334-358 Greek Red-figure lekythos (oil flask) ca. 480–470 BCE, depicts the Greek god Hermes,
messenger to Zeus and protector of travelers.
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Travelled to the Underworld
"Like Agamemnon's offers to Achilles through various messengers in Book IX of the Iliad, Zeus' offers of gifts and honours cannot soothe the anger of Demeter. Argeiphontes [Slayer of Argus] is another name for Hermes. While Hermes and Iris both serve as messengers of the gods to men, only Hermes travelled to the underworld.
Erebos ('Darkness') is another name for the underwold. In Hesiod's Theogony (L-123-125), Erebos and his sister Nyx ("Night"), were the offspring of Chaos, who mate with each other to produce their opposites, Aither ('Brightness') & [Hemera/Ἡμέρa] Day."
from commentary on "The Homeric Hymns," p.51, by Susan C. Shelmerdine (1995)
___ ___ ___
Underworld Kept In Darkness
"[Hermes'] mission is to cajole Hades with 'soft words' and to bring Persephone 'from the murky darkness into the light among the gods so that her mother...might leave off her anger' [L-334-339]. Just as the poet did not describe Persephone's descent into the underworld during her abduction, so too he withholds a description of Hermes' journey from Olympus to Hades' domain. Although the world below forms a focal point of the action of the hymn, its geography remains as obscure as before."
from "The Politics of Olympus, Form and Meaning in the major Homeric Hymns, p.250, by Jenny Strauss Clay (1989/2006)
Illustration above: "Head of a Bearded Man," 5th c. BCE, Cypriot, Art Institute of Chicago.
___ ___ ___
Persephone Still Unwilling
"Hades seems to expect Persephone to accept her arranged marriage, as human women would have. Persephone, however, does not accept her abduction as a marriage at all ('still unwilling,' L-344). Before Hades lets Persephone go, he tells her of the powers and honours she will have as queen of the underworld. On earth, she is Demeter's daughter, with no separate timê (honour) of her own."
from "The Homeric Hymns," p. 113,
commentary by Diane J. Rayor (2004)
___ ___ ___
Goddess & the "Zôé"
"Different aspects of the Neolithic pregnant vegetation goddess can be recognized in Demeter, the queen of grain, as well as in her daughter Persephone...also known as Kore, 'maiden.' Kore is the feminine form of koros, which means "sprout" as well as 'young boy.' [...] Demeter is the goddess of the earth's fruits, she was called 'the green one,' 'the bringer of fruit,' 'the one who fills the barn,' and 'she who brings the seasons.' [...] In old European belief, life continues [after death] in a hibernating state (being in nonbeing), while in Indo-European belief, life is diminished or extinguished. The Eleusinian Mysteries prominently reflect Old European beliefs: the zôé the 'life force' suffers no interruption and permeates all things."
from "The Living Goddesses," pp. 160-161, by Marija Gimbutas (1999)
___ ___ ___
|"Like the sweet apple turning red on the branch-top, on the top of the topmost branch, and the gatherers did not notice it, rather, they did notice, but could not reach up to take it."|
~ Sappho (frag. 105a L.-P.)
trans. from "Sappho Is Burning," p. 40,
by Page DuBois (1997)
___ ___ ___
Kalathos bowl, from Ialysos, Rhodes, with three women, one with hands clasped behind her neck (far left) and two with hands pressed against their chests, possibly ritual gestures of mourning. Mycenaean, ca. 1200 BCE, British Museum
___ ___ ___
Persephone as Soteira —
a Delicate Intuiton
"Through a profound and infinitely delicate intuition, Greece had conceived Persephone, the immortal Soul, as remaining eternally virgin throughout her migrations, in spite of the embraces of Pluto [Hades] and the flames of infernal passion, which enveloped without corrupting her. Though Pluto could compel her to taste the red pulp of the pomegranate, symbolizing carnal desire, which once savoured, engenders a myriad rebirths through its innumerable seeds; though he might clasp her...and burn her with his fiery mantle, she still retained the Impenetrable, the Untouchable, as long as she preserved within herself the divine imprint, the germ of her final liberation, the sacred image, the rememberence of her mother. So comes it that Persephone, she who crosses the abyss, is also called Soteira, she who saves."
