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 it.
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 be.
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
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 earth.
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
Macris, daughter of Aristaeus and Autonoe 2, is one of the nurses
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
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 dogs.
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
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,
"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 Demeter. Homeric
Hymn to Demeter 80]
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
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 bird is loved by the
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 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
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
to the Underworld
to fetch Persephone
request, but before Persephone
left, he gave her a pomegranate seed to eat so that she would be
bound to his realm. Hermes
to her mother and there was a joyous reunion until Demeter learned
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
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
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
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
(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
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.
was sometimes threatened by the kings of the countries he
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
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
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 grave:
"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."
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