470-473 Early spring, Narcissus 'Hawera' (Triandrus Daffodil) — "The whole wide earth with leaves and flowers was laden." Plants mentioned in the Hymn to Demeter by name include:
Roses, Crocus, Violets, Iris, Hyacinth, Narcissus, Olive Trees, Barley, Pennyroyal, Pomegranate, Lilies, Wheat and Corn. (In Buddhism when "world of blossoming flowers arises," the inner world also attains enlightenment.)|
Persephone as Peplos Kore (Κόρη),
Acropolis Museum, Athens, 6th c. BCE
Rites of Demeter|
"It is impossible to know just how much of the ritual is revealed in the Hymn to Demeter. It would be presumptuous to imagine that the most profound secrets are here for all to read, and we cannot be sure how many may be inferred from what is directly stated. That elements of the ceremonies are indicated cannot be denied, but presumably these are only the elements that were witnessed or revealed to all, not only to the initiated. Thus we have prescribed by the text such details as an interval of nine days, fasting, the carrying of torches, the exchange of jests, the partaking of the drink Kykeon, the wearing of a special dress (e.g. the veil of Demeter); even precise geographical indications (e.g., the Maiden Well and the site of the temple) are designated. The emotional tone of the poem, too, might set the key for a mystic performance in connection with the celebrations. The anguish of Demeter, her frantic wanderings and search, the traumatic episode with Demophoôn, the miraculous transformation of the goddess, the thrilling reunion between mother and daughter, the blessed return of vegetation to a barren earth — these are some of the obvious emotional and dramatic highlights."
from "Classical Mythology," p. 245-246,
by Mark P. O. Morford, Robert J. Lenardon (1999)
___ ___ ___
Is the Myth Part of the Mysteries?
"Demeter offered happiness in the post-mortem world through worship
of her in the mystery rites, and this happiness was her gift, as was
the happiness provided by her gift of agriculture. If the myth does effect such a transformation [...] we must ask from what and to what does the transformation extend, and what are the terminal points of the change? And if this can be made clear, then we have reason to believe that the myth constitutes a form of knowledge in its own right, and as such is a valuable source of information for the mystery rites and the knowledge they imparted."
from "Mythical and Cosmological Structures in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter," pp. 8-9, in NUMEN, Vol. 29, Fasc. 1 (Jul.), by Larry J. Alderink (1982)
Mycenae butterfly pendant, illustration from Arthur Evans, The Palace at Minos...at Knossos (1921)
___ ___ ___
Synthesis: Recollection of
Initiates the Mysteries
"One must needs understand the
language of Forms, collecting many sense impressions into a unity [...] and remembering a knowledge we beheld aforetime. [...] Whoever employs such memories rightly is always being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect."
from the "Phaedrus / Φαῖδρος"
(sec. 249 b-c), by Plato (ca. 370 BCE)
___ ___ ___
Mystery's Portal: Not to Know
"Transcending our normal sense of boundaries, we have only begun to tap the mysteries presented by nature's more holistic perspective. This is the openness required to follow Tao. It is translated to mean 'the gate through which all of life issues forth.' Our ability not to know allows us to approach the portal and actively discover who we are."
from "Tao and Science, Life's Fundamental Building Blocks," Kari Hohne (online)
Hymn to Demeter Itself
"It is generally maintained
that in the Eleusinian mysteries seeing triumphs over hearing, showing over telling. Doubtless the sense of sight does play the greatest role in the initiation, as is shown by the terminology related to the mysteries. For instance, in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, to 'introduce' the mysteries is tantamount to 'showing' them or to 'making them visible by means of words that "indicate.'"
from "Silence in the Land of the Logos," p. 28, by Silvia Montiglio (2000)
___ ___ ___
Red Figure Dove, Lekythos, Apulian, 4th c. BCE
___ ___ ___
Demeter's "Laws" Self-EvidentPersephone's Obligation
"[T]hese verses [L-480-482] promise to initiates in the Eleusinian Mysteries advantages over non-initiates both in life and in the afterlife. The great appeal of the Mysteries throughout antiquity lay in the prospect, that they offered to everybody, of an improved lot in death [...] This improvement in afterlife conditions for mortals compensates for the failure to immortalize Demophoon, and is only possible due to the obligation on Persephone to spend part of the year in the underworld."
