Numism > Reading For the Advanced Collector

Coins of mythological interest

<< < (89/97) > >>


In ancient times Selene appeared too as an epithet of two queens from the house of the Ptolomeans. Cleopatra II Selene, daughter of Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III was Queen of Syria from 82-69 B.C. She was married to Antiochos VIII, Antiochos IX and Antiochos X and was a symbol for the continuity of the Seleucid rule until its end.

The famous Cleopatra VII. (69-30 B.C.) had 3 children with Marcus Aurelius. Ptolemy Philadelphos and the twins Akexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, born 40 B.C., thus "sun" and "moon". You can see the high standards she had!
Cleopatra Selene was married to Juba II of Mauritania, who both grew up in the household of Octavia in Rome. There they founded a flourishing community which served as a Roman client state.

Second coin:
Mauritania, Juba II, 25 BC - 23 AD.
AR - Drachm, 3.24g, 17.83mm, 18
         struck AD 11 (?)
          Head of Juba, diademed, r.
         Isis crown with ears of grain, below crescent
Ref.: SNG Copenhagen 574
ex Harlan J. Berk.

The French name Celine (e.g. Ferdinand Celine, Celine Dion) is said to come from Selene.

(1) Hesiod, Theogony
(2) Pseudo-Apollodor, Bibliotheke
(3) Pausanias, travel in Greece
(4) Vergil, Georgica

(1) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
(2) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Lexikon der griechichen und römischen Mythologie
(3) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Greek mythology
(4) Karl Kerenyi, The Mythology of the Greeks
(5) Drr Kleine Pauly
(6) Hans-Joachim Hoeft, Coins and Ancient Mythology, 2017
(7) Echtermeyer/von Wiese, German poems

Online sources:
(2) Wikipedia

Best regards

Pelops and Hippodameia

The occasion for this article is this beautiful coin, which I could add to my collection. There is already an article about Pelops in this thread under "Pelops and the Curse of the Atrides". But here I will focus a bit more on Hippodameia.

The Coin:
Ionia, Smyrna, Antoninus Pius, 138-161
AE 35, 25.20g, 34.91mm, 0°
struck under the Strategos Theidianos, ca.147 AD
          Laureate head r.
          Hippodameia, in long robe and veiled, standing r., lifting fold of her robe on the
          left shoulder, holding with the right hand the right hand of Pelops, who ist
          standing frontally beside her, naked except for chlamys over left shoulder, head
          turned left, with his raised left hand resting on a long sceptre, both stg. in biga
          driving r.
          in the upper right field ΠEΛO [Ψ]
Ref:: BMC Ionia, 342; SNG von Aulock 2213; Mionnet 3, p.230, nr. 1289; Klose
         Series A (sixes)
S+, stripped

(1) The coin shows the moment when Pelops and Hippodameia get into the car to start the race with Oinomaos. This coin type is already mentioned by Roscher, Volume I, p.2670, 1884, and according to A. von Sallet refers to the celebration of the Olympic Games in Smyrna (Ztschr. f. N. 14, 1887). This motif appears on numerous representations.
(2) ANEΘHKE is a standard formula: Theudianos gave it to the people of Smyrna.

Hippodameia (Greek = mistress of horses) was the beautiful and much sought-after daughter of Oinomaos, king of Pisa at Elis, a fertile landscape in the west of the Peloponnesos, and the Pleiad Sterope (or the Danaid Eurythoe). Oinomaos himself was a son of Ares and Harpina, daughter of the river god Asopos. He was a great lover of horses. So he forbade his subjects to mate horses with donkeys, on pain of cursing. Oinomaos had been prophesied by the oracle that he would be killed by his son-in-law. It is also said that he was in love with his daughter and had an unseemly relationship with her (Hyginus). In any case, he did not want to give her to any suitor unless he was defested by him in a chariot race. Otherwise he would pay for it with his life.

The goal of the race was the Altar of Poseidon at the Isthmos of Corinth, and it was not only about Hippodameia, but about the whole country through which the track passed. The suitor had to take Hippodameia with him in his carriage, of course, to divert his attention from the carriage. Oinomaos, however, gave him an advantage of half an hour, as he sacrificed a ram to Zeus Areios (after others to Ares or Hephaistos) before the race. But he had been given two horses by his father Ares, Psylla, the flea, and Harpinna, the plucker, which we must imagine winged. These were faster than the north wind and were steered by the skilful Myrtilos, so that no suitor had a chance against him. He caught up with them and pierced them from behind with a spear he had also received from Ares. 12 (some say 13) suitors had already paid their application with death. He nailed their heads over the gates of his palace.

