Women at the Well
122-132 Four sisters and a seafaring story, women's handmade cloth, India

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

Playful Cretan Tales
"The tradition of Cretan tales — lies like the truth — is also common in the Odyssey, where Odysseus (as well as his patroness Athena) tells several of them. Demeter calls herself Doso ("Giver"), a name that plays on Demeter's own function of giving. The disguised Demeter, twice called Daughter of Rheia in this poem (L-60, L-75), says she was given this name by her mother, thus emphasizing the maternal (even matrilineal) links among the three generations of females that Zeus and Hades disrupt. The tale displaces some of Persephone's experiences on her mother, both mother and daughter were abducted by violence and against their will as valuable goods, although Doso escapes her captors (who are called not simply pirates, but pirate men (L-125)."

from "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p. 42, commentary by Helene P. Foley (1994)
Vrokastro amphora
Minoan amphora and lid, with
geometric meanders, from Edith Hall Dohan's "Excavations in Eastern Crete: Vrokastro" (1914)

___ ___ ___

Demeter's Odyssean Persona —
Is Doso's story what truly happened?

"Demeter exhibits an Odyssean persona. Like Odysseus at the end of his wanderings, she dons a self-abasing disguise that makes her look old. Like Odysseus on Ithaca, she tells a Cretan tale, a mixture of lies and truths. She reinterprets her wandering as a movement in two phases: first she is kidnapped, then she flees from her 'masters' (L-131). If the tale of her abduction reproduces what truly happened to her daughter, the tale of her flight and wandering reproduces what truly happened to her as a consequence of that abduction. In her grief, Demeter identifies with her daughter to the point of not distinguishing the cause from the effect: the mother, not the daughter, has been abducted, and she wandered. The pirates, the 'masters,' are the gods of Olympus, who allowed Persephone to be seized and from whom Demeter wandered away."

from "Wandering in Ancient Greek Culture," p.69, by Silvia Montiglio (2005)
___ ___ ___

More On the Name 'Doso'
"Demeter says her name is Doso, which is the first-person future indicative of the ordinary greek verb for "to give." Demeter in disquise says her name is "I will give," giving away indeed the essence of her nature, for Demeter is "the giver of bright gifts," concealing thus her identity in plain view." [See Hekate's witness at L-54, ἀγλαόδωρε, aglaodôre.]

from "Persephone Unveiled: Seeing the Goddess and Freeing Your Soul," p. 34 by Charles Stein (2006)
___ ___ ___

Doso's Story — "Truth
that has the Face of a Lie"

"The truth of myth lies in its path, a path describing a transformation, but this path is hidden and veiled. The study of myth therefore reveals itself as the search for what appears as a vacancy or a rupture, a black space, an emptiness that can resemble the eye of a needle or of a shuttle with which the myth is woven. Of the truth that has the face of a lie, as Dante said, there remains only a mask, an apparently absurd message from the unconscious, similar to that of dreams."

from "The Genesis and Geometry of the Labyrinth" p.259, by Patrick Conty,(2002)

Decorative pattern from Pithoi (storage jars) ca. 700 BCE, found in Ialysos, (possibly an abstraction for water swirling around rocks)
___ ___ ___

Stories of Journeys
within Journeys

"The 'Homeric Hymn to Demeter' contains one of the most beautiful of all heroine journey cycles. It stands in relation to the Odyssey in much the same way as "The Descent of Inanana" stands in relation to the Epic of Gilgamesh, for it provides an image of the female journey in counterbalance to the male, covering all the basic stages of feminine growth and development. It particularly focuses on the problems of puberty, mid-life, and old age, all three of which passages involve journeys of a different sort."

from "The Hero Journey in Literature: Parables of Poesis," p.46, by Evans Lansing Smith (1997)
___ ___ ___

Myth of Demeter, a relic of
the earlier inhabitants of Greece

"No chapter in the history of human imagination is more curious than the myth of Demeter, and Kore or Persephone. Alien in some respects from the genuine traditions of Greek mythology, a relic of the earlier inhabitants of Greece, and having but a subordinate place in the religion of Homer, it yet asserted its interest, little by little, and took a complex hold on the minds of the Greeks, becoming finally the central and most popular subject of their national worship. [...] Hesiod has been called the poet of helots, and is thought to have preserved some of the traditions of those earlier inhabitants of Greece who had become a kind of serfs ; and in a certain shadowiness in his conceptions of the gods, contrasting with the concrete and heroic forms of the gods of Homer, we may perhaps trace something of the quiet unspoken brooding of a subdued people — of that silently dreaming temper to which the story of Persephone properly belongs."