from "The Invisible Greece: Demeter and Persephone" in "Selected Occult Writings" by Edouard Schure, p. 196, translated by Eva Martin from the French, (orig. pub. 1912/1928)
___ ___ ___
Hermes Slayer of Argos
Ἀργειφόντη / Argeiphontê
I have translated Argeiphontê as "slayer of Argos" throughout. I am aware that it could also mean something like "swift (or shining) appearing," and that because there is no evidence that Homer had heard of the primitive legend of Io it is nowadays usually left untranslated. But since it is agreed that Homer did not write the hymns, the argument is surely irrelevant here, any one of all the thirty-four poets concerned could have known that Hermes was supposed to have slayed the hundred-eyed monster."
( See glossary )
from "The Homeric Hymns, translated by Thelma Sargent (p. xi), 1973
___ ___ ___
More about Hermes
"Hermes is the Olympian god of travelers, prosperity (commerce), thieves and fertility; but he is also a phychopomp ("guide of souls"). [...] Hermes is a youthful, trickster figure in the Olympian pantheon. Hermes' attributes are a wand (cadeuceus), a wide-brimmed hat (petasus), a purse, and winged sandals (talaria). His wand is magical. It can either bring on sleep or rouse from sleep. [...] Hermes is both messenger and guide to Hades [...]. In general, Hermes is associated with mediation and crossing of boundaries."
from "Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology," p. 220,
by Luke Roman, Monica Roman (2009)
Design from an incised gold, butterfly roundel, or spangle, symbolizing the Goddess and plant fertility, from Mycenae, Late Helladic,
(ca. 1550-1500, BCE)
___ ___ ___
"Why Persephone-as-Psyche? First, because Psyche, as Pindar, says, is that which 'alone comes from the Gods,' survives death. Psyche 'sleeps while the limbs are active, but, to those that sleep, in many a dream it shows decision of things delightful and grievous creeping on.' Second, because for the Greeks the psyche after death was an inhabitant of the underworld, an eidolon, or image in Hades, the realm of invisibles. Third, because another meaning of the word pysche, for the Greeks, besides the usual one of 'soul,' was 'butterfly.' Fourth, because pysche has from the very earliest times been personified as the Kore, or maiden, of great beauty. Fifth, because psyche 'seems to have served for the early Greeks many of the purposes which the concept of the unconscious serves for us."
"Archetypal Imagination: Glimpses of the Gods in Life and Art," p. 209,
by Noel Cobb, 1992
___ ___ ___
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
HERMES VISITS HADES (334-358)
Now when all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer heard this,
___ αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ τό γ' ἄκουσε βαρύκτυπος εὐρύοπα Ζεύς,
___ autar epei to g' akouse baruktupos euruopa Zeus
to Erebus, he sent [Hermes] Slayer of Argus* of golden
___ εἰς Ἔρεβος πέμψε χρυσόρραπιν Ἀργειφόντην,
___ eis Erebos pempse khrusorrapin Argeiphontên
so that having won over Hades with soft* words,
___ ὄφρ' Ἀίδην μαλακοῖσι παραιφάμενος ἐπέεσσιν
___ ophr' Aidên malakoisi paraiphamenos epeessin
and chaste Persephone from under the misty gloom
___ ἁγνὴν Περσεφόνειαν ὑπὸ ζόφου ἠερόεντος.
___ hagnên Persephoneian hupo zophou êeroentos
into light he might lead among the gods, her mother seeing
___ ἐς φάος ἐξαγάγοι μετὰ δαίμονας, ὄφρα ἑ μήτηρ
___ es phaos exagagoi meta daimonas, ophra he mêtêr
then with her own eyes, and thus cease from her anger.
___ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἰδοῦσα μεταλήξειε χόλοιο.
___ ophthalmoisin idousa metalêxeie kholoio.
Hermes obeyed, and straightway into the depths of the earth,
___ Ἑρμῆς δ' οὐκ ἀπίθησεν, ἄφαρ δ' ὑπὸ κεύθεα γαίης
___ Hermês d' ouk apithêsen, aphar d' hupo keuthea gaiês
he sprang down swiftly, leaving the house of Olympus.
