The ‘Homeric’ Hymn to Demeter

1 I begin to sing of lovely-haired Demeter, the goddess august, of her and her slender-ankled daughter whom Zeus, far-seeing and loud-thundering, gave to Aidoneus to abduct. Away from her mother of the golden sword and the splendid fruit 5 she played with the full-bosomed daughters of Okeanos, gathering flowers, roses, crocuses, and beautiful violets all over a soft meadow; irises too, and hyacinths she picked, and narcissus, which Gaia, pleasing the All-receiver, made blossom there, by the will of Zeus, for a girl with a flower’s beauty. 10 A lure it was, wondrous and radiant, and a marvel to be seen by immortal gods and mortal men. A hundred stems of sweet-smelling blossoms grew from its roots. The wide sky above and the whole earth and the briny swell of the sea laughed. 15 She was dazzled and reached out with both hands at once to take the pretty bauble; Earth with its wide roads gaped and then over the Nysian field the lord and All-receiver, the many-named son of Kronos, sprang out upon her with his immortal horses. Against her will he seized her and on his golden chariot 20 carried her away as she wailed; and she raised a shrill cry, calling upon father Kronides, the highest and the best.

None of the immortals or of mortal men heard her voice, not even the olive-trees bearing splendid fruit. Only the gentle-tempered daughter of Persaios, 25 Hekate of the shining headband, heard from her cave, and lord Helios, the splendid son of Hyperion, heard the maiden calling father Kronides; he sat apart from the gods away in the temple of prayers, accepting beautiful sacrifices from mortal men. 30 By Zeus’ counsels, his brother, the All-receiver and Ruler of Many, Kronos’ son of many names, was carrying her away with his immortal horses, against her will.

So while the goddess looked upon the earth and the starry sky and the swift-flowing sea teeming with fish 35 and the rays of the sun and still hoped to see her loving mother and the races of gods immortal, hope charmed her great mind, despite her grief. The peaks of the mountains and the depths of the sea resounded with her immortal voice, and her mighty mother heard her. 40 A sharp pain gripped her heart, and she tore the headband round her divine hair with her own hands. From both of her shoulders she cast down her dark veil and rushed like a bird over the nourishing land and the sea, searching; but none of the gods or mortal men 45 wanted to tell her the truth and none of the birds of omen came to her as truthful messenger.

For nine days then all over the earth mighty Deo roamed about with bright torches in her hands, and in her sorrow never tasted ambrosia 50 or nectar sweet to drink, and never bathed her skin. But when the tenth light-bringing Dawn came to her, Hekate carrying a light in her hands, met her, and with loud voice spoke to her and told her the news: “Mighty Demeter, bringer of seasons and splendid gifts, 55 which of the heavenly gods or of mortal men seized Persephone and pierced with sorrow your dear heart? For I heard a voice but did not see with my eyes who it was; I am quickly telling you the whole truth.” Thus spoke Hekate. And to her the daughter of lovely-haired Rhea 60 answered not a word, but with her she sped away swiftly, holding the bright torches in her hands. They came to Helios, watcher of gods and men, and stood near his horses, and the illustrious goddess made a plea: “Helios, do have respect for me as a goddess, if I ever 65 cheered your heart and soul by word or deed. Through the barren ether I heard the shrieking voice of my daughter famous for her beauty, a sweet flower at birth, as if she were being overcome by force, but I saw nothing. And since you do gaze down upon the whole earth 70 and sea and cast your rays through the bright ether, tell me truly if you have seen anywhere what god or even mortal man in my absence seized by force my dear child and went away.”