When Pelops, who came from his homeland, Mount Sipylos in Lydia, landed at Elis, he asked his lover Poseidon to give him the fastest car in the world for his advertisement to Hippodameia. Poseidon provided him with a winged chariot pulled by two immortal winged horses. There are two different versions:

(1) Pelops had fallen in love with Hippodameia and came to court her. He brought Myrtilus, the charioteer of the Oinomaus, on his side by promising him a night with Hippodameia. Myrtilos was a son of Hermes and Cleobule. He too had fallen in love with Hippodameia, but did not dare to take part in a chariot race. Or Hippodameia had fallen in love with Pelops at the first sight of him and persuaded Myrtilos to help her by promising him a night with her.
(2) The other version: Pelops came to Elis actually to win the kingdom of Oinomaos. Then Hippodameia would have been only a nice sideline, so to speak. It fits to this version that he is said to have promised Myrtilos half of the empire.
In any case, Myrtilos manipulated the wheels on Oinomaos' chariot by replacing the nails on the axle with wax nails. When Oinomaos had just caught up with Pelops on Isthmos, the wheels flew off the chariot, Oinomaos got entangled in the reins and was dragged to death. But before that he cursed Myrtilos and prayed to the gods that he would be killed by Pelops. But Pelops received Hippodameia and the kingdom of Elis by this deceit. He became one of the greatest founding fathers of the Greeks and gave the "Peloponnesos" (= Island of Pelops) its name. By the way, in the Middle Ages the Peloponnesos was also called Morea (mulberry) after its shape!

On the return journey, Myrtilos tried to approach Hippodameia as promised. But she defended herself and Myrtilos was pushed into the sea by Pelops at the Geraist promontory, which is called the Myrtoic sea after him.
But there is also the Phaidra motif: Hippodameia had feigned thirst and sent Pelops for water. So she could seduce Myrtilos in his absence. When Myrtilos rejected her,
she accused him of rape at Pelops and Pelops pushed him into the sea. But before his death, Myrtilos cursed the family of Pelops. This is the real Curse of the Atrides! So it did not help that Pelops erected a cenotaph in Olympia to atone for him. Hermes remained a bitter enemy of his family.

At first, her happiness with Pelops was so great that she donated special games to Hera in Olympia, the Hereia, which took place every 5 years and where young girls competed against each other. Pelops sired with Hippodmeia among others the Hippalkos, the Atreus and the Thyestes.

But Pelops had another son, the handsome Chrysippos (= the one with the golden horses) of Danais, who was his favourite son. Laios, the son of Labdakos and later father of Oidipous, had escaped from Thebes and was taken in as a guest by Pelops. Here he was entrusted with the education of Chrysippos. So he taught him e.g. how to drive a chariot. He fell in love with Chrysippos and abducted him to Thebes when he was allowed to return. But Atreus and Thyestes were able to bring him and Laios back. Pelops forgave him when he saw how much Laios loved Chrysippos. Euripides calls him in his "Chrysippos" the inventor of boy love.

But Hippodameia hated Chrysippos above all else, because she feared that he would deprive her children of their inheritance. So she tried to persuade Atreus and Thyestes to kill him. When they refused, she took action herself. At night she went to the sleeping chamber of Laios, where he slept with Chrysippos. She took the sword of Laios and plunged it in his body. Of course, Laios was suspected of murder, but with his last breath Chrysippos could name Hippodameia as the murderer. Pelops banished her and she fled to Midea in the Argolis (Pausanias). There she died or killed herself. Pausanias tells that Pelops had her bones brought back by order of the oracle and buried her in Olympia. There she already had a sanctuary, the Hippodameion, which the women were allowed to enter once a year.