from "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone," in "Greek Studies: a Series of Essays, pg. 82, 95, by Walter Pater (1875 / 1920)
___ ___ ___

Demeter's Disguise
"The persona assumed [by Demeter] is manifestly ungodlike, for the gods, eternally in their prime, are exempt from the ravages of old age that beset mortals. In the case of Demeter, the mask chosen is particularly ironic: the great divinity of fertility and fecundity presents herself as a barren old woman. [...] Here, Demeter's disguise [however] is carefully chosen to elicit pity and respect, but, above all, to promote the acceptance of a nursemaid to a royal princeling."

from "The Politics of Olympus: Form and Meaning in the Major Homeric Hymns," p.227, by Jenny Strauss Clay (1989/2006)
___ ___ ___

Decorative designs, bronze age Crete

Selection of wrap-around meanders (similar to the Kamares jug, right), illustrated in Edith Hall Dohan's "Decorative Art of Crete in the Bronze Age" (1907)

___ ___ ___

"And so I wandered..."
"The Hellenistic metaphor for what was considered to be the asocial, diminished state of being from which one might be saved was 'wandering.' [... However] according to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, prospective initiates into the mysteries of Demeter would, upon their arrival at the sacred temenos, the Goddess' Eleusinian sanctuary, repeat the ancient words spoken by the Goddess herself upon her own arrival at the site: 'And so I wandered and have come here' [L-133].

"Only the ancient mysteries of Demeter retained to their locative character, requiring all who would be initiate to journey to Eleusis, despite a challenge to this privelege of place by her colonial cult in Sicily."

from "The Anti-Individualistic Ideology of Hellenistic Culture," p. 127, in NUMEN, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 117-140, by Luther H. Martin (May, 1994)
___ ___ ___

Persephone's story,
her mother's also

"'Doso's' bond with her mother, who has given her name and identify; her tale of kidnapping by male agents; the implication that escape from captivity was dependent on the eating of, or abstinence from, food prepared by a male person or persons — these are themes of Perspephone's story also, as told by the Hymn. At the end of the poem (L-441-469) Rhea, Demeter's mother, travels to encourage her to restore fertility to the earth. Their reunion is marked by mutual affection that recalls the encounter between Demeter and Persephone only a few lines earlier. In short the Hymn presents Persephone's story as her mother's also."

from "Women and Humor in Classical Greece," p. 43, by Laurie O'Higgins (2003)

Middle Minoan bridge-spouted jar, MMA

Terracotta bridge-spouted jar, Kamares Ware, Middle Minoan (ca. 1900-1600, BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC).

"Persona & Reality" Together
at the Maiden's Well

"This is a syntagmic 'lie,' paralleling Kore's experience of rape and abduction and Demeter's wanderings. Another way of viewing it is that Demeter, through her lie, is metonymically experiencing Kore's rape and separation and her own wandering, simultaneiously. [...] Demeter/Doso refuses food, an important aspect of Demeter's continuing refusal to be incorporated into the Olympian and human communities, foreshadowing the reason why Kore may not be completely restored to her mother. Through ingestion of the Pomegranate, she is partially incorporated into the realm of the dead. [...] Her persona and her reality come together when she describes herself as having wandered to the Maiden's Well."

from "Re(de)fining Woman: Language and Power in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," by Kristina Passman, p. 73, in "Woman's Power, Man's Game: essays on classical antiquity in honor of Joy K. King" (1993)
___ ___ ___

Demeter as Doso —

"What if we put to our texts the injunction of the Spanish intellectual Jose Ortega y Gasset—'We must call the classics before a court of shipwrecked men to answer certain peremptory questions with reference to real life'? [...]

"It's easy to find shipwrecks in classical literature—the cultural ones that Ortega had in mind, as well as the nautical variety. Ancient cultures are no different from modern ones in this respect; they are always disintegrating in some ways and reconstituting themselves in others. Within them individuals are often adrift, not quite sure who they are, or how they should live. The cultural codes that govern conduct give way. Thucydides, Tacitus, and many other ancient writers would, I suspect, agree with Ortega when he writes, 'Life is, in itself and forever, shipwreck.' Classical writers often depict such cultural shipwrecks with great clarity."

from "We Must Call the Classics before a Court of Shipwrecked Men," by W. Robert Connor, in "Classical World," p. 490 Volume 104, Number 4, Summer 2011
___ ___ ___

Instead of a God a Goddess
Discovered at the Well

"Together with his arrival at the Phaiakian court, Odysseus' meeting with Nausikaa [in Homer's Odyssey] represents a special type of Epiphany, the God welcomed by Maidens. The discovery of the mourning Demeter by the daughters of Keleos, and her arrival with them at Keleos' palace, also represents this pattern. In both stories a solitary figure is waiting to be discovered, one a goddess disguised as a mortal, the other a man invested with supernatural attributes."