___ ἐσσυμένως κατόρουσε λιπὼν ἕδος Οὐλύμποιο.
___ essumenôs katorouse lipôn hedos Oulumpoio.
And he found the Lord [Hades] there inside his house
___ τέτμε δὲ τόν γε ἄνακτα δόμων ἔντοσθεν ἐόντα,
___ tetme de ton ge anakta domôn entosthen eonta,
and his shy mate with him, still much reluctant,
___ ἥμενον ἐν λεχέεσσι σὺν αἰδοίῃ παρακοίτι,
___ hêmenon en lekheessi sun aidoiêi parakoiti,
because she was longing* for her mother. But she was afar off,
___ πόλλ' ἀεκαζομένῃ μητρὸς πόθῳ: ἣ δ' ἀποτηλοῦ
___ poll' aekazomenêi mêtros pothôi: hê d' apotêlou
brooding on her fell design for the deeds of the blessed gods.
___ ἔργοις θεῶν μακάρων [δεινὴν] μητίσετο βουλήν.
___ ergois theôn makarôn [deinên] mêtiseto boulên.
And [Hermes] the strong Slayer of Argus drew near and said:
___ ἀγχοῦ δ' ἱστάμενος προσέφη κρατὺς Ἀργειφόντης:
___ ankhou d' histamenos prosephê kratus Argeiphontês:
"Dark-haired Hades, ruler over the departed,
___ Ἅιδη κυανοχαῖτα, καταφθιμένοισιν ἀνάσσων,
___ Haidê kuanokhaita, kataphthimenoisin anassôn,
father Zeus bids me that illustrious* Persephone
___ Ζεύς με πατὴρ ἤνωγεν ἀγαυὴν Περσεφόνειαν
___ Zeus me patêr ênôgen agauên Persephoneian
be returned from Erebus* unto them, that her mother see her
___ ἐξαγαγεῖν Ἐρέβευσφι μετὰ σφέας, ὄφρα ἑ μήτηρ
___ exagagein Erebeusphi meta spheas, ophra he mêtêr
with her own eyes and thus cease her dread anger
___ ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἰδοῦσα χόλου καὶ μήνιος αἰνῆς
___ ophthalmoisin idousa kholou kai mênios ainês
with the immortals; for now she plans an awful deed,
___ ἀθανάτοις λήξειεν: ἐπεὶ μέγα μήδεται ἔργον,
___ athanatois lêxeien: epei mega mêdetai ergon,
to destroy the weakly tribes of earth-born* mortals,
___ φθῖσαι φῦλ' ἀμενηνὰ χαμαιγενέων ἀνθρώπων,
___ phthisai phul' amenêna khamaigeneôn anthrôpôn
keeping seed hidden in the earth, making an end
of the honors
___ σπέρμ' ὑπὸ γῆς κρύπτουσα, καταφθινύθουσα δὲ τιμὰς
___ sperm' hupo gês kruptousa, kataphthinuthousa de timas
of the undying gods. She keeps a fearful anger, not the gods
___ ἀθανάτων: ἣ δ' αἰνὸν ἔχει χόλον, οὐδὲ θεοῖσι
___ athanatôn: hê d' ainon ekhei kholon, oude theoisi
consorting with,* but sits aloof in her fragrant temple,
___ μίσγεται, ἀλλ' ἀπάνευθε θυώδεος ἔνδοθι νηοῦ
___ misgetai, all' apaneuthe thuôdeos endothi nêou
abiding in the rocky citadel of Eleusis.
___ ἧσται Ἐλευσῖνος κραναὸν πτολίεθρον ἔχουσα.
___ hêstai Eleusinos kranaon ptoliethron ekhousa.
So he said. And Aidoneus, ruler over the dead,
___ ὣς φάτο: μείδησεν δὲ ἄναξ ἐνέρων Ἀιδωνεὺς.
___ hôs phato: meidêsen de anax enerôn Aidôneus
nodded wryly,* not disobeying the behest of Zeus the king.
