255-254 Sculpture of a Buddha with intensely passionate colored cloth,
India imports, contemporary (for Demophoôn)

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

Female life, even ordinary female life, involves epic experience.
"If the end of the Hymn is the establishment of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the focus is on the affective bond of mother and daughter and on the forming of further affective ties, particularly with Demophoôn. It is the meeting of divine and human worlds that here results in the revelation of the Mysteries — they are not simply a by-product of the divine celebration of the return of Persephone. It is because gods care about humans that Demeter withholds fertility, and it is because gods care about humans that Zeus reacts to that. But the areas of life which manifest that concern are areas of fundamentally female experience. — The Hymn to Demeter draws heavily on epic, but it does so to insist that female life, even ordinary female life, involves epic experience."

from "Greece in the Making, 1200-479 BC," p.216, by Robin Osborne (2009)
___ ___ ___

Gestures of Mourning
"Both mourn, Demeter for her lost Persephone, Metaneira in fear for Demophoôn's life (L-246 desias). Demeter's mourning ritual, elaborated several times (L-40ff, 90ff, 200ff, and L-304), includes such gestures of grief as tearing her headdress, refusing food, and other comforts, wearing dark mourning clothes, wailing, etc. For Metaneira, mourning is suggested by the use of words commonly associated with grief or anguish over the dead, and also by her gesture of beating her thighs (L-245), which although not a formal mourning gesture, is suggestive of similar self-abusive mourning acts."

from "Some Functions of the Demophoôn Episode in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," by Nancy Felson-Rubin & Harriet M. Deal, pp. 192-193, in The Homeric hymn to Demeter: translation, commentary, and interpretive essays, edited by Helene P. Foley (1993)
___ ___ ___

Horse Pyxis

Pyxis with childlike horse figurine for handle. Kerameikos Archaeological Museum
in Athens. 800-775 BCE.

___ ___ ___

Ambrosia, Breath & Fire
"Demeter performs three actions
in her attempt to make Demophoon immortal: (i) She anoints him with ambrosia. Although usually presented as the solid food of the gods, ambrosia ('deathless stuff') is at times used as an unguent, and has been described as the divine counterpart to olive oil, just as nektar answers to wine. (ii) She breathes upon him while clasping him to her bosom. In the Homeric epics the breath of a god gives strength to the hero whom it enters. (iii) She puts him in the fire at night. This is intended to burn away the child's mortal parts."

from "The Homeric Hymns," p. 100, by Michael Crudden (2002)
___ ___ ___

Demophoon & Achilles
"It is interesting that fire and ambrosia are used both in the case of Achilles and Demophoön. As Apollodoros tells the story, Thetis hid Achilles in the fire by night and anointed him with ambrosia by day. Although in the story of Demophoön it is not clear what procedure is followed, the treatment with the fire took place at night, the implication being that the anointing occurred during the day."

from "The Homeric Hymns, Translation, Introduction, and Notes," p. 75 by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (1976)
Minoan waistband dress
Dress with spring crocus designs from ancient Crete, and illustrating the decorative waistband of the type "well-girt" Metaneira would have worn. Small faience sculpture, from a Knossos temple repository. Illustrated in "The Palace of Minos : a Comparative Account of...the Discoveries at Knossos," by Arthur Evans (1921)
___ ___ ___

Metaneira's Redemptive Disruption "Archetypal reality in human life, patterned around our deepest emotional experiences, is quite distinct from personal reality, which is organized sequentially and narratively as a lifetime. [...] When Demeter attempts to transform a human child, Demophoon, into a god, she is attempting to make time stand still. But standstill in human life is death. Rather than mourn the loss of Persephone, Demeter grabbed for a quick substitution, and if she were to have her way, nothing would have changed on Olympos. That is, if Demeter had simply replaced Persephone she would not have influenced Zeus. Hermes would not have activated the release of Persephone, and the Eleusinian rites would not have been founded. Only through the angry recognition by the human mother, Metaneira, is development restored."

from "Midlife Passage / Demeter's Folly," p. 209, by Polly Young-Eisendrath, in "The Long Journey Home: Re-visioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone for Our Time, edited by Christine Downing (1994)

Mid-Minoan vase pattern, from Edith Hall's
Decorative Art of Crete, 1907

Blooming & Curiosity —
an Unexpected "Folly"

"Demophon grows wonderfully, and his divine appearance is a wonder to his parents, who ignore what causes the transformation. He blooms (prothalês, L-241), a state that evokes descriptions of other baby heroes [in Greek myth], as well as of Persephone herself at the beginning of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Metaneira is overcome by curiosity, and she eventually discovers the nightly fire ritual performed by Demeter. While Demeter promised she would protect the child against the folly (kakophradia) of a nurse [L-227-230], the folly (aphradia) of the mother's spying and rushing in takes Demeter by surprise [L-251-254]."

