The Myth of Demeter and Persephone

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1. Fate of Persephone

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, what is the fate of Persephone? According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Persephone was to be married to Aidoneus-her uncle since her father-Zeus, king of the gods (hymn to Demeter 5-10) had given her to him. This was a plot between her father and her uncle who was engaged her raping. Zeus's daughter Persephone after being abducted by Hades, she was to be made a powerful queen of the underworld. From the perspectives of the local inhabitants who gave the goddess information during the early Greek world, Persephone after becoming the queen underworld, she could form a cult. After Persephone is abducted by Hades, the underworld god, she was committed to her husband-Hades for one-third of the year ruling alongside her husband and for the other two-thirds of the year she could join her mother-Demeter in Olympus. Persephone was to be the divine leader of the cult she had formed in the afterlife. Demeter, the goddess of fertility after losing her daughter to Hades, brought a great famine on earth which made human suffer famine and also the gods lack sacrifices. The king of the gods sent Hermes into the underworld to intercede with Hades to release Persephone. Eventually, Hades agreed upon conditions. Persephone had to eat a pomegranate seed so that she could stay with her mother Demeter for two-thirds of the year and one-third of the year with him.

2. Demeter's Visit to Eleusis

Why does Demeter go to Eleusis? Why does she want to make the child Demophon immortal? Why does she fail?

After her daughter is abducted by Hades after falling in love with him (Foley 1994: 7-9), Demeter goes to Eleusis to protest against the abduction of her daughter Persephone as she was gathering flowers. It is at Eleusis where Demeter performs what later came to be known as the Mysteries at Eleusis. Demeter goes to Eleusis where she forms her own cult which brought immortality to human beings. After searching all over the world for her daughter in vain, Hekate and Helios helped her to discover that her daughter was abducted at Eleusis. In Eleusis, Demeter changes herself into a mortal and gets introduced to Metaneira becomes a nurse to Demophon, Metaneira's son.

Demeter after being accepted by Metaneira to nurse her son Demophon, Demeter started treating Demophon with some set of rituals every night when everyone in the palace was asleep. She could anoint Demophon's legs with ambrosia and set him into the fire to make him immortal. She wanted to make him immortal just like her so that he could be ageless and could not even die. However, the reason as to why she wanted the child Demophon immortal is unclear according to the myth.

Unfortunately, Metaneira Demophon's mother was spying on her during the night and was amazed how her son was growing so fast. One day when she was performing her rituals, she screamed and Demeter stopped the treatment. Demeter failed to make Demophon an immortal since the treatment process had not been completed because her plan had been frustrated. Demeter had no choice but to reveal her immortal form appearing in divine majesty. This is what is referred to as the Mysteries at Eleusis which led to the formation of the cult of Demeter.

3. Demeter's Demand for a Ritual

Why does Demeter demand for a ritual at Eleusis? What is the purpose of the ritual?

After Demeter had revealed her immortal status, she demanded for a ritual to be performed at Eleusis because she was furious that the mortals had seen Demophon resting on her laps and sleeping in her arms as she kept it a secret. She wanted a temple to be built on which she could then give instructions on the rituals to be carried out in order to appease her. The purpose of the ritual was to appease Demeter as she was raged after her plan to make Demophon an immortal had been interfered with by the mortals. Demophon's mother screamed loudly after seeing her son in the fire as she was frightened by the scene. The significance of the ritual is to show the gratitude of the goddess towards her warm reception and that her rage could be appeased by the rituals in honor of her.

4. Myth's Relevance to Agricultural Communities

Explain the relevance of this myth to agricultural communities.

Agricultural communities in the Greek world viewed Demeter as the goddess of grain and the annual renewal of life. Many communities in their early civilization such as the eastern Mediterranean adopted this myth and became assimilated into the rituals to appease the goddess of grain and fertility. Agricultural communities attributed some special power on the blood of animals such as pigs towards their fertility. They believed that the blood was able to unveil underground shoots and tubers. Mixing the flesh of pigs with seeds was believed to increase the harvest of the following year. The rituals carried out were to appease the gods underground so that fertility could be increased annually. This was also accompanied by the sacrifice of young pigs in the honor of Demeter the goddess of grain and renewal of life. The addition of grain into drink during the ritual shows that the humans were honoring Persephone the goddess of renewal of life. Agricultural communities had to appease Demeter through the rituals so that she could make their grains more fertile. Furthermore, those initiated into the cult could have the rights to perform the rituals to appease Demeter, goddess of grain. The theories support fertility cult by the agricultural communities.

5. The Myth of Demeter and the Charter and Ritual Theories

To what extent do the 'charter' and ritual theories of myth help us to understand the myth of Demeter?

The rituals as explained in the charter and ritual theories have greatly assisted in making the myth of Demeter clearer. The theories have helped the development of early literature about Demeter by linking them with the myth. The social culture of the modern Greek such as death rituals, wedding songs and funeral laments can be associated with the myth as the departure of the bride is taken as a symbolic death while her death as a symbolic wedding to the afterlife. Most of the rituals carried out are closely linked with the Demeter's rituals to appease her. The theories are adopted in early sources such other hymns as well as early epic. The two theories also try to explain how the Demeter's cult started and the meaning of the Mystery to those initiated into the cult. Through the theories, the human expectance in the afterlife in portrayed by the Demeter's myth.


Edward A Beach (1995). The Eleusinian Mysteries. (

K. Kerenyi, Eleus: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (London, 1967) pp. 45-46

H.P. Foley (ed.) The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: translation, commentary and interpretive essays (Princeton, 1994) pp. 79-84.

R.Parker, Hymn to Demeter and the Homeric Hymns’ Greece and Rome 38 (1991) pp. 1-17

November 13, 2023

Religion Science

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