Demeter

Learn more about Demeter

Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the grain goddess Demeter. For other uses, see Demeter (disambiguation).
Image:Cosmè Tura 005.jpg
Ceres (Demeter), allegory of August: detail of a fresco by Cosimo Tura, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara, 1469-70

Dêmêtêr (or Demetra) /də'miː.tɚ/ (Greek: Δημήτηρ, "mother-earth" or perhaps "distribution-mother", perhaps from the noun of the Indo-European mother-earth *dheghom *mater) is the Greek goddess of grain and agriculture, the pure nourisher of youth and the green earth, the health-giving cycle of life and death, and preserver of marriage and the sacred law. She is invoked as the "bringer of seasons" in the Homeric hymn, a subtle sign that she was worshiped long before the Olympians arrived. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter has been dated to sometime around the Seventh Century BC.<ref>Nilsson, 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 B.C. 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."</ref> She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that also predated the Olympian pantheon.


Demeter was the goddess of agriculture. Demeter was the sister of Zeus and the mother of Persephone. Her daughter, Persephone was happily gathering flowers when a large crack opened in the earth, Hades, King of the Dead; had emerged from the Underworld. He seized Persephone and carried her off, where she became his queen. Demeter was heartbroken and wandered in search of her beautiful daughter. During which time the crops had sadly withered and it became winter. Hades was persuaded to surrender his beautiful queen for half of every year. The spring and summer when flowers bloom, is the time Persephone returns to her lonesome mother. The half year that Persephone spends as Hade’s queen coordinates with the sadness of Demeter resulting in the dry and bare time of year, fall and winter.


The Roman equivalent is Ceres.

Demeter is easily confused with Gaia or Rhea, and with Cybele. The goddess's epithets reveal the span of her functions in Greek life. Demeter and Kore ("the maiden") are usually invoked as to theo ('"The Two Goddesses"), and they appear in that form in Linear B graffiti at Mycenaean Pylos in pre-classical times. A connection with the goddess-cults of Minoan Crete is quite possible.

According to the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates, the greatest gifts which Demeter gave were cereal (thus the Latin name for Ceres; also known as corn to the British) which made man different from wild animals, and the Mysteries which give man higher hopes in this life and the afterlife.<ref>Isocrates, Panegyricus 4.28: "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".</ref>

Contents

[edit] Titles and functions

In various contexts, Demeter is invoked with many epithets:

  • Potnia ("mistress" in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter)
  • Chloe ("the green shoot", Pausanias 1.22.3, for her powers of fertility and eternal youth)
  • Anesidora ("sending up gifts" from the earth Pausanias 1.31.4, as Demeter)
  • Malophoros ("apple-bearer" or "sheep-bearer", Pausanias 1.44.3)
  • Kidaria (Pausanias 8.13.3),
  • Chthonia ("in the ground", Pausanias 3.14.5)
  • Erinys ("implacable", Pausanias 8.25.50)
  • Lusia ("bathing", Pausanias 8.25.8)
  • Thermasia ("warmth", Pausanias 2.34.6)
  • Kabeiraia, a pre-Greek name of uncertain meaning
  • 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.)

Theocritus remembered 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 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, Lykosoura, Mesembria, Enna, and Samosthrace.

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

Demeter taught mankind the arts of agriculture: sowing seeds, ploughing, harvesting, etc. 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.


[edit] 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 PO-SE-DA-WO-NE and DA-MA-TE in the context of sacralized lot-casting. The 'DA' element in each of their names is seemingly connected to an Proto-Indo-European root relating to distribution of land and honors (compare Latin dare "to give"). Poseidon (his name seems to signify "consort of the distributor") once pursued Demeter, 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. Demeter was literally furious ("Demeter Erinys") at the assault, but washed away her anger in the River Ladon ("Demeter Lousia"). She bore to Poseidon a Daughter, whose name might not be uttered outside the Eleusinian Mysteries, and a steed named Arion, with a black mane. 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.

[edit] Demeter's (Ceres) Relationship With Persephone (Proserpine)

The central myth of Demeter, which is at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries is her relationship with Persephone, her daughter and own younger self. In the Olympian pantheon, Persephone became the consort of Hades (Roman Pluto, the underworld god of wealth). Persephone became the goddess of the underworld when Hades abducted her from the earth and brought her into the underworld. She had been playing with some nymphs (or Leucippe) whom Demeter later changed into the Sirens as punishment for not having interfered. Life came to a standstill as the depressed Demeter (goddess of the earth) searched for her lost daughter (resting on the stone, Agelasta). Finally, Zeus could not put up with the dying earth and forced Hades to return Persephone by sending Hermes to retrieve her. But before she was released, Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds, which forced her to return for four months each year. When Demeter and her daughter were together, the earth flourished with vegetation. But for four months each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm. The four months when the earth is barren is the season of winter, since in Greece this is when all vegetation dies. Summer, Autumn, and spring by comparison have heavy rainfall and mild temperatures in which plant life flourishes. 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. Some versions say that she ate six seeds rather than four. Regardless, the end result is the occurrence of summer, spring, winter, and autumn.

[edit] 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 in Attica (and also 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 as 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 on 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 kill Triptolemus. Demeter turned him into a lynx.

Some scholars believe the Demophon story is based on an earlier prototypical folk tale.<ref>Nilsson, 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".</ref>

[edit] Portrayals and Miscellanea

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 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.

Demeter placed Aethon, the god of famine, in Erysichthon's gut, making him permanently famished. This was a punishment for cutting down trees in a sacred grove.

[edit] Notes

<references />

[edit] 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. [1]
  • Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.

[edit] External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Greek deities series
Primordial deities | Titans | Aquatic deities | Chthonic deities
Twelve Olympians
Zeus | Hera | Poseidon | Hades | Hestia | Demeter | Aphrodite
Athena | Apollo | Artemis | Ares | Hephaestus | Hermes | Dionysus
Chthonic deities
Hades | Persephone | Gaia | Demeter | Hecate | Iacchus | Trophonius | Triptolemus | Erinyes
bg:Деметра

ca:Demèter cs:Démétér de:Demeter el:Δήμητρα (μυθολογία) es:Deméter eo:Demetra fr:Déméter ko:데메테르 hi:डिमीटर hr:Demetra it:Demetra lv:Dēmetra lb:Demeter (Mythologie) lt:Demetra hu:Démétér nl:Demeter (mythologie) ja:デメテル no:Demeter nds:Demeter (Mythologie) pl:Demeter pt:Deméter ro:Demetra ru:Деметра simple:Demeter sl:Demetra sr:Деметра fi:Demeter sv:Demeter tr:Demeter uk:Деметра zh:得墨忒尔

Demeter

Views
Personal tools
what is world wizzy?
  • World Wizzy is a static snapshot taken of Wikipedia in early 2007. It cannot be edited and is online for historic & educational purposes only.