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DemeterHead

4th century BCE head of Demeter, now in the Archaeological Museum of Dion, Greece.

In Greek mythology, Demeter (Ancient Greek: Δημήτηρ, Dēmētēr) was the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, the seasons and the harvest.One of her surnames is Sito (σίτος: wheat) as the giver of food or corn.[1]Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sanctity of marriage, the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that also predated the Olympian pantheon.

Her Roman cognate is Ceres.

Demeter's name is probably derived from da the Doric form of Greek or pre-Greek ge (γαία:earth) and meter (mother), but this is not generally accepted.[2][3]Another possible etymology is that Deo which is synonymous with Demeter is derived from the Cretan word deai (barley),therefore she is the mother or giver of barley and food generally (Homer Iliad v 500).[4] In the Linear B tablets her Mycenaean Greek name is Da-ma-te and the da element is propably connected to a Proto Indo-European root relating to distribution of lands and honours.

Corn mother at Eleusis

According to the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates, the greatest gifts which Demeter gave were cereals, the cultivation of which made man different from wild animals; and the Mysteries which give the initiate higher hopes in this life and the afterlife.[5]

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, dated to about the seventh century BCE.[6] she is invoked as the "bringer of seasons", a subtle sign that she was worshipped long before she was made one of the Olympians. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that also predated the Olympian pantheon.

Demeter's emblem is the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among the barley.[7]

Titles and functions

The goddess's epithets reveal the span of her functions in Greek life. Demeter and Core ("the maiden") are usually invoked as to theo ('"The Two Goddesses"), and they appear in that form in Linear B inscriptions at Mycenaean Pylos in pre-classical times. (Mycenaean Greek:potniai,sing: potnia from Proto Indo-European "pota" meaning ruler). In Olympia they were called Despoine [8] (sing: Despoina from Proto Indo-European *dems-pota meaning absolute ruler). Demeter is easily confused with Gaia or Rhea, and with Cybele, all of them embodying aspects of the pre-Hellenic Great Goddess. A connection with the goddess-cults of Minoan Crete is quite possible.

In various contexts, Demeter is invoked with many epithets, which offer clues to her roles:

Potnia ("mistress") in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is the goddess of harvest inscriptions in Linear B. Hera especially, but also Artemis and Athena, are addressed as "Mistress" as well.

As Erinys ("implacable"),[9] a stern Demeter is invoked: the Erinyes or furies, were the implacable agents of retribution.

In a similar sense, she could be invoked as Thesmophoros ("giver of customs" or even "legislator") a role that links her to the even more ancient goddess Themis. This title was connected with the Thesmophoria, a festival of secret women-only rituals in Athens connected with marriage customs.

The title, Chloe ("the green shoot"),[10] invokes her powers of ever-returning fertility, as does Chthonia ("in the ground").[11] Anesidora ("sending up gifts from the earth") applied to Demeter in Pausanias 1.31.4, also appears inscribed on an Attic ceramic as a name for Pandora on her jar.

Demeter might also be invoked in the guise of:

  • Malophoros ("apple-bearer" or "sheep-bearer", Pausanias 1.44.3)
  • Kidaria (Pausanias 8.13.3),
  • Lusia ("bathing", Pausanias 8.25.8)
  • Thermasia ("warmth", Pausanias 2.34.6)
  • Sophia D., a pre-Greek name of uncertain meaning that links Demeter as patroness to the Kabeiroi.
  • Achaea, the name by which she was worshipped at Athens by the Gephyraeans who had emigrated from Boeotia.[12][13]

Theocritus, wrote of an earlier role of Demeter:

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 (Heraklion Museum, Kereny 1976 fig 15), 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 {mythology)|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" (Kerenyi 1976, p 24).

In honor of Demeter of Mysia a seven-day festival was held at Pellené in Arcadia (Pausan. 7. 27, 9). 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.

Major sites for the cult of Demeter were not confined to any localized part of the Greek world: there were sites at Eleusis, in Sicily, Hermion, in Crete, Megara, Celeae, Lerna, Aegila, Munychia, Corinth, Delos, Priene, Akragas, Iasos, Pergamon, Selinus, Tegea, Thorikos, Dion, Lycosura, Mesembria, Enna, and Samothrace.

She was associated with the Roman goddess Ceres. When Demeter was given a genealogy, she was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and therefore the elder sister of Zeus. Her priestesses were addressed with the title Melissa.

Demeter was said to have taught humankind the arts of agriculture. She was especially popular with rural folk, partly because they most benefited directly from her assistance, and partly because rural folk are more conservative about keeping to the old ways. Demeter herself was central to the older religion of Greece. Relics unique to her cult, such as votive clay pigs, were being fashioned in the Neolithic. In Roman times, a sow was still sacrificed to Ceres following a death in the family, to purify the household.

