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Goddess of the harvest, agriculture, fertility and sacred law
Member of the Twelve Olympians
Demeter Altemps Inv8546.jpg
A marble statue of Demeter, National Roman Museum
Other namesSito, Thesmophoros
AbodeMount Olympus
SymbolCornucopia, wheat, torch, bread
FestivalsThesmophoria, Eleusinian Mysteries
Personal information
ParentsCronus and Rhea
SiblingsHestia, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Chiron
ChildrenPersephone, Despoina, Arion, Plutus, Philomelus, Iacchus
Roman equivalentCeres

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter (; Attic: ? D?m?t?r [d?:m:t?:r]; Doric: ? D?mt?r) is the Olympian goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over grains and the fertility of the earth. She was also called Deo ().[1].

Her cult titles include Sito (?), "she of the Grain",[2] as the giver of food or grain,[3] and Thesmophoros (, thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; , phoros: bringer, bearer), "giver of customs" or "legislator", in association with the secret female-only festival called the Thesmophoria.[4]

Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a religious tradition that predated the Olympian pantheon, and which may have its roots in the Mycenaean period c. 1400-1200 BC.[5]

Demeter was often considered to be the same figure as the Anatolian goddess Cybele, and she was identified with the Roman goddess Ceres.


It is possible that Demeter appears in Linear A as da-ma-te on three documents (AR Zf 1 and 2, and KY Za 2), all three apparently dedicated in religious situations and all three bearing just the name (i-da-ma-te on AR Zf 1 and 2).[6] It is unlikely that Demeter appears as da-ma-te in a Linear B (Mycenean Greek) inscription (PY En 609); the word , da-ma-te, probably refers to "households".[7][8] On the other hand, , si-to-po-ti-ni-ja, "Potnia of the Grain", is regarded as referring to her Bronze Age predecessor or to one of her epithets.[9]

Demeter's character as mother-goddess is identified in the second element of her name meter () derived from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *méh?t?r (mother).[10] In antiquity, different explanations were already proffered for the first element of her name. It is possible that Da (),[11] a word which corresponds to G? () in Attic, is the Doric form of De (), "earth", the old name of the chthonic earth-goddess, and that Demeter is "Mother-Earth".[12] Liddell & Scott find this "improbable" and Beekes writes, "there is no indication that [da] means "earth", although it has also been assumed in the name of Poseidon found in the Linear B inscription E-ne-si-da-o-ne, "earth-shaker".[13][14][15] John Chadwick also argues that the d? element in the name of Demeter is not so simply equated with "earth".[16]

M. L. West has proposed that the word Demeter, initially Damater, could be a borrowing from an Illyrian deity attested in the Messapic goddess Damatura, with a form d?- ("earth", from PIE *d(e)m-) attached to -matura ("mother"), akin to the Illyrian god Dei-paturos (dei-, "sky", attached to -paturos, "father"). The Lesbian form D?- may simply reflect a different dialectal pronunciation of the non-Greek name.[17]

According to a more popular theory,[18] the element De- might be connected with Deo, an epithet of Demeter[19] and it could derive from the Cretan word dea (), Ionic zeia (?)--variously identified with emmer, spelt, rye, or other grains by modern scholars--so that she is the Mother and the giver of food generally.[20][21] This view is shared by British scholar Jane Ellen Harrison, who suggests that Démeter's name means Grain-Mother, instead of Earth-Mother.[18]

Wanax (wa-na-ka) was her male companion (Greek?, Paredros) in Mycenaean cult.[22] The Arcadian cult links her to the god Poseidon, who probably substituted the male companion of the Great Goddess; Demeter may therefore be related to a Minoan Great Goddess (Cybele).[23]

An alternative Proto-Indo-European etymology comes through Potnia and Despoina, where Des- represents a derivative of PIE *dem (house, dome), and Demeter is "mother of the house" (from PIE *dems-méh?t?r).[24] R. S. P. Beekes rejects a Greek interpretation, but not necessarily an Indo-European one.[14]


Demeter on a Didrachme from Paros island, struck at the Cyclades.

Demeter was frequently associated with images of the harvest, including flowers, fruit, and grain. She was also sometimes pictured with her daughter Persephone. Demeter is not generally portrayed with any of her consorts; the exception is Iasion, the youth of Crete who lay with her in a thrice-ploughed field, and was killed afterwards by a jealous Zeus with a thunderbolt.

Demeter is assigned the zodiac constellation Virgo the Virgin by Marcus Manilius in his 1st century Roman work Astronomicon. In art, constellation Virgo holds Spica, a sheaf of wheat in her hand and sits beside constellation Leo the Lion.[25]

In Arcadia, she was known as "Black Demeter". She was said to have taken the form of a mare to escape the pursuit of her younger brother, Poseidon, and having been raped by him despite her disguise, dressed all in black and retreated into a cave to mourn and to purify herself. She was consequently depicted with the head of a horse in this region.[26]

A sculpture of the Black Demeter was made by Onatas.[27]


As goddess of agriculture

Demeter, enthroned and extending her hand in a benediction toward the kneeling Metaneira, who offers the triune wheat (c. 340 BC)

In epic poetry and Hesiod's Theogony, Demeter is the Corn-Mother, the goddess of cereals who provides grain for bread and blesses its harvesters. This was her main function at Eleusis, and became panhellenic. In Cyprus, "grain-harvesting" was damatrizein.