Thus she spoke, and Hyperionides gave her an answer: 75 “Lady Demeter, daughter of lovely-haired Rhea, you shall know; for I greatly reverence and pity you in your grief for your slender-ankled child; no other immortal is to be blamed save cloud-gathering Zeus who gave her to Hades, his own brother, to become 80 his buxom bride. He seized her and with his horses carried her crying loud down to misty darkness. But, Goddess, stop your great wailing; you mustn’t give yourself to grief so great and fruitless. Not an unseemly bridegroom among immortals is Aidoneus, Lord of Many, 85 your own brother from the same seed; to his share fell honor when in the beginning a triple division was made, and he dwells among those over whom his lot made him lord.” With these words, he called upon his horses, and at his command speedily, like long-winged birds, they drew the swift chariot, 90 as a pain more awful and savage reached Demeter’s soul.

Afterwards, angered with Kronion, lord of black clouds, she withdrew from the assembly of the gods and from lofty Olympos and went through the cities of men and the wealth of their labors, tearing at her fair form for a long time; no man 95 or deep-girded woman looking at her knew who she was before she reached the house of prudent Keleos, who then was lord of Eleusis, a town rich in sacrifices. Grieving in her dear heart, she sat near the road, at Parthenion, the well from which the citizens drew water, 100 in the shade of a bushy olive-tree which grew above it. She looked like an old woman born a long time ago land barred from childbearing and the gifts of wreath-loving Aphrodite, even as are nurses for the children of law-tending kings and keepers of the storerooms in their bustling mansions. 105 The daughters of Keleos Eleusinides saw her as they were coming to fetch easily-drawn water in copper vessels to their father’s dear halls, four of them in their maidenly bloom, like goddesses, Kallidike, Kleisidike and Demo the lovely, 110 and Kallithoe, who was the eldest of them all. They did not know who she was; it is hard for mortals to see divinity. Standing near, they addressed her with winged words:

“Old woman, whence and from what older generation do you come? Why have you wandered away from the city and not approached 115 a house; there in the shadowy halls live women of your age and even younger ones who will treat you kindly in both word and deed.” After these words, the mighty goddess answered: “Dear children, whoever of suckling women you are, 120 I greet you and will explain; indeed it is fitting to tell you the truth, since you are asking. Dos is the name which my mighty mother gave me. And now from Crete on the broad back of the sea I came unwillingly; marauding men by brute force 125 carried me off against my will, and later they landed their swift ship at Thorikos, where the women came out in a body and the men themselves prepared a meal by the stern-cables of the ship. But my heart had no desire for the evening’s sweet meal; 130 I eluded them and, rushing through the black land, I fled my reckless masters, so that they might not enjoy the benefit of my price, since, like thieves, they carried me across the sea.

“So I have wandered to this place and know not at all what land this is and what men live in it. 135 But may all who dwell in the Olympian halls grant you men to wed and children to bear as your parents wish; and now have mercy on me, maidens and, dear children, kindly let me go to someone’s house, a man’s and a woman’s, to work for them 140 in such tasks as befit a woman past her prime. I shall be a good nurse to a new-born child, holding him in my arms; I shall take care of the house, and make the master’s bed in the innermost part of the well-built chamber and mind his wife’s work.” 145 So said the goddess, and forthwith Kallidike, still a pure virgin and the most beautiful of Keleos’ daughters, replied:

“Good mother, men must take the gifts of the gods even when they bring them pain, since gods are truly much stronger. I shall advise you clearly and give you the names 150 of the men who have great power and honor in this place; these are leaders of the people who defend the towers of the city by their counsels and straight judgments. They are Triptolemos, shrewd in counsel, and Dioklos, Polyxeinos and Eumolpos, untainted by blame, 155 Dolichos and our manly father, and everyone has a wife managing his mansion. No woman there, when she first looks upon you, will dishonor your appearance and remove you from the mansion, but each will receive you, for indeed you look like a goddess. 160 If you wish, wait here for us to go to the mansion of our father and tell our deep-girded mother, Metaneira, all these things from beginning to end, hoping that she will bid you come to our mansion and not search for another’s. A growing son is being reared in the well-built mansion, 165 born late in her life, much wished for and welcome. If you should bring him up to reach puberty, some tender woman seeing you could easily be envious; such rewards for rearing him she’ll give you.”

