483-489 Triumph of Demeter & Abundance of the Two Goddesses,
women's handmade cloth, comtemporary, India

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

Gendered Balance
"The [Demeter] myth addresses a variety of topics that continue to have a current relevance, including an articulation of gender modes of conduct and socialization. Zeus and Hades appear to demonstrate masculine ways of knowing and interacting; the female characters including Hekate, Metaneira, her four daughters and Iambe, appear to demonstrate feminine ways of knowing and interacting. Since the outcome of the central conflict consists of a compromise whereby Persephone divides her time between life and death and since she is able to negotiate a space for herself between the masculine realm represented by Zeus and Helios and the feminine realm represented by her mother and the other females, the myth of Demeter and Persephone appears to make an eloquent statement for the importance of maintaining a gendered balance in perspective, in values and in interaction with others."

from "Women and Goddesses in Myth and Sacred Text, An Anthology, pp. 69-70, by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2005)

Cups with interior abstractions, Cycladic, bronze age, from excavations at Phylakopi, Melos, 1904
___ ___ ___

Resolutions : Dimensions —
Mortal & Divine

"[In the Hymn to Demeter] the resolution of conflict in the divine world resembles the resolution of tension in the human sphere. [...] There is a difference, however, between the resolutions that emerge. The human sphere was clearly dependent on the realm of the gods: both human society and the fecund earth are grounded upon the power and benevolence of the gods. There is, however, reciprocity, for unless reverence and worship are given Demeter and Persephone, and unless the wisdom and power of Zeus are recognized, the gods are relegated to insignificance and the cosmos becomes chaotic. Further, the unification that occurs in the divine world is more comprehensive than the coherence of the dependent human world, for the divine world includes the dimensions of time and space as well as life and death without being subject to those dimensions."

from "Mythical and Cosmological Structures in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," pp. 6-7, in NUMEN, Vol. 29, Fasc. 1 (Jul.), by Larry J. Alderink (1982)

Net rosette patterns
from Crete, Early Minoan III (2300-2160 BCE), illustrations from Arthur Evans' "The Palace of Minos...at Knossos," Vol. 4, 1921."

___ ___ ___

Into the Light of Eleusis
the Eternal Feminine

"The Mysteries, enacted in early autumn, recreated the experience of Persephone's rape and descent into the underworld. In the myth, the mother-daughter dyad, overwhelmed by the patriarchal forces of both Hades and Zeus, replicated, in ritual, two aspects of nascent female selfhood. The myth articulated Demeter's maternal grief and her search for her daughter. It also addressed Persephone's search for her own self in the real and psychological darkness of Hades' sexual conquest. In the eventual re-emergence of Persephone into light at Eleusis, in the culminating moment of the Mysteries, both mother and daughter are reborn as Kore, the eternal feminine. Demeter/Persephone, in the revelation of female selfhood, triumph over death."

citation by Andrea Duncan, from "The Feminine Case: Jung, Aesthetics and Creative Process," p. 249, Tessa Adams, Andrea Duncan (2003)
___ ___ ___

Sappho's "Myth-Weaver"
"According to Maximus of Tyre (Greek, 2nd. c. A.D.), "Socrates called love a Sophist, Sappho a myth-weaver (μυθόπλοκος)." ~ (Sappho, Fragment #188)

from Greek Lyric: Sappho and Alcaeus, edited and translation by David Campbell (1982)
___ ___ ___

Demeter's Religion —
Intensely Personal

"If our business were to write the history of Eleusinian faith and practice, it would be a long and difficult task to trace the growth of the mass of myth, legend and fable, the development of ritual and the transmutation of ideas associated with the mysteries, and to find the sources Thracian, Egyptian or Philosophic from which those ideas were reinforced. But our task is much simpler. The hymn [to Demeter] tells us a good deal about the religion at the date when it was composed — a good deal but not all. [....] It seems generally agreed that behind the hymn, a long way perhaps behind it, was a ritual on the border-line between Magic and Religion — a ritual which would promote the growth and health of crops. [...]

"The ritual needed explanation, and an anthropomorphizing instinct [...] out of the double process came the beautiful myth of Demeter and Persephone, which at last the hymn gives us with a new beauty and tenderness of its own, fixing its outline and its details and making it immortal, not without some hint of kinship with Homer and the gods that Homer drew. Something more followed, which is briefly told us at the end of Hymn [L-473 ff.]