The main theme in the Eleusinian Mysteries was the reunion of Persephone with her mother Demeter, when new crops were reunited with the old seed, a form of eternity.

According to the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates, Demeter's greatest gifts to humankind were agriculture, particularly of cereals, and the Mysteries which give the initiate higher hopes in this life and the afterlife.[28]

These two gifts were intimately connected in Demeter's myths and mystery cults. In Hesiod, prayers to Zeus-Chthonios (chthonic Zeus) and Demeter help the crops grow full and strong.[29] Demeter's emblem is the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among the barley.[30]

Demeter was also zeidoros ar?ura, the Homeric "Mother Earth ar?ura" who gave the gift of cereals (zeai or deai).[31]

As an earth and underworld goddess

In addition to her role as an agricultural goddess, Demeter was often worshipped more generally as a goddess of the earth. In Arcadia, she was represented as snake-haired, holding a dove and dolphin, perhaps to symbolize her power over the underworld, the air, and the water.

In the cult of Flya, she was worshiped as Anesidora, one who sends up gifts from the underworld. There was a temple of Demeter under this name in Phlya in Attica.[32][33][34]

In Sparta, she was known as Demeter-Chthonia (chthonic Demeter).[35] The Athenians called the dead "Demetrioi",[36] and this may reflect a link between Demeter and ancient cult of the dead, linked to the agrarian-belief that a new life would sprout from the dead body, as a new plant arises from buried seed.

This was probably a belief shared by initiates in Demeter's mysteries, as interpreted by Pindar: "Happy is he who has seen what exists under the earth, because he knows not only the end of life, but also his beginning that the Gods will give".[]

In the mysteries of Pheneos in Arcadia, Demeter was known as Cidaria.[37] Her priest would put on the mask of Demeter, which was kept in a secret place. The cult may have been connected with both the underworld and a form of agrarian magic.[38]

As a poppy goddess

Theocritus described one of Demeter's earlier roles as that of a goddess of poppies:

For the Greeks, Demeter was still a poppy goddess
Bearing sheaves and poppies in both hands. -- Idyll vii.157

Karl Kerényi asserted that poppies were connected with a Cretan cult which was eventually carried to the Eleusinian Mysteries in Classical Greece. In a clay statuette from Gazi,[39] the Minoan poppy goddess wears the seed capsules, sources of nourishment and narcosis, in her diadem. According to Kerényi, "It seems probable that the Great Mother Goddess who bore the names Rhea and Demeter, brought the poppy with her from her Cretan cult to Eleusis and it is almost certain that in the Cretan cult sphere opium was prepared from poppies."[40]

Robert Graves speculated that the meaning of the depiction and use of poppies in the Greco-Roman myths is the symbolism of the bright scarlet color as signifying the promise of resurrection after death.[41]

Other functions and titles

Demeter in an ancient Greek fresco from Panticapaeum in the Bosporan Kingdom (a client state of the Roman Empire), 1st century Crimea.

Demeter's epithets show her many religious functions. She was the "Corn-Mother" who blesses the harvesters. Some cults interpreted her as "Mother-Earth". Demeter may be linked to goddess-cults of Minoan Crete, and embody aspects of a pre-Hellenic Mother Goddess.[42]

The most common epithets of Demeter are:

Achaea, (" probably from achaine: loaf ,or achos: grief").[43][44] She was worshipped at Athens by the Gephyraeans who had emigrated from Boeotia.[45][46]

Aganippe, ("the Mare who destroys mercifully", "Night-Mare")

Anesidora, ("sender-up of gifts") at Phlya in Attica.[47]

Cabeiraea, ?, ("Related with the Cabeiri").[48],at Thebes.

Chloe, , ("Green"),[49] that invokes her powers of ever-returning fertility, as does Chthonia.

Chthonia ,, ("under or beneath the earth") at Laconia.[50]

Despoina, ("mistress of the house"), a Greek word similar to the Mycenean potnia. This title was also applied to Persephone, Aphrodite and Hecate.

Europa ,, "broad face or eyes" at Livadeia of Boeotia. She was the nurse of Trophonios to whom a chthonic cult and oracle was dedicated.[51]

Eleusinia, in the Mysteries at Pheneus.[52][53][54]

Thesmophoros, ?, ("giver of customs" or "legislator"), a title connected with the Thesmophoria, a festival of secret women-only rituals connected with marriage customs.[4][55]

Erinys,, ("Fury"),[56] with a function similar with the function of the avenging Dike (Justice), goddess of moral justice based on custom rules who represents the divine retribution,[57] and the Erinyes, female ancient chthonic deities of vengeance and implacable agents of retribution.