So she spoke, and the goddess nodded her head in assent, 170 and they proudly carried their shining vessels filled with water. Swiftly they reached their father’s great mansion and quickly told their mother what they had seen and heard. And she commanded them to go forthwith and invite her to come for copious wages. And they, as deer or heifers in the season of spring, 175 sated in their hearts with pasture frisk over a meadow, held up the folds of their lovely robes and darted along the hollow wagon-road, as their flowing hair tossed about their shoulders, like the flowers of the crocus. They met the glorious goddess near the road where 180 they had left her before; and then they led her to their father’s house. And the goddess walked behind them, brooding in her dear heart, with her head covered, while a dark cloak swirled about her tender feet.

Soon they reached the house of Zeus-cherished Keleos 185 and through the portico they went where their lady mother sat by a pillar, which supported the close-fitted roof, holding a child, a young blossom, on her lap; they ran near her, and the goddess stepped on the threshold and touched the roof with her head and filled the doorway with divine radiance. 190 Awe, reverence and pale fear seized the mother; and she yielded her seat to the goddess and asked her to sit. But Demeter, the bringer of seasons and splendid gifts, did not want to sit on the lustrous seat; she kept silent and cast down her beautiful eyes 195 until Iambe, knowing her duties, placed in front of her a well-fitted seat and over it she threw a white fleece. Demeter sat on it and with her hands she held in front of her a veil, remaining on the seat for long, speechless and brooding, doing nothing and speaking to nobody. 200 And without laughing or tasting food and drink she sat pining with longing for her deep-girded daughter until Iambe, knowing her duties, with her jokes and many jests induced the pure and mighty one to smile and laugh and have a gracious temper. 205 At later times, too, Iambe was able to please her moods.

Metaneira now filled a cup with wine and gave it to her, but she refused it; it was not right for her, she said, to drink red wine. She asked them to give her a drink of barley-meal and water mixed with tender pennyroyal. 210 She mixed the drink and gave it to the goddess, as she had asked, and mighty Deo accepted it, complying with holy custom. Then among them fair-girded Metaneira started speaking. “I salute you, lady, because I think you were born to noble and not to lowly parents. Modesty and grace show 215 in your eyes, as if you were the child of law-giving kings. But man must take the gifts of gods even when they are grieved by them, for on their necks there is a yoke. And now since you have come here, what is mine will be yours. Nurture this child of mine, whom unhoped for and late-born 220 the gods have granted me, in answer to my many prayers. If you should bring him up to reach the age of puberty, some tender woman seeing you could easily be envious; such rewards for rearing him I will give you.” Fair-wreathed Demeter addressed her in turn: 225 “I salute you too, lady; may the gods grant you good things. I will gladly accept the child as you ask me. I will nurture him, and I do not think that for his nurse’s foolishness either a spell or the Undercutter will harm him. I know a remedy by far mightier than the tree-felling creature, 230 and for harmful bewitching I know a noble antidote.”

With these words she received him to her fragrant bosom and immortal arms, and the mother rejoiced in her heart. Thus the fine son of prudent Keleos, Demophoon, to whom fair-girded Metaneira gave birth, 235 was nurtured by her in the palace; and he grew up like a god, not eating food or nursing at his mother’s breast. As if he were the child of a god, Demeter anointed him with ambrosia, holding him to her bosom and breathing on him sweetly. At night she hid him like a firebrand in the blazing fire, 240 secretly from his dear parents.

To them it was a miracle how he blossomed forth and looked like the gods. And she would have made him ageless and immortal, if fair-girded Metaneira, thinking foolish thoughts and keeping watch by night from her fragrant chamber, 245 had not seen her; she raised a cry, striking her thighs in fear for her child, and blindness entered her mind, and weeping she spoke winged words: “Demophoon, my child, this stranger hides you in a great fire, bringing me grief and painful care.”