There are indications in this mythology that this race must have taken place somewhere else than it is told in the myth. The distance from Pisa in Elis to the Isthmus of Corinth alone is too long for a chariot race. The description of the horses of the Oinomaos as well as the horses of Pelops as winged rather fit for a race over the sea. Thus it is described how Pelops tries his horses before the race, in which he drives from Sipylos to Greece (rather flies!), so fast that the horses' hooves do not touch the water and his charioteer Kylas dies. In Euripides' "Orestes" Myrtilos is thrown out of the chariot into the sea. This happened at the geraistic promontory and this is in the south of the island Euboea. In Scholion C and already at Pherekydes of Syros Oinomaos was king of Lesbos. That fits well also geographically; because the Geraistos lies in the air-line distance between Lesbos and the Isthmus of Corinth. Here the distance does not matter, because it was a flying competition with winged horses. The motive of the father's love for his daughter fits culturally more to Lesbos than to Elis. Kylas, the charioteer of Pelops, is written by Theopompos of Chios as Killas and he is the eponymous hero of the Lesbian town of Killa, where he had a burial mound that Pelops is said to have built for him. Therefore there is the opinion that the mythology of the abduction of Hippodameia originally comes from Asia Minor and was only transplanted to Greece with the migration of the Pelopids to Greece.

The Hippodameia myth was treated dramatically by Sophokles in his "Pelops or Hippodameia", which is lost, and by Euripides in his "Oinomaos", which is preserved in fragments, and in the play of the same name by Lucius Accius (c. 170 B.C.- c. 90 B.C.)

History of Art:
I have added the following pics:
(1) Pelops and Hippodameia in a quadriga r.. Attic red-figured amphora, around 410 B.C., today in the Museo Archaeologico in Arezzo/Italy
(2) Pelops and Hippodameia in a biga r.; terracotta tablet with relief, Roman, Augustan or Julian-Claudian, 27 B.C.-68 A.D., today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

(3) The race and the accident in which Oinomaos lost his life was often depicted on Roman sarcophagi. This one is Roman, ca. 230-240 AD, 1615 in the Villa Borghese/Rome, since 1808 in the Louvre in Paris. This detail shows the death of king Oinomaos. The king lies with his knees drawn up under the horse and holds the reins with his left hand.

(1) Apollodor, Epitomes 2, 3-10
(2) Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautica
(3) Hyginus, Fabulae
(4) Pausanias, Periegesis
(5) Pindar, Olympic Odes

Secondary literature:
(1) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
(2 ) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ausführliches Lexikon der griechoschen und römischen Mythologie
(3) Der Kleine Pauly
(4) Karl Kerenyi, The Mythology of the Greeks
(5) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Greek mythology

Online sources:
(2) Wikipedia

Best regards

Elagabal - The sun god of Emesa

The Roman emperor Elagabal (218-222) was actually called Varius Avitus Bassianus and was given the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus as emperor. Elagabal or Heliogabal he was called much later. But Elagabal was actually the name of the god he worshipped, the sun god of Emesa, today's Homs in Syria. To distinguish these two, I will always call the emperor Antoninus here. So Elagabal always means the sun god!

In this article I would like to show where Elagabal comes from and into which cultural landscape he is to be classified.

1st coin:  The Holy Stone of Emesa
Syria, Emesa, Antoninus Pius, 138-161
AE 23, 10.19g, 180
struck 138/9 (RY 1)
Obv.: [AVT KAI TI] AIΛ A [NTO - NEINOC CEB EVC] Awarded head n.r.
Rev.: EMI - [C]HNΩN
Eagle with closed wings standing r. on the Holy Stone of Emesa, head with wreath in beak turned.l., [stone decorated with a star in the middle at the top and a pellet on the left and right].
in right field A (RY 1)
Ref.: BMC 1; SNG Copenhagen 307; RPC IV online temp 5782
Abaut VF, black-green patina with light green highlights

This is the only pre-Severan coin with the Sacred Stone of Emesa. The stone itself was brought to Rome by Antoninus and returned to Emesa after his death. That this is the stone in the Kaaba in Mecca is only a rumour.

The name Elagabal is composed of the Aramaic word 'LH = ilaha (god) and GBL = gabal (mountain), which means "god mountain", not "god of the mountain", because ilaha is in the status emphaticus and not in the status constructus (Jean Starcky). This is a subtle but not insignificant difference. The word for mountain is also known to us from Arabic, e.g. in Djabal al-Tariq, (mountain of Tarik), the name for Gibraltar. However, the mountain at Emesa was only about 30m high!

