296-309 Golden Demeter, like the Spirit of Shiva and Sati in India:
"The story [of Shiva] bears strong similarity to the
Kore myth and the relationship between human life
and vegetal life. When Sati dies, the god Shiva
(like Demeter) is so grieved that plants and animals
die of neglect. [...] Sati is reborn as the Mother Goddess
(a patroness of the crops and of child birth, roughly
corresponding to Demeter)." citation from "Living Myths: How Myth Gives Meaning to Human Experience," by J.F. Bierlein (1999)
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Criticism of Demeter|
"Demeter's conduct has spurred considerable debate. Her behavior has been most heavily criticized in the episode with Metaneira and Demophoon, in which she "abducts" the young child from his mother, replicating the actions of her brothers Zeus and Hades. On the one hand, Demeter can be perceived as selfish, insensitive and impervious to the damage she causes to humans and animals alike until she gets her way: on the other hand she may be commended for her stubborn refusal to submit to the male hegemonic power structure of the Olympian gods. At times she is accused of being a binding mother who wants to thwart her daughter's attempt at autonomy: at others, she is praised for rescuing her daughter from the clutches of death. Criticism of Demeter may be mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that since she is the goddess of agriculture who bears responsibility for earthly fertility and regeneration, she is simply acting in accordance with the laws of nature — laws which are not only amoral but are also impervious to the needs of humans and animals."
from "Women and Goddesses in Myth and Sacred Text, An Anthology, pp. 68-69, by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2005)
___ ___ ___
Ivory Signet Ring, Melos,
Phylakopi, Bronze Age
"Engraved with a woman [or priestess] standing before an altar.
Her hair is knotted behind: she wears a belt and a skirt divided by horizontal lines representing flounces, the space
between them filled with chevrons derived from the
Mycenaean spray-pattern. Her arm is raised from the
elbow in the gesture of adoration. The altar consists of chevrons
and irregualr ovals, probably representing rough stones; on it is
placed a pair of sacred horns. Behind the votary are two
conventional trees or palm-branches; the [curved] lines above and below the altar
represent vegetaton." - Caption from Excavations at Phylakopi, Melos, 1904
___ ___ ___
Who Buries the Seed?
It is interesting to note that Hermes accuses Demeter of 'burying the seed beneath the ground' [L-306-307]. In one sense, he is correct since Demeter has stricken the land with drought and has obstinately refused to allow any seed to grow until the release of her daughter from the underworld. In another sense, Hermes simply doesn't seem to get it. Persephone is, after all, the offshoot of Demeter, her seed. Demeter didn't initiate the burial of her seed underground. The male power structure brought this catastrophe upon itself: Zeus acting in compliance with the wish of his brother, Hades. Since they have chosen to bury her seed underground, it seems only fitting that Demeter retaliates by denying the growth of all seed from the underground. But the logic and poetic justice of her action seems to escape Hermes and the rest of the gods.
from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," pp. 42-43,
by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
___ ___ ___
& Ancient Greek Ecology
"The word used in the Homeric hymn to describe the effect of Demeter's terrible year is limos "hunger" or "famine," [L-311 ] the condition that results from crop failure and food shortage. The language in the hymn is consistent with the ecology of the agricultural regions of the Greek Aegean, where fluctuations in rainfall can produce periods of temporary shortfall. Fresh water was always an issue. In a land where perennial rivers are few and alluvial valleys rare, settlement patterns were shaped by access to the groundwater stored in the porous limestone bedrock that often extended from the rugged mountain areas down to the lower plains. The eastern Aegean exhibits a particular type of landscape characteristic of linestone areas, where water collects in underground catchments."
from "Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: the Ancient Greek Experience, p. 10, by Susan Guettel Cole (2004)
___ ___ ___
Demeter's Name: "the Power
that Reclothed the Earth"
"Very different [from today] was the feeling of the Greeks toward the living world...[considering] the overwhelming emotions that filled the soul of the Greek at the mere name of Demeter. This sacred name awoke...not merely the thought of Nature in visible form, but all the mystery of her creative power, and her perpetual bringing forth of new life. It rang through the heart like the echo of a sonorous voice in a deep cavern, and enveloped like a wave of the sea. Demeter was the power that reclothed the Earth's surface with luxuriant verdure; Demeter gave life to all the watery legions of the ocean; heavenly Demeter...shone also in the million-eyed starry sky. Was she not the universal and beneficent mother?"
