Demeter: Wikis


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Roman copy of Phidean goddess, restored as Demeter (Museo Pio-Clementina)
Roman copy of Phidean goddess, restored as Demeter (Museo Pio-Clementina)
Goddess of agriculture and wheat
Symbol Torch, Sheaf of Wheat or Barley
Parents Kronos and Rhea
Siblings Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Zeus
Children Persephone
Roman equivalent Ceres
Demeter drives her horse-drawn chariot containing her daughter Kore, at Selinunte, Sicily, 6th century BC

In Greek mythology Demeter (pronounced /dəˈmiːtər/; də-MEE-tər; Greek: Δημήτηρ, Dēmētēr, probably "earth-mother")[1][2] was the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, the seasons (personified by the Hours), and the harvest. 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.


Corn mother at Eleusis

According to the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates, the greatest gifts which Demeter gave were cereal (also known as corn in modern Britain), 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.[3]

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, dated to about the seventh century BC.[4] 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.[5]

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. 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"),[6] 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"),[7] invokes her powers of ever-returning fertility, as does Chthonia ("in the ground").[8] 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.

Triptolemus, Demeter, and Persephone, by the Triptolemos Painter, ca 470BC

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)
  • Kabeiraia, 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.[9][10]
  • 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, 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 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 fright

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.
Colossal Statue of Ceres, Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy. Demeter and Ceres sometimes are identified in art as holding a tuft of grain

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 Samothrace.

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 humankind 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.

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 an 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, the "Mistress", whose name "Despoina" might not be uttered outside the Eleusinian Mysteries, and a horse named Arion, with a black mane and tail.

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".[11] "In her alliance with Poseidon," Karl Kerenyi noted,[12] "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 Return of Persephone by Frederic Leighton, (1891).

The central myth of Demeter, which is at the heart of the Eleusinian Mysteries, is her relationship with Persephone, her daughter. In the Olympian pantheon, Persephone became the consort of Hades (Roman Pluto, the underworld god). 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 from the earth and brought her into the underworld. 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.[13]

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 hadn't 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. This corresponds with the dry Mediterranean summer, during which plant life is threatened by drought. Winter, 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, or ate them accidentally, that is, not knowing the effect it would have or perhaps even recognize it for what it was. 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,[14] Persephone is not only the younger self of Demeter[15], 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.[16]

Demeter's stay at Eleusis

The Eleusinian trinity: Persephone, Triptolemos and Demeter, on a marble bas-relief from Eleusis, 440–430 BC.

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 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.[17]


Ancient Greek Religion

Main doctrines
Polytheism · Mythology · Hubris · Orthopraxy · Reciprocity · Virtue

Amphidromia · Iatromantis · Pharmakos · Temples · Votive Offerings · Animal sacrifice

Twelve Olympians:
Aphrodite · Apollo · Ares · Artemis · Athena · Demeter · Dionysus · Hades · Hestia · Hera · Hermes · Hephaestus · Poseidon · Zeus
Primordial deities:
Aether · Chaos · Cronos · Erebus · Gaia · Hemera · Nyx · Tartarus · Uranus
Lesser gods:
Eros · Hebe · Hecate · Helios · Herakles · Iris · Selene · Pan · Nike
Iliad · Odyssey · Theogony · Works and Days · Bibliotheca · Argonautica
See also:
Decline of Hellenistic polytheism · Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism · Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes


  • 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.
  • The Black Demeter, a sculpture made by Onatas.
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Demeter placed Aethon, the god of famine, in Erysichthon's stomach, making him permanently famished. This was a punishment for cutting down trees in a sacred grove.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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".
  4. ^ 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."
  5. ^ Graves, Robert (1960). Greek Gods and Heroes. Dell Laurel-Leaf. 
  6. ^ Pausanias 8.25.50.
  7. ^ In Pausanias 1.22.3.
  8. ^ Pausanias 3.14.5.
  9. ^ Herodotus, v. 61;Plutarch Isis et Osiris p. 378, d
  10. ^ Smith, William (1867), "Achaea (1)", in Rachel, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston, pp. 8, 
  11. ^ Other ritually bathed goddesses were Argive Hera and Cybele; Aphrodite renewed her own powers bathing herself in the sea.
  12. ^ Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 1951:185.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Grave's work on Greek myth was often criticized; see The White Goddess#Criticism and The Greek Myths#Reception.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0-14-001026-2. 24. pp.94–95.
  17. ^ 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".