Elagabal was first a local mountain god of Emesa on the Orontes, as there were so many in the Near East. But very early on he had a claim to universality due to his solar character, as was characteristic of the Semitic Baalim.

Elagabal formed a triad with two female astral deities. Such triads were not unusual in Syria and Mesopotamia. His female consorts were Juno Caelestis and Pallas. Juno Caelestis=Tannit=Urania introduced the goddess of the moon and Pallas as Aphrodite=Astarte=Atargatis as the Venusian star the Arab Al-Uzza. As Athena Allath she was also the Arabian goddess of the moon.

Elagabal had the solar character together with the East Semitic sun god Shamash from Mesopotamia, who was also depicted on Severan coins in Emesa. The cult of Elagabal also later came under his influence.

Elagabal was not worshipped anthropomorphically (in human form), as it was common in the western religions, but aniconically in the shape of a black stone in conical form, a baetyl (from Semitic bet el = house of God), which probably was a meteorite. Mountain gods were already known in Anatolia, Syria and Palestine since the times of the Hittites. It was adorned on top, as we know from coins, with an eagle, as a sign of the highest god, as was the case with Jupiter.

Many things point to Arabia. For example, it has the baetyllic format of its black stone together with the likewise solar Dusares of Petra. The priestly princes of Emesa have Arabic names: Azisos, Soaemus, Samsigeramus (Strabo), as well as later the female members of the Severan dynasty Maesa, Soaemias and Mammaea.

According to Herodian, the worship of Elagabal was not only a local phenomenon in Emesa, but was also known from other places in Syria. Sacrifices were brought to Emesa by all the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, which became richer and richer. It is believed that the cult of Elagabal was the main cult of Syria and that Emesa was its religious centre. It is interesting to note that the cult of Elagabal was already widespread in the Roman Empire long before Antoninus. For example, a stele from 196 B.C. was found in Augsburg in what was then Raetia, dedicated to the sun god Elagabal, and another for the sun god Elagabal and Minerva in Woerden/Netherlands, the then Laurium in Germania inferior, i.e. from the other end of the world. This one is from the time of Antoninus Pius, which fits well with our coin.

There is nothing left of the temples on the mountain near Emesa today. And the city itself, today's Homs, a UNESCO world heritage site. has been almost completely destroyed by the long civil war in Syria.

Elagabal in Rome
After Antoninus had been elevated to emperor by his soldiers in May 2018, he set off for Rome after his victory over Macrinus. He used the land route, spent the winter in Nicomedia and carried the Holy Stone with him. In late summer 219 he reached Rome. Since he was already murdered in March 222, he was only in Rome for 2 1/2 years. From his magnificent entry into Rome we know descriptions The Sacred Stone of Elagabal was pulled on a chariot by horses. Antoninus in white priestly garb walked backwards in front of them so that he did not lose sight of his God. An unusual sight for the Romans.

As soon as he arrived, he made Elagabal the supreme god of the Roman pantheon. He had two temples built for Elagabal. One, the Elagabalium, on the Palatine in the area of the imperial gardens, of which remains can still be seen today, and a second outside the city in what is now Trastevere. To decorate his new temple, the most sacred relics of the Roman religion were transferred from their original sites to the Elagabalium, the statue of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the shields of the Salians and the Palladium. There should be no cult outside the priesthood of the Elagabal, all other deities were only the servants of his God. Herodian writes that Antoninus forced the senators to watch him while he danced around the altar of Elagabal to the sound of drums and cymbals.

2nd coin:  Antoninus sacrificing
Antoninus, 218 - 220
AR - Denar, 3.51g, 18mm
Rome 220 - 222
Bust, draped, laureate, r., with "horn" on the forehead
Antoninus in Syrian priest clothes stg. l., holding in his outstretched right hand  
patera over burning altar and club in the left arm; behind the altar a lying bull
in upper left field a star
Ref.: RIC IV, 88; C. 61
almost EF