[...] We have [in all] reached a point [...] at a differentiated Eternity — a religion intensely personal."

from "Progress in Religion to the Christian Era," pp 90-91, by Terrot Reaveley Glover (1922)
___ ___ ___

Triumph of Demeter
"Demeter's triumph is to undo some of the damage a male-arranged marriage has done to her relationship with her daughter. Her furious resolution to withhold the fruits of the earth forces Zeus to require Persephone's return from the underworld, and only a piece of chicanery with the pomegranate seeds prevents the mother's victory from being total. The Hymn not only recognizes female rage and female solidarity as potent and vivifying energies but also evokes outrage at the male exploitation of female sexuality and male disruption of the bond between mother and daughter. Further, the Hymn is a religious exploration of death, loss, and the triumph over death and loss — a religious vision expressed in terms of female experience. This sacred poem ends by praising Demeter's holy Mysteries, which it assures us are essential to our future after death."

from "Persephone Rises, 1860-1927: Mythography, Gender, and the Creation of a New Spirituality," p. 27, by Margot Kathleen Louis (2009)
___ ___ ___


Open ring vessel with starry net
motif, Greek Archaic period,
c.700-480 BCE, Harvard Art Museums
 

Victory of life and death —
both transformed

"The victory that comprises the cosmogonic acts of the Hymn and the Eleusinian mysteries is the increase of life both on the material and spiritual levels. These arose from the chaotic conditions and rupture of existing realms created, on the one side, by the lord of Hades through the rape, a symbolic death, of Persephone, and on the other, by the destructive drought cast by Demeter over the surface of the entire Earth in consequence of that radical rupture. The release of Persephone from the underworld opened for all times the gates of Hades. This led to the increase of knowledge on the material level by introducing wheat to the world of agriculture and on the spiritual level by a vision into and experience of life immortal during the mysteries. Death broke into life, but life was forever a new dimension of death."

from "The Mythological Traditions of Liturgical Drama: the Eucharist as Theater," p. 143, by Christine C. Schnusenberg (2010)
___ ___ ___

Hymn Offered in Honor
of the Goddesses

"The range of interpretations evoked by the Hymn [to Demeter] in recent times is a testimony to its appeal, both as a poetic narrative and also as a work which sheds light on Greek religious belief and practice. The poet has succeeded in investing a story which might have had purely local relevance with a more universal significance, thus giving credibility and dignity to the claim of Eleusis to be the most important cult-centre of Demeter and Kore. Above all the Hymn in itself could be regarded as an ἄγαλμα [agalma], a work of art offered to the goddesses in whose honor it is composed."

from Nicholas Richardson, "The Homeric Hymns: Interpretative Essays," p.58, ed. by Andrew Faulkner (2011)
___ ___ ___

Persephone's Transmigrations
"The grave [...] was regarded as seed beneath the ground, the fruit therefore comes back above ground. The aim was to step from Hades into life again, the same person as before, though now more fully conscious [...]. The Eleusinian rites, the mysteries of Persephone served to keep alive this consciousness and this certainty. [...] According to the belief of the mystes, bodily well-being is the reward which the mysteries bestow for the duration of life, but the higher reward is the hope they give of a better rebirth in the time after death. [...] The transmigration of souls is thus interpreted highly optimistically, as a medium to ascent; the wheel of recurrence is affirmed."

from "The Principle of Hope, Volume 3," pp. 1113-14, by Ernst Bloch (1959)
___ ___ ___

Why We Still Need Demeter
"The story of Demeter and Persephone suggests that mothers and daughters can maintain and celebrate their bonds to each other and reject the notion that marriage means that daughters must be ‘taken’ away from loving relationships with their mothers. I believe it is important for women to heal the mother-daughter relationship. Many women do choose different lives than our mothers had, but we are on firmer ground if we can weave the nurturing and care our mothers or other women gave to us into new ways of being, for ourselves and our daughters, ourselves and our friends, ourselves and our lovers. The reason women need the Goddess is summed up in the words of Ntozake Shange ‘I found god in myself and I loved her fiercely.’"

from "Why Women, Men and Other Living Things Still Need the Goddess, Remembering and Reflecting 35 Years Later," by Carol P. Christ, in Feminist Theology, Vol 20: #3 (2012)
___ ___ ___

Demeter & Persephone's
Gift of Mystic Riches

“Just as initiation at Eleusis transformed the individual so that he would achieve salvation in the afterworld, the initiation of the philosophic theôros [contemplative], Plato claims, purifies and transforms the soul and guarantees it a blessed destiny. Plato’s philosopher, then, has much in common with the initiate at the Mysteries: in both cases, the theôros ‘sees’ a divine revelation that transforms [...the] soul.”

from “The Philosopher at the Festival: Plato’s Transformation of Traditional Theôria.” in Elsner and Rutherford 2005, p.176, by A. Wilson-Nightingale.