"The name of Demeter points us back to those far distant times when human nature was so unified that all bodily life was at the same time spiritual, that all bodily assimilation went hand in hand with spiritual assimilation, assimilation of thought. [...] There were at that time no laws in the later meaning of the term, there were no commandments outwardly expressed, but since man was clairvoyant, it dawned on him clairvoyantly how he ought to behave, what was right, what was good. Thus in those very remote times he saw Demeter, who gave him his food, also as the cosmic power of Nature who [...] gave him his morality, his rule of conduct.[...] This Demeter of old was a law-giver, giving law which did not flash up into consciousness, but which was self-evident, impelling the soul."
cited in "Moses: from the Mysteries of Egypt to the Judges of Israel," p. 117, by Emil Bock (1895-1959), edited and adapted from "Wonders of the World," by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
___ ___ ___
Weaving the Peplos
of Reproductive Rites
"Ancient Greek women and pubescent girls were weaving and maintaining the very fabric, or peplos of the polytheistic Greek social order through their sexual and reproductive rites, regionally diverse as this society was. Without these rituals and the goddesses and gods thereby sustained, the city and rural landscape and norms of ancient Greece would have a different configuration altogether, a terrain so unlike that of classical antiquity that it is virtually impossible to imagine — an ancient world without the deities and their temples, public festivals, drama and rites of initiation for mortals?"
from "Early Christian Antipathy toward Greek Women Gods," by Kathy L. Gaca, in "Finding Persephone," p. 278, ed. by Maryline Parca and Angeliki Tzanetou (2007)
___ ___ ___
Goddess or Priestess,
Demeter & Persephone Cult
wearing a necklace with pomegranate,
6th century BCE From Tanagra, Boeotia, Greece.
British Museum Notes
"The body of this terracotta figure is made from a rectangular plank of clay, bent at the waist. A prop at the back forms a chair. [...] The headdress and the long robes worn by such figures are similar to those worn by Greek orthodox priests; Greek workmen on early excavations named these figures 'Pappas figures' from the word for an orthodox priest."
___ ___ ___
"[I]n the mysteries the drama begins not with the rape of Kore (for it had already taken place) but with the separation of mother and daughter. In the beginning Demeter sits on the Mirthless Rock, as the initiates...approach her.
A major expectation of the initiates was a happy lot in the afterlife, as, for example, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (L-480-482) proclaims. In the Mysteries the initiate experiences the feelings of the Two Goddesses in their progression from grief to joy. In contrast to most Greek cults, this is truly extraordinary. Two gods are in pain, and are displayed to the worshippers in this state. The initiates share their pain and, in the end, their relief and joy."
from "Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches," p. 116,
edited by Nanno Marinatos, Robin Hägg,
citation by Kevin Clinton (1993)
___ ___ ___
Ancient double spiral motif, cup from
Excavations at Vrocastro, Crete, by
Edith H. Hall, 1914
"A Myth about Myth"
& Poetic Imagination
"A new dimension of the [Demeter] myth's rejuvenation enters in the late Romanticism of the [19th c.] American transcendental movement, when Margaret Fuller begins to establish the figure of Persephone as an entity of independent significance, the embodiment of humanity's intellectual evolution. [...] [According to Fuller], 'Persephone was the hidden energy, the vestal fire, vivifying the universe. Ceres [Demeter] was the productive faculty, external, bounteous. They were two phases of one thing.' [...] In effect, the story of Persephone becomes a tale about how the human mind evolves; it would take only one more step to turn the story into a myth about myth, illuminating the operations of the mythmaking and poetic imagination."
from "Persephone rises, 1860-1927: Mythography, Gender, and the Creation of a New Spirituality," p. 38, by Margot Kathleen Louis (2009)
___ ___ ___
(R. Parker, Hymn to Demeter & Homeric Hymns, 1991, Greece and Rome 38, 1-17)."
___ ___ ___
Thesmophoria & Demeter's
Complex Divine Portfolio
"The Thesmophoria [the name derived from Demeter Thesmophoros ('Lawgiver')] was the most widespread and conspicuous of Greek women's festivals, celebrated at the end of summer all over the Greek world, its mysteries forbidden to men. [...] It honoured Demeter, whose complex divine portfolio included not only the earth and its gifts, but the mysteries themselves, and the ancient world's archetypal narrative of mothers, daughters and the feminine condition — to all of which the Thesmorphoria myth and ritual made reference."