Antoninus wears here parthian trousers and a long-sleeved short tunic with a decorative cast buckle in front of the belly, in addition chlamys and imperial diadem. Because of this costume he is called "the Assyrian" by Dio! But all in all this was more of an approximation to Roman customs. His clothing is different from Syrian and is not known there. Dirven thinks that this is an approximation to Caracalla's Germanic dress and the attempt to make himself more familiar to the troops and to profit from his father's military victories. Also the bull is not unusual
The star in the field is probably intended to indicate the divine status of Antoninus and his belonging to the domus divina. Curtis Clay: Let it be a sign of the mint of Rome
Since an upper ray of the star is much longer, it is also interpreted as Halley's comet, which must have been visible in Rome in 220.
Elke Krengel interprets the "horn" as a dried bull penis as a sign of power and strength. However, this interpretation is not undisputed. At the beginning of 222 the "horn" disappears from the coins again, probably because the soldiers started to grumble.

At the summer solstice he had a big festival celebrated, which was very popular with the masses, for example because food was generously distributed. During this festival Elagabal was put on a chariot, decorated with gold and jewels, and taken across the city in a pompous procession to the suburban temple outside the city. Presents were thrown into the crowd. Antoninus walked backwards in front of the chariot as usual. Several officers took care that he did not stumble. Then, from towers he had erected, vessels of gold and silver, clothes and cloths were thrown at the mob. The actual purpose of this procession has not been clarified to this day. Perhaps one reason was that many Syrian citizens lived in these districts.

I have added:
(1) Pic of coin #1: The Holy Stone
(2) Photo of the stele in Augsburg
(3) Photo of the relics of the Elagabalium on todays Vigna Barberini/Rome
(4) Pic of coin #2: Antoninus sacrificing

(will be continued)


The Holy Weddings
The Holy Wedding ('ιερος γαμος) was widespread in oriental religions. With the actions of Antoninus in Rome one should know that these were mirrored events in his pantheon. This means that when Antoninus married a Vesta priestess, it was actually about the marriage of his sun god Elagabal to the Roman goddess Vesta. But he himself was never the incarnation of his god. These weddings were very unusual events for the Romans.

First Antoninus married Julia Paula. This probably went back to the clan of Emesa under his mother Julia Maesa and is seen as an attempt to connect him with the Roman aristocracy. However, he rejected her because she had a physical mark, which was not compatible with his idea of divinity. He also had his own ideas about marriage, which were intended to spread his faith.

And this led him to Aquila Severa, the chief Vesta priestess. By marrying her he wanted to establish a connection between his Elagabal cult and that of Vesta, the holiest cult of Rome. Moreover, divine children were to emerge from this marriage, with whom Antoninus wanted to found a divine dynasty. This marriage took place parallel to the marriage of Elagabal to Athena, which according to Halsberghe, however, arose from the misunderstanding that Antoninus considered the palladium to be Vesta because it was kept in the Vesta temple. His marriage with the supreme vestal virgin caused great unrest in Rome, as the vestal virgins were considered untouchable, so that Julia Maesa convinced him to break his connection and that of Elagabal.

He then married Annia Faustina, a descendant of Marcus Aurelius. This had the advantage of creating a real connection between the Severans and the Antonines and especially with the popular philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius. Children from this marriage would have had a strong dynastic claim to the throne. Parallel to this marriage he married Elagabal to Urania, whom he had brought from Carthage and who, as goddess of the moon, was to be an expression of divine harmony together with Elagabal as sun god.

But Annia Faustina did not match his ambitions. He divorced her and brought back Aquilia Severa. His religious convictions had won!

Antoninus was lucky to have ruled in a rather peaceful time. There were no warlike entanglements and the officials of the empire worked as usual with routine in the administration of the empire and the maintenance of the infrastructure. He was never actually active as emperor. He saw himself as the high priest of his god Elagabal, to whom he wanted to gain global recognition as the supreme god. A local Syrian cult was to become a comprehensive world religion. But this was not a monotheism, as some wrongly assume (e.g. Gaston Halsberghe). Other deities also existed under Elagabal, just as a kind of servant and under him. So he is not a forerunner of Christianity.

In March 222 Antoninus was murdered by his Praetorians after he had tried to hide in a latrine. His cousin and adopted son Severus Alexander became his successor. Immediately after his elevation, Alexander restored the old circumstances. The relics of the Elagabalium were returned to their old locations and the temple was rededicated to Jupiter Ultor, the Avenger. A convincing name! He had the Sacred Stone of Elagabal brought back to Emesa. With that the haunting was over. One can see where religious fanaticism can lead!
It is reported that after his victory over Zenobia of Palmyra (272), Aurelian offered sacrifices to the Elagabal at the altar of the sun god. This homage, however, was not so much to the black stone but to his own idea of a universal and supranational Sol invictus (Pauly).