External links

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

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DEMETER, in Greek mythology, daughter of Cronus and Rhea and sister of Zeus, goddess of agriculture and civilized life. Her name has been explained as (I) "grain-mother," from 8na1, the Cretan form of "ECai, " barley," or (2) " earth-mother," or rather " mother earth," 86, being regarded as the Doric form of AI). She is rarely mentioned in Homer, nor is she included amongst the Olympian gods.

The central fact of her cult was the story of her daughter Persephone (Proserpine), a favourite subject in classical poetry. According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone, while gathering flowers on the Nysian plain (probably here a purely mythical locality), was carried off by Hades (Pluto), the god of the lower world, with the connivance of Zeus (see also Proserpine). The incident has been assigned to various other localities - Crete, Eleusis, and Enna in Sicily, the last being most generally adopted. This rape is supposed to point to an original iepos X6 os, an annual holy marriage of a god and goddess of vegetation. Wandering over the earth in search of her daughter, Demeter learns from Helios the truth about her disappearance. In the form of an old woman named Deo (= the " seeker," or simply a diminutive form), she comes to the house of Celeus at Eleusis, where she is hospitably received. Having revealed herself to the Eleusinians, she departs, in her wrath having visited the earth with a great dearth. At last Zeus appeases her by allowing her daughter to spend two-thirds of the year with her in the upper world. Demeter then returns to Olympus, but before her final departure from earth, in token of her gratitude, she instructs the rulers of Eleusis in the art of agriculture and in the solemnities and rites whereby she desires in future to be honoured.

1 The form " demesne " is an Anglo-French spelling of the Old Fr. demeine or demeine, belonging to a lord, from Med. Lat. dominicus, dominus, lord; dominicum in Med. Lat. meant proprietas (see Du Cange). From the later Fr. domaine, which approaches more nearly the original Lat., comes the other Eng. form " domain," which is chiefly used in a non-legal sense of any tract of country or district under the rule of any specific sovereign state, &c. " Domain " is, however, the form kept in the legal phrase " Eminent Domain ".

Those who were initiated into the mysteries of Eleusis found a deep meaning in the myth, which was held to teach the principle of a future life, founded on the return of Persephone to the upper world, or rather on the process of nature by which seed sown in the ground must first die and rot before it can yield new life (see Mystery). At Eleusis, Demeter was venerated as the introducer of all the blessings which agriculture brings in its train - fixed dwelling-places, civil order, marriage and a peaceful life; hence her name Thesmophoros, " the bringer of law and order," and the festival Thesmophoria. J. G. Frazer takes the epithet to mean " bearer of the sacred objects deposited on the altar "; L. R. Farnell (Cults of the Greek States, iii. 106) suggests " the bringer of treasure or riches," as appropriate to the goddess of corn and of the lower world; others refer the name to " the law of wedlock " (OEOµos MK-rpoco, Odyssey, xxiii. 296, where, however, D. B. Monro translates " place, situation "). At Eleusis also, Triptolemus, the son of Celeus, who was said to have invented the plough and to have been sent by Demeter round the world to diffuse the knowledge of agriculture, had a temple and threshing-floor.

