HomericHymn to Demeter
The lengthy hymn is such anintriguing piece of work typical of Greek writers. It is a literarygem. The author uses vivid description that clearly paints a clearpicture on the unfolding drama. As I read through, it becomes clearthat this hymn explicitly interprets early Greek worldview. Itfurther depicts how life was and ought to be for the people. Itoffers an impression of trouble and tribulation among dwellers inZeusa. The hymn starts with a narrative of how Persephone, thedaughter of Demeter and Zeus was abducted while picking beautifulflowers with the daughters of Earth, Ocean to please Hades and at thewill of Zeus. The author employs poetic skills to explain the beautyof the flowers beautiful violets, crocus, roses. It is evident thatthese flowers were attractive so that they could lure theflower-faced girl into picking them. The flowers were so wondrous andsplendid and their fragrance so sweet that it spread over the skiesabove. It can be argued that this is an act of deceit in thiscosmology. No sooner did she reach out to pluck the flowers, than theearth yawned open, and Hades appeared in a golden chariot and carriedher away in agony (Foley240).
The aspect of strife and struggleis evident in this cosmology. People had to fight and work hard forwhat belonged to them. It is noted that when her daughter wasabducted, Demeter frantically rushed in pursuit. Her agony did notallow her to eat or drink anything for nine long days. Desolate, sheroamed the earth with torches. After realizing that Zeus, the king,had allowed for her daughter to be abducted, she went to Eleusis.When Eleusis people refused to assist her in her endeavor, she didnot quit, but rather, she decided to go to the home of Celeleus andMetaneira. In her relenting quest to get her daughter back, Demeteragreed to nourish Metaneira’s son going as far as promising that hewould not be harmed by evil charms. She breathed sweetness on him,and brought him up like a god. What a good nurturer, she was! As shelived and interacted with the people of Eleusis, her divine identitywas revealed, sparking widespread fear among everyone, includingMetaneira. Before she left, she demanded that the people build her analtar in the town and a great temple. This perhaps shows that thepeople in the Zeusa cosmology had to appreciate good deeds byreciprocating. Further, it can be seen that following religious ritesis a pre-requisite for prosperity and well-being of the society.Running short of options, Demeter decided to unleash her finalweapon. She used her fertility power to cause a devastating famineand hunger that swept across the land. Following her wrath, the earthdid not yield any crops. It is noted that by doing this, she wouldnot only have wiped out the entire human race, but would also havedenied the Olympian gods of the prestige from sacrifices and gifts.Attempts by Zeus to approach and convince her to change her mind boreno fruit. Relentlessly, she asserted that she would only set foot onOlympus after seeing her daughter with her own bare eyes. It was onlyafter all this stubbornness and the struggle that Zeus ordered Hadesto return with Persephone from the underworld. It can clearly be seenthat if it was not for her relentless quest and bewildering wrath,her daughter would not have been given back (Foley249).
Perhaps the other striking aspectof life in Zeusa cosmology is patriachalism, inequality andsubordination. Like other societies in the modern world, the Zeusacosmology was characterized by patriarchal tendencies where Zeus, theking, was a male, who exercises absolute power over all other gods.All female gods were subordinates and it only took a lot of anguishfor them to get their rights, for example, Demeter was determined togo a long process to get her daughter back. Likewise, people wereexpected to live and conform to a male-dominated life.
It can also be noted that loveformed a big part of people’s in Zeusa cosmos. The myth is a storyof a mother’s love for her daughter. Demeter was more than ready togo to any extend to get her beautiful daughter back. She went as faras denying herself food, water, and peace for the sake of herdaughter, thus, human begins ought to show the same towards oneanother.
WhyZeus allowed the rape of Persephone.
When Demeter embarked on amission to search for her daughter, not many of those she sought helpfrom were willing to tell her the truth, until she arrived at Helio,a god whom she addressed with respect and dignity, as the one whoranges over the earth and sea. With all honesty and empathy, herevealed to her that it was indeed no one else but the cloud-gatheredZeus, the king himself, who had given Persephone, their daughter toHades to become his beloved wife.
It can be argued that the kinggave his daughter to Haze because he was his own brother. Unlike inhuman contemporary world where one is not supposed to marry theirkin, in this context, marrying off his daughter to his brother was agood thing. The author notes that Haze had a share from thebeginning, when the so-called three-way division of inheritance wasadopted. Helio reminded Demeter that Haze had a right to take herdaughter since he was entitled to dwell with those who Zeus was meantby lot to be.
As I mentioned earlier,patriachalism could have been the reason why Zeus allowed his brotherto kidnap Persephone. Here, it in evident that male superioritydominated. It seems like a society where men rule and have their way.As such, Zeus was compelled to heed to his brother’s demands toallow him to take away his daughter.
