Metamorphoses Project:
Tracing Mythology through Time and Place

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Gillian Landman, Nicholas Bittle, Lauren Byrne

Part 1a: Greek Versions of the Demeter Myth

Birth of Demeter

Hesiod Theogony 453 : Demeter is born to Cronos and Rhea.

Apollodorus 1.1.5 : Same as above

Demeter and Iasion

Hesiod: Theogeny 965 : Demeter makes love to the Hero Iasion and gives birth to Plutus.

Homer: Odyssey 5.125: Demeter makes love to Iasion and Zeus becomes enraged and slays Iasion with mighty thunder bolts.

The Story of Demeter and Persephone

Hesiod: Theogeny 910 : Zeus and Demeter make love. Demeter bears Persephone

Homeric Hymn 2.1 : One day while Persephone was picking flowers the ground opened and Hades appeared and dragged her down into the Underworld. Persephone cried out as she disappeared but, while hearing her cry, Demeter arrived to the place and there was no sign of Persephone anymore. Demeter decided to abandon her divine role until her daughter was returned to her.

Demeter's self imposed exile from the divinities made the Earth sterile, so Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone. But that was no longer possible. During her stay in the Underworld Persephone had eaten a pomegranate seed which linked her forever to Hades. A compromise was reached in which Demeter would return to Mount Olympus and Persephone would divide the year: two thirds with her mother and the other third in the Underworld. When time comes for Persephone to leave her mother for the Underworld, autumn and winter cover the Earth in a sign of grief.

Pausanias 8.25.8 : As Demeter is searching for her daughter Persephone, she is followed by her brother Poseidon. To elude him, Demeter turns her self in to a mare and begins to graze with other horses. Then Poseidon turns himself into a stallion and finds Demeter. They make semi-consensual love. Demeter bears the horse, Arion, and an unnamed Daughter.

Demeter's Mystery Cult

The Eleusinian Mysteries : The Eleusinian Mysteries, held annually in honor of Demeter and Persephone, were the most sacred and revered of all the ritual celebrations of ancient Greece. Large crowds of worshippers from all over Greece (and later, from throughout the Roman empire) would gather to make the holy pilgrimage between the two cities and and participate in the secret ceremonies, generally regarded as the high point of Greek religion.

Part 1b: Analysis of the Greek Versions of the Myth

Most myths involving Demeter are about her search for Persephone. The most commonly known story of Demeter is that of the search for Persephone after Hades steals her with the help of her father, Zeus. Once the theft of Persephone takes place it becomes Demeterís only focus until it gets resolved. She is so determined to find her daughter that she loses all common sense when it comes to treating people with respect.

Demeter displays her selfishness in that she is willing to let the rest of the earth suffer, by not allowing any crops to grow on the land, until she gets her daughter back. She loses her sense of reality in not allowing the earth to produce food because her reality only contains her daughter. Demeter seems to have the child-like characteristic of wanting everything to be her way.

During her search for Persephone, Demeter would find people with enough kindness to allow her to stay in their homes along the way. If they treated her kindly she rewarded them with gifts and good fortune, to show her appreciation. Demeter shows a similar kindness when she is taken in to be a nanny at the home of Metaneira. She attempts to show her gratitude to Demophoon and his parents by making him godlike and immortal. Although this plan did not work out because Demophoon's parents misunderstood her, Demeter intention was to reward their favor. These actions show that Demeter does have the capability to be kind to people even though her primary concern was for Persephone.

However, if she felt she was not treated properly, these people would be punished. For example, when staying in the house of Metaneira, she drank a glass of water eagerly because she was thirsty, and the son of Aibas mocked her, so she turned him into a lizard. The Hymn to Demeter does not recognize this aspect of Demeter's character because the sole object of the Hymns is to glorify the subject. This particular section of the story may have caused the audience to see Demeter in a less honorable light.

Demeterís two main representations in mythology are harvesting and fertility. Although Demeter herself did not have many lovers, she was actively involved in aiding many others to a more fulfilling marriage. Myths can only be found to show her involved with three men: Iaision, Zeus, and Poseidon. The cause of her not having an abundant amount of lovers is her huge responsibility of being a mother. Being a mother comes first for Demeter. Being mother goddess, Demeter must make wise decisions as to whom she chooses for a lover. Demeter didn't necessarily choose Poseidon. Both of the men she chose as lovers were in high regard to all of society; they were well respected heroes.

After reading the few myths available concerning Demeter, it becomes apparent that Demeterís sole existence is for her daughter Persephone. Every action Demeter takes can be somehow linked to her search for Persephone. Her emotions are affected during her search, in that she becomes easily angered by even the smallest acts of insensitivity from others. Although Demeter does hold many childish qualities, her position in mythology as the goddess of harvesting and fertility was essential to a mortal's life.

Demeter is in essence a mother goddess in many dimensions. Demeter's search for Persephone and her relationship with her daughter both represent Demeter's part in the rest of the earth. Demeter, in a sense, is not only the mother of Persephone but of all mortals and immortals. Just the fact that Demeter provides all nutrition on the earth allows her to be considered a mother, in that she is a source of survival. She is a mother to the Earth itself in that the Earth cannot produce without Demeter allowing its seeds to grow.
See Part 2 of our Web Page
See our Creative Project: Demeter and Persephone: A Puppet Show

Last Update: 29 July 1999
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