one of the great divinities of the Greeks. The name Demeter is supposed by some to be the same as mother earth, while others consider Deo, which is synonymous with Demeter and as derived from the Cretan word barley, so that Demeter would be the mother or giver of barley or of food generally.
[ See: The Corn-Mother
and the Corn-Maiden in Northern Europe. From The Golden
A Study Of Magic and Religion by Sir James Frazer. ]
The Myth Of Demeter And Persephone
By Walter Heratio Pater
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. Following its changes, we come across various phases of Greek culture, which are not without their likenesses in the modern mind.
Demeter, between two warriors, holding her symbol of fertility
- an ear of corn.
From an Etruscan tomb painting
Consorts and Offspring
Aunts: Tethys, Themis, Phoebe, Mnemosyne, Dione
Uncles: Oceanus, Japetus, Hyperion, Coeus, Crius, Ophion ,
Brothers: Zeus, Poseidon, Pluto,
Sisters: Vesta, Hera Hestia,
Half-brother: Chiron ,
Half-sister: Pluto ,
Sons: Arion, Plutus
Nephews: Heracles, Apollo, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, Dionysus ,
Nieces: Artemis*, Athena, Eileithyia, Hebe, Helen,
Cousins: Helios, Eos, Selene, Leto, Asteria, Pallas, Perses, Astraeus, Metis, Calypso, Prometheus, Epimetheus, Menoetius
* According to a tradition which Pausanias found in Aeschylus, Artemis was a daughter of Demeter, and not of Leto.
From Hymn To Demeter
I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess -- of her and her trim-ankled daughter whom Aidoneus [Hades] rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus which Earth made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please the Host of Many, to be a snare for the bloom-like girl -- a marvellous, radiant flower.
From The Homeric Hymns by Andrew Lang
But the Cnidian shrine had once another treasure, the beautiful melancholy statue of the seated Demeter of the uplifted eyes; the mourning mother: the weary seeker for the lost maiden: her child Persephone. Far from the ruins above the sea, beneath the scorched seaward wall of rock: far from the aromatic fragrance of the rock-nourished flowers, from the bees, and the playful lizards, Demeter now occupies her place in the great halls of the British Museum.
Like the Hymn, this melancholy and tender work of art is imperfect, but the sentiment is thereby rather increased than impaired. The ancients buried things broken with the dead, that the shadows of tool, or weapon, or vase might be set free, to serve the shadows of their masters in the land of the souls. Broken as they, too, are, the Hymn and the statue are “free among the dead,” and eloquent of the higher religion that, in Greece, attached itself to the lost Maiden and the sorrowing Mother.
Demeter, in religion, was more than a fertiliser of the fields: Korê, the Maiden, was more than the buried pig, or the seed sown to await its resurrection; or the harvest idol, fashioned of corn-stalks: more even than a symbol of the winter sleep and vernal awakening of the year and the life of nature. She became the “dread Persephone” of the Odyssey,
These two etymologies, however, do not suggest any difference in the character of the goddess, but leave it essentially the same. Demeter was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and sister of Hestia, Hera, Aides, Poseidon, and Zeus. Like the other children of Cronus she was devoured by her father, but he gave her forth again after taking the emetic which Metis had given him. (Theogony of Hesiod 452-Apollodorus i.)
By her brother Zeus, Demeter became the mother of Persephone (Proserpina) and Dionysus (Theogony of Hesiod 912), and by Poseidon of Despoena and the horse Arion.
The most prominent part in the mythus of Demeter is the rape of her daughter Persephone by Pluto, and this story not only suggests the main idea embodied in Demeter, but also directs our attention to the principal seats of her worship.
Zeus, without the knowledge of Demeter, had promised Persephone to Pluto, and while the unsuspecting maiden was gathering flowers which Zeus had caused to grow in order to tempt her and to favour Pluto's scheme, the earth suddenly opened and she was carried off by Aidoneus (Pluto).
Her cries of anguish were heard only by Hecate and Helios. Her mother, who heard only the echo of her voice, immediately set out in search of her daughter.
The spot where Persephone was believed to have been carried into the lower world is different in the different traditions ; the common story places it in Sicily, in the neighbourhood of Emm, on mount Aetna, or between the wells Cyane arid Arethusa.
This legend, which points to Sicily, though undoubtedly very ancient, is certainly not the original tradition, since the worship of Demeter was introduced into Sicily by colonists from Megara and Corinth. Other traditions place the rape of Persephone at Erineus on the Cephissus, in the neighbourhood of Eleusis, at Colonus in Attica, in an island of the Atlantic near the western coast of Spain, at Hermione in Peloponnesus (Apollodorus. 5), in Crete (Theogony of Hesiod 914), or in the neighbourhood of Pisa.
Others again place the event at Pheneus in Arcadia, or at Cyzicus, while the Homeric hymn on Demeter places it in the plain of Nysa in Asia. In the Iliad and Odyssey the rape of Persephone is not expressly mentioned. Demeter wandered about in search of her daughter for nine days, without taking any nectar or ambrosia, and without bathing. On the tenth she met Hecate, who told her that she had heard the cries of Persephone, but did not know who had carried her off.
Both then hastened to Helios, who revealed to them that Pluto had been the ravisher, and with the consent of Zeus. Demeter in her anger at this news avoided Otympus, and dwelt upon earth among men, conferring presents and blessings wherever she was kindly received, and severely punishing those who repulsed her or did not receive her gifts with proper reverence. In this manner she came to Celeus at Eleusis. As the goddess still continued in her anger, and produced famine on the earth by not allowing the fields to produce any fruit, Zeus, anxious that the race of mortals should not become extinct, sent Iris to induce Demeter to return to Olympus. But in vain.