from "The Invisible Greece: Demeter and Persephone" in "Selected Occult Writings" by Edouard Schure, p. 194, translated by Eva Martin from the French, (orig. pub. 1912/1928)
___ ___ ___
as a Cosmic Force
"The most striking feature of this myth is the way it reinforces the idea of sexuality as a cosmic force by associating it with two goddesses and portraying it as a world-shattering power. Agricultural fertility, and potentially human life, is temporarily destroyed by Demeter's mourning and Persephone's annual disappearance from and return to the earth is also linked with the cycle of vegetation."
from Sappho's Immortal Daughters by Margaret Williamson, p.112 (1993)
___ ___ ___
Kore = Demeter's Fertility
"Still a goddess, but a goddess whose chief function has been denied her, Demeter is now alienated from all community...'golden-haired Demeter sat there apart...and stayed wasting (μινύθουσα, i.e., diminished, lessened) with yearning for her deep-bosomed daughter L-302-304). As she wastes, so wastes the earth, and the resulting famine causes humanity and the gods to suffer for one year (L-305-313) [...]. It is useful at this point to briefly discuss the demiotics involved in the abduction of Kore. DuBois points out the equivalence of Demeter to the earth. The Mother Goddess without her daughter is the earth without her fruits. A further connection of Kore to the products of the earth is the triple relation of Kore, Demophoön, and the narcissus, discussed by Felson Rubin and Deal. Demeter's child is the sign of her fertility and Demeter's fertility is the fertility of the earth."
from "Re(de)fining Woman: Language and Power in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," by Kristina Passman (p. 61), in "Woman's Power, Man's Game: Essays on Classical Antiquity in Honour of Joy K. King," edited by Mary de Forest (1993)
Compare with fractal spirals |
Minoan North-West palace double spiral amphora plant designs from Knossos, illustration from the "Palace of Minos," by Arthur Evans (1921)
"The spiral tendency within each one of us is the longing for and the growth towards wholeness."
~ Jill Purce, The Mystic Spiral (1974)
Dark Night of the Soul
"The spiral or labyrinth, depicted on ancient tombs, implies a death and re-entry into the womb of the earth, necessary before the spirit can be reborn in the land of the dead. But death and rebirth also mean the continuous transformations and purification of the spirit throughout life; the alchemists use the word VITRIOL to stand for Visita interiora terrae rectificando invenies occultum lapidem. 'Visit the interior of the earth; through purification though wilt find the hidden stone.' Such a descent into the underworld (the kingdom of Pluto/Hades) is the theme of most initiation rituals, and is comparable to the passage through the wilderness, or the 'dark night of the soul,' which is experienced by mystics on their path. It is furthermore almost always characterized by the spiral."
from "The Mystic Spiral" by Jill Purce, p.29 (1974)
___ ___ ___
Ex Votos, Thank Offerings
(left in Demeter's temples by the common people)
"The gods of Olympos, those later creations of a sophisticated, literary age, whose temples were by Classical times little more than glorified museums, never really had much to do with genuine religion. But though the Greeks were rarely as pious a people as, say, the Romans, the religious impulse definitely existed among them, evidenced in the Orphic and Dionysioan cults and especially women's hearts despite the coming of the Olympians and the patriarchal, warrior-based society they represented. Wherever you visit sites of the Greek world, from Sicily to Syria, you will find vast numbers of little plaques and figurines on display in the museums ex votos, or thank offerings, left in Demeter's temples by the common people. No other gods or goddesses commanded such popular devotion."
from "Crete," by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls, p. 36-37, (2003)
___ ___ ___
"[Concerning] loss in the girl's relation to the mother: this loss is figured
for Irigaray, within the broader context of how the cultural symbolic
does not provide models and images, myths and stories of the
relation between mother and daughter (Irigaray 1985 [Speculum]).
The relation between mother and son is symbolized, as of course is that
between father and son. But, since the myth of Demeter and Persephone,
there has been no symbolization of the mother/daughter relation.
For Irigaray, this failure to symbolize is at the root of much of a
girl's (and a woman's) experience of deep melancholy. The
melancholy is worse because she does not know what it is she
is mourning: there is no familiar code in which the loss can
be recognized. "
from "A Companion to Feminist Philosophy,"
p. 277, by Alison M. Jaggar, Iris Marion Young (2000)
___ ___ ___
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 AS SHIVA (296-309)
So [Celeus] called the countless people to an assembly
___ αὐτὰρ ὅ γ' εἰς ἀγορὴν καλέσας πολυπείρονα λαὸν
___ autar ho g' eis agorên kalesas polupeirona laon
and a goodly* temple for rich-haired Demeter bid* them
___ ἤνωγ' ἠυκόμῳ Δημήτερι πίονα νηὸν
___ ênôg' êukomôi Dêmêteri piona nêon
to build, along with an altar* upon the rising hillock.
