Metamorphoses Project, Part 2:
Tracing Mythology through Time and Place:


View sourse of picture


Gillian Landman, Nicholas Bittle, Lauren Byrne

Part 2a: Demeter throughout History
    Picture of Demeter: By a the sixth grade class at the Ross school in East Hampton, New York. This is a portrait of Demeter along with a brief description of part of the Demeter Myth. Click here for our analysis.

    " 'night, Mother" A play by Marsha Norman. This play has many connections to the Demeter and Persephone myth. They are both a reflection to the Mother-Daughter relationship. This is not exactly a modern version of the Demeter myth, the story line just seems to share many of the same ideas as the story of Demeter’s search for Persephone Click here for our analysis.

    "The Transit of the Gods" a poem by Kathleen Raine. This poem is about the pain Demeter feels the half of the year that Persephone is in Underworld. Click here for our analysis.

    "Persephone Pauses" a poem by Carolyn Kizer from Mermaids in the Basements. This Poem describes Persephone as she makes the journey from the earth to the Underworld. Click here for our analysis.

    "Abduction of Persephone on a Unicorn" an etching by Albrecht Durer. This is an etching of the abduction of Persephone by Hades. Hades is riding a Unicorn in to the Underworld with Persephone in his arms. Click here for our analysis.

Part 2b: Analysis of later myths

Demeter and Persephone by Alfred Tennyson

"Demeter and Persephone"

The poem begins with Persephone taking the flower and being taken down to the underworld by Hades. Then the poem switches over to Persephone coming home from the underworld to be with her mother, Demeter. The two are very happy to be reunited and embrace. Persephone has been so depressed to be away from her mother that her eyes show that she has been crying.

Demeter begins to talk about all of the things that she does when Persephone is away. Demeter talks about the flowers, how they will only bloom when Persephone is not in the underworld. Demeter goes to earth and mixes with the humans, looking for someone to take care of, since she could not care for her daughter. Demeter goes to mothers with sick children and makes the children well again, overnight. Motherhood is emphasized very much in the poem. Demeter is going off to take care of all of these other children, because she longs to take care of her own. By writing about a god working with the mortals, Tennyson makes it clear that he feels gods and mortals can get along with each other in a relationship other than a god punishing a mortal for wrongdoing. Demeter also goes to all of the highest cliffs and mountains to yell out to the world to see if anyone knows where Persephone is. Finally Demeter refuses to go to any of the god's feasts. She will drink no nectar nor eat ambrosia. Demeter makes all of the crops on earth die since she felt dead inside without Persephone.

The last verse of the poem is asking for all of the gods to get along and live together without fighting. The author is saying that they are all gods, they shouldn't compete with each other when they are all powerful beings. Demeter would not have the problem of her daughter being stuck in the underworld if Hades would just let Persephone alone, instead of holding her captive. The poem is saying that the thing that should be worshiped is not each individual god, but Love as a whole, and if Love was the main thing worshiped, everyone could get along.

Back to Part 2a


Picture of Demeter

This picture of Demeter is by a sixth grader at the Ross school in East Hampton, New York. Along with the picture is part of the Demeter and Persephone story. This story tells about how, while walking the earth, Demeter becomes the nanny to a kind family. To reward the family Demeter tries to make their child immortal by dipping him in fire every night. One night, the mother saw what Demeter was doing to her baby boy and she was angry. Demeter, took off her disguise and became the goddess. Then she fled from their house.

By choosing this story and not the other more painful or sexual ones we can see the childlike innocence of the author and artist. While many adults would choose the more mature parts of the story, these sixth graders chose to pick the part of the story with a moral. This story is saying that if you are kind to strangers you will be rewarded. It also talks about the love mother's feel for their children. Demeter wanted a child to take the place of Persephone in her heart. This story would also appeal to a young artist because it talks about the kindness of strangers. It also teaches the importance of a mother to her child and a mother's willingness to sacrifice anything in her own life to take away her child's pain. Even the picture of Demeter has a child like quality. Its is a sad but loving God through a child's eyes.

Back to Part 2a

"'Night, Mother" by Marsha Norman

“Demeter and Kore [Persephone], mother and daughter, extend the feminine consciousness both upwards and downwards, They add an ‘older and younger,’ ‘stronger and weaker’ dimension to it and widen out the narrowly limited conscious mind bound in space and time, giving it intimations of a greater and more comprehensive personality which has a share in the eternal course of things.” –C.G. Jung

The play uses the myth to give the sense of mother and daughter through their bond to each other and their sense of oneness. Near the end of the play, the heroine reaches out to her mother in the last hours of her life, and the heroine realizes all of her mother's greatness and strength. The play deals with the mother as a Demeter figure trying to rescue her child from death, to talk her out of it.

In “’night, Mother”, a central issue to the plot is food. The mother is always talking about sweets and referring to her daughter as sugar. The daughter never wants to eat. She is intent on killing herself, and she does not see food the same way as her mother does. Demeter causes the whole earth to not eat by killing all of the food and she herself does not eat while searching for Persephone. Persephone eats nothing but the pomegranate seed that Hades forces down her throat. Some lines in the play can even be directly linked to the story of Demeter. Food is given this role reversal in the play because in the in this century, food is seen by many people as a bad thing. By making the daughter not eat, Norman is showing that she is punishing herself, through some form of anorexia, because she hates herself. In The Hymn to Demeter, food is used to get back at all of the people through making it impossible for them to eat, and in "'night, Mother", food is used by the daughter to get back at herself.