In the agrarian legends of Iasion and Erysichthon, Demeter also plays an important part. Iasion (or Iasius), a beautiful youth, inspired her with love for him in a thrice-ploughed field in Crete, the fruit of their union being Plutus (wealth). According to Homer (Odyssey, v. 128) he was slain by Zeus with a thunderbolt. The story is compared by Frazer (Golden Bough, 2nd ed., ii. 217) with the west Prussian custom of the mock birth of a child on the harvest-field, the object being to ensure a plentiful crop for the coming year. It seems to point to the supersession of a primitive local Cretan divinity by Demeter, and the adoption of agriculture by the inhabitants, bringing wealth in its train in the form of the fruits of the earth, both vegetable and mineral. Some scholars, identifying Iasion with Jason, regard Thessaly as the original home of the legend, and the union with Demeter as the iEpen 'yaµos of mother earth with a health god. Erysichthon (" tearer up of the earth "), son of Triopas or Myrmidon, having cut down the trees in a grove sacred to the goddess, was punished by her with terrible hunger (Callimachus, Hymn to Demeter; Ovid, Metam. viii. 738-878). Perhaps Erysichthon may be explained as the personification of the labourer, who by the systematic cultivation and tilling of the soil endeavours to force the crops, instead of allowing them to mature unmolested as in the good old times. Tearing up the soil with the plough is regarded as an invasion of the domain of the earth-mother, punished by the all-devouring hunger for wealth, that increases with increasing produce. According to another view, Erysichthon is the destroyer of trees, who wastes away as the plant itself loses its vigour. It is possible that the story may originally have been connected with tree-worship. Here again, as in the case of Iasion, a conflict between an older and a younger cult seems to be alluded to (for the numerous interpretations see O. Crusius s.v. in Roscher's Lexikon). It is as a corn-goddess that Demeter appears in Homer and Hesiod, and numerous epithets from various sources (see Bruchmann, Epitheta Deorum, supplement to Roscher's Lexikon, i. 2) attest her character as such. The name 'IovXc. (? at Delos), from 'lovAos, " corn-sheaf," has been regarded as identifying the goddess with the sheaf, and as proving that the cult of Demeter originated in the worship of the corn-mother or corn-spirit, the last sheaf having a more or less divine character for the primitive husbandman. According to this view, the prototypes of Demeter and Persephone are the corn-mother and harvest maiden of northern Europe, the corn-fetishes of the field (Frazer, Golden Bough, 2nd ed., ii. 217, 222; but see Farnell, Cults, iii. 3 5). The influence of Demeter, however, was not limited to corn, but extended to vegetation generally and all the fruits of the earth, with the curious exception of the bean, the use of which was forbidden at Eleusis, and for the protection of which a special patron was invented. In this wider sense Demeter is akin to Ge, with whom she has several epithets in common, and is sometimes identified with Rhea-Cybele; thus Pindar speaks of Demeter xaXKoKparos (" brass-rattling "), an epithet obviously more suitable to the Asiatic than to the Greek earth-goddess. Although the goddess of agriculture is naturally inclined to peace and averse from war, the memory of the time when her land was won and kept by the sword still lingers in the epithets xpvuaopos and 1.4n7 pos and in the name Triptolemus, which probably means " thrice fighter " rather than " thrice plougher." Another important aspect of Demeter was that of a divinity of the under-world; as such she is XBovia at Sparta and especially at Hermione in Argolis, where she had a celebrated temple, said to have been founded by Clymenus (one of the names of Hades-Pluto) and his sister Chthonia, the children of Phoroneus, an Argive hero. Here there was said to be a descent into the lower world, and local tradition made it the scene of the rape of Persephone. At the festival Chthonia, a cow (representing, according to Mannhardt, the spirit of vegetation), which voluntarily presented itself, was sacrificed by three old women. Those joining in the procession wore garlands of hyacinth, which seems to attribute a chthonian character to the ceremony, although it may also have been connected with agriculture (see S. Wide, De Sacris Troezeniorum, Hermionensium, Epidauriorum, Upsala, 1888). The striking use of the term Snµjrpaot in the sense of " the dead " may be noted in this connexion.