Ioulo ,("related with corn-sheafs") [58]

Karpophorus , ? ("fruit bearing").[59]

Kidaria, ? ("kidaris : Arcadian dance").[60] at Pheneus.[61]

Lusia, , ("Bather") [62]

Melaina,? ("black") .[63]

Mysia , , [64] at Pellene.[65][66]

Thesmia , , ("law goddess") in the Mysteries at Pheneus.[67][68][69]

Malophorus, , ("Apple-bearer" or "Sheep-bearer") [70] at Megara and Selinus. [71]

Potnia, , ("mistress") in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Hera especially, but also Artemis and Athena, are addressed as "potnia" as well.

Thermasia, ("Warmth") at Hermione.[72]


Terracotta Demeter figurine, Sanctuary of the Underworld Divinities, Akragas, 550-500 BC

In Crete

The earliest recorded worship of a deity possibly equivalent to Demeter is found in Linear B Mycenean Greek tablets of c. 1400-1200 BC found at Pylos. The tablets describe worship of the "two queens and the king",[73] which may be related to Demeter, Persephone and Poseidon.[5] An early name which may refer to Demeter, si-to-po-ti-ni-ja (Sito Potnia), appears in Linear B inscriptions found at Mycenae and Pylos.[74] In Crete, Poseidon was often given the title wa-na-ka (wanax) in Linear B inscriptions, in his role as king of the underworld, and his title E-ne-si-da-o-ne indicates his chthonic nature. In the cave of Amnisos, Enesidaon is associated with the cult of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth,[75] who was involved with the annual birth of the divine child.[76] During the Bronze Age, a goddess of nature dominated both in Minoan and Mycenean cults, and Wanax (wa-na-ka) was her male companion (paredros) in the Mycenean cult.[75] Elements of this early form of worship survived in the Eleusinian cult, where the following words were uttered: "the mighty Potnia had born a strong son."[77]

On the Greek mainland

Tablets from Pylos record sacrificial goods destined for "the Two Queens and Poseidon" ("to the Two Queens and the King" :wa-na-ssoi, wa-na-ka-te). The "Two Queens" may be related with Demeter and Persephone, or their precursors, goddesses who were no longer associated with Poseidon in later periods.[73]

Demeter of Knidos, Hellenistic marble sculpture, around 350 BC

Major cults to Demeter are known at Eleusis in Attica, Hermion (in Crete), Megara, Celeae, Lerna, Aegila, Munychia, Corinth, Delos, Priene, Akragas, Iasos, Pergamon, Selinus, Tegea, Thoricus, Dion (in Macedonia)[78] Lykosoura, Mesembria, Enna (Sicily), and Samothrace.

An ancient Amphictyony, probably the earliest centred on the cult of Demeter at Anthele (), which lay on the coast of Malis south of Thessaly. This was the locality of Thermopylae.[79][80]

After the "First Sacred War", the Anthelan body was known thenceforth as the Delphic Amphictyony[79]

Mysian Demeter had a seven-day festival at Pellené in Arcadia. The geographer Pausainias passed the shrine to Mysian Demeter on the road from Mycenae to Argos, and reports that according to Argive tradition the shrine was founded by an Archive named Mysius who venerated Demeter.[81]

Azes coin in India, with Demeter and Hermes, 1st century BC


Demeter's two major festivals were sacred mysteries. Her Thesmophoria festival (11-13 October) was women-only.[82] Her Eleusinian mysteries were open to initiates of any gender or social class. At the heart of both festivals were myths concerning Demeter as Mother and Persephone as her daughter.

Conflation with other goddesses

In the Roman period, Demeter became conflated with the Roman agricultural goddess Ceres under the Interpretatio graeca.[83] The worship of Demeter was formally merged with that of Ceres around 205 BC, along with the ritus graecia cereris, a Greek-inspired form of cult, as part of Rome's general religious recruitment of deities as allies against Carthage, towards the end of the Second Punic War. The cult originated in southern Italy (part of Magna Graecia) and was probably based on the Thesmophoria, a mystery cult dedicated to Demeter and Persephone as "Mother and Maiden". It arrived along with its Greek priestesses, who were granted Roman citizenship so that they could pray to the gods "with a foreign and external knowledge, but with a domestic and civil intention".[84] The new cult was installed in the already ancient Temple of Ceres, Liber and Libera, Rome's Aventine patrons of the plebs; from the end of the 3rd century BC, Demeter's temple at Enna, in Sicily, was acknowledged as Ceres' oldest, most authoritative cult center, and Libera was recognized as Proserpina, Roman equivalent to Persephone.[85] Their joint cult recalls Demeter's search for Persephone, after the latter's abduction into the underworld by Hades (or Pluto). At the Aventine, the new cult took its place alongside the old. It made no reference to Liber, whose open and gender-mixed cult continued to play a central role in plebeian culture, as a patron and protector of plebeian rights, freedoms and values. The exclusively female initiates and priestesses of the new "greek style" mysteries of Ceres and Proserpina were expected to uphold Rome's traditional, patrician-dominated social hierarchy and traditional morality. Unmarried girls should emulate the chastity of Proserpina, the maiden; married women should seek to emulate Ceres, the devoted and fruitful Mother. Their rites were intended to secure a good harvest, and increase the fertility of those who partook in the mysteries.[86]