from "Traditional Themes and the Homeric Hymns" by Cora Angier Sowa, p. 255
___ ___ ___

Female Work in Female Space
"In times of crisis and tumult, if we temporarily shelter ourselves in the protective and reassuring atmosphere of domesticity, we allow ourselves the time and space to breathe. Furthermore we are able to brace ourselves for the next hurdle that will inevitably thrust itself in our pathway. Perhaps Demeter's actions reflect the same need. Perhaps, she too, is seeking the comfort and solace that the performance of routine household tasks can bring."

citation from "Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth," p. 19, by Tamara Agha-Jaffar (2002)
___ ___ ___

Facing Human Tragedy
as Divinity

In the Hymn to Demeter...we encounter gods...who themselves come as close to human tragedy as divinities can. When Demeter questions Helios about the whereabouts of her daughter, the god expresses pity for the sufferings of the goddess. (L-076 ) Later, the disguised Demeter asks for pity from the daughters of Keleos (L-137). Pity is, as Aristotle saw, one of the two emotional reactions produced by the tragic plot, and it is the result of human powerlessness and ignorance. Helios's gesture of pity could not define more clearly the unlikely position in which Demeter as divinity finds herself in the Hymn.

The affinities between mortal and immortal experience in the poem are deepened as well by the many structural parallels created in the narrative between the divine story and Demeter's experience on earth: mortal life even serves as a paradigm for the divine, and the worlds of gods and humans are brought closer together in a promise of reliable exchange between them."

citation from "Interpretive Essay on the Hymn to Demeter," by Helene P. Foley, in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter (collection edited by Helen P. Foley), p.90 (1994)

Linking Outside with Inside
"Washing and transporting water are two important daily tasks. Bringing water to the household, linking the outside with the inside, was seen as a female task that provided an opportunity to become the imaginary bridge to the world outside the home but also the forum for gossip, song, story telling, and a certain freedom of speech among women. The fountain constitutes a literary topos for encounters signaling change. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, it is at the fountain where Demeter proclaims that she knows "women's works."

from "Voices at Work: Women, Performance, and Labor in Ancient Greece," by Andromache Karanika, p. 8 (2014) [see L-144]


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
 DOSO'S STORY : 118-144
Thus they said.
And she [Demeter], queen among goddesses, answered:
___ ὣς ἔφαν: ἣ δ' ἐπέεσσιν ἀμείβετο πότνα θεάων:
___ hôs ephan: hê d' epeessin ameibeto potna theaôn:

Dear children, whosoever you are of mortal woman-kind,
___ τέκνα φίλ', αἵ τινές ἐστε γυναικῶν θηλυτεράων,
___ tekna phil', hai tines este gunaikôn thêluteraôn,

salutations,* I will tell* you my story; for it is not unseemly* —
___ χαίρετ': ἐγὼ δ' ὑμῖν μυθήσομαι: οὔ τοι ἀεικὲς,
___ khairet': egô d' humin muthêsomai: ou toi aeikes

since you ask — for me to tell you the truth.
___ ὑμῖν εἰρομένῃσιν ἀληθέα μυθήσασθαι.
___ humin eiromenêisin alêthea muthêsasthai.

Doso is my name, for it was given me, by my stately mother.
___ Δωσὼ ἐμοί γ' ὄνομ' ἐστί: τὸ γὰρ θέτο πότνια μήτηρ.
___ Dôsô emoi g' onom' esti: to gar theto potnia mêtêr.

And now I am come from Crete over the sea's wide back;
___ νῦν αὖτε Κρήτηθεν ἐπ' εὐρέα νῶτα θαλάσσης.
___ nun aute Krêtêthen ep' eurea nôta thalassês.

not willingly; by force of strength against my liking.
___ ἤλυθον οὐκ ἐθέλουσα, βίῃ δ' ἀέκουσαν ἀνάγκῃ
___ êluthon ouk ethelousa, biêi d' aekousan anankêi

Pirate men brought me thence, they afterwards
___ ἄνδρες ληιστῆρες ἀπήγαγον. οἳ μὲν ἔπειτα
___ andres lêistêres apêgagon. hoi men epeita

put in with their swift craft to Thoricus, and there the women
___ νηὶ θοῇ Θόρικόνδε κατέσχεθον, ἔνθα γυναῖκες
___ nêi* thoêi Thorikonde kateskhethon, entha gunaikes

landed on the shore in full throng and the men likewise
___ ἠπείρου ἐπέβησαν ἀολλέες ἠδὲ καὶ αὐτοί,
___ êpeirou epebêsan aollees êde kai autoi,

started preparing dinner next to the prow of the beached ship.
___ δεῖπνόν τ' ἐπηρτύνοντο παρὰ πρυμνήσια νηός.
___ deipnon t' epêrtunonto para prumnêsia nêos.

