(M10)

Demeter

Mother Goddess of the Earth, and one of the Twelve Olympians, Demeter is identified with the Ceres in Roman Mythology.[1]

The ancients thought of Demeter as an earth-goddess in the sense of the nurturing mother who brings forth countless fruits for human food. The plant which is the most indispensable in the life of man is corn. As this was supposed to be the peculiar gift of Demeter, she was called the inventor of agriculture and founder of the civic community. It was said that prior to her coming, men wandered about in a savage condition, subsisting on acorns and roots, but she instructed them in more civilied habits. They became attached to the country of their birth, learned the meaning of property, and grew accustomed to the conception of law; they thus passed from the nomadic to the agricultural stage. Her name, Thesmophoros, probably derived from the rite of the Thesmophoria, was by later theorists interpreted to mean 'law-giver'.[30]

The most significant legend connected with Demeter is that of the rape of Persephone (her daughter by Zeus), carried out by Hades, god of the underworld. It is said to have taken place in Enna, Sicily. One day when Proserpine was plucking flowers with her companions in a field, Hades suddenly rose from a cleft in the earth in his chariot drawn by black horses, and, seizing her, plunged with her below the earth. The sorrowing Demeter wandered long to seek her child, continuing the search every night by torchlight. Hekate could give her no news of her daughter, and she sought in vain nine days and nine nights. At last Helios, from whom nothing is hidden, told her that Hades had taken Persephone to be his bride and queen of the realm of shadows and that all had happened according to the will of Zeus. In her grief and agony Demeter withdrew from men. She gave no more gifts to the land, and when Zeus saw that men and beasts were dying of hunger, he was forced to give way. Hermes was sent to the underworld to fetch Persephone, but as she had already eaten of a pomegranate which Pluto gave her, she was for ever bound to the kingdom of the dead. She passed the winter months with her husband in the dark underworld, but in spring, when the first tiny shoots appear and the first flowers deck the meadow, Persephone comes to her rejoicing mother, and together they watch the young blade, ripen the ear and see the sheaves reaped and the corn threshed. When winter comes, and nature goes to rest, Persephone must descend and remain in Hades until the spring comes round again.[30]

While Demeter was wandering about to seek her vanished daughter, she came to Eleusis, located in Attica on the Gulf of Salamis. She was weary and sat down by a spring. The daughters of King Keleos, coming to draw water, greeted the stranger kindly and brought her to their father's house, where she remained as nurse of the young Demophon. She loved the child, and determined to make him immortal by means of fire. It happened that the mother of Demophon came in just as Demeter was holding him in the flame of the fire and she screamed in terror, frustrating the intention of the goddess. Demeter afterwards gave Demophon ears of corn, and sent him out into the world on a winged car drawn by dragons, that he might teach all men how to sow and cultivate corn.[30]

The message that prosperity and wealth depend on agriculture is told through another tale which has Demeter married to Jason of Crete, a famous tiller of the soil. Their son was Pluto is the god of wealth.[30]

Demeter was worshipped on the island of Crete, which very early became the seat of a flourishing civilisation, and also all over Greece, wherever
agriculture was carried out, especially at Eleusis
.[30]

In Homer, Demeter is the spouse of Zeus worshipped in the Thessalian Pyrasos (wheatland), and is only goddess of the cultivation of corn, so that as a rule she seems to dwell not on Olympus, but in the arable field; and she is similarly represented in the sacred hymn containing her legend which was composed before the age of Solon in Attica
.[31]



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