from "Baby and Child Heroes in Ancient Greece," p. 74-75, by Corinne Ondine Pache (2004)
___ ___ ___


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
Thus in the palace, wise Celeus' goodly son,
___ ὣς ἣ μὲν Κελεοῖο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱὸν
___ hôs hê men Keleoio daïphronos aglaon huion

Demophoôn,* whom well-girt Metaneira bare,
___ Δημοφόωνθ', ὃν ἔτικτεν ἐύζωνος Μετάνειρα,
___ Dêmophoônth', hon etikten euzônos Metaneira,

she [Demeter] reared and he grew like some immortal being —
___ ἔτρεφεν ἐν μεγάροις: ὃ δ' ἀέξετο δαίμονι ἶσος
___ etrephen en megarois: ho d' aexeto daimoni isos

[...] not fed with food nor nourished at the breast:
___ τοὔτ' οὖν σῖτον ἔδων, οὐ θησάμενος [γάλα μητρὸς
___ out' oun siton edôn, ou thêsamenos [gala mêtros

for by day richly-wreathed Demeter
___ ἠματίη μὲν γὰρ καλλιστέφανος] Δημήτηρ
___ êmatiê men gar kallistephanos] Dêmêtêr

would anoint him with ambrosia as if he were god-born
___ χρίεσκ' ἀμβροσίῃ ὡσεὶ θεοῦ ἐκγεγαῶτα
___ khriesk' ambrosiêi hôsei theou ekgegaôta

and breathe* sweetly* upon him as she held him in her bosom.
___ ἡδὺ καταπνείουσα καὶ ἐν κόλποισιν ἔχουσα:
___ hêdu katapneiousa kai en kolpoisin ekhousa:

But at night she would hide him like a brand in the
life-blood* of fire,
___ νύκτας δὲ κρύπτεσκε πυρὸς μένει ἠύτε δαλὸν
___ nuktas de krupteske puros menei hute dalon

unknown to his dear parents. And it wrought great
wonder* in them
___ λάθρα φίλων γονέων: τοῖς δὲ μέγα θαῦμ' ἐτέτυκτο,
___ lathra philôn goneôn: tois de mega thaum' etetukto,

that he grew* beyond his age; and like the gods face to face.
___ ὡς προθαλὴς τελέθεσκε: θεοῖσι γὰρ ἄντα ἐῴκει.
___ hôs prothalês teletheske: theoisi gar anta eôikei.

And she would have made him deathless and unaging,
___ καί κέν μιν ποίησεν ἀγήρων τ' ἀθάνατόν τε,
___ kai ken min poiêsen agêrôn t' athanaton te,

had not well-girt Metaneira in her thoughtlessness*
___ εἰ μὴ ἄρ' ἀφραδίῃσιν ἐύζωνος Μετάνειρα
___ ei mê ar' aphradiêisin euzônos Metaneira

kept watch* by night from her sweet-smelling chamber
___ νύκτ' ἐπιτηρήσασα θυώδεος ἐκ θαλάμοιο
___ nukt' epitêrêsasa thuôdeos ek thalamoio

and spied.* But she wailed and smote her two hips,
___ σκέψατο: κώκυσεν δὲ καὶ ἄμφω πλήξατο μηρὼ
___ skepsato: kôkusen de kai amphô plêxato mêrô

fearing for her child and greatly distraught in her heart.
___ δείσασ' ᾧ περὶ παιδὶ* καὶ ἀάσθη μέγα θυμῷ
___ deisas' hôi peri paidi kai aasthê mega thumôi

So she lamented and uttered winged words:
___ καί ῥ' ὀλοφυρομένη ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
___ kai rh' olophuromenê epea pteroenta prosêuda:

Demophoon, my son, the strange woman, in fire deep
___ τέκνον Δημοφόων, ξείνη σε πυρὶ ἔνι πολλῷ.
___ teknon Dêmophoôn, xeinê se puri eni pollôi

buries you and works grief and bitter sorrow for me.
___ κρύπτει, ἐμοὶ δὲ γόον καὶ κήδεα λυγρὰ τίθησιν.
___ kruptei, emoi de goon kai kêdea lugra tithêsin.

Thus she spoke, mourning. And the bright goddess heard her.
___ ὣς φάτ' ὀδυρομένη: τῆς δ' ἄιε δῖα θεάων.
___ hôs phat' oduromenê: tês d' aie dia theaôn.

