Demeter, whose nurse was Eirene 1 (Peace), is the
goddess of fertility, and the mother of the corn.
For she, after inventing the grain in the island of
Sicily, was the first to gather, prepare, preserve
it, and the first to instruct mankind how to sow
Demeter. 9734: Deméter del tipo «Madrid-Capitolio». Comienzos del siglo III d.C. Museo Nacional del Prado.
It is told that when Demeter, being a child, was
playing with Hercyna and this girl let loose a
goose, the goddess, when removing the stone under
which the goose was hidden, caused water to flow.
This is how the river Hercyna in Boeotia, came to
Later, when Demeter, being grown up, came to the
banquet that Tantalus 1 offered to the gods, she, unwittingly, ate
the arm of Pelops 1. For
perverse Tantalus 1 had slaughtered his own son, cut up, boiled and
offered him as a meal when he feasted the gods. It
was then that Demeter tasted Pelops 1. The gods soon discovered the outrage, giving him life again and joining his limbs together. But since the shoulder was not complete, Demeter fitted an ivory one in its place. This is the bone made of ivory that years later
the ACHAEANS had to
bring to Troy if the city was ever to be taken (see Conditions to take Troy at Trojan War).
It is said that Demeter fell in love with
handsome Iasion, and that they lay in a
thrice-plowed field. For this love, some believe,
Iasion perished, being killed by Zeus with a thunderbolt. Yet others have said that Iasion was destroyed by his own horses, and still others do not think he died at that time; for otherwise they had not said that Demeter could regret his graying hairs (see also Plutus). Some have called Iasion son of Thuscus or son of
Ilithius, but others have said that he was the son
of Zeus and Electra 3, one of the PLEIADES. It was Zeus, they say, who
instructed his son Iasion in the initiatory rite of
the mysteries in Samothrace, the island in the
northern Aegean Sea, and they add that Iasion was
the first to initiate strangers into them. Among
these was Cadmus, who married Harmonia 1 in Samothrace, where he was initiated by Iasion. Apparently it was at the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia 1, Iasion's sister, that Demeter fell in love with Iasion, having children by him, Plutus (Wealth) and
Philomelus, who never agreed with each other. But
Philomelus, having received nothing from Plutus, and being left with his own talent alone, became the inventor of the wagon, supporting himself by cultivating the fields. It has also been told that Iasion married the
goddess Cybele, and that after their son Corybas,
the CORYBANTES, who celebrate the rites of his mother, were named. Iasion is now among the stars; for some say that
the constellation of the Twins (Gemini) shows
Iasion and Triptolemus, the
young man who received from Demeter wheat and a
chariot of winged Dragons with which, flying
through the sky, he sowed the whole inhabited
Demeter was fond of the Nymph Macris, who lived
in the island under which lies the sickle that Cronos used when he mutilated his father (see Castration of
Uranus)., though some say this is the reaping-hook of Demeter, who once lived in this island and taught the TITANS how to reap the
ears of corn. That is why the island is called
Drepane (Sickle-island). In this island, also
called Scheria and Corcyra, the Phaeacians live. Macris, daughter of Aristaeus and Autonoe 2, is one of the nurses of Dionysus 2, whom she
fed on honey while she still lived in the island of
Euboea. But when Hera learned that Hermes had
brought Dionysus 2 to
Macris, she drove her from that island. Macris then
changed her residence, and went to dwell in which
became a sacred cave in Phaeacis, and the whole
island of Phaeacis or Corcyra was called Macris
Isle, to be distinguished from Abantian Macris
which was her first residence in Euboea. It was in
the sacred cave of Macris Isle that Jason married Medea. Her father
Aristaeus, a favorite of the MUSES, discovered honey
and the fatness of olive; her mother is one of the
daughters of Cadmus.
Macris' brother Actaeon became known for having been devoured by his own
3331: Hades abducts Persephone, 1621-22. After marble group by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at Galleria Borghese in Rome. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg.
The abduction of Persephone
Demeter's darkest moment came when Hades carried off her
daughter Persephone while she was gathering flowers and took her to the Underworld; for then
Demeter went about seeking her all over the earth
with torches by night and day. No one knew what had
happened to Persephone except Hecate, who heard the
cries of the girl from her cave, and Helius (the Sun) who sees
everything. For nine days Demeter wandered over the
earth with her flaming torches so grieved that she
would not taste ambrosia or nectar nor would she
bath. On the tenth day, Demeter met Hecate, who told her she
had heard Persephone's voice
though she had not seen who had carried her away.
