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Ch. 4: Hymn to Demeter

Of fair-tressed Demeter, Demeter holy Goddess, I begin to sing: of her and her slim-ankled daughter whom Hades snatched away, the gift of wide- beholding Zeus, but Demeter knew it not, she that bears the Seasons, the giver of goodly crops. For her daughter was playing with the deep-bosomed maidens of Oceanus, and was gathering flowers--roses, and crocuses, and fair violets in the soft meadow, and lilies, and hyacinths, and the narcissus which the earth brought forth as a snare to the fair- faced maiden, by the counsel of Zeus and to pleasure the Lord with many guests. Wondrously bloomed the flower, a marvel for all to see, whether deathless gods or deathly men. From its root grew forth a hundred blossoms, and with its fragrant odour the wide heaven above and the whole earth laughed, and the salt wave of the sea. Then the maiden marvelled, and stretched forth both her hands to seize the fair plaything, but the wide-wayed earth gaped in the Nysian plain, and up rushed the Prince, the host of many guests, the many-named son of Cronos, with his immortal horses. Maugre her will he seized her, and drave her off weeping in his golden chariot, but she shrilled aloud, calling on Father Cronides, the highest of gods and the best.

But no immortal god or deathly man heard the voice of her, . . . save the daughter of Persaeus, Hecate of the shining head-tire, as she was thinking delicate thoughts, who heard the cry from her cave [and Prince Helios, the glorious son of Hyperion], the maiden calling on Father Cronides. But he far off sat apart from the gods in his temple haunted by prayers, receiving goodly victims from mortal men. By the design of Zeus did the brother of Zeus lead the maiden away, the lord of many, the host of many guests, with his deathless horses; right sore against her will, even he of many names the son of Cronos. Now, so long as the Goddess beheld the earth, and the starry heaven, and the tide of the teeming sea, and the rays of the sun, and still hoped to behold her mother dear, and the tribes of the eternal gods; even so long, despite her sorrow, hope warmed her high heart; then rang the mountain peaks, and the depths of the sea to her immortal voice, and her lady mother heard her. Then sharp pain caught at her heart, and with her hands she tore the wimple about her ambrosial hair, and cast a dark veil about her shoulders, and then sped she like a bird over land and sea in her great yearning; but to her there was none that would tell the truth, none, either of Gods, or deathly men, nor even a bird came nigh her, a soothsaying messenger. Thereafter for nine days did Lady Deo roam the earth, with torches burning in her hands, nor ever in her sorrow tasted she of ambrosia and sweet nectar, nor laved her body in the baths. But when at last the tenth morn came to her with the light, Hecate met her, a torch in her hands, and spake a word of tidings, and said:

"Lady Demeter, thou that bringest the Seasons, thou giver of glad gifts, which of the heavenly gods or deathly men hath ravished away Persephone, and brought thee sorrow: for I heard a voice but I saw not who the ravisher might be? All this I say to thee for sooth."

So spake Hecate, and the daughter of fair-tressed Rheie answered her not, but swiftly rushed on with her, bearing torches burning in her hands. So came they to Helios that watches both for gods and men, and stood before his car, and the lady Goddess questioned him:

"Helios, be pitiful on me that am a goddess, if ever by word or deed I gladdened thy heart. My daughter, whom I bore, a sweet plant and fair to see; it was her shrill voice I heard through the air unharvested, even as of one violently entreated, but I saw her not with my eyes. But do thou that lookest down with thy rays from the holy air upon all the land and sea, do thou tell me truly concerning my dear child, if thou didst behold her; who it is that hath gone off and ravished her away from me against her will, who is it of gods or mortal men?"

So spake she, and Hyperionides answered her:

"Daughter of fair-tressed Rheia, Queen Demeter, thou shalt know it; for greatly do I pity and revere thee in thy sorrow for thy slim-ankled child. There is none other guilty of the Immortals but Zeus himself that gathereth the clouds, who gave thy daughter to Hades, his own brother, to be called his lovely wife; and Hades has ravished her away in his chariot, loudly shrilling, beneath the dusky gloom. But, Goddess, do thou cease from thy long lamenting. It behoves not thee thus vainly to cherish anger unassuaged. No unseemly lord for thy daughter among the Immortals is Aidoneus, the lord of many, thine own brother and of one seed with thee, and for his honour he won, since when was made the threefold division, to be lord among those with whom he dwells."

So spake he, and called upon his horses, and at his call they swiftly bore the fleet chariot on like long-winged birds. But grief more dread and bitter fell upon her, and wroth thereafter was she with Cronion that hath dark clouds for his dwelling. She held apart from the gathering of the Gods and from tall Olympus, and disfiguring her form for many days she went among the cities and rich fields of men. Now no man knew her that looked on her, nor no deep-bosomed woman, till she came to the dwelling of Celeus, who then was Prince of fragrant Eleusis. There sat she at the wayside in sorrow of heart, by the Maiden Well whence the townsfolk were wont to draw water. In the shade she sat; above her grew a thick olive-tree; and in fashion she was like an ancient crone who knows no more of child-bearing and the gifts of Aphrodite, the lover of garlands. Such she was as are the nurses of the children of doom-pronouncing kings. Such are the housekeepers in their echoing halls.