Happy Are You, Mystes
"In the end, Mystes, happy are you who witnessed these Mysteries, for in your effort to find again the playful child, you also found the spirit alive within you. [...] The same image of the playful feminine spirit is present in all the major spiritual traditions as well but it is often buried under thousands of years of dogma. Mystes, if your heart so desires, now is the time to go back to your own tradition and to uncover the richness of spirit that was there all along. Reread the familiar scriptures and find the images of divine playfulness hiding behind the words."

from "Demeter's Mysteries," p. 104, by Marguerite Chiang (2002)

 

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
English • Ancient Greek • Transliteration 
• Greek-English Glossary
 TRIUMPH OF DEMETER (483-495)
483
But when the bright goddess had taught* them all,
___ αὐτὰρ ἐπειδὴ πάνθ' ὑπεθήκατο δῖα θεάων,
___ autar epeidê panth' hupethêkato dia theaôn,

484
they went to Olympus to the gathering of the other gods.
___ βάν ῥ' ἴμεν Οὔλυμπόνδε θεῶν μεθ' ὁμήγυριν ἄλλων.
___ ban rh' imen Oulumponde theôn meth' homêgurin allôn.

485
And there they dwell beside* Zeus,* who delights in thunder,
___ νθα δὲ ναιετάουσι παραὶ Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ
___ entha de naietaousi parai Dii terpikeraunôi

486
awesome and reverend.* Right blessed are those
___ σεμναί τ' αἰδοῖαι τε: μέγ' ὄλβιος, ὅν τιν' ἐκεῖναι
___ semnai t' aidoiai te: meg' olbios, hon tin' ekeinai

487
whom upon Earth, they each graciously* favor with love,*
___ προφρονέως φίλωνται ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων:
___ prophroneôs philôntai epikhthoniôn anthrôpôn:

488
soon do [the Goddesses] send as guest to their great abode
___ αἶψα δέ οἱ πέμπουσιν ἐφέστιον ἐς μέγα δῶμα
___ aipsa de hoi pempousin ephestion es mega dôma

489
Plutus* the one who provides [mystic] riches* to mortals.
___ Πλοῦτον, ὃς ἀνθρώποις ἄφενος θνητοῖσι δίδωσιν.
___ Plouton, hos anthrôpois aphenos thnêtoisi didôsin.

490
And now, come, abiding in the land of incense-laden* Eleusis,
___ ἀλλ' ἄγ' Ἐλευσῖνος θυοέσσης δῆμον ἔχουσα
___ all' ag' Eleusinos thuoessês dêmon ekhousa

491
and sea-girt Paros* and rocky Antron,
___ καὶ Πάρον ἀμφιρύτην Ἀντρῶνά τε πετρήεντα,
___ kai Paron amphirutên Antrôna te petrêenta,

492
Lady, bestowing splendid gifts, bringer of the seasons,
Queen Deo,
___ πότνια, ἀγλαόδωρ', ὡρηφόρε, Δηοῖ ἄνασσα,
___ potnia, aglaodôr', hôrêphore, Dêoi anassa,

493
both you and your daughter, all-beauteous Persephone,
___ αὐτὴ καὶ κούρη περικαλλὴς Περσεφόνεια:
___ autê kai kourê perikallês Persephoneia

494
grant me, for my song, a heart-cheering livelihood.*
___ πρόφρονες ἀντ' ὠδῆς βίοτον θυμήρε' ὄπαζε.
___ prophrones ant' ôdês bioton thumêre' opaze.

495
And now I remember* you and another song* also.
___ αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ σεῖο καὶ ἄλλης μνήσομ' ἀοιδῆς.
___ autar egô kai seio kai allês mnêsom' aoidês.

 

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483 ὑπεθήκατο / hupethêkato
set before - propose - counsel - advise - teach

485 παραὶ / parai
along side, equal to, equivalent to, on a par with, here meaning equally "awesome and reverend" as stated in the next line as a feminine plural

485 Διὶ / Dii (dīvus)
God, a god, a goddess - a deity - Zeus


486 σεμναί τ' αἰδοῖαι τε / semnai t' aidoiai te
awesome - holy and reverend - compassionate (feminine plural, the attribute referring back to the Goddesses)

487 προφρονέως / prophroneôs
graciously - with forward mind - of one's free will - willingly

487 φίλωνται / philôntai
love - regard with affection - treat affectionately, kindly - cherish

