Women at the Well
105-107 Women's hand-sewn, beaded cloth, with sacred pool or well, India.
"Sacred geometry," according to Miranda Lundy (2001), "charts the unfolding of number in space. It differs from mundane geometry purely in the sense that the moves and concepts involved are regarded as having symbolic value, and thus, like good music, facilitate the evolutions of the soul. [...] Like the elements of its sister subject, magic, it is an aspect of revelation, a bright, indisputable shadow of Reality and a creation myth in itself."

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

Traversing Generations

"Women are particularly adept at empathizing and connecting with the suffering of others due to the nature of our socialization. This is a source of our strength. [...] Furthermore our support does not have to come from women of our own generation. It can be cross-generational, as the daughters of Metaneira inform us. It is important to keep reminding ourselves of this fact because a particularly insidious impact of patriarchy manifests itself in our willingness to sever our connection with other women, and our complicity in sewing the seeds of distrust and suspicion between women, of different generations, different races and ethnicities, different sexual orientations and different economic classes."

from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," p. 82, by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
(Amphora meander, Athens, ca. 700 BCE)

___ ___ ___ 

"Demeter" (1960)
by Jean Arp / Hans Arp
(modernist sculptor, 1886-1966),
polished bronze, gold patina
More Demeter with Arp

"There, they saw her —"
"She has been journeying all night, and now it is morning, and the daughters of Celeus bring their vessels to draw water. That image of the seated Demeter, resting after her long flight 'through the dark continent' or in the house of Celeus, when she refuses the red wine, or again, solitary, in her newly-finished temple of Eleusis, enthroned in her grief, fixed itself deeply on the Greek imagination, and became a favourite subject of Greek artists. When the daughters of Celeus come to conduct her to Eleusis, they come as in a Greek frieze, full of energy and motion and waving lines, but with gold and colours upon it. Eleusis [ἔλευσις, Advent] = coming — the coming of Demeter thither, as thus told in the Homeric Hymn, is the central instance in Greek mythology of such divine appearances."

from "Greek Studies: a Series of Essays," pp. 117-118, by Walter Pater (1875 / 1920)
___ ___ ___

Theme of Recognition
(before Revelation) —
"They knew her not"

"[T]he Hymn to Demeter, of all the hymns, raises [the theme of recognition] most explicitly to a governing narrative idea. But it is combined, almost to the point of conflict, with the overarching story patterns of 'withdrawal and return,' which have been shown to provide the larger narrative architecture of the Hymn, and the motif of theoxeny ['the request of a god for hospitality']. These patterns merge so readily with the theme of recognition [L-111] because it is from the divine to the human world that Demeter withdraws; and, as it is hinted, rewards and punishments are meted out according to whether mortals see her works for what they are." [L-255-269]

from "Symbolic Action in the Homeric Hymns: The Theme of Recognition," pp. 25-26, by John F. Garcia, in "Classical Antiquity," Vol. 21, No. 1 (2002)
___ ___ ___

Symbolism of the Well
in Mythology

"[The Well] is the state of mind that bubbles from the great reservoir of the heart. [...] To access your undiscovered potential you need to sacrifice the known and travel into a strange territory. [...] Symbolically, water has always personified the unseen and unknown. In dreams, it embodies how we approach change, and its behavior reflects how we feel about these changes. Many myths present water as the powerful reservoir, where the hero must solve a mystery before receiving a great treasure. The Abysmal [watery abyss] appears dangerous only to those afraid to test their inner depths."

from the "Oracle-I-Ching, Wisdom from Nature," (online) , by Kari Hohne (2009)
___ ___ ___

Mycenaean Flask

Two-handled ceramic flask,
Mycenaean, 15th-14th c. BCE, Helladic,
Harvard Art Museums (Sackler)

___ ___ ___

The Mysteries —
at the Periphery

The Mysteries and the representations of mortal women in Greek poetry both avail themselves of a common cultural vocabulary. Greek literature tends to link the female more strongly than the male with nature as opposed to culture, darkness as opposed to light, with periphery as opposed to the center, and with the ability to mediate among the spheres of nature, the gods, and humankind. In Greek myth women are more often treated as an undifferentiated race of their own, whereas men are categorized in relation to specific positions in the social heirarchy."

