206-211 Mycenean stemmed cup with murex decoration, late 14th century, BCE

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

Mixing the Kykeon and
Breaking the Fast

"In Homer the kykeôn, a "mixed drink" that contains the grain sacred to Demeter, is used to refresh Nestor and the wounded Machaon after battle (Iliad ii). [...] In the Hymn (in contrast to Homer) the drink is neither wine (wineless offerings were standard in the cult of the goddesses and in chthonic cults, and this passage offers an aition for the practice), the most civilized mortal drink, nor nectar, the immortal drink. [...] The theory that the barley grains were fermented, and thus the drink had an hallucinatory effect, is unlikely to be correct. Indeed, the mild and medicinal quality of the drink may explain its suitability for breaking a fast. In drinking the kykeôn, the initiates partake of food sacred to the goddess and thus perhaps begin to share in the prosperity promised by the Mysteries."

from "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays," p. 47, by Helene P. Foley (1994)
___ ___ ___

Sacred Cups

Wine=Dionysos, Grain=Demeter
"While Demeter turns down wine, associated with Dionysos, she accepts kukêon, a drink of barley, water and pennyroyal (a mint). Gods usually only drink nectar, yet here she drinks a human beverage, one appropriate to be offered to the grain goddess. The kukêon was used in many rites connected with Demeter, including in the Eleusinian Mysteries, to break a fast."

from "The Homeric Hymns," p. 112, translation by Diane Rayor (2004)
___ ___ ___

For the "Sake of the Rites"
"This section is the aetiological core of the poem, rich in allusions to the preliminary ritual of the Mysteries. Most notably, Demeter sits on a special stool covered by a fleece, she refuses wine but takes instead a drink of kykeon, and she is cheered up by Iambe's jests (192-211); these are allusions as clear as one could wish to aspects of the historical Mysteries, and the connection is actually made explicit when we are told by the poet that 'later too' Iambe had been pleasing to Demeter, and that Demeter drank kykeon 'for the sake of the rite'. So we see that the initiate is reliving the experience of the grieving Demeter."

from "The 'Hymn to Demeter' and the 'Homeric Hymns, p. 8, in "Greece & Rome," Second Series, Vol. 38, No. 1, by Robert Parker (1991)
Illustration, stemmed cups, with squid and seaforms from Ancient Crete.

Minoan botanical abstraction
Minoan botanical abstraction,
illustrated in Edith Hall Dohan's "Decorative Art of Crete in the Bronze Age" (1907)
___ ___ ___

Demeter's Novenna:
Jests & Kykeon Break the Fast

"The Homeric hymn to Demeter offers us an almost complete picture of mysteries of the Great Goddesses under their primitive form, which they still retained at the date when the hymn was composed...[Joseph Daniel] Guigniaut thus describes the chief of them: 'Demeter seeks her daughter during nine days throughout all the earth, carrying torches in both hands; and on the tenth day she arrives at Eleusis, where she rests and breaks her long fast by drinking the restorative kykeon, of which she has herself prescribed the form of preparation. Here are so many points of affinity, but not of strict correspondence, between the legend so poetically developed by the author of the hymn and the rites observed during the first nine days of the great Eleusinian festival. [...] Iambe, who by her jests diverts the goddess from the gloomy grief into which the loss of her daughter had plunged her, personifies, with the iambic verses, the comic scenes which interrupted the mourning, [in the same way] as the kykeon broke the fast of the initiated."

from "The Eleusinian Mysteries," The Contemporary Review, Vol 27, p.953 (Oxford. 1880) by François Lenormant
___ ___ ___

Very simple Minoan ceramic cup,
ca. 2100-1950 BCE, MMA

Connections to Origins
"The Thesmophoria provided women the opportunity to vent their anger against men, to share the difficulties and sorrows associated with their own experiences of motherhood — confident that Demeter the grieving mother goddess, would empathize with and dignify their lot. The rite was one that encouraged abandonment — not only to anger and tribulation but to 'obscenity,' that is, to a self indulgent sexuality. In the temple of the Mother all is permitted. [...] The connection to the mother is always also a connection to one's origins, and in this sense Demeter is also relevant to the particular power that the sexual dimension of women's love for one another may have."

from "Return to the Mother," p. 144, by Christine Downing, in "The Long Journey Home: Re-visioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone for Our Time" (1994)
___ ___ ___

Mixing the Kykeon:
Sacred Symbols

"Clement [of Alexandria, fl. 150-200, CE] claimed that the secret sacred passwords used by the initiates [of the Mysteries at Eleusis] were "I fasted, I drank the kykeon, I took out the kiste [covered box], I worked and placed it back in the kalathos [basket] and from the kalathos into the kiste. [...] In Picard's interpretation, the object taken out of the kiste was probably made in the shape of a vulva, and the second object exchanged from the kalathos was in the form of the phallus. Burkett offers another explanation [...] that the ritual objects exchanged [...] were the mortar and pestle used to prepare the kykeon — the goddess's sacred drink of barley, honey, and pennyroyal, described in the Hymn to Demeter."