250 Thus she spoke wailing, and the splendid goddess heard her. The shafts of terrible anger shot through Demeter, the fair-wreathed, who then with her immortal hands took from the blazing fire and placed on the ground the dear child born in the queen’s mansion, 255 and at the same time addressed fair-girded Metaneira: “Men are too foolish to know ahead of time the measure of good and evil which is yet to come. You too were greatly blinded by your foolishness. The relentless water of the Styx by which gods swear 260 be my witness: immortal and ageless forever would I have made your dear son and granted him everlasting honor; but now it is not possible for him to escape the fate of death. Yet honor everlasting shall be his because he climbed on my knees and slept in my arms. 265 But in due time and as the years revolve for him, the sons of the Eleusinians will join in war and dreadful battle against each other forever. I am Demeter the honored, the greatest benefit and joy to undying gods and to mortals. 270 But come now, let all the people build me a great temple and beneath it an altar under the steep walls of the city, above Kallichoron, on the rising hill. I myself shall introduce rites so that later you may propitiate my mind by their right performance.”

275 With these words the goddess changed her size and form and sloughed off old age, as beauty was wafted about her. From her fragrant veils a lovely smell emanated, and from the immortal skin of the goddess a light shone afar, as her blond hair streamed down over her shoulders, 280 and the sturdy mansion was filled with radiance as if from lightning. Out she went through the mansion.

The queen staggered, and she remained speechless for a long time, forgetting to pick her growing child up from the floor. His sisters heard his pitiful voice, 285 and they ran from their well-spread beds; and then one took up the child in her arms and held him to her bosom. Another revived the fire and yet a third rushed with her tender feet to rouse her mother from her fragrant chamber. They gathered round the squirming child, bathed him 290 and fondled him, but his heart was not soothed, for surely lesser nurses and governesses held him now. All night long they propitiated the glorious goddess, quaking with fear, and as soon as dawn appeared they told the truth to Keleos, whose power reached far, 295 as the fair-wreathed goddess Demeter had ordered them. He then called to assembly the people of every district and bade them build an opulent temple to lovely-haired Demeter and make an altar on the rising hill.

And they listened to his speech, and obeying forthwith 300 they built it as he ordered; and the temple took shape according to divine decree. Now when they finished the temple and refrained from labor, each man went to his home, but blond Demeter, sitting there apart from all the blessed ones, kept on wasting with longing for her deep-girded daughter. 305 Onto the much-nourishing earth she brought a year most dreadful and harsh for men; no seed in the earth sprouted, for fair-wreathed Demeter concealed it. In vain the oxen drew many curved plows over the fields, and in vain did much white barley fall into the ground. 310 And she would have destroyed the whole race of mortal men with painful famine and would have deprived the Olympians of the glorious honor of gifts and sacrifices, if Zeus had not perceived this and pondered in his mind.

First he sent golden-winged Iris to invite 315 the lovely-haired Demeter of the fair form. He spoke to her and she obeyed Zeus, the son of Kronos and lord of dark clouds, and ran swiftly mid-way between earth and heaven. She reached the town of Eleusis rich in sacrifices, found the dark-veiled Demeter in the temple 320 and spoke, uttering winged words to her: “Demeter, Zeus the father, whose wisdom never wanes, invites you to come among the tribes of the immortal gods. But come and let not the word of Zeus be unaccomplished.” Thus she spoke begging her, but her mind was not persuaded. 325 So then again the father sent forth all the blessed immortal gods. They ran to her, and each in his turn summoned her and gave her many beautiful gifts and whatever honors she might want to choose among the immortals. But no one could persuade the mind and thought 330 of the angry goddess who stubbornly spurned their offers.