But when Demeter questioned Helius, he replied:
"No one is to
blame but Zeus who gave her to Hades, to be called his wife. And Hades seized her and took her loudly
crying in his chariot down to his realm of mist and
gloom." (Helius to
Hymn to Demeter 80).
Helius comforted her
saying that Hades, brother
of Zeus, was not an
unfitting husband, but this was a poor consolation
for Demeter, who therafter avoided Olympus and the
gathering of the gods, an changing her form, came
instead to the towns and fields of men.
Not in a mood for jokes
Looking for her daughter, Demeter came very
thirsty to Attica, where a woman Misme gave her to
drink. And they tell that when the goddess drank
the water without a break, Misme's son Ascalabus
laughed at her, saying that she should drink from a
tub or a bowl. It was on hearing this that Demeter,
who was not in a mood for jokes, threw the rest of
the water at him, turning him into a gecko. This is
why it is said that he who kills this animal is
loved by the goddess.
Demeter comes to Eleusis
Disguised as an old woman, Demeter arrived then
to Eleusis where Celeus 1 was king. She met the king's daughters, and calling herself Doso, told them that she was a Cretan woman who had been carried away by pirates, and that she now could work at any domestic task that would be given to her. Demeter then came to the king's house where she, because of her sorrow, sat down a long time without speaking and without tasting food or drink until an old woman, Iambe, joked the goddess and made her smile, cheering her heart with many jests. This is why women make jokes at the festival of the Thesmophoria, indulging in coarse language; for it was by lewd words that Demeter, despite her grief, burst into laughter.
Nurse in Eleusis
Demeter. 3712: Niederländischer Maler des 16. Jahrhundert: Fünf Mythologische Figuren. Niederländischer Romanist nach Rosso Fiorentino. Landesmuseum Oldenburg, Das Schloß.
Demeter then met the king's wife Metanira, who asked her to nurse her child Demophon 2. Demeter loved him, and wishing to make him immortal, she anointed him by day with ambrosia as if he were a god, and by night she put him on the fire and stripped off its mortal flesh. But as the child grew marvelously by day, Praxithea 2, an Eleusinian woman, watched her, and when she saw the child in the fire, she cried out and the babe was consumed by the flames. Others say that Metanira herself watched Demeter's procedures and lamented in alarm, and when Demeter heard her she snatched the child from the fire and cast him to the ground, saying:
"Witless are you mortals … For I would have made your son deathless and unaging all his days, but now he can in no way escape death …" (Demeter to Metanira. Homeric
Hymn to Demeter 256).
Demophon 2 was taken up from the ground, and his sisters washed and embraced him lovingly, but, as they say, he was not comforted, since these were less skilful hands which were holding him now. It was then that Demeter revealed herself, changing her stature and her looks, and thrusting Old Age away; she then taught Celeus 1 and the Eleusinians the rites that were to be celebrated in her honor. However, Demeter had not forgotten her daughter,
and for her sake she caused famine in the whole
earth for an entire year, threatening to destroy
mankind. It was then that Zeus sent Iris 1 to persuade Demeter
to return to Olympus, but Demeter refused to go.
And after Iris 1, many
other gods came offering her all kind of gifts and
rights if she would return, but she could not be
persuaded. Rejecting all their words, Demeter
declared that she would never set foot on Olympus
again, nor let the earth bear fruit, until she
beheld with her own eyes her daughter Persephone.
In order to solve this dilemma, Zeus sent Hermes to the Underworld to fetch Persephone back. Hades obeyed Zeus' request, but before Persephone left, he
gave her a pomegranate seed to eat so that she
would be bound to his realm. Hermes took Persephone to her
mother and there was a joyous reunion until Demeter
learned that Persephone had tasted
food in the Underworld, since for
having done so she would have to dwell in the Underworld a third part of the seasons every year. It is told that Ascalaphus 2, son of the river Acheron (the river of pain in the Underworld) witnessed
against Persephone in
the matter of the pomegranate. According to him, Persephone had
plucked a pomegranate, and after peeling it off,
had eaten seven of the seeds. This he declared; but
for having witnessed against her daughter, Demeter
laid a heavy rock on him in the Underworld; and when
later Heracles 1 rolled away the stone, Demeter, neither forgetting
nor forgiving his tittle-tattle, turned him into a
short-eared owl. Yet others say that it was Persephone who transformed Ascalaphus 2 into an owl by throwing in his face a handful of water from the river Pyriphlegethon (another river in the Underworld ). Zeus then sent Rhea 1 to reason with
Demeter, and it was agreed that Persephone would stay
one third of the year in the Underworld and the
two thirds with the OLYMPIANS. Demeter
then allowed the grain to grow again, and the
famine was averted.