From "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p. 139, by Helene P. Foley (1994)
___ ___ ___

Demeter's Home on Earth
"One noticeable touch of poetic truth in the story of Demeter at Eleusis is the way in which woman's love and care and need for woman are portrayed. When Demeter is sitting all forlorn the daughters of Celeus come upon her, cheerful and careless maidens sent forth to fetch water. The spectacle of self-forgetful sorrow which the goddess presents seems to transform them; they ask her why she tarries in so lonely a place, quite aloof from the town. She ought to be in some home, they urge, for there in the shadowing halls dwell women of her age and older too. They will be kind in word and in deed [L-117]. Such is the tender promise of consolation which the maidens give — and the promise is fulfilled; Demeter is as much loved as she herself is loving in the house of the Eleusinian Celeus, her home on earth. [...] Ministered to at last by these kindly womenfolk [at Eleusis], she smiled, she laughed and her spirit was glad within her." See L-204

from "Studies of the Gods in Greece at Certain Sanctuaries Recently Excavated," p. 67, by Louis Dyer (1891)
___ ___ ___

Greece, 7th c. BCE
Demeter, Sappho
& Women at the Well

"[The Athenian] Homeric Hymn to Demeter...and Sappho of Lesbos suggest that women and their concerns were prominent not just in a single community or a small group of communities, but across the later 7th century Greek world in general. We should see Semonides' allusion to women gathering and talking about sex as confirming, that gathering to share personal experiences was as possible and as important for women in his community as it was for the men whom he was himself addressing. The routines of daily life and the need to fetch water from the well or fountain will have provided one setting for such meetings, but even more important because less fleeting, will have been the religious festival of Demeter, known as the Thesmophoria, which was regularly limited to women, as the single festival most widely celebrated over the whole Greek world."

from "Greece in the Making, 1200-479 BC," p. 218, by Robin Osborne (2009)

as Theatrical Performance

Re: "Helmut Kajzar’s Gwiazda in the Lothe Lachmann Theatre"

"'I’m only an actress [...] and I have no intention whatsoever to have a real child [...] I’m deliberately sterile.' With this bitter remark, she [Gwiazda] negates reality and any body other than the one represented on stage. Yet, her repudiation of bodiliness is in itself a theatrical gesture, as she says 'I know what mothers feel, I know what it means to see suddenly a piece [...] of your own body living next to you.' This longing for the natural and physical and, at the same time, this aversion to the reality it involves is the problem that Kajzar impersonates in Gwiazda [... while] making references to maternal symbols in the figure of Demeter [...] In these electronic “small mysteries,” as Lachmann calls their spectacles, the body in its artificial, virtual form seems to undergo the process of 'demortalization' [apathanatismos / ἀπἀθᾰνᾰτισμός] rather than death."

from “Always in the Likeness”: The Virtual Presences of Helmut Kajzar’s Gwiazda in the Lothe Lachmann Theatre" in "Modern Drama, Volume 48, Number 3, Fall, pp. 513-539, by Katarzyna Kwapisz (2005)
___ ___ ___


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

Art & Photo Illustrations
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Homeric Hymn to Demeter
English • Ancient Greek • Transliteration 
• Greek-English Glossary
  WOMEN AT THE WELL : 105-117
But there [at the Maiden Well] the daughters of Celeus,
son of Eleusis, saw* her,
___ τὴν δὲ ἴδον Κελεοῖο Ἐλευσινίδαο θύγατρε, 
___ tên de idon Keleoio Eleusinidao thugatres

as they were coming for good-to-draw* water, to carry it
___ ἐρχόμεναι μεθ' ὕδωρ εὐήρυτον, ὄφρα φέροιεν
___ erkhomenai meth' hudôr euêruton, ophra pheroien

in pitchers of bronze* to their dear father's house.
___ κάλπισι χαλκείῃσι φίλα πρὸς δώματα πατρός,
___ kalpisi khalkeiêisi phila pros dômata patros,