The mother describes death as “some killer on the loose, hiding out in the back yard just waiting for me to have my hands full someday and how am I supposed to protect myself anyhow when I don't know what he looks like and I don't know how he sounds coming up behind me like that or if it will hurt or take very long or what I don't get done before it happens” (77-88). These lines can be seen as Hades, waiting to pounce, violate her, and carry her off to the underworld. Describing Hades as a modern day stalker is another parallel to today's society. No one today would believe that a god is going to kidnap anyone and take them down to the underworld, but anyone today would have a fear of a stalker.

All of the things that Marsha Norman writes about have a direct parallel to the story of Demeter and Persephone. The only changes that Norman made to the story were those necessary to make it possible for an audience to understand the full meaning of the plot today.

Burkman, Katherine H. "The Demeter Myth and Doubling in Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother". In June Schlueter, ed. Modern American Drama: The Female Canon. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1990.

Norman, Marsha. "Night, Mother. Hill and Wang: New York, 1983

Back to Part 2a

The Transit of the Gods by Kathleen Raine

"The Transit of the Gods"

In "The Transit of the Gods" Kathleen Raine writes from the eyes of Demeter. Demeter is expressing the grief she experiences when Persephone has to go. Every year she dreads the moment when Persephone must return to the underworld. She also speaks of how painful it is for her, as a mother to watch her daughter go through this unpleasant experience with Hades. Although Persephone is immortal, Demeter says that her daughter's life is basically over and that there is nothing anyone can do to help her. No one can help because the decision was made by Zeus and Demeter agreed; it is understood that no one can overpower Zeus. Persephone's life is ruined because no matter what is happening in her life, and no matter how important the things she is doing are, she will always be interrupted and taken away when that certain time of year comes around.

This poem focuses more on Demeter’s regret, sorrow, and anger concerning her daughter's fate. It represents the more pessimistic way Demeter could chose to look at her situation. In the Hymn to Demeter she is also somewhat thankful and has some relief that she is able to spend the majority of the year with her daughter. In most of the stories explaining Demeter and Persephone's situation her emotions of regret and sadness are displayed as well as her feelings of graciousness Zeus' compromise. Perhaps the poet only relates and empathizes with Demeter’s feelings of loss.

The myth of Persephone and Demeter most likely appealed to this female poet because she could relate personally to their mother/daughter relationship and how it feels to lose a daughter.

Back to Part 2a

Persephone Pauses by Carolyn Kizer

"Persephone Pauses"

In Carolyn Kizer's Persephone Pauses she describes the journey Persephone takes every year into the underworld. This story appealed to the author as a woman because only a woman can fully understand Persephone's pain and humility when being forced into the arms of a man to whom she is not attracted and does not love. She chose this part of the story to talk about the sadness that some people experience when summer starts to end in relation to the sadness Persephone feels when the time draws near when she must return to Hades.

This poem generally follows the greek myth, describing the feelings Persephone has seeing Hades for the first time each year. It is written from the view of Persephone. The poem says that though she is there against her will, and she resents Hades for trapping her and causing her such unhappiness, she also feels sorry for him. Persephone says that she is accustomed to the fact that she must return to Hades every year and that she no longer fears the underworld. Yet she still very much dislikes it in that she refers to the underworld as "sweet Hell". Though Persephone can not stand Hades lustful touch, she keeps these feeling to her self. This is a reflection of the stereotype that women are supposed to stay quiet and obey their husbands. The author does not agree that women should live by this stereotype, nor should Persephone. She writes with anger in describing Persephone's pain. As a modern day woman, it is understandable that Carolyn Kizer would chose this poem and chose to rebel against this ancient idea of how women should be.

Back to Part 2a

Abduction of Persephone on a Unicorn by Albrecht Durer

The Abduction of Persephone is a Etching by Albrecht Durer from 1516. It depicts Hades kidnapping Persephone and dragging her down into the underworld on the back of the unicorn. Durer chose this part of the story because of the dark and violent mood it holds. This etching expresses the violent nature of this part of the Demeter Myth.

This etching was created in remembrance of a late-medieval tradition in which Pluto (or Hades) carries Persephone off on horseback. Durer developed this composition from a drawing in which an anonymous horseman dashes away with a naked woman, leaving behind a little heap of conquered enemies. The norse was turned in to a unicorn because it envied the ideas of Night and Death. The particular breed of unicorn was chosen because it is associated with the infernal regions, darkness and night.

This Etching draws out the sexual nature of the story and shows Man totally dominating Woman. We can see the painful look on Persephone's face and understand that she is being taken against her will. The fact that they are both naked and Riding a huge horse-like unicorn suggests the highly sexual nature of the story.
Panofsky, Erwin. The Life and art of Albrecht Durer. Princeton University Press: 1955. Princeton, New Jersey.

Back to Part 2a 
Back to Top of Page
Return to Demeter Home page
See our Creative Project: Demeter and Persephone: A Puppet Show

Last Update: 29 July 1999
Site Maintainer:
Athletics Library Classical Studies Program Cornell College Home Page About Cornell Admissions Academics Alumni Campus Life Offices News Home Search Site Map Directory