___ ποιῆσαι καὶ βωμὸν ἐπὶ προὔχοντι κολωνῷς
___ poiêsai kai bômon epi proukhonti kolônôi.
And they obeyed, speedily, and harkened to his voice,
___ οἳ δὲ μάλ' αἶψ' ἐπίθοντο καὶ ἔκλυον αὐδήσαντος
___ hoi de mal' aips' epithonto kai ekluon audêsantos,
doing as he commanded. And it grew as* the Goddess decreed.
___ τεῦχον δ', ὡς ἐπέτελλ'. ὃ δ' ἀέξετο δαίμονι ἶσος
___ teukhon d', hôs epetell'. ho d' aexeto daimoni isos.
Now when they had finished and rested* from their toil,*
___ αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ τέλεσαν καὶ ἐρώησαν καμάτοιο,
___ autar epei telesan kai erôêsan kamatoio,
they all went home. But golden-haired Demeter
___ βάν ῥ' ἴμεν οἴκαδ' ἕκαστος: ἀτὰρ ξανθὴ Δημήτηρ
___ ban rh' imen oikad' hekastos: atar xanthê Dêmêtêr
sat apart from all the blessed gods and there*
___ ἔνθα καθεζομένη μακάρων ἀπὸ νόσφιν ἁπάντων
___ entha kathezomenê makarôn apo nosphin hapantôn
stayed,* wasting* with yearning for her
___ μίμνε πόθῳ μινύθουσα βαθυζώνοιο θυγατρός.
___ mimne pothôi minuthousa bathuzônoio thugatros.
There was a dreadful year over the Earth, all-nourishing,
___ αἰνότατον δ' ἐνιαυτὸν ἐπὶ χθόνα πουλυβότειραν
___ ainotaton d' eniauton epi khthona pouluboteiran
that she caused for mortals and horrible: nor would the ground
___ ποίησ' ἀνθρώποις καὶ κύντατον: οὐδέ τι γαῖα
___ poiês' anthrôpois kai kuntaton: oude ti gaia
make the seed sprout, for richly-wreathed* Demeter
kept it hid.*
___ σπέρμ' ἀνίει, κρύπτεν γὰρ ἐυστέφανος Δημήτηρ:
___ sperm' aniei, krupten gar eustephanos Dêmêtêr
In the fields* the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain,
___ πολλὰ δὲ καμπύλ' ἄροτρα μάτην βόες εἷλκον ἀρούραις
___ polla de kampul' arotra matên boes heilkon arourais
and much white barley was cast upon the land without avail* —
___ πολλὸν δὲ κρῖ λευκὸν ἐτώσιον ἔμπεσε γαίῃ
___ pollon de kri leukon etôsion empese gaiêi
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297 ἤνωγ' / ênôg'|
command - order - bid - urge - advise
297 πίονα / piona
goodly - lit., "fat" - opulent - abundant - fat - fertilizing - rich - wealthy
298 βωμός / bômon
raised platform - stand - altar with a base
300 ἶσος / isos
as - just as - like - of like [mind] - equal to - the same as
301 ἐρώησαν / erôêsan (ἐρω-έω,)
draw back - rest from - quit - leave
301 καμάτοιο / kamatoio (κᾰ/μᾰτ-ος)
toil - trouble - the effect of toil - weariness - pains
302 ξανθὴ / xanthê
yellow, of various shades, golden [of hair], of Demeter,
from golden corn or cornsilk
303 ἔνθα / entha
there - in that place - thither - in one place - thereupon
304 μίμνε / mimne
stay - wait - stay where one is (remain) - tarry
304 μινύθουσα / minuthousa (μῐνῠ/θ-ω)
lessen - waste - diminish - shrink
307 ἐυστέφανος / eustephanos (ἐυ-στέφανος)
richly wreathed - well circled - beautifully crowned - graced
with beauteous garlands - crowned with flowers
(also at L-224, 384, 470)
307 κρύπτω / krupten
hide, cover, cover in the earth - bury - conceal - keep secret
308 ἀρούραις / arourais
fields - corn lands - arable land
309 ἐτώσιον / etôsion
without avail - to no purpose - fruitless - useless - unprofitable
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) The Back IV (1931)|
Musuem of Modern Art, Summer Garden
The Temple of Demeter
"Nestled in the innermost recess of the Bay of Eleusis, its geographic location corresponded to the hidden character of the mystery cult drama itself. After initial excavation attempts in 1812 and 1862, the Greek Archaeological Society of Athens in 1882 began systematic excavations of the site of Eleusis that yielded abundant results of the ancient remains of the Temple of Demeter and its surroundings. These archaeological finds disclosed a close correspondence with the topography of the myth related in the Hymn to Demeter. Thus, geographical and mythological spaces intertwine and fuse."