Demeter Erinys: Vengeful Demeter

Demeter and Poseidon

Demeter and Poseidon's names are linked in the earliest scratched notes in Linear B found at Mycenaean Pylos, where they appear as DA-MA-TE and PO-SE-DA-O-NE in the context of sacralized lot-casting. The 'DA' element in each of their names is seemingly connected to a Proto-Indo-European root relating to distribution of land and honors (compare Latin dare "to give").

In one myth, Poseidon (his name seems to signify "consort of the distributor") once pursued Demeter, the distributor and Earth Mother, in her archaic form as a mare-goddess. She resisted Poseidon, but she could not disguise her divinity among the horses of King Onkios. Poseidon became a stallion and covered her. She bore a daughter Despoina (Δέσποινα: the "Mistress"), whose name should not be uttered outside the Arcadian Mysteries,[14] and a horse named Arion, with a black mane and tail.The title Despoine was also given to Persephone.

In Arcadia, Demeter was worshiped as a horse-headed deity into historical times:

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.

Demeter Erinys

As for Demeter, she was literally furious (Demeter Erinys) at the assault, but washed away her anger in the River Ladon, becoming Demeter Lousia, the "bathed Demeter".[15] "In her alliance with Poseidon," Karl Kerenyi noted,[16] "she was Earth, who bears plants and beasts, and could therefore assume the shape of an ear of corn or a mare." In her period of eclipse, the Grain Goddess brought desiccation and death to the croplands of which she was the patroness. Pausanias explicitly connects the neglect of her festival with the barrenness of Phigalia. The rites at Phigaleia noted by Pausanias remained local; by contrast, the specifically Eleusinian mythic theme of Demeter and Persephone, accounting in another way for the annual eclipse of Demeter, was given the widest conceivable currency through the Eleusinian Mysteries that celebrated and recreated it, and passed into the mainstream tradition, as it was carried by literary sources.

Demeter and Persephone

The central myth of Demeter, which is at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries, is her relationship with Persephone, her daughter.

Demeter had a large scope of abilities. Besides being the goddess of the harvest, she also controlled the seasons, and because of that she was capable of destroying all life on earth. In fact, her powers were able to influence Zeus into making Hades bring her daughter Persephone up from the underworld. Persephone became the goddess of the underworld when Hades abducted her. She had been picking flowers, when a great chasm opened up behind her and Hades rode out in a chariot and took her, bringing her with him back down into the Underworld. Life came to a standstill as the depressed Demeter searched for her lost daughter, wandering the Earth night and day.[17]

Finally, Zeus could not put up with the dying earth and forced Hades to return Persephone by sending Hermes to retrieve her. Hades agreed, but said he could send her up only if she had not eaten any food in the underworld. Before Persephone was released, she had eaten a number of pomegranate seeds (the number varies in various versions; one, three, four, or even seven according to the telling), which forced her to return for four months each year. According to some modern writers such as Walter Burkert, this corresponds with the dry Mediterranean summer, during which plant life is threatened by drought.[18] Winter, autumn, and spring by comparison have heavy rainfall and mild temperatures in which plant life flourishes. However ancient commentaries written by figures such as Porphyry did not understand the Myth in this way and saw Persephone's descent as connected with the autumn and winter months. It was during her trip to retrieve Persephone from the underworld that she revealed the Eleusinian Mysteries.

In an alternate version, Hecate rescued Persephone. In other alternative versions, Persephone was not tricked into eating the pomegranate seeds but chose to eat them herself. In the latter version it is claimed that Ascalaphus, one of Hades' gardeners, claimed to have witnessed her do so, at the moment that she was preparing to return with Hermes. Regardless, the result is the occurrence of the unfruitful seasons of the ancient Greek calendars. Persephone's return made spring.

According to the personal mythology of Robert Graves,[19] Persephone is not only the younger self of Demeter,[20] she is in turn also one of three guises of the Triple Goddess — Kore (the youngest, the maiden, signifying green young corn), Persephone (in the middle, the nymph, signifying the ripe ears waiting to be plucked), and Hecate (the eldest of the three, the crone, the harvested corn), which to a certain extent reduces the name and role of Demeter to that of groupname. Before Persephone was abducted by Hades, an event witnessed by the shepherd Eumolpus and the swineherd Eubuleus (they saw a girl being carried of into the earth which had violently opened up, in a black chariot, driven by an invisible driver), she was called Kore. It is when she is taken that she becomes Persephone ('she who brings destruction'). Hecate was also reported to have told Demeter that she had heard Kore scream that she was being raped.[21]

Demeter's stay at Eleusis

Demeter was searching for her daughter Persephone (also known as Kore). Having taken the form of an old woman called Doso, she received a hospitable welcome from Celeus, the King of Eleusis and Phytalus. He asked her to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira.

As a gift to Celeus, because of his hospitality, Demeter planned to make Demophon a god, by coating and anointing him with Ambrosia, breathing gently upon him while holding him in her arms and bosom, and making him immortal by burning his mortal spirit away in the family hearth every night. She put him in the fire at night like a firebrand or ember without the knowledge of his parents.