___ ὀφρύσιν, οὐδ' ἀπίθησε Διὸς βασιλῆος ἐφετμῇς:
___ ophrusin, oud' apithêse Dios basilêos ephetmêis:
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335 Ἀργειφόντην / Argeiphontên|
name for Hermes, lit. Slayer of Argus, a 100-eyed monster [reminiscent perhaps of Persephone's 100-blossom flower]
336 μαλακοῖσι / malakoisi
soft - fresh-ploughed - soft grassy - gentle - delicate
344 πόθῳ / pothôi
longing - yearning - regret - yearning after - love - desire
348 ἀγαυὴν / agauên
illustrious - glorious - noble - brilliant
349 Ἐρέβευσφι / Erebeusphi
from Erebus, a place of nether darkness, forming a passage from Earth to Hades
χαμαιγενέων / khamaigeneôn (χᾰμαι-γενής)
earth-born - mortal
355 μίσγεται / misgetai
consorting with - mixing - mingling among - in dialog
358 ὀφρύσιν / ophrusin
brow - knit the brows - nod wryly - frown
Evoking the "violin" shaped prehistoric images of the Great Goddess, here in transcendence, Jean/Hans Arp's "Shepherd of Clouds" (1953). |
Compare with Arp's related abstraction of Demeter.
Click photo = Wikipedia, from the sculpturepark KMM/The Netherlands.
The Great Goddess —
Unsplitting the Feminine
"In a very real way, this myth and its variants are the tale of the great goddess Demeter: the initial loss of her Maiden aspect via the patriarchal splitting of the Feminine, her gradual initiation into understanding her own Mysteries and the subsequent restoration not only of a transformed Maiden but also of the Crone. This view, seen psychologically, has profound implications for visioning the wounding and reparation of the feminine Self in its relationship to and transcendence of the destructive aspects of patriarchy."
from "Life's Daughter / Death's Bride: Inner Transformations through the Goddess Demeter / Persephone," p. 61, by Kathie Carlson (1997)
"If Persephone destroys anything it's the fear of death. She is the example of one who has overcome fear, descended into death and yet lives. One of the primary points of the mysteries is that death is not an end. Initiates into the mysteries did not see the Underworld as a place of darkness, fear and destruction, but as a place of light and joy. As far as they were concerned, they were initiates and, as such, they were headed for Elysium. That is what made the mysteries so popular."
from "Mysteries of Demeter: Rebirth of the Pagan Way," p.55, by Jennifer Reif (1999)
Sappho, a Woman Author for the Hymn
and Descriptions of Inner Emotions
"Several writers have offered lists of the subject matter typical of women’s poetry in the ancient Greek world. [Jane McIntosh] Snyder (1989, p. 21, 97-98 and 153) includes parents and children, children’s play, daily living, household affairs, woolworking, pets, spiritual and ritualistic matters, love relationships, friendships, 'emotional attachment and commitment between women.' She finds women’s activities are described, rather than women’s physical characteristics, and although women poets may sometimes use military metaphors, their poems never describe battle scenes. Snyder (in Pomeroy ed., 1991, p. 17.) notes Sappho’s concern with 'the inner emotions of love and desire and the role of memory in assuaging the pain of separation.'
"In the same way, the poet of the Hymn’s core story describes the thoughts and feelings of the females in the narrative – distress, grief, anger, fear, longing, suspicion, joy – but never the feelings of the male characters. Memory too is important in the story; Persephone remembers her mother and misses her in the Underworld (L-343); her emotion is left at that. For Demeter, however, it functions as an urgent stimulus to her efforts to retrieve Persephone. Unlike the women in Sappho’s poems, she is a goddess and does not have to accept the separation from a loved one that a male tries to impose on her.
from "Beyond the Limits of Lyric, The Female Poet of the Hymn to Demeter," by Ann Suter, Kernos 18 (2005)
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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE. Late Helladic stylized flower illustration, from "Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World for Craftsmen," by Flinders Petrie (1930/1974) (Top) Photo: MMA, Greek red-figure lekythos (oil flask), 480-470 BCE. "Zoe" and traditional oriental design: earlywomenmasters.net
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