from "The Mythological Traditions of Liturgical Drama: the Eucharist as Theater," p. 142, by Christine C. Schnusenberg (2010)
Persephone & Demeter:
Grain & Crop
"[The Hymn to Demeter] is only superficially the story of a mother losing her daughter; in reality it is a story of the corn that 'dies' each year and is born again the next. Persephone, or Core in some accounts, is the grain that goes underground and must always return there for a portion of the year. Demeter, who was to become Ceres in Rome, was a goddess of vegetation. It was she who gave corn to humankind and taught Triptolemus the art of growing it. It may be that Persephone and Demeter are one and the same — Persephone representing the young grain and Demeter the mature crop."
from "Of Plants and People," p. 193, by Charles Bixler Heiser (1992)
Barbotine (bas relief) pitcher, from Crete, 2000-1800 BCE, BMFA
Inhabiting the Gaps|
"Demeter sighs, but sure 'tis well
The wife should love her destiny:
They part, and yet, as legends tell,
She mourns her lost Persephone;
While chant the maids of Enna still —
"O fateful flower beside the rill —
The daffodil, the daffodil!"
from PERSEPHONE, [L-106-112]
by Jean Ingelow, 1862
"[Jean] Ingelow's closing stanza problematises this idea of Persephone's inexorable growth: 'as legends tell' Demeter 'mourns her lost Persephone' (ll. 108-9). Does Ingelow reveal here the myth is merely one of those canny male-devised 'legends' compelling us to sanction the daughter's rape not as unpunished crime but as the predictable by-product of her wayward curiosity and insistent cravings for greater independence? Ingelow makes a more trenchant point: whatever 'legends' may 'tell' us about the interests of the male chroniclers who invent and perpetuate them, the female poet can successfully inhabit gaps and hesitations in these traditional narratives, fashioning urgently modern meanings that do not blandly reproduce or acquiesce in conventional belief."
from "The lost girls: Demeter-Persephone and the literary imagination 1850-1930," p. 52, by Andrew D. Radford (2007)
Persephone and Sappho's Daughter Cleïs|
More Evidence on Sappho as the Hymn's Author?
[Citation below re: Sappho fragment #132 ~ from Hephaestion, Handbook on Metres:
"I have a beautiful child who looks like golden flowers, my darling Cleis, for whom I would not (take) all Lydia or lovely (Lesbos)."]
"Sappho's seemingly profound, and openly admitted, affection for Cleïs, a child named after [Sappho's] own mother, in fact more closely resembles that ascribed by a literary work often thought contemporary with Sappho's lyrics, to the goddess Demeter for her daughter, an only child as well. For in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone, like Cleïs, is often associated with golden flowers: at both lines 6-8 and 426-428, Persephone is said to have been gathering yellow croci and narcissi when kidnapped by Hades. [...] In the Homeric Hymn, too, we see a mother who values her daughter above all material and all earthly riches: lines 303-313 describe Demeter's near successful efforts to destroy the human race out of grief for her daughter; 326-333 portray her as refusing many lovely gifts from the gods, and as insisting that she will not allow the earth to bear crops until she sees the fair-faced girl again."
The Mysteries & Hymn to Demeter
from "Beloved Cleïs" by Judith P. Hallett, in Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, Vol 10, pp. 21-31 (1982)
like Zen Koans — to Realize not to Solve
"To Zen Master Dogen, koans (zen stories) functioned not only as nonsense that castigated reason, but as parables, allegories, and mysteries that unfolded the horizons of existence before us. In this sense they were realized, but not solved."
from "Eihei Dōgen: Mystical Realist," by Hee-Jin Kim,
from Chapter Three: "Activity, Expression, Understanding" (2004)
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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE, (Top) Spirit of Shiva, Hindu's seasonal destroyer and rejuvenator, India import: Photo: earlywomenmasters.net
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