Beginning in the 5th century BCE in Asia Minor, Demeter was also considered equivalent to the Phrygian goddess Cybele.[87] Demeter's festival of Thesmophoria was popular throughout Asia Minor, and the myth of Persephone and Adonis in many ways mirrors the myth of Cybele and Attis.[88]

Some late antique sources syncretized several "great goddess" figures into a single deity. The Platonist philosopher Apuleius, writing in the late 2nd century, identified Ceres (Demeter) with Isis, having her declare:

I, mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, first-born of the ages, highest of the gods, queen of the shades, first of those who dwell in heaven, representing in one shape all gods and goddesses. My will controls the shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the mournful silences of hell; the entire world worships my single godhead in a thousand shapes, with divers rites, and under many a different name. The Phrygians, first-born of mankind, call me the Pessinuntian Mother of the gods; ... the ancient Eleusinians Actaean Ceres; ... and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning, honour me with the worship which is truly mine and call me by my true name: Queen Isis.

--Apuleius, translated by E. J. Kenny. The Golden Ass[89]


Lovers and children

Triptolemus, Demeter and Persephone by the Triptolemos-painter, c. 470 BC, Louvre

Some of the earliest accounts of Demeter's relationships to other deities comes from Hesiod's Theogeny, written c. 700 BC. In it, Demeter is described as the daughter of Cronus and Rhea.

Demeter's most well-known relationship is with her daughter, Persephone, queen of the underworld. Both Hesiod and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter(2), describe Persephone as the daughter of Zeus and his older sister, Demeter,[90] though no myths exist describing her conception or birth. The exception is a fragment of the lost Orphic theogony, which preserves part of a myth in which Zeus mates with his mother, Rhea, in the form of a snake, explaining the origin of the symbol on Hermes' staff. Their daughter is said to be Persephone, whom Zeus in turn mates with to conceive Dionysus. According to the Orphic fragments, "After becoming the mother of Zeus, she who was formerly Rhea became Demeter."[91][92]

Before her abduction by Hades, Persephone was known as Kore ("maiden"), and there is some evidence that the figures of Persephone Queen of the Underworld and Kore daughter of Demeter were originally considered separate goddesses.[93] However, they must have become conflated with each other by the time of Hesiod in the 7th century BC.[88] Demeter and Persephone were often worshiped together and were often referred to by joint cultic titles. In their cult at Eleusis, they were referred to simply as "the goddesses", often distinguished as "the older" and "the younger"; in Rhodes and Sparta, they were worshiped as "the Demeters"; in the Thesmophoria, they were known as "the thesmophoroi" ("the legislators").[94] In Arcadia they were known as "the Great Goddesses" and "the mistresses".[] In Mycenaean Pylos, Demeter and Persephone were probably called the "queens" (wa-na-ssoi).[73]

Both Homer and Hesiod, writing c. 700 BC, described Demeter making love with the agricultural hero Iasion in a ploughed field.[95] According to Hesiod, this union resulted in the birth of Plutus.

According to Diodorus Siculus, in his Bibliotheca historica written in the 1st century BC, Demeter and Zeus were also the parents of Dionysus. Diodorus described the myth of Dionysus' double birth (once from the earth, i.e. Demeter, when the plant sprouts) and once from the vine (when the fruit sprouts from the plant). Diodorus also related a version of the myth of Dionysus' destruction by the Titans ("sons of Gaia"), who boiled him, and how Demeter gathered up his remains so that he could be born a third time (Diod. iii.62). Diodorus states that Dionysus' birth from Zeus and his older sister Demeter was somewhat of a minority belief, possibly via conflation of Demeter with her daughter, as most sources state that the parents of Dionysus were Zeus and Persephone, and later Zeus and Semele.[96]

In Arcadia, a major Arcadian deity known as Despoina ("Mistress") was said to be the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon. According to Pausanias, a Thelpusian tradition said that during Demeter's search for Persephone, Poseidon pursued her. Demeter turned into a horse in order to avoid her younger brother's advances, but he turned into a stallion and mated with the goddess, resulting in the birth of the horse god Arion and a daughter "whose name they are not wont to divulge to the uninitiated".[97] Elsewhere he says that the Phigalians assert that the offspring of Poseidon and Demeter, was not a horse but in fact Despoina, "as the Arcadians call her".[98]

Offspring and their fathers
Offspring Father
Persephone, Dionysus (minority belief)[99] Zeus
Arion, Despoina Poseidon
Corybas[100], Plutus, Philomelus[101] Iasion
Eubuleus,[102][103] Chrysothemis[104] Carmanor

Abduction of Persephone

Demeter drives her horse-drawn chariot containing her daughter Persephone-Kore at Selinunte, Sicily, 6th century BC.