At length Zeus sent out all the gods of Olympus to conciliate her by entreaties and presents; but she vowed not to return to Olympus, nor to restore the fertility of the earth, till she had seen her daughter again. Zeus accordingly sent Hermes into Erebus to fetch back Persephone. Aidoneus consented, indeed, to Persephone returning, but gave her a part of a pomegranate to eat, in order that she might not always remain with Demeter.
Hermes then took her in Pluto's chariot to Eleusis to her mother, to whom, after a hearty welcome, she related her fate. At Eleusis both were joined by Hecate, who henceforth remained the attendant and companion of Persephone. Zeus now sent Rhea to persuade Demeter to return to Olympus, and also granted that Persephone should spend only a part of the year (i. e. the winter) in subterraneous darkness, and that during the rest of thevyear she should remain with her mother. ( Metamorphoses by Ovid v.) Rhea accordingly descended to the Rharian plain near Eleusis, and conciliated Demeter, who now again allowed the fruits of the fields to grow. But before she parted from Eleusis, she instructed Triptolemus, Diocles, Eumolpus, and Celeus in the mode of her worship and in the mysteries.
These are the main features of the mythus about Demeter, as it is contained in the Homeric hymn; in later traditions it is variously modified. Respecting her connexions with Jasion or Jasius, Tantalus, Melissa, Cychreus, Erysichthon, Pan-dareus, and others, see the different articles. Demeter was the goddess of the earth, and more especially of the earth as producing fruit, and consequently of agriculture, whence human food or bread is called by Homer the gift of Demeter.
The notion of her being the author of the earth's fertility was extended to that of fertility in general, and she accordingly was looked upon also as the goddess of marriage and was worshipped especially by women. Her priestess also initiated young married people into the duties of their new situation.
As the goddess of the earth she was like the a subterraneous divinity, who worked in the regions inaccessible to the rays of Helios.
As agriculture is the basis of a well-regulated social condition, Demeter is represented also as the friend of peace and as a law-giving goddess.
The mythus of Demeter and her daughter embodies the idea that the productive powers of the earth or nature rest or are concealed during the winter season; the goddess (Demeter and Persephone, also called Cora) then rules in the depth of the earth mournful, but striving upwards to the all-animating light.
Persephone, who has eaten of the pomegranate, is the fructified flower that returns in spring, dwells in the region of light during a portion of the year, and nourishes men and animals with her fruits. Later philosophical writers, and perhaps the mysteries also, referred the disappearance and return of Persephone to the burial of the body of man and the immortality of his soul.
Demeter was worshipped in Crete, Delos, Argolis, Attica, the western coast of Asia, Sicily, and Italy, and her worship consisted in a great measure in orgic mysteries. Among the many festivals celebrated in her honour, the Thesmophoria and Eleusinia were the principal ones.
The sacrifices offered to her consisted of pigs, the symbol of fertility, bulls, cows, honey-cakes, and fruits. Her temples were called Megara, and were often built in groves in the neighbourhood of towns.
Many of her surnames, which are treated of in separate articles, are descriptive of the character of the goddess. She was often represented in works of art, though scarcely one entire statue of her is preserved. Her representations appear to have been brought to ideal perfection by Praxiteles.
Her image resembled that of Hera, in its maternal character, but had a softer expression, and her eyes were less widely opened.
She was represented sometimes in a sitting attitude, sometimes walking, and sometimes riding in a chariot drawn by horses or dragons, but always in full attire. Around her head she wore a garland of corn-ears or a simple ribband, and in her hand she held a sceptre, corn-ears or a poppy, sometimes also a torch and the mystic basket. She appears most frequently on gems and vases. The Romans received the worship of Demeter, to whom they applied the name of Ceres, from Sicily.
The first temple of Ceres at Rome was vowed by the dictator A. Postumius Albinus, in b. c. 496, for the purpose of averting a famine with which Rome was threatened during a war with the Latins.
In introducing this foreign divinity, the Romans acted in their usual manner; they instituted a festival with games in honour of her and gave the management of the sacred rites and ceremonies to a Greek priestess, who was usually taken from Naples or Velia, and received the Roman franchise, in order that the sacrifices on behalf of the Roman people might be offered up by a Roman citizen.
In all other respects Ceres was looked upon very much in the same light as Tellus, whose nature closely resembled that of Ceres. Pigs were sacrificed to both divinities, in the seasons of sowing and in harvest time, and also at the burial of the dead. It is strange to find that the Romans, in adopting the worship of Demeter from the Greeks, did not at the same time adopt the Greek name Demeter. The name Ceres can scarcely be explained from the Latin language. Servius informs us that Ceres, Pales, and Fortuna were the penates of the Etruscans, and it may be that the Romans applied to Demeter the name of a divinity of a similar nature, whose worship subsequently became extinct, and left no trace except the name Ceres.
We remarked above that Demeter and Persephone or Cora were identified in the mythus, and it may be that Ceres is only a different form for Cora or Core. But however this may be, the worship of Ceres soon acquired considerable political importance at Rome. The property of traitors against the republic was often made over to her temple.
The decrees of the senate wore deposited in her temple for the inspection of the tribunes of the people.
If we further consider that the aediles had the special superintendence of this temple, it is very probable that Ceres, whose worship was like the plebeians, introduced at Rome from without, had some peculiar relation to the plebeian order.
[ See: The Corn-Mother
and the Corn-Maiden in Northern Europe. From The Golden
A Study Of Magic and Religion by Sir James Frazer. ]
[ See: The Myth Of Persephone By Walter Heratio Pater ]
[ See: The Hymn To Demeter ]
[ See: The Homeric Hymns by Andrew Lang ]