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In ancient Greek religion and myth, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided

over grains and the fertility of the earth. Her cult titles include Sito, "she of the

Grain", as the giver of food or grain and Thesmophoros, "Law-Bringer," as a mark of

the civilized existence of agricultural society. Though Demeter is often described simply as

the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life

and death. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian

Mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon. In the Linear B Mycenean Greek tablets of

circa 14001200 BC found at Pylos, the "two mistresses and the king" may be related with

Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon. Her Roman equivalent is Ceres.


It is possible that Demeter appears in Linear A as da-ma-te on three documents, all three

apparently dedicated in religious situations and all three bearing just the name. It is

unlikely that Demeter appears as da-ma-te in a Linear B inscription; the word ,

da-ma-te, probably refers to "households". On the other hand ,

si-to-po-ti-ni-ja, "Potnia of the Grain", is regarded to refer to her Bronze Age predecessor

or to one of her epithets. Demeter's character as mother-goddess is identified

in the second element of her name meter derived from Proto-Indo-European *mhtr. In

antiquity, different explanations were already proffered for the first element of her name.

It is possible that Da, a word which became Ge in Attic, is the Doric form of De, "earth",

the old name of the chthonic earth-goddess, and that Demeter is "Mother-Earth". This root

also appears in the Linear B inscription E-ne-si-da-o-ne, "earth-shaker", as an aspect of the god Poseidon.

However, the d element in the name of Demeter, is not so simply equated with "earth" according

to John Chadwick. The element De- may be connected with Deo,

a surname of Demeter probably derived from the Cretan word dea, Ionic zeia meaning "barley",

so that she is the Mother and the giver of food generally. Arcadian cult to Demeter links

her to a male deity, who accompanied the Great Goddess and has been interpreted as a possible

substitution for Poseidon; Demeter may therefore be related to a Minoan Great Goddess.

An alternative, Proto-Indo-European etymology comes through Potnia and Despoina; where Des-

represents a derivative of PIE *dem, and Demeter is "mother of the house".

Agricultural deity According to the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates,

Demeter's greatest gifts to humankind were agriculture, particularly of cereals, and

the Mysteries which give the initiate higher hopes in this life and the afterlife. These

two gifts were intimately connected in Demeter's myths and mystery cults. In Homer's Odyssey

she is the blond-haired goddess who separates the chaff from the grain. In Hesiod, prayers

to Zeus-Chthonios and Demeter help the crops grow full and strong. Demeter's emblem is

the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among the barley.

In Hesiod's Theogony, Demeter is the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. At the marriage of Cadmus

and Harmonia, Demeter lured Iasion away from the other revelers. They had intercourse in

a ploughed furrow in Crete, and she gave birth to a son, Ploutos. Her daughter by Zeus was

Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Festivals and cults

Demeter's two major festivals were sacred mysteries. Her Thesmophoria festival was women-only.

Her Eleusinian mysteries were open to initiates of any gender or social class. At the heart

of both festivals were myths concerning Demeter as Mother and Persephone as her daughter.

Myths Demeter and Persephone

Demeter's virgin daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Hades. Demeter searched

for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living

things ceased their growth, then began to die. Faced with the extinction of all life

on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades

agreed to release her, but gave her a pomegranate. When she ate the pomegranate seeds, she was

bound to him for one third of the year, either the dry Mediterranean summer, when plant life

is threatened by drought, or the autumn and winter. There are several variations on the

basic myth. In the Homeric hymn to Demeter, Hecate assists in the search and later becomes

Persephone's underworld attendant. In another, Persephone willingly and secretly eats the

pomegranate seeds, thinking to deceive Hades, but is discovered and made to stay. In all

versions, Persephone's time in the underworld corresponds with the unfruitful seasons of

the ancient Greek calendar, and her return to the upper world with springtime. Demeter's

descent to retrieve Persephone from the underworld is connected to the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Demeter and her daughter Persephone were usually called:

The goddesses, often distinguished as "the older" and "the younger" in Eleusis.

Demeters, in Rhodes and Sparta The thesmophoroi, "the legislators" in the

Thesmophoria. The Great Goddesses, in Arcadia.

The mistresses in Arcadia. In Mycenaean Pylos, Demeter and Persephone

were probably called "queens". The myth of the capture of Persephone seems

to be pre-Greek. In the Greek version Ploutos represents the wealth of the corn that was

stored in underground silos or ceramic jars. Similar subterranean pithoi were used in ancient

times for funerary practices is fused with Persephone, the Queen of the underworld. At

the beginning of the autumn, when the corn of the old crop is laid on the fields she

ascends and is reunited with her mother Demeter, for at this time the old crop and the new

meet each other. According to the personal mythology of Robert

Graves, Persephone is not only the younger self of Demeter, she is in turn also one of

three guises of the Triple Goddess Kore, Persephone, and Hecate, which to a certain

extent reduces the name and role of Demeter to that of group name. Before her abduction,

she is called Kore; and once taken she becomes Persephone.