She said she would never set foot on fragrant Olympos and never allow the grain in the earth to sprout forth before seeing with her eyes her fair-faced daughter. So when loud-thundering, far-seeing Zeus heard this, 335 he sent Argeiphontes of the golden wand to Erebos. His mission was to win Hades over with gentle words, and bring Persephone out of misty darkness to light and among the gods, so that her mother might see her with her eyes and desist from anger. 340 Hermes did not disobey and, leaving his Olympian seat, with eager speed plunged into the depths of the earth. He found the lord inside his dwelling, sitting on his bed with his revered spouse; she was in many ways reluctant and missed ’her mother, who far 345 from the works of the blessed gods was devising a plan. Mighty Argeiphontes stood near and addressed him:

“Hades, dark-haired lord of those who have perished, Zeus the father bids you bring noble Persephone out of Erebos and among the gods, so that her mother, 350 seeing her with her eyes, may desist from anger and dreadful wrath against the gods; because she is contemplating a great scheme to destroy the feeble races of earth-born men, hiding the seed under the earth and abolishing the honors of the immortals. Her anger is dreadful, and she does not mingle 355 with the gods, but apart from them in a fragrant temple she sits, dwelling in the rocky town of Eleusis.” Thus he spoke and Aidoneus, lord of the nether world, with smiling brows obeyed the behests of Zeus the king and speedily gave his command to prudent-minded Persephone: 360 “Persephone, go to your dark-robed mother with a gentle spirit and temper in your breast, and in no way be more dispirited than the other gods. I shall not be an unfitting husband among the immortals, as I am father Zeus’ own brother. When you are here 365 you shall be mistress of everything which lives and moves; your honors among the immortals shall be the greatest, and those who wrong you shall always be punished, if they do not propitiate your spirit with sacrifices, performing sacred rites and making due offerings.”

370 Thus he spoke and wise Persephone rejoiced and swiftly sprang up for joy, but he himself gave her to eat a honey-sweet pomegranate seed, contriving secretly about her, so that she might not spend all her days again with dark-robed, revered Demeter. 375 Aidoneus, Ruler of Many, harnessed nearby the immortal horses up to the golden chariot. She mounted the chariot, and next to her mighty Argeiphontes took the reins and the whip in his own hands and sped out of the halls, as the horses flew readily. 380 Soon they reached the end of the long path, and neither the sea nor the water of rivers nor the grassy glens and mountain-peaks checked the onrush of the immortal horses, but they went over all these, traversing the lofty air. He drove them and then halted near the fragrant temple 385 where fair-wreathed Demeter stayed. When she saw them, she rushed as a maenad does, along a shady woodland on the mountains.

Persephone on her part, when she saw the beautiful eyes of her mother, leaving chariot and horses, leaped down to run and, throwing her arms around her mother’s neck, embraced her. 390 And as Demeter still held her dear child in her arms, her mind suspected trickery, and in awful fear she withdrew from fondling her and forthwith asked her a question: “Child, when you were below, did you perchance partake of food? Speak out, that we both may know. 395 If your answer is no, coming up from loathsome Hades, you shall dwell both with me and with father Kronion, lord of dark clouds, honored by all the immortals. Otherwise, you shall fly and go to the depths of the earth to dwell there a third of the seasons in the year, 400 spending two seasons with me and the other immortals. Whenever the earth blooms with every kind of sweet-smelling springflower, you shall come up again from misty darkness, a great wonder for gods and mortal men. With what trick did the mighty All-receiver deceive you?”