Demeter was unable to complete the ritual because his mother Metanira walked in and saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright, which angered Demeter, who lamented that foolish mortals do not understand the concept and ritual.

Instead of making Demophon immortal, Demeter chose to teach Triptolemus the art of agriculture and, from him, the rest of Greece learned to plant and reap crops. He flew across the land on a winged chariot while Demeter and Persephone cared for him, and helped him complete his mission of educating the whole of Greece in the art of agriculture.

Later, Triptolemus taught Lyncus, King of the Scythians the arts of agriculture but he refused to teach it to his people and then tried to murder Triptolemus. Demeter turned him into a lynx.

Some scholars believe the Demophon story is based on an earlier prototypical folk tale.[22]

Children

  • Persephone (by Zeus)
  • Zagreus (by Zeus)
  • Despoina (by Poseidon)
  • Arion (by Poseidon)
  • Plutus (by Iasion)
  • Philomelus (by Iasion)
  • Eubuleus (by Karmanor)
  • Khrysothemis (by Karmanor)
  • Amphitheus I (by Triptolemus)

Portrayals

  • Demeter was usually portrayed on a chariot, and frequently associated with images of the harvest, including flowers, fruit, and grain. She was also sometimes pictured with her daughter Persephone.
  • 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.

Notes

  1. Eustath.ad Hom. p 265
  2. Etymonline.com
  3. Doric , Proto-Greek *dē, "earth" + mētēr, "mother". The element is not so simply equated with "earth" according to John Chadwick (Chadwick, The Mycenaean World, Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 87): "Every Greek was aware of the maternal functions of Demeter; if her name bore the slightest resemblance to the Greek word for 'mother', it would inevitably have been deformed to emphasize that resemblance. […] How did it escape transformation into *Gāmātēr, a name transparent to any Greek speaker?" Compare the Latin transformation Iuppiter and Diespiter vis-a-vis *Deus pāter.
  4. Theoi project "Demeter"
  5. Isocrates, Panegyricus4.28: "When Demeter came to our land, in her wandering after the rape of Kore, and, being moved to kindness towards our ancestors by services which may not be told save to her initiates, gave these two gifts, the greatest in the world — the fruits of the earth, which have enabled us to rise above the life of the beasts, and the holy rite, which inspires in those who partake of it sweeter hopes regarding both the end of life and all eternity".
  6. Nilsson, Martin P. (1940). Greek Popular Religion. p.45: "We have a document concerning the Eleusinian cult which is older and more comprehensive than anything concerning any other Greek cult, namely, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter composed in Attica before Eleusis was incorporated into the Athenian state, not later than the end of the seventh century BC. We know that the basis of the Eleusinian Mysteries was an old agrarian cult celebrated in the middle of the month Boedromion (about October) and closely akin to the Thesmophoria, a festival of the autumn sowing celebrated by the women not quite a month later. I need not dwell upon this connection, which is established by internal evidence as well as by direct information."
  7. Graves, Robert (1960). Greek Gods and Heroes. Dell Laurel-Leaf. 
  8. Pausanias:Description of Greece 5.15.4
  9. Pausanias 8.25.50.
  10. In Pausanias 1.22.3.
  11. Pausanias 3.14.5.
  12. Herodotus, v. 61;Plutarch Isis et Osiris p. 378, d
  13. Smith, William (1867). "Achaea (1)". in Rachel, William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. Boston. pp. 8. http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/0017.html 
  14. "In Arcadia she was also a second goddess in the Mysteries of her daughter, the unnameable, who was invoked only as 'Despoina', the 'Mistress'" (Karl Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter(Princeton University Press) 1967:31f, instancing Pausanias, viii.37.9.
  15. Other ritually bathed goddesses were Argive Hera and Cybele; Aphrodite renewed her own powers bathing herself in the sea.
  16. Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 1951:185.
  17. Karl Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks 1951:232-41 recounts in detail this often-referred-to cluster of myths, with citations in classical authors, notes 784-98.
  18. Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Harvard, 1985), p. 160.
  19. Grave's work on Greek myth was often criticized; see The White Goddess#Criticism and The Greek Myths#Reception.
  20. The idea that Kore (the maiden) is not Demeter's daughter, but Demeter's own younger self, was discussed much earlier than Graves, in Lewis Richard Farnell (1896), The Cults of the Greek States, volume 3, p.121.
  21. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0-14-001026-2. 24. pp.94–95.
  22. Nilsson (1940), p.50: "The Demophon story in Eleusis is based on an older folk-tale motif which has nothing to do with the Eleusinian Cult. It is introduced in order to let Demeter reveal herself in her divine shape".

References

  • Walter Burkert (1985) 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
  • 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. Sacred-texts.com
  • Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.

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