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From Greek and Roman Mythology & Heroic Legend, by Professor H. Steuding, Translated from the German and Edited by Lionel D. Barnett. The Temple Primers, London: J. M. Dent; 1901; pp. 22-26.


Greek Religion from the Beginning of the Homeric Age :

II.  Ge, Demeter and Kore: Eleusinian Mysteries.   § 44.  Gaia or Ge (‘Earth’) is the broad-bosomed great mother of all, who bears men, animals, and plants; she was worshipped in Athens as Kurotrophos (‘Fosterer of youth’), and here, as often elsewhere, connected with Zeus the bestower of fruitfulness. But because she takes back into her bosom all that has died, she is at the same time a death-goddess; she knows the secrets of the realms of the dead that lies within the earth, and hence she was questioned as an oracle-goddess over rifts in the ground which seemed to lead down into that realm, especially at Aigai in Achaia; the real belief was probably that she sent up the dead themselves to be questioned. Later indeed her oracles were often supplanted by those of Apollon.

As Kurotrophos she is seated, holding children and fruits in her lap, while kine and flocks gaze at her feet. Far more often however she is conceived as a gigantic woman, with the upper body — more rarely the head alone — rising up from the earth; and in this form she usually hands over her son Erichthonios to the care of Athena. In later times she is couched, with a horn of plenty in her hand, upon the earth; and this form of representation was copied in the personifications of individual countries, islands, and cities, the last of which are often more exactly designated by a rampart-crown.

§ 45.  Among the goddesses of the receptive fertility of earth Demeter (‘Earth-Mother,’ from μήτηρ, ), the guardian of the corn that serves as man’s chief nourishment, stands in particularly high esteem. Her supposed parents are Kronos, the sun-god ripening the fruit of the fields, and Rhea, who in 23 her character is closely connected with her. Her by-names Chloe (‘Green-yellow’), Karpophoros, Sito, and Iulo (‘Bestower of fruit, corn, and sheaves’), mark her out as protectress of the cornfield, as does the fact that offerings were made to her of the first-fruits of the harvest.

In Homer too the ‘fair-tressed Demeter,’ the spouse of Zeus worshipped in the Thessalian Pyrasos (‘wheatland’), is only goddess of the cultivation of corn, so that as a rule she seems to dwell not on Olympus but in the arable field; and she is similarly represented in the sacred hymn containing her legend which was composed before the age of Solon in Attica.

§ 46.  This hymn relates that the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, Kore, was gathering spring flowers in company with the Okeaninai or daughters of Okeanos (‘fountain-nymphs’) on a meadow which according to later story lay near Enna in Sicily. As amongst these she was plucking the death-flower of the narcissus, the earth suddenly opened; Hades, the lord of the nether world, arose therefrom and ravished away Kore from the circle of her playmates. Without touching food her mother sought her with torches in her hands for nine days until she learned from Hecate or Helios who it was that had carried her off. When Zeus refused her prayer for the restoration of her daughter, she hid herself in wrath at Eleusis and stopped all growth of corn. Not until Zeus in consequence of this had determined that Kore should spend but one-third of each year in the nether world did she return to Olympos and bestow again fruitfulness on the corn. The denial of complete restoration is explained by the story that Kore had accepted from her husband and eaten the pip of a pomegranate, a symbol of fertilisation.

§ 47.  This tale was later interpreted as a picture of the growth of the seed-corn; but among all Indogermans we actually find the notion of a close connection between child and corn, between human procreation and the cornfield’s fertility, and hence the attempt was made to conjure up the latter by symbolic acts of apparent indecency which strictly 24 referred to the former. For this reason, according to Cretan legend, Iaison begot Plutos (i. e, foison, wealth) by Demeter in the thrice-ploughed field; and on the other hand Demophon, the frail little son of King Keleos of Eleusis, thrives like the seed-corn under the goddess’ care.

§ 48.  Obviously kindred to Demophon is another Eleusinian foster-son of Demeter, the hero Triptolemos (‘Thrice-plougher’), who was worshipped as first apostle of agriculture and founder of the Eleusinian cult. Demeter sent him abroad on her own car drawn by snakes, equipping him with tools of husbandry and seed-corn, to teach men agriculture and the gentler moral life and political order that spread in its train. Demeter herself was hence praised as Thesmophoros (‘Law-giver’), especially at the feast of the Thesmophoria, celebrated in the month of sowing, Pyanopsion.

§ 49.  She had her chief seat at Eleusis near Athens, where she was worshiped in both public and privy celebrations (‘Mysteries’) with Kore (‘the Maid’), her daughter by Zeus, and with the young Iacchos, who is probably the god Dionysos-Bacchos or Sabazios introduced from Athens into this cult. Iacchos was here accounted a son sometimes of Demeter, sometimes of Kore and ‘Underground Zeus’ or Hades-Pluton, who also had here from earliest times a temple next to a cavern. Pluton and Kore are in inscriptions here always termed ‘the God and the Goddess’; mother and daughter again are described together as ‘the Worshipful Ones’ or ‘the Mistresses.’

§ 50.  Every year in Boedromion (September — October) the people of Athens marched along the sacred road to Eleusis in festal procession, in which corn-sheaves were borne in thanks for the vouchsafed harvest. At Eleusis was held in the darkness of night a round-race with torches, which in all probability referred originally to the renewal of light in the spring, but was commonly interpreted by the story of the goddess herself seeking her ravished daughter by torchlight. To the initiated (mystai) were shown the holy symbols of the goddess, and to remind them of her grace to mankind 25 in bestowing corn they were presented after a long fast with a draught or gruel of water and meal seasoned with calamint, in which form undoubtedly the gifts of Demeter had been enjoyed in earliest times (compare the puls of the Romans). Finally they poured out water, as rain-magic, and exclaimed while gazing up to heaven ὕε (“rain !”) and while looking down upon the earth κύε (“conceive !”).

§ 51.  The performances however which later raised the Eleusinian Mysteries above all other communions only developed after the time of Solon and the Peisistratids, and were a result of the desire to give a more cheerful form to the idea of the soul’s existence after death than that which had hitherto prevailed. From this age onward the main object was certainly to assure the initiated of a happy life in the next world. The belief in this was probably aroused by representing the wandering of a dead man through the terrors of the lower world; at the same time the Hierophant declared which way was to be taken and by what incantations the dangers were to be warded off, in order to finally arrive in safety at the fields of bliss, which were perhaps shown as the concluding picture. The initiation of itself vouchsafed this comforting prospect; a moral life was by no means demanded as preliminary condition, hence no influence in raising morality can be attributed to the Mysteries. As a prelude to these Great Mysteries were held in Athens itself, the Little Mysteries in the ‘Flower-Month’ Anthesterion (February — March); in these the members of the community who were to be initiated in the autumn went through a preliminary consecration.

§ 52.  In Arkadia Demeter was connected with Poseidon Hippios or Phytalmios; and her daughter was there styled Despoina, ‘Mistress.’ The latter, as spouse of Hades, has the name Persephone (‘desolating slayer ?’); she is the grey death-goddess and queen of the nether world, whilst in the Mysteries she seems, in consequence of her legend, to have been glorified as a comforting example of blissful life in the world below and of resurrection. In earlier art no fixed representation of Demeter has been developed; she is however 26 always figured as motherly and fully clad. As typical attributes she holds wheat-ears and the poppy, a sceptre or a torch. Her daughter is only distinguished from her by youthful girlish form; both are often found enthroned or standing side by side.

Black and white engraving of Demeter, seated on her throne.

Olympian Deities :

III.  Athena, Hephaistos, Prometheus, Hestia.

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