487 ἐπιχθονίων / epikhthoniôn (epi-khthoniôn)
upon the earth - earthly - earthly ones - earthbound
(ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων = those persons on earth, earthlings)


489 Πλοῦτον / Plouton (Πλοῦτος)
Plutus, archetypal Greek god of riches - inner riches - the mystic wealth of the initiate (see citation below - Michelini) - not to be confused with "Pluto," the Roman name for Hades


489 ἄφενος / aphenos
revenue - riches - wealth - (spiritual) abundance - mystic riches

490 θυοέσσης / thuoessês (θῠό-εις)
laden with incense - fragrant - sweet [smelling]


491 Πάρον / Paron
Paros - According to Hymns, Allen and Sikes (1904):
"The special cult of Demeter at Paros is attested by the title Demêtrius, applied to the whole island [...] colonized from Crete, one of the oldest centres of the cult."


493 περικαλλὴς / perikallês
all-beauteous - very beautiful (mostly of things, of a statue, of a man's eyes)

494 πρόφρονες / prophrones
with forward mind - of one's free will - allow - be willing

494 βίοτον / bioton
life - livelihood - means of living - substance; comparable to ζωή / zoê, the life force, see comment on Demeter and the zoê by Gimbutas

495 μνήσομ' / mnêsom' (μνήσομαί)
remember - give heed to - put in mind - make famous - call to mind
(the expression is addressed to Demeter and refers to both past and future)


495 ἀοιδῆς / aoidês
song - person sung of - theme of song

 
Sappho Embracing Her Lyre
Sappho Embracing Her Lyre
by Jules-Élie Delaunay (1828-1891) Wikipedia
See notes on Sappho as possible author for the hymn.
"Sappho was a musician. Her poetry is lyric, that is composed to be sung to the lyre. She addresses her lyre in one of her poems (fr. 118)* and frequently mentions music, songs and singing. Ancient vase painters depict her with her instrument. Later writers ascribe to her three musical inventions: that of the plectron, an instrument for picking the lyre (Suda); that of the pekoes, a particular kind of lyre (Athenaios Deipnosophistai 14.635b); and the mixolydian mode, an emotional mode also used by tragic poets, who learned it from Sappho (Aristophanes cited by Plutarch On Music 16.113c). All Sappho's music is lost."

from "If Not, Winter, Fragments of Sappho" p. ix, by Anne Carson (2002)
* Sappho fr. 118: "Yes, radiant lyre speak to me / become a voice."
  (Ἄγε δὴ χέλυ δῖά μοι φωνάεσσα γένοιο.)

More Signs of Sappho
as a Possible Author for the Hymn
"[A]fter Demeter has instructed the men of Eleusis in the establishment of the Mysteries, she and Persephone go to Olympos “for the company of the other gods. There they dwell beside Zeus” who is (still) delighting in his thunder (L-484-485). The poet then praises the goddesses, invokes them once more, and asks for their gifts in return for her song. This ending is an excellent example of what Skinner [in Greene, "Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches," 1996] describes in Sappho: “In none of these texts does Sappho close her eyes to the ontological reality of the masculine order. She recognizes it, as a prior and controlling presence, but still avows the ethical superiority of her nonnormative subject position, her radically woman-centered approach to existence.”

from "Beyond the Limits of Lyric, The Female Poet of the Hymn to Demeter," by Ann Suter, Kernos 18 (2005)

Life & Livelihood (L-492-494)
"Hesiod's first principal actor is Earth herself. In his narrative, the female earth, Gaia, is the source of all blessings and all nourishment but cannot be trusted to give forth her sustenance. The poet's concern is the delicate balance between scarcity and plenty, regulated by gods capable of both generosity and contempt. The same contrast is represented in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter by the need to placate the divinity responsible for the earth's bounty. In Hesiod's Works and Days, this tension is represented as a contrast between a lost paradise (where sustenance was once provided without human labor) and the realities of human existence (where livelihood is an achievement of struggle and hard work.)"

from "Landscapes, Gender, and Ritual Space: the Ancient Greek Experience," p. 23, by Susan Guettel Cole (2004)

Meanings of the Means-of-Living (βίοτον)
"[As regards] a hymn addressed to Γῆ [Ge/Earth]...the poet asks at the end of it: πρόφρονες ἀντ' ὠδῆς βίοτον θυμήρε' ὄπαζε [grant me, for my song, heart-cheering substance]. Critics...have rightly pointed out that the same line occurs at the end of the Hymn to Demeter [L-494]. On account of it, they take the view that [the Hymn to Ge/Earth] is of a later date and dependent on the Hymn to Demeter. However, we must first of all pay attention to the religious factor. Demeter as well as Ge are Chthonic powers, who have at their disposal the wealth of the earth, i.e. the food [vegetation], as the main factor which sustains life and fulfills the elementary needs of human beings [and other creatures]. Accordingly, we can understand that in both cases the worshipper prays that these goddesses may grant [them] a βίοτον θυμήρε [heart-cheering means-of-living]."