I have added the picture of a tetradrachm with the image of Aphrodite Urania: Sicolopunian, 320-313 BC, Jenkins III, 271; Künker. €180.000.-
(1) Cassius Dio, Roman history
(2) Herodian, History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus
(3) Historia Augusta

Secondary literature:
(1) RIC
(2) BMCR
(3) Artaud, A., Heliogabale ou l'anarchiste couronne, 1943
(4) Dirven, L., The emperor's new clothes: a note on Elagabalus' priestley dress, 2007
(5 ) Halsberghe, G.H., The Cult of Sol Invictus, 1972
(6) Hans-Joachim Hoeft, Münzen und antike Mythologie, 2011
(7) Martin Icks, The Crimes of Elagabalus, I.B.Tsuris 2013
(8) Der Kleine Pauly
(9) Dietmar Kienast, Roman Imperial Tables, 1990
(10) Elke Krengel, The so-called "Horn" of the Elagabal - The tip of a bull penis. A reinterpretation as a result of interdisciplinary research, 1997

Online sources:
(2) Halley's Comet: A Visual Record on Coins of Elagabalus, 2020
(3) Wikipedia

Best regards


Demeter was one of the most important goddesses of ancient Greece. And so she is understandably one of the deities most frequently depicted on coins. Her depiction has interested me for a long time.

Her standard attributes always include the ears of grain in her hand, often together with a head of a poppy, and a burning torch, sometimes two torches. The torch may be surrounded by a snake. More rarely it is accompanied by an additional cista mystica from which a snake rises. But there are also pictures of her riding a biga with torches in her hand, pulled by winged snakes. She is often veiled, as befits one of the most venerable goddesses. Sometimes she wears a Kalathos, but not always.

Coin #1:
Moesia inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Diadumenian, AD 217-218
AE 27, 13.88g, 0°
struck under governor Statius Longinus
        Bust, draped and cuirassed, seen from front, bare-headed, r.
        Demeter, in long robe and mantle, veiled, standing frontal, looking l., resting          
         with raised left hand on a long, burning torch, around which a snake is coiling
          and holding ears of grain in her extended right hand over a cista mystica with
         open lid, from which a second snake rises.
Ref.: a) not in AMNG:
            Rev.  AMNG I/1, 1836
         b) Varbanov 3722
         c) Hristova-Hoeft-Jekov (2020) No. (same dies)
rare, almost VF, dark green patina  

Even the ancient world recognised a composite in its name, the second part of which is μητερ (Greek = mother). The first element has not been unanimously clarified until today. Of course γη- = earth (especially the Orphicists) is discussed, so that she would then be the earth mother (Pauly). It is possible that Demeter already appears in Linear A as da-ma-te.

Demeter was the daughter of Uranos and his sister Rhea. Like all his children, she was eaten by Uranos after her birth, but spat out again when Metis gave him an emetic. She was considered the goddess of the field and of fruits, especially of grain. At first the grain grew among the other grasses and herbs and was unknown to man. She taught them how to collect and store it, sow it and bake bread with it. Before that, people had fed only on acorns (Virgil, Georgica). According to some, this was done in Egypt, according to others by the Athenians or in Sicily. Egypt was considered by the Greeks to be the oldest country in the world and the source of all knowledge, Sicily was an important supplier of grain in ancient times

In the Orphic Hymns it is said that she also invented ploughing with oxen. According to Kallimachos and Diodoros Siculus, she is said to have been the inventor of the laws and to have urged people to respect the property of others. That is why in Greek she was called thesmophoros = bearer of the laws.

Because of her beauty her brother Zeus fell in love with her and sired Persephone with her. Her brother Poseidon also desired her. She tried to escape him by turning into a horse and joining the herd of horses of king Onkios in Arcadia. But she was not successful. Poseidon recognised her anyway, turned into a horse as well and sired the famous black-maned stallion Areion and a daughter with her. Their name is sometimes called Despoina or Hera. But her real name could not be mentioned outside the mysteries (Apollodor; Pausanias).