But my heart craved not pleasant food,
___ ἀλλ' ἐμοὶ οὐ δόρποιο μελίφρονος ἤρατο θυμός:
___ all' emoi ou dorpoio meliphronos êrato thumos:

and I fled secretly across the dark countryside
___ λάθρη δ' ὁρμηθεῖσα δι' ἠπείροιο μελαίνης
___ lathrê d' hormêtheisa di' êpeiroio melainês

escaping my arrogant masters, that they should not take me
___ φεύγου ὑπερφιάλους σημάντορας, ὄφρα κε μή με
___ pheugou huperphialous sêmantoras, ophra ke mê me

unpurchased across the sea, there to win a price for me.
___ ἀπριάτην περάσαντες ἐμῆς ἀποναίατο τιμῆς.
___ apriatên perasantes emês aponaiato timês.

And so I wandered* and am come here: and I know not
___ οὕτω δεῦρ' ἱκόμην ἀλαλημένη, οὐδέ τι οἶδα,
___ houtô deur' hikomên alalêmenê, oude ti oida,

at all what land this is or what people are in it.
___ ἥ τις δὴ γαῖ' ἐστι καὶ οἵ τινες ἐγγεγάασιν.
___ hê tis dê gai' esti kai hoi tines engegaasin.

But may all those who dwell on Olympus give you husbands
___ ἀλλ' ὑμῖν μὲν πάντες Ὀλύμπια δώματ' ἔχοντες
___ all' humin men pantes Olumpia dômat' ekhontes

and birth of children as parents desire
___ δοῖεν κουριδίους ἄνδρας, καὶ τέκνα τεκέσθαι,
___ doien kouridious andras, kai tekna tekesthai,

so may you take pity* on me, maidens
___ ὡς ἐθέλουσι τοκῆες: ἐμὲ δ' αὖτ' οἰκτείρατε, κοῦραι.
___ hôs ethelousi tokêes: eme d' aut' oikteirate, kourai.

and show me this clearly that I may learn [from you].*
___ [τοῦτο δέ μοι σαφέως ὑποθήκατε, ὄφρα πύθωμαι,]
___ [touto de moi sapheôs hupothêkate, ophra puthômai,]

Willingly,* dear children, to anyone's house would I go
___ προφρονέως, φίλα τέκνα, τέων πρὸς δώμαθ' ἵκωμαι
___ prophroneôs, phila tekna, teôn pros dômath' hikômai

man or woman, for any such tasks as belong
___ ἀνέρος ἠδὲ γυναικός, ἵνα σφίσιν ἐργάζωμαι
___ aneros êde gunaikos, hina sphisin ergazômai

to a woman of my age* gladly to work.
___ πρόφρων, οἷα γυναικὸς ἀφήλικος ἔργα τέτυκται
___ prophrôn, hoia gunaikos aphêlikos erga tetuktai:

And a new born, holding him in my arms
___ καὶ κεν παῖδα νεογνὸν ἐν ἀγκοίνῃσιν ἔχουσα
___ kai ken paida neognon en ankoinêisin ekhousa

I could nourish* him well. I could take care* of his house
___ καλὰ τιθηνοίμην καὶ δώματα τηρήσαιμι
___ kala tithênoimên kai dômata têrêsaimi

and make his bed in a recess of the well-built chamber
___ καί κε λέχος στορέσαιμι μυχῷ θαλάμων εὐπήκτων
___ kai ke lekhos storesaimi mukhôi thalamôn eupêktôn

of my master or teach* the women their work.
___ δεσπόσυνον καί κ' ἔργα διδασκήσαιμι γυναῖκας.
___ desposunon kai k' erga didaskhsaimi gunaikas.

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120 χαίρετ' / khairet' (χαιρετ-ίζω)
salutations - greetings - [according to translator Gregory Nagy:] "I wish you kharis / χάρις" = "I wish you pleasure and happiness from our relationship, starting now" ~ Sappho says, "Stand face to face, friend...and unveil the grace [χάριν] in thine eyes."