from "Thesmophoria and Haloa: Myth, Physics and Mysteries," by N. J. Lowe, in "The Sacred and the Feminine in Ancient Greece," p. 149,
edited by Sue Blundell, Margaret Williamson (1998)
Homeric Hymn to Demeter
edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation
Hugh G. Evelyn-White
Art & Photo Illustrations
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Homeric Hymn to Demeter |
English Ancient Greek Transliteration
• Greek-English Glossary
RITES OF DEMETER (470-482)
So spake Rhea. And richly-wreathed* Demeter did not refuse
___ ὣ[ς ἔφατ'. οὐ]δ' ἀπίθησεν ἐυστέφανος Δημήτηρ:
___ hô[s ephat'. ou]d' apithêsen eustephanos Dêmêtêr:
but straightway made fruit to spring up from the fertile lands,*
___ αἶψα δὲ καρπὸν ἀνῆκεν ἀρουράων ἐριβώλων:
___ aipsa de karpon anêken arouraôn eribôlôn:
so that the whole wide earth with leaves and flowers
___ πᾶσα δὲ φύλλοισίν τε καὶ ἄνθεσιν εὐρεῖα χθὼν
___ pasa de phulloisin te kai anthesin eureia khthôn
was laden.* Then she went, and to the kings who deal justice,*
___ ἔβρισ': ἣ δὲ κιοῦσα θεμιστοπόλοις βασιλεῦσι
___ ebris': hê de kiousa themistopolois basileusi
she showed* them to Triptolemus and Diocles,
___ δεῖξεν Τριπτολέμῳ τε Διοκλεῖ τε πληξίππῳ
___ deixen Triptolemôi te Dioklei te plêxippôi
and to mighty Eumolpus and Celeus, leader of the people —
___ Εὐμόλπου τε βίῃ Κελεῷ θ' ἡγήτορι λαῶν
___ Eumolpou te biêi Keleôi th' hêgêtori laôn
she set forth* the care* of her holy rites* and all
her mysteries* —
___ δρησμοσύνην θ' ἱερῶν καὶ ἐπέφραδεν ὄργια πᾶσι,
___ drêsmosunên th' hierôn kai epephraden orgia pasi,
to Triptolemus and Polyxeinus and Diocles also —
___ Τριπτολέμῳ τε Πολυξείνῳ, ἐπὶ τοῖς δὲ Διοκλεῖ
___ Triptolemôi te Poluxeinôi, epi tois de Dioklei
awesome mysteries none may at all transgress* or pry into*
___ σεμνά, τά τ' οὔπως ἔστι παρεξίμεν οὔτε πυθέσθαι
___ semna, ta t' oupôs esti pareximen oute puthesthai
or sound out,* for deep awe of the gods checks* the voice.
___ οὔτ' ἀχέειν: μέγα γάρ τι θεῶν σέβας ἰσχάνει αὐδήν.
___ out' akheein: mega gar ti theôn sebas iskhanei audên.
Happy* who, among earthly mortals, sees* these things
___ ὄλβιος, ὃς τάδ' ὄπωπεν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων:
___ olbios, hos tad' opôpen epikhthoniôn anthrôpôn:
but who is uninitiate* or who has no part in them, never
___ ὃς δ' ἀτελὴς ἱερῶν ὅς τ' ἄμμορος, οὔποθ' ὁμοίων
___ hos d' atelês hierôn hos t' ammoros, oupoth' homoiôn
has such [joys] when dead, beneath in darkness and gloom.
___ αἶσαν ἔχει φθίμενός περ ὑπὸ ζόφῳ ἠερόεντι.
___ aisan ekhei phthimenos per hupo zophôi êeroenti.
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470 ἐυστέφανος / eustephanos (ἐυ-στέφανος)|
well circled - beautifully crowned - richly wreathed - graced with beauteous garlands - crowned with flowers (also at L-224, 307, 384)
471 ἐριβώλων / eribôlôn (eri-bôlôn)
fertile lands - rich soil
473 ἔβρισ' / ebris'
laden - heaped, heavy with - burgeoned with
473 θεμιστοπόλοις / themistopolois
ministering law and right - oracular - dealing justice
474 δεῖξεν / deixen
bring to light, show, set before one, portray
474 πληξίππῳ / plêxippôi
horse-driver - striking or driving horses
476 δρησμοσύνην / drêsmosunên
care or conduct (of the holy rites) -
476 ἱερῶν / hierôn
holies - holy rites - sacred objects - sacred principles
476 ἐπέφραδεν / epephraden
point out - show - set forth - show the way - explain - counsel
476 ὄργια / orgia
mysteries - secret rites - secret worship - rites practiced by the initiated (also at L-273)
478 παρεξίμεν / pareximen (παρέξ-ειμι)
pass by - transgress - deviate from - disregard - avoid - turn aside
478 πυθέσθαι / puthesthai
learn by hearsay - learn by inquiry - inquire concerning - learn about from another
479 ἰσχάνει / iskhanei
check - holds in check - hinder - keep back
479 ἀχέειν / akheein
sound - sound out - let it be heard
480 ὄλβιος / olbios
blessed - happy - richly gifted [with light and knowledge]
Richardson (1974), p. 313: "later the μᾰκᾰρισμός [blessing, benediction] of the mysteries is taken over by the philosophers, who proclaim the blessed happiness of those who have gained enlightenment by contemplation, and who understand the nature of the world in the same way that the initiate has [direct] insight and knowledge"
480 ὄπωπεν / opôpen
see - behold - perceive - observe - see visions
[related to ἐποπτεία = "those who have seen - the highest grade of initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries]
481 ἀτελὴς / atelês
uninitiate - unfinished - indeterminate - (metaphorically) unwed
Cylindrical pyxis (ceramic box vessel) with handles from Knossos, Crete, Middle Minoan I (1900-1800 BCE), illustration from Arthur Evans' "The Palace of Minos, a comparative account of the successive stages...at Knossos," Vol. 4, 1921
Rites of Demeter, the Great Mother
"Called 'the Great Mother,' Demeter's rites are said to have great power. They are described first as similar to the ecstatic Dionysian dances of Bachants dressed in fawnskins and holding thrysoi. […They are connected] with "the women's all night dance rituals for the goddess" [pannuxides theas], such as those performed at many women's religious festivals, especially for Demeter, and notably on the first night of arrival at Eleusis during the celebration of the Mysteries."