This misdeed grieved her so much that she wrapped herself in black clothes, avoided the other gods, and finally retreated into a cave. She no longer cared for the grain, everything withered away, and man and cattle began to suffer and die of hunger. No one knew where she was until Pan, who roamed everywhere, discovered her in Arcadia and reported this to Zeus. Zeus sent the Parzes to her and they succeeded in persuading Demeter to change her mind.

Demeter herself, on the other hand, loved Jasion above all, a son of Zeus and Elektra. To him she gave birth to Pluto, the god of wealth and prosperity. But Zeus' jealousy was so great that he killed Jasion with a bolt of lightning.

I have already told the story of Persephone's abduction by Hades in detail. Among the other known mythologies of the Demeter is the story of Triptolemos, the oldest son of Keleus in Eleusis, to whom she gave her snake biga so that he could spread the use of grain throughout the world. To this story belongs the following coin (both stories are, by the way, in my first volume of mythology from 2017).

Coin #2
Cilicia, Kelenderis, Elagabal, 218-222
AE 22, 6.16g, 330°
Av.: M(?) AVP AN - TΩNINOC (both N's retrograde)
       Awarded head n.r.
Rv.: K - E - [ΛE]NΔEPITΩN (both N's retrograde)
      Demeter holding torch in her raised right hand diving r. in a biga, which is drawn by two winged  
Ref.: SNG Levante 548 (same dies); SNG von Aulock 5650
rare, good SS, extraordinary style
ex Hirsch auction 168 (1990), lot 729
ex Gorny & Mosch auction 108 (2001), lot 1525
ex. Münzen und Medaillen 20 (2006), lot 233

Here Demeter drives the snake biga, which she later gave to Triptolemos.

If someone had helped her find Persephone, he was rewarded by Demeter. In gratitude she gave Phytalos the branch of a fig tree and taught him how to plant and cultivate it. She gave  Pandareios the gift of eating as much as he wanted without harming him. On the other hand, she took revenge on those who had not helped her. To Ascalabos, who had mocked her when she drank thirstily from a bowl, she poured the rest of the barley-filled water (kykeon) into his face, turning him into a spotted lizard (Greek: askalabotes). Lynkos, king of the Scythians, who wanted to execute Triptolemos, she turned into a lynx (Greek lynkos). Erysichthon, who who cut down a forest sacred to her she gave insatiable hunger, so that he finally ate himself. Acheron, who had revealed that Persephone had eaten some pomegranate seeds, so she had to stay in the underworld, she turned  into a night owl. According to others, she had hung an enormous stone around his neck.

According to Pauly she was a special form of the earth goddess with a strong emphasis on the agricultural aspect. Hiding in a cave, the abduction of her daughter into the underworld and the snakes tied to her show that there was a connection to the chthonic gods. But unlike the underworld gods, she was rather peaceful and not threatening.

She was a harvest goddess with wheat blond hair (Iliad). The farmers prayed to her for good harvests. In Crete "harvest" even meant "to pay homage to Demeter". The origin of her complex form was probably Thessaly with a connection to the pelasgian Dos = Pheraia. Their connection to Iasion and Plutos also speaks for this. These were not grain demons, but chthonic healers (Pauly).

According to some, she was once a queen in Sicily whose daughter was kidnapped by a pirate who took her to Pluto. In Sicily, the granary of antiquity, there was a true Demeter religion, which, like the mother in Persephone/Kore, lamented the disappearance of the plant world. With the gathering of Core flowers in the meadows, hopes of immortality were attached to the rebirth of nature in spring. This was also expressed in the balance between the chthonic and epichthonic nature of the corn. and underworld goddess Demeter herself. From the Christian side, such as Augustinus, the idea of a cyclical process of creation associated with Demeter was vehemently rejected, as it was contrary to her eschatological idea that history should be directed towards one goal.

The mystical seeds of Demeter as the guide to rebirth did not only include the grains of the field, but also the flocks of the dead! Thus not only did her Eleusinian retinue include agricultural demons such as Dysaules and cultural heroes such as Triptolemos, but also infernal beings such as Baubo and Daeira. In the theology of Orphism, she is fused with the Magna Mater, which also includes Kabiren and Idaean dactyls.