Four were they, like goddesses, in the flower* of maidenhood:
___ τέσσαρες, ὥστε θεαί, κουρήιον ἄνθος ἔχουσαι,
___ tessares, hôste theai, kourêion anthos ekhousai,

Callidice and Cleisidice and lovely Demo
___ Καλλιδίκη καὶ Κλεισιδίκη Δημώ τ' ἐρόεσσα
___ Kallidikê kai Kleisidikê Dêmô t' eroessa

and Callithoe who was the eldest of them all.
___ Καλλιθόη θ', ἣ τῶν προγενεστάτη ἦεν ἁπασῶν:
___ Kallithoê th', hê tôn progenestatê êen hapasôn:

They knew* her not — so difficult* the gods, for mortals to see —
___ οὐδ' ἔγνον: χαλεποὶ δὲ θεοὶ θνητοῖσιν ὁρᾶσθαι.
___ oud' egnon: khalepoi de theoi thnêtoisin horasthai.

but standing near by* her, winged* words they spoke:
___ ἀγχοῦ δ' ἱστάμεναι ἔπεα, πτερόεντα προσηύδων:
___ ankhou d' histamenai epea, pteroenta prosêudôn:

Old mother, whence* and who are you of folk born long ago*?
___ τίς πόθεν ἐσσί, γρῆυ, παλαιγενέων ἀνθρώπων;
___ tis pothen essi, grêu, palaigeneôn anthrôpôn;

Why are you gone away from the city and not to the houses
___ τίπτε δὲ νόσφι πόληος ἀπέστιχες, οὐδὲ δόμοισι
___ tipte de nosphi polêos apestikhes, oude domoisi

drawn near? There are women, in shaded chambers,
___ πίλνασαι; ἔνθα γυναῖκες ἀνὰ μέγαρα σκιόεντα
___ pilnasai; entha gunaikes ana megara skioenta

of just such an age as you, and others younger;
___ τηλίκαι, ὡς σύ περ ὧδε καὶ ὁπλότεραι γεγάασιν,
___ têlikai, hôs su per hôde kai hoploterai gegaasin,

and they would welcome* you both by word and by deed.
___ αἵ κέ σε φίλωνται ἠμὲν ἔπει ἠδὲ καὶ ἔργῳ.
___ hai ke se philôntai êmen epei êde kai ergôi.

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Ancient GreekOther Meanings
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105 ἴδον / idon
see, perceive, behold - see a person, i.e. meet them, speak with them

106 εὐήρυτον / euêruton / (εὐ-ήρῠτος)
good-to-draw - easy-to-draw - as metaphor, ἀρύω = draw inspiration

107 χαλκείῃσι / khalkeiêisi / (χάλκ-ειος)
of copper - bronze - brass - brazen (χαλκ-εία = smith's work, forged)

108 ἄνθος / anthos
blossom - flower - of dyes, lustre - metaph., bloom of youth (usually applied to boys) - flower of life (evokes Persephone's narcissus)

111 ἔγνον / egnon
know by observation - recognize - discern - distinguish - perceive

111 χαλεποὶ / khalepoi
difficult - irksome - troublesome - hard to [deal with] - scarcely able

112 ἱστάμεναι / histamenai
stand - stand by - stand up for - take up an attitude - stay - standstill

112 πτερόεντα προσηύδων / pteroenta prosêudôn
winged words, feathered words, or [probably, like a feathered arrow that flies straight] straight talk (see more on the expression in Shelmerdine, p. 135, note on H. Aphrodite 184n, 1995)

113 πόθεν / pothen
whence? - metaph. drink from (from what spring or well do derive your long life?)