Demeter at Eleusis

Demeter's search for her daughter Persephone took her to the palace of Celeus, the King

of Eleusis in Attica. She assumed the form of an old woman, and asked him for shelter.

He took her in, to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira. To reward his kindness,

she planned to make Demophon immortal; she secretly anointed the boy with ambrosia and

laid him in the flames of the hearth, to gradually burn away his mortal self. But Metanira walked

in, saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright. Demeter abandoned the attempt. Instead,

she taught Triptolemus the secrets of agriculture, and he in turn taught them to any who wished

to learn them. Thus, humanity learned how to plant, grow and harvest grain. The myth

has several versions; some are linked to figures such as Eleusis, Rarus and Trochilus. The

Demophon element may be based on an earlier folk tale.

Demeter and Poseidon Demeter and Poseidon's names appear in the

earliest scratched notes in Linear B found at Mycenae and Mycenaean Pylos; e-ne-si-da-o-ne

for Poseidon, and si-to-po-ti-ni-ja, who is probably related with Demeter. Poseidon carries

frequently the title wa-na-ka in Linear B inscriptions, as king of the underworld, and

his title E-ne-si-da-o-ne indicates his chthonic nature. In the cave of Amnisos Enesidaon is

related with the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. She was related with the annual

birth of the divine child. During the Bronze Age, a goddess of nature, dominated both in

Minoan and Mycenean cult, and Wanax was her male companion in Mycenean cult. She and her

paredros survived in the Eleusinian cult, where the following words were uttered:

" Mighty Potnia bore a strong son" However there is no evidence that originally the name

of Potnia was Demeter. Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods

destined for "the Two Queens and Poseidon". The "Two Queens" may be related with Demeter

and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were not associated with Poseidon in later

periods. An exception is the myth of isolated Arcadia in southern Greece. Despoina, is daughter

of Demeter and Poseidon Hippios. These myths seem to be connected with the first Greek-speaking

people who came from the north during the Bronze age. Poseidon represents the river

spirit of the underworld and he appears as a horse as it often happens in northern-European

folklore. He pursues the mare-Demeter and she bears one daughter who obviously originally

had the form or the shape of a mare too. Demeter and Despoina were closely connected with springs

and animals, related to Poseidon as a God of waters and especially with Artemis, the

mistress of the animals and the goddess of, among others, the Hunt.

Demeter as mare-goddess was pursued by Poseidon, and hid from him among the horses of King

Onkios, but could not conceal her divinity. In the form of a stallion, Poseidon caught

and covered her. Demeter was furious at Poseidon's assault; in this furious form, she is known

as Demeter Erinys. But she washed away her anger in the River Ladon, becoming Demeter

Lousia, the "bathed Demeter". "In her alliance with Poseidon," Karl Kerenyi noted, "she was

Earth, who bears plants and beasts, and could therefore assume the shape of an ear of grain

or a mare." She bore a daughter Despoina, whose name should not be uttered outside the

Arcadian Mysteries, and a horse named Arion, with a black mane and tail.

In Arcadia, Demeter's mare-form was worshiped into historical times. Her xoanon of Phigaleia

shows how the local cult interpreted her: a Medusa type with a horse's head with snaky

hair, holding a dove and a dolphin, probably representing her power over air and water.

The second mountain, Mt. Elaios, is about 30 stades from Phigaleia, and has a cave sacred

to Demeter Melaine ["Black"]... the Phigalians say, they accounted the cave sacred to Demeter,

and set up a wooden image in it. The image was made in the following fashion: it was

seated on a rock, and was like a woman in all respects save the head. She had the head

and hair of a horse, and serpents and other beasts grew out of her head. Her chiton reached

right to her feet, and she held a dolphin in one hand, a dove in the other. Why they

made the xoanon like this should be clear to any intelligent man who is versed in tradition.

They say they named her Black because the goddess wore black clothing. However, they

cannot remember who made this xoanon or how it caught fire; but when it was destroyed

the Phigalians gave no new image to the goddess and largely neglected her festivals and sacrifices,

until finally barrenness fell upon the land. Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.42.1ff.

Titles and functions Demeter's epithets show her many religious

functions. She was the "Corn-Mother" who blesses the harvesters. Some cults interpreted her

as "Mother-Earth". Demeter may be linked to goddess-cults of Minoan Crete, and embody

aspects of a pre-Hellenic Great Goddess. It is possible that the title mistress of the

labyrinth that appears in a Linear B inscription belonged originally to Sito,the Great Mother

Demeter and in the Eleusinian mysteries this title was kept by her daughter Persephone.

However there is not any evidence that the name of Potnia in Eleusis was originally Demeter.

Her other epithets include:

Aganippe Potnia in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Hera

especially, but also Artemis and Athena, are addressed as "potnia" as well.