The remarkable epithets, 'Epivus and ME¦acva, as applied to Demeter, were both localized in Arcadia, the first at Thelpusa (or rather Onkeion close by), the second at Phigalia (see W. Immerwahr, Die Kulte and Mythen Arkadiens, i. 1891). According to the Thelpusan story, Demeter, during her wanderings in search of Persephone, changed herself into a mare to avoid the persecution of Poseidon. The god, however, assumed the form of a stallion, and the fruit of the union was a daughter of mystic name and the horse Areion (or Erion). Demeter, at first enraged, afterwards calmed down, and washed herself in the river Ladon by way of purification. Demeter " the angry " (Epivis) became Demeter " the bather " (Xovaia). An almost identical story was current in the neighbourhood of Tilphossa, a Boeotian spring. In the Phigalian legend, no mention is made of the horse Areion, but only of the daughter, who is called Despoina (mistress), a title common to all divinities connected with the under-world. Demeter, clad in black (hence µEXaiva) in token of mourning for her daughter and wrath with Poseidon, retired into a cave. During that time the earth bore no fruit, and the inhabitants of the world were threatened with starvation. At last Pan, the old god of Arcadia, discovered her hiding-place, and informed Zeus, who sent the Moirae (Fates) to fetch her out. The cave, still called Mavrospelya ("black cave"), was ever afterwards regarded as sacred to Demeter, and in'it, according to information given to Pausanias, there had been set up an image of the goddess, a female form seated on a rock, but with a horse's head and mane, to which were attached snakes and other wild animals. It was clothed in a black garment reaching to the feet, and held in one hand a dolphin, in the other a dove. The image was destroyed by fire, replaced by the sculptor Onatas from inspiration in a dream, but disappeared again before the time of Pausanias.

Both pampa and iptvis, according to Farnell, are epithets of Demeter as an earth-goddess of the under-world. The first has been explained as referring to the gloom of her abode, or the blackness of the withered corn. The second, according to Max Muller and A. Kuhn, is the etymological equivalent of the Sanskrit Saranyu, who, having turned herself into a mare, is pursued by Vivasvat, and becomes the mother of the two Asvins, the Indian Dioscuri, the Indian and Greek myths being regarded as identical. According to Farnell, the meaning of the epithet is to be looked for in the original conception of Erinys, which was that of an earth-goddess akin to Ge, thus naturally associated with Demeter, rather than that of a wrathful avenging deity.

Various interpretations have been given of the horse-headed form of the Black Demeter: (I) that the horse was one of the forms of the corn-spirit in ancient Greece; (2) that it was an animal " devoted " to the chthonian goddess; (3) that it is totemistic; (4) that the form was adopted from Poseidon Hippios, who is frequently associated with the earth-goddess and is said to have received the name Hippios first at Thelpusa, in order that Demeter might figure as the mother of Areion (for a discussion of the whole subject see Farnell, Cults, iii. pp. 50-62). The union of Poseidon and Demeter is thus explained by Mannhardt. As the waves of the sea are fancifully compared to horses, so a field of corn, waving in the breeze, may be said to represent the wedding of the sea-god and the corn-goddess. In any case the association of Poseidon, representing the fertilizing element of moisture, with Demeter, who causes the plants and seeds to grow, is quite natural, and seems to have been widespread.

Demeter also appears as a goddess of health, of birth and of marriage; and a certain number of political and ethnic titles is assigned to her. Of the latter the most noteworthy are: IIavaxaia at Aegium in Achaea, pointing to some connexion with the Achaean league; 'AXaia, 1 " the Achaean goddess," unless it refers to the " sorrow "of the goddess for the loss of her daughter (cf. 'AXEa in Boeotia); and, most important of all, 'Aµqucrvovcs, at Anthela near Thermopylae, as patron-goddess of the Amphictyonic league, subsequently so well known in connexion with the temple at Delphi.

The Eleusinia and Thesmophoria are discussed elsewhere, but brief mention may here be made of certain agrarian festivals held in honour of Demeter.

i. Haloa, obviously connected with aces (" threshing-floor "), begun at Athens and finished at Eleusis, where there was a threshing-floor of Triptolemus, in the month Poseideon (December). This date, which is confirmed by historical and epigraphical evidence, seems inappropriate, and it is suggested (A. Mommsen, Feste der Stadt Athen, p. 365 foll.) that the festival, originally held in autumn, was subsequently placed later, so as to synchronize with the winter Dionysia. Dionysus, as the god of vines, and (in a special procession) Poseidon 4ura?µcos (" god of vegetation ") were associated with Demeter. In addition to being a harvest festival, marked by the ordinary popular rejoicings, the Haloa had a religious character. The eurapxai (" first fruits ") were conveyed to Eleusis, where sacrifice was offered by a priestess, men being prohibited from undertaking the duty. A Texet'ij (" initiatory ceremony ") of women by a woman also took place at Eleusis, characterized by obscene jests and the use of phallic emblems. The sacramental meal on this occasion consisted of the produce of land and sea, certain things (pomegranates, honey, eggs) being forbidden for mystical reasons. Although the offerings at the festival were bloodless, the ceremony of the presentation of the airapxai was probably accompanied by animal sacrifice (Farnell, Foucart); Mommsen, however, considers the offerings to have been pastry imitations. Certain games (7rcrpcos aryc'ev), of which nothing is known, terminated the proceedings. In Roman imperial times the ephebi had to deliver a speech at the Haloa.