Demeter's daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Hades, who received permission from her father Zeus to take her as his bride. Demeter searched for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die.[105] Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to release her if she had eaten nothing while in his realm; but Persephone had eaten a small number of pomegranate seeds. This bound her to Hades and the underworld for certain months of every year, either the dry Mediterranean summer, when plant life is threatened by drought,[106] or the autumn and winter.[107] There are several variations on the basic myth; the earliest account, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, relates that Persephone is secretly slipped a pomegranate seed by Hades[108] and in Ovid's version,[109] Persephone willingly and secretly eats the pomegranate seeds, thinking to deceive Hades, but is discovered and made to stay. Contrary to popular perception, Persephone's time in the underworld does not correspond with the unfruitful seasons of the ancient Greek calendar, nor her return to the upper world with springtime.[110] Demeter's descent to retrieve Persephone from the underworld is connected to the Eleusinian Mysteries.[111]

Demeter rejoiced, for her daughter was by her side.

The myth of the capture of Persephone seems to be pre-Greek. In the Greek version, Ploutos (?, wealth) represents the wealth of the corn that was stored in underground silos or ceramic jars (pithoi). Similar subterranean pithoi were used in ancient times for funerary practices. At the beginning of the autumn, when the corn of the old crop is laid on the fields, she ascends and is reunited with her mother Demeter, for at this time the old crop and the new meet each other.[112]

According to the personal mythology of Robert Graves,[113] Persephone is not only the younger self of Demeter,[114] she is in turn also one of three guises of the Triple Goddess - Kore (the youngest, the maiden, signifying green young grain), Persephone (in the middle, the nymph, signifying the ripe grain waiting to be harvested), and Hecate (the eldest of the three, the crone, the harvested grain), which to a certain extent reduces the name and role of Demeter to that of group name. Before her abduction, she is called Kore; and once taken she becomes Persephone ('she who brings destruction').[115]

Demeter at Eleusis

Eleusinian trio: Persephone, Triptolemos, and Demeter, on a marble bas-relief from Eleusis, 440-430 BC
Pompeiian relief of Demeter in her aspects of mother goddess and goddess of agriculture

Demeter's search for her daughter Persephone took her to the palace of Celeus, the King of Eleusis in Attica. She assumed the form of an old woman, and asked him for shelter. He took her in, to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira. To reward his kindness, she planned to make Demophon immortal; she secretly anointed the boy with ambrosia and laid him in the flames of the hearth, to gradually burn away his mortal self. But Metanira walked in, saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright. Demeter abandoned the attempt. Instead, she taught Triptolemus the secrets of agriculture, and he in turn taught them to any who wished to learn them. Thus, humanity learned how to plant, grow and harvest grain. The myth has several versions; some are linked to figures such as Eleusis, Rarus and Trochilus. The Demophon element may be based on an earlier folk tale.[116]

Demeter and Iasion

Homer's Odyssey (c. late 8th century BC) contains perhaps the earliest direct references to the myth of Demeter and her consort Iasion, a Samothracian hero whose name may refer to bindweed, a small white flower that frequently grows in wheat fields. In the Odyssey, Calypso describes how Demeter, "without disguise", made love to Iasion. "So it was when Demeter of the braided tresses followed her heart and lay in love with Iasion in the triple-furrowed field; Zeus was aware of it soon enough and hurled the bright thunderbolt and killed him."[117] However, some sources say that Demeter pled so eloquently that Zeus granted Iasion immortality, ranking him among the lesser deities.[118] In ancient Greek culture, part of the opening of each agricultural year involved the cutting of three furrows in the field to ensure its fertility.[119]

Hesiod expanded on the basics of this myth. According to him, the liaison between Demeter and Iasion took place at the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia in Crete. Demeter, in this version, had lured Iasion away from the other revelers. Hesiod says that Demeter subsequently gave birth of Plutus.[120]

Demeter and Poseidon

Roman copy of 4th century BC Greek bust (National Roman Museum)

In Arcadia, located in what is now southern Greece, the major goddess Despoina was considered the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon Hippios, Horse-Poseidon. In the associated myths, Poseidon represents the river spirit of the underworld, and he appears as a horse as often happens in northern European folklore. The myth describes how he pursued his older sister, Demeter, who hid from him among the horses of King Onkios, but even in the form of a mare, she could not conceal her divinity. In the form of a stallion, Poseidon caught and raped his older sister. Demeter was furious at Poseidon's assault; in this furious form, she became known as Demeter Erinys. Her anger at Poseidon drove her to dress all in black and retreat into a cave in order to purify herself, an act which was the cause of a universal famine. Demeter's absence caused the death of crops, of livestock, and eventually of the people who depended on them (later Arcadian tradition held that it was both her rage at Poseidon and her loss of her daughter that caused the famine, merging the two myths).[26] Demeter washed away her anger in the River Ladon, becoming Demeter Lousia, the "bathed Demeter".[121]

"In her alliance with Poseidon," Kerényi noted,[122] "she was Earth, who bears plants and beasts, and could therefore assume the shape of an ear of grain or a mare." She bore a daughter Despoina (: the "Mistress"), whose name should not be uttered outside the Arcadian Mysteries,[123] and a horse named Arion, with a black mane and tail.