Despoina, a Greek word similar to the Mycenean potnia. This title was also applied to Persephone,

Aphrodite and Hecate. Thesmophoros, a role that links her to the

even more ancient goddess Themis, derived from thesmos, the unwritten law. This title

was connected with the Thesmophoria, a festival of secret women-only rituals in Athens connected

with marriage customs. Erinys, with a function similar with the function

of the avenging Dike, goddess of moral justice based on custom rules who represents the divine

retribution, and the Erinyes, female ancient chthonic deities of vengeance and implacable

agents of retribution. Chloe, that invokes her powers of ever-returning

fertility, as does Chthonia. Chthonia, chthonic Demeter in Sparta.

Anesidora applied to Demeter in Pausanias 1.31.4, also appears inscribed on an Attic

ceramic a name for Pandora on her jar. Europa at Livadeia of Boeotia. She was the

nurse of Trophonios to whom a chthonic cult and oracle was dedicated.

Kidaria in the mysteries of Pheneos in Arcadia where the priest put on the mask of Demeter

kept in a secret place. It seems that the cult was connected with the underworld and

with an agrarian magic. Demeter might also be invoked in the guises

of: Malophoros

Lusia Thermasia

Achaea, the name by which she was worshipped at Athens by the Gephyraeans who had emigrated

from Boeotia. Poppy goddess:

Theocritus, wrote of an earlier role of Demeter as a poppy goddess:

For the Greeks Demeter was still a poppy goddess Bearing sheaves and poppies in both hands.

Idyll vii.157 In a clay statuette from Gazi, the Minoan

poppy goddess wears the seed capsules, sources of nourishment and narcosis, in her diadem.

"It seems probable that the Great Mother Goddess, who bore the names Rhea and Demeter, brought

the poppy with her from her Cretan cult to Eleusis, and it is certain that in the Cretan

cult sphere, opium was prepared from poppies". Cult places

Major cults to Demeter are known at Eleusis in Attica, Hermion, Megara, Celeae, Lerna,

Aegila, Munychia, Corinth, Delos, Priene, Akragas, Iasos, Pergamon, Selinus, Tegea,

Thoricus, Dion Lykosoura, Mesembria, Enna, and Samothrace.

An ancient Amphictyony, probably the earliest centred on the cult of Demeter at Anthele,

which lay on the coast of Malis south of Thessaly. This was the locality of Thermopylae.

After the "First Sacred War", the Anthelan body was known thenceforth as the Delphic

Amphictyony Demeter of Mysia had a seven-day festival

at Pellen in Arcadia. Pausanias passed the shrine to Demeter at Mysia on the road from

Mycenae to Argos but all he could draw out to explain the archaic name was a myth of

an eponymous Mysius who venerated Demeter. Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology

Consorts and children

Portrayals Demeter was frequently associated with images

of the harvest, including flowers, fruit, and grain. She was also sometimes pictured

with her daughter Persephone. The Black Demeter, a sculpture made by Onatas.

Demeter is not generally portrayed with a consort: the exception is Iasion, the youth

of Crete who lay with Demeter in a thrice-ploughed field, and was sacrificed afterwards by

a jealous Zeus with a thunderbolt, Olympian mythography adds, but the Cretan site of the

myth is a sign that the Hellenes knew this was an act of the ancient Demeter.

Demeter is assigned the zodiac constellation Virgo the Virgin by Marcus Manilius in his

1st century Roman work Astronomicon. In art, constellation Virgo holds Spica, a sheaf of

wheat in her hand and sits beside constellation Leo the Lion.

See also

1108 Demeter, a main belt asteroid 26km in diameter, which was discovered in 1929

by Karl Wilhelm Reinmuth at Heidelberg. Despoina

Greek mythology in popular culture Isis and Osiris

Poppy goddess Potnia

Hades Notes

References Walter Burkert Greek Religion, Harvard University

Press, 1985. Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire, D'Aulaire's

Book of Greek Myths, 1962. An illustrated book of Greek myths retold for children.

Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 1903

Hesiod, Theogony, and Works and Days in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English

Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William

Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Karl Kerenyi, Eleusis: archetypal image of

mother and daughter, 1967. Karl Kerenyi, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of

Indestructible Life, 1976 Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Popular Religion,

1940. Pausanias, Pausanias Description of Greece

with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes,

Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.

Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.

External links Hymn to Demeter, Ancient Greek and English

text, Interlinear Translation edited & adapted from the 1914 prose translation by Hugh G.

Evelyn-White, with Greek-English glossary, notes and illustrations.

Foley P. Helene, The Homeric hymn to Demeter: translation, commentary, and interpretive

essays, Princeton Univers. Press, 1994. with Ancient Greek text and English translation.

Text of Homeric Hymn to Demeter Online book of Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Popular

Religion "The Political Cosmology of the Homeric Hymn

to Demeter" "The Sophian Prayer to Demeter"

The Description of Demeter