1202: Demeter from Cnidos. Marble ca. 340 BC. Antikmuseet, Lund.
During her stay in Eleusis, Demeter gave a
chariot of winged Dragons and wheat to Triptolemus with
which, flying through the sky, he sowed the whole
inhabited earth. Some say that Triptolemus was the son of Celeus 1, but others say otherwise, and there are many other versions of his parentage: Eleusis and Cothonea; Trochilus and an unidentified Eleusinian woman; Oceanus and Gaia; Dysaules and an
unknown woman; Rarus and Amphictyon's Daughter. Sometimes it is said that the king of Eleusis was Eleusinus,
and that Demeter, pretending to be a nurse, took
care of Triptolemus (instead of Demophon 2). Demeter fed Triptolemus by day
with divine milk, but by night hid him in the fire.
As Triptolemus was growing more than mortals usually do, they watched Demeter, and when the king saw terrified that Demeter was about to put the child in the fire, the goddess struck Eleusinus dead. Eumelus 4, who was the first to settle in the land of Patrae in Achaea,
received the cultivated corn from Triptolemus. Once Eumelus 4's son Antheias yoked the dragons to the car of Triptolemus when its owner was asleep, and tried to sow the
seed himself, but he fell off the chariot and died.
Later Triptolemus and Eumelus 4 founded the city Antheia (near Pylos in southwestern Peloponnesus) in memory of the latter's son. Triptolemus was
sometimes threatened by the kings of the countries
In Scythia, King Lyncus 1, offered Triptolemus hospitality when the latter came with Demeter's
grain, but attacked his guest with a sword when he
was asleep. But through Demeter's intervention, the
king was turned into a lynx, and Triptolemus was saved. Distributing the grain to all nations, Triptolemus came
also to Thrace where Carnabon was king of the
Getae. There he was hospitably received, but just
to conceal that an ambush was being prepared. At
the order of Carnabon, one of the Dragons in Triptolemus' chariot
was killed so to make it impossible for him to
escape in his chariot. But Demeter intervened,
substituted another dragon, and punished Carnabon
by picturing him among the stars, holding a dragon
in his hands always about to kill it (this is the
constellation Ophiuchus, or Serpent-Holder; see CONSTELLATIONS). Some say that later, Celeus 1 wished to kill Triptolemus, but
when this was known, Demeter handed over the
kingdom to Triptolemus, who
called it Eleusis after
his father. Triptolemus established the sacred rites in honor of Demeter,
which are called Thesmophoria.
Phytalus, who once received Demeter in his home,
was given the fig tree by her in return for his
hospitality. That is why it is written in his
"Hero and king, Phytalus here welcome gave to Demeter … when first she created fruit of the harvest; sacred fig is the name which mortal men have assigned it." (Pausanias, Description
of Greece 1.37.2).
Some were punished by Demeter …
To Erysichthon 2 Demeter sent Famine for having cut down a sacred oak. As much as he ate, so much he desired again; so at the end he ate himself and died. Something similar happened to Triopas 2: he became king of the Thessalians, and in trying to roof his own house, he tore down the temple of Demeter, built by the men of old. So, for having destroyed the temple of Demeter, hunger was brought on him, and he could never afterwards be satisfied by any amount of food. About the SIRENS it is
said that they were made flying creatures through
the will of Demeter because they had not helped Persephone.
… but she also felt compassion
All the children born to Plemnaeus (the son of
King Peratus of Sicyon)
by his wife died the very first time they wailed.
Finally, Demeter took pity on him, came to Aegialia
in the guise of a strange woman, and reared for
Plemnaeus his son Orthopolis, who later had a
daughter Chrysorthe, whom Apollo loved.