At Phigaleia, a xoanon (wood-carved statue) of Demeter was erected in a cave which, tradition held, was the cave into which Black Demeter retreated. The statue depicted a Medusa-like figure with a horse's head and snake-like hair, holding a dove and a dolphin, which probably represented her power over air and water:[124]

The second mountain, Mount Elaius, is some thirty stades away from Phigalia, and has a cave sacred to Demeter surnamed Black ... the Phigalians say, they concluded that this cavern was sacred to Demeter and set up in it a wooden image. The image, they say, was made after this fashion. It was seated on a rock, like to a woman in all respects save the head. She had the head and hair of a horse, and there grew out of her head images of serpents and other beasts. Her tunic reached right to her feet; on one of her hands was a dolphin, on the other a dove. Now why they had the image made after this fashion is plain to any intelligent man who is learned in traditions. They say that they named her Black because the goddess had black apparel. They cannot relate either who made this wooden image or how it caught fire. But the old image was destroyed, and the Phigalians gave the goddess no fresh image, while they neglected for the most part her festivals and sacrifices, until the barrenness fell on the land.

Demeter and Erysichthon

Another myth involving Demeter's rage resulting in famine is that of Erysichthon, king of Thessaly.[26] The myth tells of Erysichthon ordering all of the trees in one of Demeter's sacred groves to be cut down. One tree, a huge oak, was found to be covered with votive wreaths, symbols of the prayers Demeter had granted, and so Erysichthon's men refused to cut it down. The king used an axe to cut it down himself, killing a dryad nymph in the process. The nymph's dying words were a curse on Erysichthon. Demeter punished the king by calling upon Limos, the spirit of unrelenting and insatiable hunger, to enter his stomach. The more the king ate, the hungrier he became. Erysichthon sold all his possessions to buy food, but was still hungry. Finally, he sold his own daughter, Mestra, into slavery. Mestra was freed from slavery by her former lover, Poseidon, who gave her the gift of shape-shifting into any creature at will to escape her bonds. Erysichthon used her shape-shifting ability to sell her numerous times to make more money to feed himself, but no amount of food was enough. Eventually, Erysichthon ate himself.[125][126]


While she was travelling far and wide looking for her daughter, Demeter arrived exhausted in Attica. A woman named Misme took her in and offered her a cup of water with pennyroyal and barley groats in it, for it was a hot day. Demeter, in her thirst, swallowed the drink clumsily. Witnessing that, Misme's son Ascalabus laughed and mocked her and asked her if she would like a deep jar of that drink. Demeter then poured her drink over him and turned him into a gecko, hated by both men and gods. It was said that Demeter showed her favour to those who killed geckos.[127]