Festivals of Demeter:
The most important place of worship for Demeter was in Eleusis, which is said to have been an entrance to the underworld. The Eleusinian Mysteries were held every year in their honour. But with the spread of Christianity, the cult of Eleusis lost its importance. After an attempt by Emperor Julian II. Apostata to revive the mysteries, Emperor Theodosius I had the temple closed in 392. Four years later the Temple of Eleusis was finally destroyed by the Visigoths under Alaric I.

Coin #3
Thrace, Anchialos, Gordian III, 238-244
AE 25, 9.8g, 24.74mm, 225
the so-called "Dreier (= value of Three)"
       Laureate head.r.
        Demeter, richly draped and veiled, sitting on a basket (cista mystica), holding in her
        outstretched right hand ears of grain and poppy and in her raised left hand long
Ref: AMNG II, 641 var. (3 ex., 1, 2 in Berlin, 3 in Sofia), Av. (3) Sofia
rare, almost VF

Here Demeter is depicted sitting as in Knidos (see below), but on a cista mystica, and thus has a relationship with the Eleusinian Mysteries.

In Greece there was the Thesmophoria, a 10-day festival in honour of Demeter. Only women were allowed to participate in this festival. In his comedy "Thesmophoriazusai", 411 B.C., Aristophanes mocks the festival: He has Euripides and his brother-in-law dressed in women's clothes mingle with the celebrants, which gives the opportunity for rough jokes. It is known that Alkibiades, together with his comrades, had imitated this festival a few years earlier, in 415. He had disguised himself as the high priest, another one had played the torchbearer. This led to the famous trial against him and to his deposition as commander-in-chief of the campaign to Sicily (the so-called Hermen Crimes).

History of Art:
A popular theme in antiquity was the abduction of Persephone by Hades, pictures of her stay in the underworld and her return. Triptolemos are also frequently found. But motifs from other Demeter mythology are rarely found. Here is one of these rarer depictions:

Demeter sitting on a throne stretches out her hand to Metaneira, who sits before her and hands her three ears of wheat. Detail of an Apulian red-figured hydria, c. 340 BC, attributed to the Varese painter. Today in the Old Museum of the National Museum in Berlin. Metaneira, the mother of Triptolemos, had given Demeter a warm welcome when she came to Attica.

Reliefs with triptolemos and statues of Demeter are known from ancient times, such as the sitting statue of Knidos. Here Demeter is depicted in a serene, timeless posture, underlining her maternal role in the pantheon of the 12 Olympic Gods. In Knidos she was worshipped together with Hades and other underworld gods and her daughter Persephone.  The marble statue dates from 350 BC and is now in the British Museum in London.
Mythological representations of Demeter, on the other hand, as already mentioned, are only few in antiquity. This changed in modern times. As an example: the ceiling painting by Giovanni the Udine from the Villa Farnesina in Rome (1511/12) shows Venus, Hera and Demeter.

Demeter/Ceres is often depicted in a triumphal chariot to celebrate happiness and prosperity. She was painted by Rubens with Pan and nymphs. The motto of Terenz "Sine Cerere et Libero friget Venus" (= without fruit and wine Venus freezes) also served as a model for emblems and paintings.

(1) Homer,  Ilias
(2) Hesiod,  Theogony
(3) Vergil,  Georgica
(4) Ovid,  Ars amatoria
(5) Kallimachos,   Hymnes
(6) Apollodoros,  Bibliotheke
(7) Diodorus  Siculus,  Bibliotheke
(8) Pausanias,  Voyages in Greece  

Secondary Lietrature:
(1) Benjamin  Hederich, Gründliches  mythologisches  Lexikon
(2) Wilhelm Heinrich Röscher, Lexikon der Mythologie
(3) Karl  Kerenyi,  Die  Mythologie  der  Griechen
(4) Robert  von  Ranke-Graves,  Griechische Mythologie
(5) Der  Kleine  Pauly
(6) Reclams  Lexikon  der  antiken  Götter  und  Heroen  in  der  Kunst  
(7) Hans-Joachim  Hoeft,  Münzen  und  antike  Mythologie  -  Reise  in  ein  fernes  Land,  2017
Online Sources:
(3) Wikipedia

Best regards


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

[*] Previous page

Go to full version