113 παλαιγενέων / palaigeneôn (πᾰλαι-γενής)
born long ago - full of years - long long ago

117 φίλωνται / philôntai
welcome - love - cherish - treat affectionately or kindly - esp. welcome, entertain a guest
Sappho Reading Her Poetry

By the Group of Polygnotos, ca. 440–430 BCE. Detail from a rendering of a ceramic pot showing Sappho reading one of her poems and being honored by a group of three student-friends. National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Illustration adapted from a translation of Sappho's Poetry by C. R. Haines, publ. in London in 1926. See photo of the actual red-figured vase at Wikipedia  

Re: A Woman Author for the Hymn?
Literacy of Women in Ancient Greece
"The earliest evidence for the reading ability of Athenian woman is from vase painting. Vases showing women holding or reading book rolls are among the earliest evidence for the reading of literary texts. All of the examples showing women, except for one white ground lekythos, are red figured vases. Of the thirty-two examples which definitely show women with book rolls, nineteen (dating from 450-360 B.C.) show women who can be identified as muses, and thirteen (dating from 460-390 B.C.) show women in domestic scenes. Even if the scenes showing Muses are excluded, scenes showing ordinary women with book rolls are almost as common as scenes showing men and boys with book rolls. If the scenes showing Muses are included, then the total number of vases showing women with book rolls far exceeds the number of men with book rolls."

from "Could Greek Women Read and Write" by Susan G. Cole, in "Reflections on Women in Antiquity," ed. by Helene P. Foley, 1981

Introducing the Daughters at the Well
"[In ancient Greece] a superlative cap often denotes first or last place in the birth order of children.... Thus, for example, at the end of the catalogue of the Titans the poet identifies Cronus as "after these...the youngest of all" (τοὺς δὲ μέθ’ ὁπλότατος, 137), and is how the brief list of the daughters of Celeus end in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (109-10):
Καλλιδίκη καὶ Κλεισιδίκη Δημώ τ’ ἐρόεσσα
Καλλιθόη θ’, ἣ τῶν προγενεστάτη ἦεν ἁπασῶν.

[Callidice and Cleisidice, lovely Demo,
and Callithoe, who was the eldest of them all.]

"Here, as in the case of Cronus, the poet emphasizes the superlative quality of the individual by including a summary reference to the group: "after these the youngest of all" or "eldest of them all." One should say, of course, that this focus on birth order may nonetheless show concern about status, once in ancient Greece, at least, both the first and the last child were often marked as special...."

from The Poetics of the Catalogue in the Hesiodic Theogony, by Christopher A. Faraone, the American Philological Association, Vol. 143, No. 2, Autumn 2013, pp. 293-323

The Well and the Goddess
of Plant Fertility
"Mythic feminine entities — nymphs and maidens, the triple-moon goddess, the virgin Mary — have personified the yin qualities of the well and access to its life-giving waters. The Greek goddess of the grain, Demeter, exhausted from wandering after Hades' rape of her daughter Persephone, rests at the Well of the Virgin at Eleusis. Here, in ancient times, initiates danced around the well, built to commemorate its mythic counterpart, and entered into the Mysteries of the sacred precinct. [...] The well is quintessentially an image of nurturance. The oracular I Ching compares the wooden poles used to haul water from the well to the life of plants, 'which lift water out of the earth by means of their fibers' (Wilhelm 185)."

from "The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Symbols," p.610, by Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin (2010).
Recognizing Divinity [see L-111 ]
& Self-Realization in Zen
"The enlightened have no trouble recognizing the divinity in all creatures, as illustrated by a story about Ramakrishna. As Ramakrishna was performing a worship service at a temple, a cat wandered in just when he was about to offer food to the deity. Upon seeing the cat, Ramakrishna bowed down and gave the cat the food. Many people gasped in horror, [...] however, Ramakrishna had perfectly illustrated what Vedanta (self-realization as divine being) is all about."

from "Taking Refuge in the Three Treasures," in Dogen's Shobogenzo [Book 4], notes and translation by Nishijima & Cross (1999)
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Illustrations: Traversing Generations Meander and (Top) Women's hand-sewn, beaded cloth, with sacred pool or well, India, contemporary, also
Black Cat in the Window photo: earlywomenmasters.net
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