Before Hades abducted her daughter, he had kept the nymph Minthe as his mistress. But after he married Persephone, he set Minthe aside. Minthe would often brag about being lovelier than Persephone, and saying Hades would soon come back to her and kick Persephone out of his halls. Demeter, hearing that, grew angry and trampled Minthe; from the earth then sprang a lovely-smelling herb named after the nymph.[128] In other versions, it's Persephone herself who turns Minthe into a plant for sleeping with Hades.[129][130]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ ?. Cf. . Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek-English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ^ Eustathius of Thessalonica, scholia on Homer, 265.
  4. ^ a b The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: Volume 2: The Twentieth Century and Beyond. Broadview Press. p. 643.
  5. ^ a b John Chadwick, The Mycenean World. Cambridge University Press, 1976.
  6. ^ Y. Duhoux, "LA > B da-ma-te = Déméter? Sur la langue du linéaire A," Minos 29/30 (1994-1995): 289-294.
  7. ^ Y. Duhoux and A. Morpurgo-Davies, Companion to Linear B, vol. 2 (2011), p. 26. But see Ventris/Chadwick,Documents in Mycenean Greek p.242: B.Dietriech (2004):The origins of the Greek religion Bristol Phoenix Press. p.172
  8. ^ "da-ma-te". Deaditerranean. Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B. "PY 609 En (1)". D?MOS: Database of Mycenaean at Oslo. University of Oslo.
  9. ^ Inscription MY Oi 701. "si-to-po-ti-ni-ja". Deaditerranean. Minoan Linear A & Mycenaean Linear B. "The Linear B word si-to". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool of Ancient languages. "MY 701 Oi (63)". D?MOS: Database of Mycenaean atOslo. University of Oslo. Cf. , ?.
  10. ^ "mother | Origin and meaning of mother by Online Etymology Dictionary".
  11. ^  in Liddell and Scott.
  12. ^ "demeter | Origin and meaning of the name demeter by Online Etymology Dictionary".
  13. ^ ?. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  14. ^ a b R. S. P. Beekes. Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 324.
  15. ^ Adams, John Paul, Mycenean divinities - List of handouts for California State University Classics 315. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  16. ^ Chadwick, The Mycenaean World, Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 87) "Every Greek was aware of the maternal functions of Demeter; if her name bore the slightest resemblance to the Greek word for 'mother', it would inevitably have been deformed to emphasize that resemblance. [...] How did it escape transformation into *G?m?t?r, a name transparent to any Greek speaker?" Compare the Latin transformation Iuppiter and Diespiter vis-a-vis *Deus pater.
  17. ^ West, Martin L. (24 May 2007). Indo-European Poetry and Myth. OUP Oxford. p. 176. ISBN 9780199280759. The -, however, cannot be explained from Greek. But there is a Messapic Damatura or Damatira, and she need not be dismissed as a borrowing from Greek; she matches the Illyrian Deipaturos both in the agglutination and in the transfer to the thematic declension (-os, -a). (It is noteworthy that sporadic examples of a thematically declined ? are found in inscriptions.) Damater/ Demeter could therefore be a borrowing from Illyrian. An Illyrian D?- may possibly be derived from *D(e)m-
  18. ^ a b Harrison, Jane Ellen. Myths of Greece and Rome. 1928. pp. 63-64
  19. ^ Orphic Hymn 40 to Demeter (translated by Thomas Taylor: "O universal mother Deo famed, august, the source of wealth and various names".
  20. ^ Compare sanskr. yava, lit. yavai, is probably derived from F? :Martin Nilsson, Geschichte der Griechischen Religion, vol. I (Verlag C.H.Beck) pp 461-462.
  21. ^ Harrison, Jane Ellen (5 September 1908). "Prolegomena to the study of Greek religion". Cambridge [Eng.] : The University press – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ Dietrich, p.181.
  23. ^ Nilsson, 1967:444
  24. ^ Frisk, Griechisches Etymological Woerterbuch. Entry 1271
  25. ^ Stott, Carole (1 August 2019). Planisphere and Starfinder, pp. 69. Dorling Kindersley Limited. ISBN 978-0-241-42169-7.
  26. ^ a b c Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, Esther Eidinow, eds. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. OUP Oxford, 2014; Pausainias, 8.42.1–4.
  27. ^ Pausainias, 8.42.7.
  28. ^ Isocrates, Panegyricus 4.28: "When Demeter came to our land, in her wandering after the rape of Kore, and, being moved to kindness towards our ancestors by services which may not be told save to her initiates, gave these two gifts, the greatest in the world - the fruits of the earth, which have enabled us to rise above the life of the beasts, and the holy rite, which inspires in those who partake of it sweeter hopes regarding both the end of life and all eternity".
  29. ^ Hesiod Works and Days, 465.
  30. ^ Graves, Robert (1960). Greek Gods and Heroes. Dell Laurel-Leaf.
  31. ^ Martin Nilsson, (1967), Die Geschichte der Griechische Religion, C.F.Beck Verlag Munchen, pp 462, 466, 675-76.
  32. ^ Anesidora: inscribed against her figure on a white-ground kylix in the British Museum, B.M. 1881,0528.1, from Nola, painted by the Tarquinia painter, ca 470-460 BC (British Museum on-line catalogue entry)
  33. ^ Hesychius of Alexandria s.v.
  34. ^ Scholiast, On Theocritus ii. 12.
  35. ^ Pausanias 3.14.5.
  36. ^ Harrison, Jane Ellen. Myths of Greece and Rome. 1928. pp. 65-66
  37. ^ Pausanias 8.15.3.
  38. ^ Martin Nilsson (1967).Die Geschichte der Griechiesche Religion Vol. I pp 477-478.
  39. ^ Heraklion Museum, Kerényi 1976, fig. 15.
  40. ^ Kerényi 1976, p. 25.
  41. ^ Robert Graves. The Greek myths. 24.15, p 96 ISBN 0-14-001026-2
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  44. ^ ?x?
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  48. ^ Pausanias 9.25.5