405 Facing her now, beautiful Persephone replied: “Surely, Mother, I shall tell you the whole truth. When Hermes, the-helpful swift messenger, came from father Zeus and the other heavenly dwellers to fetch me from Erebos, so that seeing me with your eyes 410 you might desist from your anger and dreadful wrath against the immortals, I myself sprang up for joy, but Aidoneus slyly placed in my hands a pomegranate seed, sweet as honey to eat. Against my will and by force he made me taste of it. How he abducted me through the shrewd scheming of Kronides, 415 my father, and rode away carrying me to the depths of the earth I shall explain and rehearse every point as you are asking. All of us maidens in a delightful meadow, Leukippe, Phaino, Electra, Ianthe, Melite, Iache, Rhodeia, Kallirhoe, 420 Melobosis, Tyche, Okyrhoe with a face like a flower, Chryseis, Ianeira, Akaste, Admete, Rhodope, Plouto, lovely Kalypso, Styx, Ourania, charming Galaxaura, battle-stirring Pallas, and arrow-pouring Artemis, 425 were playing and picking lovely flowers with our hands, mingling soft crocuses and irises with hyacinths and the flowers of the rose and lilies, a wonder to the eye, and the narcissus which the wide earth grows crocus-colored. So I myself was picking them with joy, but the earth beneath 430 gave way and from it the mighty lord and All-receiver leaped out. He carried me under the earth in his golden chariot, though I resisted and shouted with shrill voice. I am telling you the whole truth, even though it grieves me.”

So then all day long, being one in spirit, 435 they warmed each other’s hearts and minds in many ways with loving embraces, and an end to sorrow came for their hearts, as they took joys from each other and gave in return. Hekate of the shining headband came near them and many times lovingly touched the daughter of pure Demeter. 440 From then on this lady became her attendant and follower. Far-seeing, loud-thundering Zeus sent them a messenger, lovely-haired Rhea, to bring her dark-veiled mother among the races of the gods, promising to give her whatever honors she might choose among the immortal gods. 445 With a nod of his head he promised that, as the year revolved, her daughter could spend one portion of it in the misty darkness and the other two with her mother and the other immortals.

He spoke and the goddess did not disobey the behests of Zeus. Speedily she rushed down from the peaks of Olympos 450 and came to Rharion, life-giving udder of the earth in the past, and then no longer life-giving but lying idle without a leaf. It was now hiding the white barley according to the plan of fair-ankled Demeter, but later the fields would be plumed with long ears of grain, 455 as the spring waxed, and the rich furrows on the ground would teem with ears to be bound into sheaves by withies. There she first landed from the unharvested ether. Joyfully they beheld each other and rejoiced in their hearts; and Rhea of the shining headband addressed her thus:

460 “Come, child! Far-seeing, loud-thundering Zeus invites you to come among the races of the gods and promises to give you whatever honors you wish among the immortal gods. With a nod of his head he promised you that, as the year revolves, your daughter could spend one portion of it in the misty darkness 465 and the other two with you and the other immortals. With a nod of his head he said it would thus be brought to pass. But obey me, my child! Come and do not nurse unrelenting anger against Kronion, lord of dark clouds; Soon make the life-giving seed grow for men.”

Heads of wheat imitated in gold by an ancient goldsmith

470 Thus she spoke and fair-wreathed Demeter did not disobey, but swiftly made the seed sprout out of the fertile fields. The whole broad earth teemed with leaves and flowers; and she went to the kings who administer the laws, Triptolemos and Diokles, smiter of horses, and mighty Eumolpos 475 and Keleos, leader of the people, and showed them the celebration of holy rites, and explained to all, to Triptolemos, to Polyxeinos and also to Diokles, the awful mysteries not to be transgressed, violated or divulged, because the tongue is restrained by reverence for the gods. 480 Whoever on this earth has seen these is blessed, but he who has no part in the holy rites has another lot as he wastes away in dank darkness.

After the splendid Demeter had counseled the kings in everything, she and her daughter went to Olympos for the company of the other gods. 485 There they dwell beside Zeus who delights in thunder, commanding awe and reverence; thrice blessed is he of men on this earth whom they gladly love. Soon to his great house they send as guest Ploutos, who brings wealth to mortal men.

490 But come now, you who dwell in the fragrant town of Eleusis, sea-girt Paros and rocky Antron, mighty mistress Deo, bringer of seasons and splendid gifts, both you and your daughter, beauteous Persephone, for my song kindly grant me possessions pleasing the heart, 495 and I shall remember you and another song, too. 

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