from "Rites of Passage in Ancient Greece: Literature, Religion, Society," edited by Mark William Padilla, 1999, p. 170.
Demeter's Rites & Teaching —
the Processes of Life as Religious Solemnity
"[Demeter] appears consistently, in the hymn, as a teacher of rites [L-476], transforming daily life, and the processes of life, into a religious solemnity. With no misgiving as to the proprieties of a mere narration, the hymn-writer mingles these symbolical imitations with the outlines of the original story; and, in [this] Demeter, the dramatic person of the mysteries mixes itself with the primitive mythical figure. And the worshipper, far from being offended by these interpolations, may have found a special impressiveness in them, as they linked continuously its inner sense with the outward imagery of the ritual."
from "The Myth of Demeter and Persephone," in "Greek Studies: a Series of Essays, pg. 121, by Walter Pater (1875 / 1920)
from "Myth and Performance on the Athenian Stage: Praxithea, Erechtheus, Their Daughters, and the Etiology of Autochthony," by Claude Calame, p. 8, in Classical Philology, Vol. 106, No. 1 (January 2011)
'Blue Bird' of Happiness
"The spectacular discovery of a [Middle Minoan, ca. 1700-1525 BCE
] fresco (detail illustrated above) at Akrotiri on Thera, with monkeys gathering crocuses and presenting them to an enthroned goddess flanked by griffins has led scholars to reinterpret this scene to have religious significance suggestive of the renewal of nature set in an eternal timeless landscape. The monkey climbs rocks set amid blooming crocuses, dwarf irises, ivy, and papyrus-reed hybrid plants. The 'Blue Bird' fresco displayed nearby is part of the same composition." |
Above: Watercolor reproduction by Emile Gilliéron and notes from Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
from "The Homeric Hymns: A New Translation," p. 103, by Michael Crudden (2001)
Henri Matisse (1869-1954), The Dream, 1940
"Dreaming our way back
to a Pagan fluidity of mind"
"To approach this myth adequately, […] we need to gather together whatever versions and fragments of it we can and interweave them in an imaginal attempt to re-create the fullness of their origins […]. We must put aside not only the biases of our educational conditioning around Greek myth but also seek to lower the barriers created by the structure of our modern consciousness, attempting instead to dream our way back to a pagan fluidity of mind. [...] We need to enter into the myth via the empathetic 'feeling into' a 'participation mystique' that allows us to experience numinosity and mystery and to enter the pagan mind-set so different from our own."
"To dream our way back to the 'protoplasmic fullness and forcefulness' [Jane Harrison, Prolegomena, p.164] that infuse early pagan religion is a first necessity in approaching an understanding of this myth. We need to take on something of a 'lunar consciousness' as Erich Neumann called it, a consciousness that can be diffuse, permeable, flow with the transformations, the fullness and even the contradiction of the imagery."
from "Life's Daughter / Death's Bride : Inner Transformations through the Goddess Demeter/Persephone," p. 7, by Kathie Carlson (1997)
From Narrative to Ritual Logic
"Among the variety of Greek poetic narratives that relate to the celebration of a divinity and incorporate cultic practices, many are brought to a close by the establishment of a ritual. [...] From a ritual point of view, the foundational deed allows for a transition from linear time, wherein the unfolding of the plot's narrative occurs, to cyclical time, in which ritual actions are repeated: in other words, a transition from narrative to ritual logic through a motion that the Greeks themselves had already defined as that of aition. Through the actual performance of the sung poem, the narrative action is instituted during a crucial and foundational moment of ritual celebration as it recurs in the calendar because the heroic act is considered to be its "cause." So ends the account of Persephone's rape in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, when the Eleusinian Mysteries are established by the goddess herself."
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