  49. ^ Pausanias, 1.22.3.
  50. ^ Pausanias 3.14.5
  51. ^ Pausanias, 9.39.4.
  52. ^ Nilsson Vol. I p.577
  53. ^ ?
  54. ^ Soph.Antigone 1120
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  57. ^ C.M. Bowra (1957), The Greek Experience(1957:87, 169).
  58. ^
  59. ^ ?
  60. ^ ?
  61. ^ 8.15.3 Pausanias.
  62. ^ Pausanias, 8.25.6–7.
  63. ^ Nilsson Vol I p.479
  64. ^
  65. ^ Pausanias, 7.27.9.
  66. ^ Nilsson Vol I p.466
  67. ^ Nilsson Vol. I p.477
  68. ^
  69. ^ Pausanias 8.15.4
  70. ^ Pausanias, 1.44.3
  71. ^
  72. ^ Pausanias, 2.34.6.
  73. ^ a b c "Wa-na-ssoi, wa-na-ka-te, (to the two queens and the king). Wanax is best suited to Poseidon, the special divinity of Pylos. The identity of the two divinities addressed as wanassoi, is uncertain ": George Mylonas (1966) Mycenae and the Mycenean age" p.159 :Princeton University Press
  74. ^ George Mylonas (1966), "Mycenae and the Mycenean world ". p.159. Princeton University Press
  75. ^ a b Dietrich pp. 181-185
  76. ^ Dietrich pp. 141
  77. ^ Dietrich, p. 167.
  78. ^ Cohen, A, Art in the Era of Alexander the Great: Paradigms of Manhood and Their Cultural Traditions, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 213. Googlebook preview
  79. ^ a b L. H. Jeffery (1976) Archaic Greece: The City States c. 700-500 BC. Ernest Benn Ltd., London & Tonbridge pp. 72, 73, 78 ISBN 0-510-03271-0
  80. ^ The Parian marble. Entry No 5: "When Amphictyon son of Hellen became king of Thermopylae brought together those living round the temple and named them Amphictyones; [2]
  81. ^ Pausanias, 7.27.9.
  82. ^ Benko, Stephen, The virgin goddess: studies in the pagan and Christian roots of mariology, BRILL, 2004, note 111 on pp. 63 - 4, and p. 175.
  83. ^ Larousse Desk Reference Encyclopedia, The Book People, Haydock, 1995, p. 215.
  84. ^ Spaeth, Barbette Stanley, The Roman goddess Ceres, University of Texas Press, 1996, pp. 4, 6-13, citing Arnobius, who mistakes this as the first Roman cult to Ceres. His belief may reflect its high profile and ubiquity during the later Imperial period, and possibly the fading of older, distinctively Aventine forms of her cult.
  85. ^ Scheid, John, "Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 97, Greece in Rome: Influence, Integration, Resistance, 1995, p.23.
  86. ^ Spaeth, Barbette Stanley, The Roman goddess Ceres, University of Texas Press, 1996, pp. 13, 15, 60, 94-97.
  87. ^ Eur.Hel.1301-45 and Melanippid.764PMG.
  88. ^ a b Kore / Persephone. Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World: Asia Minor.
  89. ^ Apuleius (1998). The Golden Ass. Penguin classics.
  90. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 912; Homeric Hymn to Demeter (2).
  91. ^ Kerényi 1976, p. 112.
  92. ^ Orpheus, fr. 145, in O. Kern, ed., Orphicorum fragmenta.
  93. ^ Zuntz, G., Persephone. Three essays in religion and thought in Magna Graecia (Oxford 1971), p. 75-83.
  94. ^ Martin Nilsson (1967) Die Geschichte der Griechische Religion pp.463, 477
  95. ^ Homer, Odyssey 5.125; Hesiod, Theogony 969-974.
  96. ^ Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History Book III.
  97. ^ Pausanias, 8.28.5–7.
  98. ^ Pausanias, 8.42.1.
  99. ^ Scholiast on Pindar, Pythian Odes 3.177; Hesychius
  100. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 5.48.2
  101. ^ Hyginus, De Astronomica 2.4
  102. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica 5.76.3
  103. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 2.30.3
  104. ^ Pausanias, Graeciae Descriptio 10.7.2 & 10.16.5
  105. ^ Kerényi 1951, pp. 232-241 and notes 784-798.
  106. ^ As in Burkert, Greek Religion (Harvard, 1985) p. 160.
  107. ^ As in Porphyry
  109. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses (Book V, ln. 533-571)
  110. ^ Graf, "Demeter" in Brill's New Pauly
  111. ^ "The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Rites of Demeter". World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2019.
  112. ^ Martin Nilsson, Greek Popular Religion. pp 48-50
  113. ^ Graves' work on Greek myth was often criticized; see The White Goddess#Criticism and The Greek Myths.
  114. ^ The idea that Kore (the maiden) is not Demeter's daughter, but Demeter's own younger self, was discussed much earlier than Graves, in Lewis Richard Farnell (1896), The Cults of the Greek States, volume 3, p.121.
  115. ^ Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0-14-001026-2. 24. pp.94-95.
  116. ^ Nilsson (1940), p. 50: "The Demophon story in Eleusis is based on an older folk-tale motif which has nothing to do with the Eleusinian Cult. It is introduced in order to let Demeter reveal herself in her divine shape".
  117. ^ Homer, Odyssey 5.125 ff (trans. Shewring)
  118. ^ Evslin, Bernard (5 December 2017). Bernard Evslin's Greek Mythology. Open Road Media. ISBN 978-1-5040-4998-6.
  119. ^ "IASION - Greek Demi-God of the Samothracian Mysteries".
  120. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 969 ff..
  121. ^ Other ritually bathed goddesses were Argive Hera and Cybele; Aphrodite renewed her own powers bathing herself in the sea.
  122. ^ Kerényi 1951, p. 185.
  123. ^ "In Arcadia she was also a second goddess in the Mysteries of her daughter, the unnameable, who was invoked only as 'Despoina', the 'Mistress'" (Kerényi 1967, pp. 31ff., citing Pausanias, 8.37.9.
  124. ^ L. H. Jeffery (1976). Archaic Greece: The Greek city states c. 800-500 B.C. (Ernest Benn Limited) p 23 ISBN 0-510-03271-0
  125. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses VIII, 738-878
  126. ^ Callimachus, Hymn to Demeter, 34 ff
  127. ^ Antoninus Liberalis, Collection of Transformations 24
  128. ^ Oppian, Halieutica 3.485 ff
  129. ^ Strabo, Geographica 8.3.14.
  130. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.728


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