering the goddess' bitter wrath as Demeter upbraids her for her all-too-human-unawareness. The gap in understanding between Demeter and Metaneira is one example of the remarkable play of perspectives found throughout the Hymns. What to Metaneira is a natural expression of maternal concern as she sees her beloved baby in the fire is to Demeter an intolerable sign of mortal shortsightedness."

from "Homeric Hymns," pp.xvii-xviii, by Sarah Ruden (translator) and Sheila Murnaghan (Introduction) (2005)
___ ___ ___

Your Body Also Masking
Divine Light

"The myth reveals the divine light that resides behind the external image of the Goddess Demeter [L-280]. This is seen during the revelation of Demeter's true form [....] In the same way your own body and personality are a mask behind which hides the divine light of your soul. It awaits glowing and glittering behind your reflection in the mirror, the divine light of the Great Creatress, of whom you are a part."

from "Mysteries of Demeter," p.32, by Jennifer Reif (1999)

Small Jug, from "Excavations in Vrocastro, Crete," by Edith H. Hall, 1914.

Complex Patterns
of Connection

"The story of Demeter and Persephone does not simply reverse heterosexual plots of disconnection in favor of a model of female connection. More complicated affiliative patterns are revealed here, patterns which describe the affiliative intricacies of female modernism. Still, Demeter's plot which progresses through contradiction offers an alternative to the limiting repetitions and deathly closures of Electra and Antigone.

The 'Hymn to Demeter' does grant voice and legitimacy not only to the daughter's but also to the mother's story. Nowhere, for example, does the poem question Demeter's right to be angry. Zeus's compromise and the Eleusinian mysteries which celebrate the cyclic reunion of mother and daughter do recognize the needs of the mother as well as those of the child. [...] Still maternal anger, maternal responses to the process of mother-child separation, to the loss of a child, are represented as terribly threatening in this story. "

from "The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism," p. 36,
by Marianne Hirsch (1989)

Again Solemnity & Humor
"[Like the Iambe-kykeon episode] the nursing of Demophon is again characterized by a mixture of solemnity and humor. Metaneira is horrified to discover Demeter's methods as a nurse and the goddess is angry and condemns mortals for their folly, which prevents the gods from helping them. But instead Demeter promises to teach them her solemn rites. After her departure Metaneira is speechless with terror, but her daughters hear the piteous wail of the child Demophon, who has been placed on the ground by Demeter. They leap from their beds to help him, and gathering round wash him and try to console him. 'But,' the poet says, 'his spirit was not appeased,' for far inferior were his nurses now."

from "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p. 57, by N. J. Richardson (1974)

 

Homeric Hymn to Demeter
Interlinear Translation
edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation
by Hugh G. Evelyn-White

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Homeric Hymn to Demeter
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 EPIPHANY AT ELEUSIS (280-295)
280
And the well-built* house filled with her [Demeter's]
brightness like a flash of lightning.*
___ αὐγῆς δ' ἐπλήσθη πυκινὸς δόμος ἀστεροπῆς ὥς: 
___ augês d' eplêsthê pukinos domos asteropês hôs:

281
And thusly she [Demeter] walked out through the house.
And straightaway [Metaneira's] knees buckled
___ βῆ δὲ διὲκ μεγάρων: τῆς δ' αὐτίκα γούνατ' ἔλυντο
___ bê de diek megarôn: tês d' autika gounat' elunto,

282
And Metaneira remained speechless* for a long while,
nor the child
___ δηρὸν δ' ἄφθογγος γένετο χρόνον, οὐδέ τι παιδὸς
___ dêron d' aphthongos geneto khronon, oude ti paidos

283
remembering, her late-born, to take him up from the ground.
___ μνήσατο τηλυγέτοιο ἀπὸ δαπέδου ἀνελέσθαι
___ mnêsato têlugetoio apo dapedou anelesthai.

284
But his sisters* heard* his pitiful wailing
___ τοῦ δὲ κασίγνηται φωνὴν ἐσάκουσαν ἐλεινήν
___ tou de kasignêtai phônên esakousan eleinên,

285
and sprang down from their well-spread* beds:
then one of them
___ κὰδ δ' ἄρ' ἀπ' εὐστρώτων λεχέων θόρον: ἣ μὲν ἔπειτα
___ kad d' ar' ap' eustrôtôn lekheôn thoron: hê men epeita

286
took up the child in her arms and laid him in her bosom,
___ παῖδ' ἀνὰ χερσὶν ἑλοῦσα ἑῷ ἐγκάτθετο κόλπῳ:
___ paid' ana khersin helousa heôi enkattheto kolpôi:

287
while another revived the fire, and one rushed with soft feet
___ ἣ δ' ἄρα πῦρ ἀνέκαι': ἣ δ' ἔσσυτο πόσσ' ἁπαλοῖσι
___ hê d' ara pur anekai': hê d' essuto poss' hapaloisi

288
to bring their mother from her fragrant chamber.
___ μητέρ' ἀναστήσουσα θυώδεος ἐκ θαλάμοιο.
___ mêter' anastêsousa thuôdeos ek thalamoio.

289
And they gathered about the struggling* child
and washed* him,
___ ἀγρόμεναι δέ μιν ἀμφὶς ἐλούεον ἀσπαίροντα
___ agromenai de min amphis eloueon aspaironta

290
embracing him lovingly; but he was not comforted,*
___ ἀμφαγαπαζόμεναι: τοῦ δ' οὐ μειλίσσετο θυμός
___ amphagapazomenai: tou d' ou meilisseto thumos:

291
because nurse maids much less skillful* held him now.
___ χειρότεραι γὰρ δή μιν ἔχον τροφοὶ ἠδὲ τιθῆναι
___ kheiroterai gar dê min ekhon trophoi êde tithênai.