2. Chloeia or Chloia, the festival of the corn beginning to sprout, held at Eleusis in the early spring (Anthesterion) in honour of Demeter Chloe, " the green," the goddess of growing vegetation. This is to be distinguished from the later sacrifice of a ram to the same goddess on the 6th of the month Thargelion, probably intended as an act of propitiation. It has been identified with the Procharisteria (sometimes called Proschaireteria), another spring festival, but this is doubtful. The scholiast on Pindar (01. ix. 150) mentions an Athenian harvest festival Eucharisteria. 3. Proerosia, at which prayers were offered for an abundant harvest, before the land was ploughed for sowing. It was also called Proarcturia, an indication that it was held before the rising of Arcturus. According to the traditional account, when Greece was threatened with famine, the Delphic oracle ordered firstfruits to be brought to Athens from all parts of the country, which were to be offered by the Athenians to the goddess Deo on behalf of all the contributors. The most important part of the festival was the three sacred ploughings - the Athenian i ro ir6Xcv, the Eleusinian on the Rharian plain, the Scirian (a compromise between Athens and Eleusis). The festival itself 1 O. Gruppe (Griechische Mythologie, ii. 1177, note 1) considers it " certain " that 'Axaia ='A X e wia, although he is unable to explain the form.

took place, probably some time in September, at Eleusis. In later times the ephebi also took part in the Proerosia.

4. Thalysia, a thanksgiving festival, held in autumn after the harvest in the island of Cos (see Theocritus vii.).

5. The name of Demeter is also associated with the Scirophoria (see Athena). It is considered probable that the festival was originally held in honour of Athena, but that the growing importance of the Eleusinia caused it to be attached to Demeter and Kore.

The attributes of Demeter are chiefly connected with her character as goddess of agriculture and vegetation - ears of corn, the poppy, the mystic basket (calathus) filled with flowers, corn and fruit of all kinds, the pomegranate being especially common. Of animals, the cow and the pig are her favourites, the latter owing to its productivity and the cathartic properties of its blood. The crane is associated with her as an indicator of the weather. As a chthonian divinity she is accompanied by a snake; the myrtle, asphodel and narcissus (which Persephone was gathering when carried off by Hades) also are sacred to her.

In Greek art, Demeter is made to resemble Hera, only more matronly and of milder expression; her form is broader and fuller. She is sometimes riding in a chariot drawn by horses or dragons, sometimes walking, sometimes seated upon a throne, alone or with her daughter. The Demeter of Cnidus in the British Museum, of the school of Praxiteles, apparently shows her mourning for the loss of her daughter. The article Greek Art, fig. 67 (p1. iv.), gives a probable representation of Demeter (or her priestess) from the stone of a vault in a Crimean grave.

The Romans identified Demeter with their own Ceres. See L. Preller, Demeter and Persephone (1837); P. R. Forster, Der Raub and die Riickkehr der Persephone (1874), in which considerable space is devoted to the representations of the myth in art; W. Mannhardt, Mythologische Forschungen (1884); J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903); L. Dyer, The Gods in Greece (1891); J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough (2nd ed.), ii. 168-222; L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie (4th ed., by C. Robert); O. Kern in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyclopeidie, iv. pt. 2 (1901); L. Bloch in Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie; O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie and Religionsgeschichte, ii. (1907); L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, iii. (1907); article " Ceres " by F. Lenormant in Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des antiquites. (J. H. F.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also Déméter





From Ancient Greek Δημήτηρ (Dēmētēr).


  • IPA: /dəˈmiˌt.ɹ̩/

Proper noun




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  1. (Greek mythology) The goddess of the fertility of the Earth and harvests, protector of marriage and social order; daughter of Cronos and Rhea, mother to Persephone


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