Now the daughters of Celeus beheld her as they came to fetch the fair- flowing water, to carry thereof in bronze vessels to their father's home. Four were they, like unto goddesses, all in the bloom of youth, Callidice, and Cleisidice, and winsome Demo, and Callithoe the eldest of them all, nor did they know her, for the Gods are hard to be known by mortals, but they stood near her and spake winged words:

"Who art thou and whence, old woman, of ancient folk, and why wert thou wandering apart from the town, nor dost draw nigh to the houses where are women of thine own age, in the shadowy halls, even such as thou, and younger women, too, who may kindly entreat thee in word and deed?"

So spake they, and the lady Goddess answered:

"Dear children, whoever ye be, of womankind I bid you hail, and I will tell you my story. Seemly it is to answer your questions truly. Deo is my name that my lady mother gave me; but now, look you, from Crete am I come hither over the wide ridges of the sea, by no will of my own, nay, by violence have sea-rovers brought me hither under duress, who thereafter touched with their swift ship at Thoricos where the women and they themselves embarked on land. Then were they busy about supper beside the hawsers of the ship, but my heart heeded not delight of supper; no, stealthily setting forth through the dark land I fled from these overweening masters, that they might not sell me whom they had never bought and gain my price. Thus hither have I come in my wandering, nor know I at all what land is this, nor who they be that dwell therein. But to you may all they that hold mansions in Olympus give husbands and lords, and such children to bear as parents desire; but me do ye maidens pity in your kindness, till I come to the house of woman or of man, that there I may work zealously for them in such tasks as fit a woman of my years. I could carry in mine arms a new-born babe, and nurse it well, and keep the house, and strew my master's bed within the well-builded chambers, and teach the maids their tasks."

So spake the Goddess, and straightway answered her the maid unwed, Callidice, the fairest of the daughters of Celeus:

"Mother, what things soever the Gods do give must men, though sorrowing, endure, for the Gods are far stronger than we; but this will I tell thee clearly and soothly, namely, what men they are who here have most honour, and who lead the people, and by their counsels and just dooms do safeguard the bulwarks of the city. Such are wise Triptolemus, Diocles, Polyxenus, and noble Eumolpus, and Dolichus, and our lordly father. All their wives keep their houses, and not one of them would at first sight contemn thee and thrust thee from their halls, but gladly they will receive thee: for thine aspect is divine. So, if thou wilt, abide here, that we may go to the house of my father, and tell out all this tale to my mother, the deep-bosomed Metaneira, if perchance she will bid thee come to our house and not seek the homes of others. A dear son born in her later years is nurtured in the well-builded hall, a child of many prayers and a welcome. If thou wouldst nurse him till he comes to the measure of youth, then whatsoever woman saw thee should envy thee; such gifts of fosterage would my mother give thee."

So spake she and the Goddess nodded assent. So rejoicing they filled their shining pitchers with water and bore them away. Swiftly they came to the high hall of their father, and quickly they told their mother what they had heard and seen, and speedily she bade them run and call the strange woman, offering goodly hire. Then as deer or calves in the season of Spring leap along the meadow, when they have had their fill of pasture, so lightly they kilted up the folds of their lovely kirtles, and ran along the hollow chariot-way, while their hair danced on their shoulders, in colour like the crocus flower. They found the glorious Goddess at the wayside, even where they had left her, and anon they led her to their father's house. But she paced behind in heaviness of heart, her head veiled, and the dark robe floating about her slender feet divine. Speedily they came to the house of Celeus, the fosterling of Zeus, and they went through the corridor where their lady mother was sitting by the doorpost of the well-wrought hall, with her child in her lap, a young blossom, and the girls ran up to her, but the Goddess stood on the threshold, her head touching the roof-beam, and she filled the doorway with the light divine. Then wonder, and awe, and pale fear seized the mother, and she gave place from her high seat, and bade the Goddess be seated. But Demeter the bearer of the Seasons, the Giver of goodly gifts, would not sit down upon the shining high seat. Nay, in silence she waited, casting down her lovely eyes, till the wise Iambe set for her a well-made stool, and cast over it a glistering fleece. {194} Then sat she down and held the veil before her face; long in sorrow and silence sat she so, and spake to no man nor made any sign, but smileless she sat, nor tasted meat nor drink, wasting with long desire for her deep- bosomed daughter.

