line decor
  HOME  ::  
line decor
analysis of demeter

Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, fertility, and the earth. She never married, but had two children by her brother, Zeus. She bore him a daughter, Persephone, and a son, Iacchus. She also had a love affair with Iasion, a Titan. This is shown in lines 969-971 of Hesiod’s Thegony, “The divine goddess Demeter, joined in dear love with the hero Iasion in a thrice-plowed field, in the rich land of Crete….” However, Zeus--seeing them together--grew jealous and struck Iasion down with a lightening bolt. To Iasion she bore a son, Plutus. She also unwillingly bore a son, Areion, to Posiden, the god of the sea.
Demeter is a goddess commonly thought of as kind and loving, for under her guidance the earth enjoyed eternal spring time until her daughter was wrongfully taken from her. She loved her daughter, Persephone, the goddess of grain and fertility, so much that when she was carried off by Hades to dwell unwillingly as queen of the underworld, Demeter mourned, and at that time no grain grew and no flowers blossomed. It was winter for an entire year, and though Zeus and the other immortal Gods begged Demeter to relent she refused to let anything grow until her daughter was back with her. Finally Zeus commanded that Persephone be allowed to return to her mother, Demeter. Before she left, however, she ate a few pomegranate seeds from the underworld, forcing her to return for a few months out of each year. At this time Demeter wandered the earth mourning her daughter, and it was winter until Persephone returned again to her mother.
In this story we see two contradictory aspects of Demeter. On the one hand she has great love for her daughter, so much that she refuses to dwell in Mount Olympus, but wanders the earth in the guise of a mortal. She is constantly mourning her beautiful daughter. Still, she refuses to let the crops grow, punishing all the mortals of the earth for something that they can’t do anything about. I am sure many mothers’ daughters died on account of Demeter’s year long winter. This shows Demeter as cruel and selfish. These mortal mothers had great love for their own daughters too, and yet, she robs these women of there children, the very thing that has caused her such great pain.  
            Demeter usually appears as a loving and nurturing goddess. She is not slow to reward those mortals who are good and kind. She teaches Triptolemus the art of agriculture and bids him to go far and wide spreading the wisdom. To Celeus and the Eleusinians she teaches many sacred rites that later became known as the Eleusinian mysteries. Still, there are a few tales that reveal in her a terrifying wrath equal to that of any of the Olympian Gods. When she was living in disguise at the house of Mteneira she grew to love Demophon, her hosts baby boy. She loved him so much that every night she would hold him in the fire to make him immortal. One night, however, his mother walked in and fearing for her baby’s life cried out. Demeter was so angry at her lack of trust that she left immediately, leaving the babe mortal. It is hard to imagine loving someone so much that you would want to make them immortal, and then abandon them for something that they did not even have a hand in. Another time a man, Erysichthon, was cutting down trees from a grove that was sacred to Demeter. When he refused to stop she cursed him to be eternally hungry.
            In these cases we see in Demeter great love and a quick temper. Both of these qualities help in the explanation that the ancient people had for winter and spring time. Our mortal lives are directly affected by Demeter’s emotional status. She can either give us beauty and abundance, or a stark world with little or nothing for us to eat. It says in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, page 109, “Ceres (Demeter) first turned the earth with the curved plow; She gave corn and crops to bless the land; She first gave laws; all things are Ceres’ gift.” Demeter conveys her messages through transformation. When Posieden was pursueing her she turned herself into a horse. When her daughter was taken from her she turned the whole of the earth into a barren wasteland, and out of love for Demophon she tried changing him into an immortal. Demeter is the cause that the earth changes in it’s recurring cycle of the four seasons. Through this changing nature which characterizes Demeter she can bestow upon mortals wonderful gifts or terrifying punishments.