It can also be mentioned thatZeus allowed her be taught to be kidnapped by his own brother so thatshe could be a goddess married to a god, the king of the underworld.Zeus wanted her to keep company with the gods, as opposed to sittingin his temple. He wanted her to dwell with Hades and be the queen ofeverything that lives, such that she could receive sacrifices andofferings that are due. He indeed wanted her to live among theimmortals and make him a proud king and father.
From another angle, it can beargued Zeus did not really allow for her daughter to be abducted.Rather, it is seen that he was so much occupied with his duties thathe could not hear her daughter’s screams. Like mortal men anddeathless gods, he could not hear her voice because he was sittingaloof in his temple, listening to prayers and receiving sweetofferings from mortal humans (Foley256).
Itis noteworthy that some scholars do not see Hades’ action as rape.On the contrary, it is seen that Hades fell in love with her nieceand conspired with her brother to kidnap her. It is noted that later,she loved him and the couple lived happily ever after.
When looking at the relevance ofthe myth, my analysis assumes that it is the product of theEleusinian circle and that it brings forth the aims and intentions of taking part in the mystery rites which were celebrated between thetwelfth and the forth century C.E in Athens, Greece. As such, itbecomes paramount for us to look at the relevance and teachings onworship as an underlying theme.
It must be noted that as peopleworshipped, they had to realize that the gods have hierarchy and hadto be honored and worshiped based on the same. From the myth, Zeuswas the king god and thus all prayers had to honor and recognize himas the son of Kronos, the loud-thundered and one who saw far andwide. He had the authority over all other gods and goddesses as wellas immortal and mortal men. Notable, however, that Demeter, asubordinate goddess had power and her divinity was as important forsurvival as any other god. Thus, it was important that worshipersacknowledged all divinities in the hierarchy (Foley266).
Worthy of note is that this mythunderscored the significance of the Eleusinian mystery as a keyritual in Greek worship. The mystery ritual involved taking a sacredwalk from Athens to Eleusis, where they would rest by the well thatDemeter had rested in search of her kidnapped daughter. Worshiperswould fast and afterward drink a beverage called Kykeon, beforeperforming Telesterion, an underground secret ritual. Notable is thatthis was a symbol of the death and resurrection of Persephone, whichmany worshippers took part in. It is believed that those who tookpart in this worship ceremony came out radically changed. As a matterof fact, virtually all important writers in antiquity had taken partin the mysteries. Masteries have been mentioned by ancient scholarsuch as Plato as having had a deeper meaning. Plato said that thosewho took part in the ritual had been purified and went to dwell withthe gods. Others noted that nothing was higher than the mysteries,and that they not only showed them how to live a full life of joy,but also to how to die with hope.
It can also be seen that humanbeings needed to seek the favor of not just the king god but all theother gods and goddesses. From the myth, Zeus the god king seemed tounderestimate the Demeter as a goddess and the mother to Persephonegiven that he never consulted her in her conspiracy to give theirdaughters to Hades something that almost ended badly.
Demeter’s relentless search forher daughter established her as the god of agriculture. This occurredwhen her wrath caused a harsh famine that threatened to wipe outhumanity. After returning to Olympus when her daughter was broughtback to her, she sent the gift of agriculture, corn and her holymysteries with her host, as a way of appreciation. By sendingTriptolemus to go around the world on her serpent-drawn chariots tospread the knowledge of agriculture and many other blessings, sheestablished herself as the goddess of agriculture and fertility. Shewas thus worshipped as the goddess of agriculture and founder of lawand order of marriage in all the places where the Greeks dwelt, withPersephone, usually associated with her. It has been noted that it isindeed this incident that made her central to many people worship,with Athens and Eleusis being the most ancient of her worship. In herown right as the fertility goddess, Demeter was in many parts ofancient Europe associated with the god of fertilizing water,especially in Arcadia where Poseidon was seen as Persephone’sfather. She was worshipped as the goddess of earth, to which not onlythe dead were committed. Additionally, besides honeycombs and fruit,sows and cows were offered to her as an emblem of productivity. Humanworship was indeed shaped by her character as the god of agriculture,such that her attributes were ears of corn and poppies, a little pigand a basket of fruit (Foley270).
Conclusively, I would like tonote that this myth reflects the ancient Greek worship. It seeks toexplain how Demeter one of the goddesses of the Zeusa cosmos came toestablish herself as a powerful goddess of fertility and agriculture.From the myth, we get to understand the origin of such powerful andimportant rituals as the Eleusinian mysteries which was central toancient Greek worship and spirituality. It is important to note thatthe rites of mysteries fostered the idea of a better and more perfectlife after death, which later helped form the foundation for thecoming of Christianity, which is based on the concept of everlastinglife.
Foley,Helene P., Ed. TheHomeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and InterpretiveEssays.Princeton University Press, 1994.