120 μυθήσομαι / muthêsomai
tell [a story] - recount - explain [the reason]

120 ἀεικής / aeikes (ἀ-εικής)
unseemly - shameful - inconvenient - injurious

122 Δωσὼ / Doso
"I will give" [see notes above, Demeter is "the giver of bright gifts"]

126 νηὶ / nêi
ship • large sea craft • sailboat • merchant boat

133 ἀλαλημένη / alalêmenê
wander - roam about, like a departed spirit, or like a beggar (mostly of seamen), also means mute

137 οἰκτείρατε / oikteirate (οἰκτ-ίζω)
with pitying eye - pity - have pity upon - bewail

137a* πύθωμαι / puthômai
learn, whether by hearsay or by inquiry - hear - inquire or learn from
*[bracketed line = one or more lines missing from the manuscript]

138 προφρονέως / prophroneôs
with forward mind - of one's free will - willingly, readily, earnestly - kindly, graciously

140 οἷα / hoia
of a kind - as for instance (specifically) - my - just such as - the sort of person who

140 ἀφήλικος / aphêlikos
beyond youth, elderly, age

142 τιθηνοίμην / tithênoimên (τῐθην-έω)
nourish - take care of - tend - nurse - suckle - foster

142 τηρήσαιμι / têrêsaimi (τηρ-έω)
watch over - take care of - guard - keep watch

144 διδασκήσαιμι / didaskhsaimi
teach - school - train - teach as a master

Demeter's Value
as an Elderly Woman

"In justifying her presence at the well, Demeter offers an elaborate lie [L-122-32], which involves abduction by pirates and a lucky escape. She begins by asserting explicitly and strongly that she has come against her will [... L-124-125]. Her account thus further undermines the notion that her case supports greater independence of movement for old women, as it is only an unfortunate and undesired circumstance that has led to her wandering. And it certainly does not support the contention that old women could move about 'without fear for their safety' (Faulkner 74). Moreover, when she speaks of being sold in line 132, Demeter envisions a positive value (timê) to the old woman. Though commanding a price in a slave's market does not confer social status, it does suggest potential commodity, and automatically subject to discard. That is, despite the absence of sexual and reproductive functions [...], this old woman at least does not present herself as an object that has outlived its usefulness, entirely without social purpose. [...] Thus, although her sexual and reproductive functions have expired, her domestic and pedagogical ones have not. Indeed, her claim to be able to teach others suggests that her potential to make contributions to the household may have been enhanced by age and experience."

from "Voices at Work: Women, Performance, and Labor in Ancient Greece," by Andromache Karanika, p. 8 (2014). from "the Old Women of Ancient Greece and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," p. 45, in Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 130, by Louise H. Pratt (2000)
Skyphos Cup, 6th c. BCE
Skyphos (drinking cup), 6th century BCE,
Greek, Lydian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
"Have a Cup of Tea"
Teaching the Women Their Work
as Demeter's Instruction in the Rites (L-476)
"Ritual is closely associated with women's work as Barbara Goff (2004) points out programmatically in her recent book on women's rituals. Some of the best-known Athenian rituals, for example, draw on women's daily activities. The weaving of Athena's peplos for the Panathenaea and the ritual tasks of aletris and the kanephoros, which Jennifer Neils examines in light of the extant artistic evidence, are closely associated with women's daily work. Everyday life involves the performance of everyday tasks, many of which are conducted in consistently coherent ways, at specific times and places. Repetition of prescribed actions is a constitutive element of ritual."

citation by Andromache Karanika, from "Finding Persephone: Women's Rituals in the Ancient Mediterranean," p. 138, (2007, including essay referenced above by Jennifer Neils p. 55 ff.); for Barbara Goff, see "Citizen Bacchae: Women's Ritual Practice in Ancient Greece" (2004).

Muse playing the lyre (probably Kalliope) sitting on a rock on Mt. Hēlikon (sacred to the muses), from an Attic white-ground lekythos, 440–430 BCE. The classical lyre was ordinarily played by being strummed with a plectrum, like a guitar or a zither, rather than being plucked, like a harp. As illustrated above, the fingers of the free hand silenced the unwanted strings in the chord.
Sappho's Poem on Old Age (Frag. 58)
(Oxyrhynchus papryus, announced by Cologne University, 2004)

"You yourself, for the fragrant-blossomed Muses’ lovely gifts
be zealous, girls, and for the clear melodious lyre:

but my once tender body old age now
has seized; my hair’s turned white instead of dark;

my heart’s grown heavy, my knees will not support me,
that once on a time were fleet for the dance as fawns.

This state I oft bemoan; but what’s to do?
Not to grow old, being human, there’s no way.

Tithonus once, the tale was, rose-armed Dawn,
love-smitten, carried off to the world’s end,

handsome and young then, yet in time grey age
o’ertook him, husband of immortal wife."

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