from "On the Arrangement of the Homeric Hymns," by M. Van der Valk, in L'Antique Classique, 45.2, p.430, 1976


Beak-spouted, terracotta jar, Crete, ca. 2600–2200 BCE, MMA

Prayer for Riches: Outer & Inner Side
"[In] the concluding prayer of Socrates [in the Phaedrus] the philosopher asks Pan and the other gods of the place to give him mystic 'riches' (279b8-c3). The ambiguous language of the prayer is typical of mystery ritual: it makes full sense only for the initiated, whereas the uninitiated cannot understand it. So, 'the other gods' venerated at the river Ilissus are Achelous, Hermes, and the Nymphs, while for the initiate they are Demeter and Persephone. The requested 'riches' (c.f. plousios, 270cI) are twofold as well: they have an outer and an inner side, a material and a spiritual connotation, like the mystic wealth (ploutos) of the initiate described in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter." [L-486-489]

from "Plato as Author: the Rhetoric of Philosophy," p.183, by Ann N. Michelini (2003)

Demeter's Good Fortune
"The Homeric Hymns were collected in antiquity [...] These manuscripts were attached to copies of Homer's epics or were included with the works of later poets. [...] Chance and good luck led to the survival of a fragment of the Hymn to Dionysos (1.10-21) and the entire Hymn to Demeter 2 in a fifteenth century CE manuscript, which was discovered in a stable in Moscow in 1777. [...] In religious terms, to "Hymn" the god is to sing a song of praise, to celebrate the god through song. Most of the Homeric Hymns end with a prayer to the god of that hymn. The ancient singer (bard) and community worshipped the deity through the song. The poet's rendition of these stories was synonymous with worship; their telling invoked the gods even as it recalled events that changed the world."

from "The Homeric Hymns, Translation, Introduction & Notes," p. 3, by Diane J. Rayor (2004)

Single band, double-spiral journey earring,
late 16th c. BCE, Mycenae, Louvre
Tablets of the Great Mother
"Plutarch restates the ancient idea which found early expression in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, and reiterated by Plato in the Phaedo: those who arrive in Hades unitiated will wallow in the mud, while those intiated (into the Eleusinian mysteries) will dwell with the gods. The same notion is repeated time and again in the texts inscribed on gold tablets which accompanied mystai, Dionysiac or Orphic, to the grave and were believed to guide their souls on their last journeys. The change in the mustê's destiny underwent so dramatic a change that it could be perceived as an apotheosis, 'Once human, you have become a god' [θεος εγενου εξ[.] ανθρωπoυ] is the inscription on one of the tablets."

from "Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind: Descending Underground in the Search for the Ultimate Truth," p.228, by Yulia Ustinova (2009)

Women's Vital Participation
in the Ancient Rites
"Like Demeter's long search for her daughter, our own attempt to recover women's experiences through their ritual practices is fraught with obstacles that at times impede recovery and interpretation — the absence of evidence, the mediating voice of male authors, and the difficulties inherent in recovering performance from written texts. Women's inaccessability in terms of the mythical and the interpretive quest reflects the female condition in many parts of the Mediterranean. Partially hidden and partially visible, emerging and coming into full view to mourn for Persephone, to serve Athena, or to celebrate Diana, women in the Greek and Roman worlds performed a number of important rituals at festivals, held religious offices, and participated in ceremonies surrounding birth, marriage and death. [...] Many of these rites, especially those performed in public, were sanctioned by the community, which thereby acknowledged women's ritual contributions as vital to its welfare."

citation by Angeliki Tzanetou, from "Finding Persephone: Women's Rituals in the Ancient Mediterranean," p.4, edited by Maryllne Parca and Angeliki Tzanetou (2007)

Study Questions for the Hymn to Demeter
adapted from "Women and Goddesses in Myth and Sacred Text,
by Tamara Agha-Jaffar, p. 83 (2005)
(1) From the time she leaves mount Olympus until she reunites with her daughter Demeter surrounds herself with a network of women. What role do these women play in the hymn? How do they assist Demeter in her journey?
(2) Why does Zeus send Rheia to mediate with Demeter, instead of talking to her himself?
(3) What can Demeter and Persephone teach us about coping with adversity and trauma?
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