292
All night long they sought to appease* the glorious goddess,
___ αἳ μὲν παννύχιαι κυδρὴν θεὸν ἱλάσκοντο
___ hai men pannukhiai kudrên theon hilaskonto

293
quaking with fear. But, as soon as dawn began to show,
___ δείματι παλλόμεναι, ἅμα δ' ἠοῖ φαινομένηφιν
___ deimati pallomenai, hama d' êoi phainomenêphin

294
they told powerful Celeus* all things without fail,
___ εὐρυβίῃ Κελεῷ νημερτέα μυθήσαντο,
___ eurubiêi Keleôi nêmertea muthêsanto,

295
as the lovely-crowned goddess Demeter had charged them.
___ ὡς ἐπέτελλε θεά, καλλιστέφανος Δημήτηρ
___ hôs epetelle thea, kallistephanos Dêmêtêr.

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Ancient GreekOther Meanings
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280 πυκινὸς / pukinos
(of artificial union) well put together - compact - strong
(of the mind) shrewd - wise - (of persons) sagacious - crafty


280 ἀστεροπῆς / asteropês = στεροπή / steropê
lightning - flash of lightning - dazzling light, flash of the eyes

282 ἄφθογγος / aphthongos
voiceless - speechless - (Passive = ἄφατος, not to be spoken of)

284 κασίγνηται / kasignêtai
sisters - Sappho fr. #5, uses the term to refer to herself in regard to her brother when praying for his mental and emotional healing

284 ἐσάκουσαν / esakousan
hearken - give ear to - perceive - feel the effect of

285 εὔστρωτος / eustrôtôn
well-spread with bed clothes

289 ἀσπαίροντα / aspaironta
struggling - resisting - panting - gasping

289 ἐλούεον / eloueon
bathe - wash - purify - According to Allen & Sikes (1904):
"The women perform one of the duties of a nurse, in place of Demeter. It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that the child would be covered with wood ash. This motive, however, is expressly mentioned in a very similar passage (of the Nymphs and Bacchus, Anth. Pal, iX. 331)."


290 μειλίσσετο / meilisseto
to be soothed, grow calm - to be subdued

291 χειρότεραι
much less skillful - inferior - more severe

292 ἱλάσκοντο
appease - conciliate - seek mercy from

293 φαινομένηφιν / phainomenêphin
show forth - appear - manifest - make a sign appear to one - rising of heavenly bodies

294 εὐρυβίῃ / eurubiêi = εὐρῠ-βόας
far-shouting, loud-shouting = εὐρῠ-σθενής powerful - far-extended might - mighty

294 Κελεῷ / Keleôi
According to Apostolos N. Athanassakis (Hymns, 1976):
Celeus or Keleos, "the child's father, knows nothing as yet. This nocturnal propitiation of the Goddess is solely attended by women, and may correspond to the Pannychis / Παννυχις, the all-night vigil, and women's festival."

 

The Women's All Night Vigil (Παννυχις)
"The all night vigil in which the women attempt to propitiate the goddess has been identified as a pannychis, or all-night festival, which seems to have associated more or less exclusively with women's festivals and certainly formed part of the celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries. This section of the rite was celebrated by women alone (or at least by the women segregated from the men) and consisted in dancing around the well (called Kallichoron: the well of the beautiful dances...) and perhaps aischrologia."

from "Politics and Pommegranates" by Marilyn Arthur, in "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, ed. by Helene P. Foley, p.235 (1994).

Metaneira's Enlightenment
"On account of her anger at being interrupted, Demeter discards her disquise and manifests herself in full divine splendor to Metaneira. [...] This episode can be understood as standing for the epopteia [ἐποπτεία] the sight of the divine, which only a relatively small group of initiates was thought to have experienced at a later stage of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Indeed, Metaneira's reaction to the epiphany of Demeter, consisting of speechlessness, fear and awe, is precisely symptomatic of this experience (Foley 1994, 52) that ultimately transforms and illuminates: 'Blessed (olbios) is the mortal on earth who has seen these rites...[L-480]'"

from "Ancient Near Eastern Art in Context: Studies in Honor of Irene J. Winter," p. 302, by Irene Winter, Jack Cheng, Marian H. Feldman (2007)

Themes of Withdrawal,
Epiphany & Honor
"The mythic themes that supply the plot structure of oral poetry are not the same as specific stories, like the kidnap of Persephone or the Trojan War; they are plot types, like the Birth of the Hero, the Journey, the Marriage of the Fertility Goddess, Creation, or Epiphany, basic patterns for organizing the perception of events, which belong in their fundamental outlines to a universal mythology, whether inborn or learned, that is local to no place or time. [...] Yet even the themes take on the expression of a particular language, while retaining their basic elements, and a particular theme may assume special meaning for a culture. The Journey, for example, seems to owe its popularity in Greek epic to the Greeks' mobility and seafaring economy, just as their frequent depiction of the Hero's angry withdrawal mirrors their obsession with seeing honor satisfied."

from "Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns," p. 8-9, by Cora Angier Sowa (1984)
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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE. Octopus emblem from "Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World for Craftsmen," by Flinders Petrie (1974). (Top) Photo: Wikipedia Commons, Archaeological Museum of Herakleion. Decorated pottery, early postpalatial period ( 1350-1300 B.C. )
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