from "The Metamorphosis of Baubo," pp. 48-51, by Winifred Milins Lubell (1994). For Walter Burkett's mortar and pestle, as the "tools with which they worked," see "Greek Relgion," p. 286 (1987)
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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
Then Metaneira offered her a cup* with honeyed wine
___ τῇ δὲ δέπας Μετάνειρα δίδου μελιηδέος οἴνου
___ têi de depas Metaneira didou meliêdeos oinou

filled: but she refused it, for she said, it was not lawful* for her
___ πλήσασ': ἣ δ' ἀνένευσ': οὐ γὰρ θεμιτόν οἱ ἔφασκε
___ plêsas': hê d' aneneus': ou gar themiton hoi ephaske

to drink red wine, but bade* them to mix some barley and water
___ πίνειν οἶνον ἐρυθρόν: ἄνωγε δ' ἄρ' ἄλφι καὶ ὕδωρ
___ pinein oinon eruthron: anôge d' ar' alphi kai hudôr

and give her the mixture* to drink with delicate* pennyroyal.*
___ δοῦναι μίξασαν πιέμεν γλήχωνι τερείνῃ.
___ dounai mixasan piemen glêkhôni tereinêi.

So she [Metaneira] prepared* and gave the goddess
the draught (kykeôn)* as she bade.
___ ἣ δὲ κυκεῶ τεύξασα θεᾷ πόρεν, ὡς ἐκέλευε:
___ hê de kukeô teuxasa theai poren, hôs ekeleue:

And the great queen Deo received it for the sake* of the rites.*
___ δεξαμένη δ' ὁσίης ἕνεκεν πολυπότνια Δηώ
___ dexamenê d' hosiês heneken polupotnia Dêô

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Ancient GreekOther Meanings
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206 δέπας / depas
cup - beaker - goblet - of the golden bowl in which the sun floated back from West to East during the night

207 θεμιτόν / themiton
lawful - sanctioned by divine law or society - right action

208 ἄνωγε / anôge
command - order - advise - urge - bid

209 μίξασαν / mixasan
mixture - to be mixed up with - mingled among - join - bring together
209 γλήχωνι / glêkhôni (Illustrated above, Wikipedia)
pennyroyal - mint - Mentha pulegium
"Pennyroyal is a plant in the mint genus, within the family Lamiaceae. Crushed pennyroyal leaves exhibit a very strong fragrance similar to spearmint. Pennyroyal is a traditional culinary herb, folk remedy, and abortifacient." (Wikipedia)

209 τερείνῃ / tereinêi
soft - delicate - tender - that causes tender feelings

210 τεύξασα / teuxasa
prepare - produce by work or art - form - create - well-wrought

210 κυκεῶ / kukeô (κῠκ-εών)
mixed drink - the "kykeon," a type of Eucharist in the Demeter mysteries - literally, draught - potion - metaphorically = mixture, medley, union

211 Δηώ / Dêô
Dêô, a shortened name for Demeter, appears here as "Queen Deo" and in lines 47 and line 492 . Persephone, as "daughter of Demeter" is sometimes called Δηωΐνη / Dêôinê

211 ἕνεκεν / heneken
to observe - on account of - according to - for the sake of

211 ὅσιος / hosiês
rites - sanctioned by divine law - [what is] hallowed - holy - a sacrament

Minoan Priestess at the Altar (hands outstretched and placed on the edges of the box holding the sacra), fresco, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete
Ritual Acts not Dogma
"The 'token' or formulary by which the mystic made confession is preserved for us by Clement as follows: 'I fasted, I drank the kykeon, I took from the chest, (having tasted?) I put back into the basket and from the basket into the chest.' The statement involves, in the main, two acts besides the preliminary fast, i.e. the drinking of the kykeon and the handling of certain unnamed sacra [sacred symbols]. It is significant of the whole attitude of Greek religion that the confession is not a confession of dogma, or even faith, but an avowal of ritual acts performed. This is the measure of the gulf between ancient and modern. The Greeks in their greater wisdom saw that uniformity in ritual was desirable and possible; they left [the believer] practically free in the only sphere where freedom is of real importance, i.e. in the matter of thought. So long as you fasted, drank the kykeon, handled the sacra, no one asked what were your opinions or your sentiments in the performance of those acts; you were left to find in every sacrament the only thing you could find — what you brought."

from "Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion," pp. 155-156, by Jane Ellen Harrison (1908)

Early Greek Cycladic II mixing bowl (ca. 2700-2200 BCE), with small lug handle and delicate spout, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE, (Top) Photo: Mycenean stemmed cup with murex seashell decoration, late 14th century, BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
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