Furious with her, Demeter, beatifully wreathed* —
___ τῇ δὲ χολωσαμένη καλλιστέφανος Δημήτηρ
___ têi de kholôsamenê kallistephanos Dêmêtêr

the dear son, unhoped for, in the palace begotten —
___ παῖδα φίλον, τὸν ἄελπτον ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἔτικτε
___ paida philon, ton aelpton eni megaroisin etikte

with her divine hands cast him from her to the ground,
___ χείρεσσ' ἀθανάτῃσιν ἀπὸ ἕθεν ἧκε πέδονδε
___ kheiress' athanatêisin apo hethen hêke pedonde,

snatching him from the fire, terribly angry in her heart.
___ ἐξανελοῦσα πυρός, θυμῷ κοτέσασα μάλ' αἰνῶς
___ exanelousa puros, thumôi kotesasa mal' ainôs

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234 Δημοφόωνθ / Dêmophoônth (Δημοφόων)
According to translator Gregory Nagy, Demophoön means,
"he who shines for the demos [the people]."

238 ἡδὺ / hêdu
sweetly - with pleasure - pleasanly - innocently

238 καταπνείουσα / katapneiousa (κατα-πνείω)
blow over - breathe upon or over - inspire

239 μένει - menei
might - life-blood - force - fierceness - passion - spirit

239 δαλὸν / dalon
fire-brand - beacon-light - burnt-out torch - a kind of meteor

239 ἠύτε δαλὸν / hute dalon
like a fire-brand - according to Hymns, Allen & Sikes (1904):
"This may mean that 'she hid him in fire as a brand is kept alight' (in the ashes), for which see H. Herm., 234. More probably however, 'she wrapt him in flames like a lighted torch.'"

239 πυρὸς / puros
fire - hearthfire - lit. pyre
metaph. the purifying fire of the Eleusinian Mysteries,
or attained by hymning the myth [L-480-482]

240 θαῦμ' / thaum'
astonishment - marvel - wonder - filled with curiosity

241 προθαλὴς / prothalês
early growing, precocious, blooming

243 ἀφραδίῃσιν / aphradiêisin
thoughtlessness - heedlessness - folly

244 ἐπιτηρήσασα / epitêrêsasa (ἐπιτηρ-έω)
keep watch - look out or watch for - watch to detect - keep an eye on -
according to Hymns, Allen and Sikes (1904): "[Metaneira] watched to see how the nurse made the child thrive, and thus broke the taboo. The magic could only be worked in secrecy, although the writer implies rather than expresses this."

245 σκέψατο / skepsato (σκέπ-τομαι)
look about carefully - spy - judge - think of beforehand

246 παιδὶ / paidi
child (whether boy or girl)

251 καλλιστέφανος / kallistephanos
beatifully wreathed - of the beautiful garlands - beautifully crowned

    On wearing wreaths, Sappho says (tr. Anne Carson, #81):

    "But you, O Dike, bind your hair with lovely crowns,
tying stems of anise together in your soft hands.
For the blessed Graces prefer to look on one who wears flowers
and turn away from those without a crown."

Demeter as "Mater Dolorosa"
"Yet though [the Hymn to Demeter] has reached the stage of conscious literary interpretation, much of its early mystical or cosmical character still lingers about the story, as it is here told. Later mythologists simply define the personal history; but in this hymn we may, again and again, trace curious links of connection with the original purpose of the myth. Its subject is the weary woman, indeed, our Lady of Sorrows, the mater dolorosa of the ancient world, but with a certain latent reference, all through, to the mystical person of the earth. Her robe of dark blue is the raiment of her mourning, but also the blue robe of the earth in shadow, as we see it in Titian's landscapes; her great age is the age of the immemorial earth ; she becomes a nurse, therefore, holding Demophoon in her bosom; the folds of her garment are fragrant, not merely with the incense of Eleusis, but with the natural perfume of flowers and fruit. The sweet breath with which she nourishes the child Demophoon, is the warm west wind {L-237-238], feeding all germs of vegetable life; her bosom, where he lies, is the bosom of the earth, with its strengthening heat, reserved and shy, offended if human eyes scrutinise too closely its secret chemistry."

from "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone," in "Greek Studies: a Series of Essays, pg. 114, by Walter Pater (1875 / 1920)

Demophoon's Baptism
"Demophoon's projected immortalization is to be brought about not only by fire, but also by (a) anointing and ambrosia, (b) breathing on him with divine breath, (c) holding him in the bosom of the goddess. These are all ways of imparting divine strength [L-237 ff] and with the fire, they suggest comparison with later cults. The use of divine breath and fire may perhaps be compared with the Christian baptism in the holy spirit and fire. The gold metal leaf plates found in graves in various parts of the Graeco-Roman world [...] claim protection of the goddess [...or actual adoption] by her."

from "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, ed. by N. J. Richardson, p.235-6 (1974)

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Illustrations: (Left Panel) Peplos Kore (Κόρη), Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE, and Faience costume sculpture, from a Knossos temple repository, ancient Greece. (Top) Photo: earlywomenmasters.net, Sculpture of a Buddha, India imports storefront, NYC.
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