So abode she till wise Iambe with jests and many mockeries beguiled the lady, the holy one, to smile and laugh and hold a happier heart, and pleased her moods even thereafter. Then Metaneira filled a cup of sweet wine and offered it to her, but she refused it, saying, that it was not permitted for her to drink red wine; but she bade them mix meal and water with the tender herb of mint, and give it to her to drink. Then Metaneira made a potion and gave it to the Goddess as she bade, and Lady Deo took it and made libation, and to them fair-girdled Metaneira said:

"Hail, lady, for methinks thou art not of mean parentage, but goodly born, for grace and honour shine in thine eyes as in the eyes of doom- dealing kings. But the gifts of the Gods, even in sorrow, we men of necessity endure, for the yoke is laid upon our necks; yet now that thou art come hither, such things as I have shall be thine. Rear me this child that the Gods have given in my later years and beyond my hope; and he is to me a child of many prayers. If thou rear him, and he come to the measure of youth, verily each woman that sees thee will envy thee, such shall be my gifts of fosterage."

Then answered her again Demeter of the fair garland:

"And mayst thou too, lady, fare well, and the Gods give thee all things good. Gladly will I receive thy child that thou biddest me nurse. Never, methinks, by the folly of his nurse shall charm or sorcery harm him; for I know an antidote stronger than the wild wood herb, and a goodly salve I know for the venomed spells."

So spake she, and with her immortal hands she placed the child on her fragrant breast, and the mother was glad at heart. So in the halls she nursed the goodly son of wise Celeus, even Demophoon, whom deep-breasted Metaneira bare, and he grew like a god, upon no mortal food, nor on no mother's milk. For Demeter anointed him with ambrosia as though he had been a son of a God, breathing sweetness over him, and keeping him in her bosom. So wrought she by day, but at night she was wont to hide him in the force of fire like a brand, his dear parents knowing it not. {196} Nay, to them it was great marvel how flourished he and grew like the Gods to look upon. And, verily, she would have made him exempt from eld and death for ever, had not fair-girdled Metaneira, in her witlessness, spied on her in the night from her fragrant chamber. Then wailed she, and smote both her thighs, in terror for her child, and in anguish of heart, and lamenting she spake winged words: "My child Demophoon, the stranger is concealing thee in the heart of the fire; bitter sorrow for me and lamentation."

So spake she, wailing, and the lady Goddess heard her. Then in wrath did the fair-garlanded Demeter snatch out of the fire with her immortal hands and cast upon the ground that woman's dear son, whom beyond all hope she had borne in the halls. Dread was the wrath of Demeter, and anon she spake to fair-girdled Metaneira. "Oh redeless and uncounselled race of men, that know not beforehand the fate of coming good or coming evil. For, lo, thou hast wrought upon thyself a bane incurable, by thine own witlessness; for by the oath of the Gods, the relentless water of Styx, I would have made thy dear child deathless and exempt from age for ever, and would have given him glory imperishable. But now in nowise may he escape the Fates and death, yet glory imperishable will ever be his, since he has lain on my knees and slept within my arms; [but as the years go round, and in his day, the sons of the Eleusinians will ever wage war and dreadful strife one upon the other.] Now I am the honoured Demeter, the greatest good and gain of the Immortals to deathly men. But, come now, let all the people build me a great temple and an altar thereby, below the town, and the steep wall, above Callichorus on the jutting rock. But the rites I myself will prescribe, that in time to come ye may pay them duly and appease my power."

Therewith the Goddess changed her shape and height, and cast off old age, and beauty breathed about her, and the sweet scent was breathed from her fragrant robes, and afar shone the light from the deathless body of the Goddess, the yellow hair flowing about her shoulders, so that the goodly house was filled with the splendour as of levin fire, and forth from the halls went she.

But anon the knees of the woman were loosened, and for long time she was speechless, nay, nor did she even mind of the child, her best beloved, to lift him from the floor. But the sisters of the child heard his pitiful cry, and leapt from their fair-strewn beds; one of them, lifting the child in her hands, laid it in her bosom; and another lit fire, and the third ran with smooth feet to take her mother forth from the fragrant chamber. Then gathered they about the child, and bathed and clad him lovingly, yet his mood was not softened, for meaner nurses now and handmaids held him.

They the long night through were adoring the renowned Goddess, trembling with fear, but at the dawning they told truly to mighty Celeus all that the Goddess had commanded; even Demeter of the goodly garland. Thereon he called into the market-place the many people, and bade them make a rich temple, and an altar to fair-tressed Demeter, upon the jutting rock. Then anon they heard and obeyed his voice, and as he bade they builded. And the child increased in strength by the Goddess's will.

Now when they had done their work, and rested from their labours, each man started for his home, but yellow-haired Demeter, sitting there apart from all the blessed Gods, abode, wasting away with desire for her deep- bosomed daughter. Then the most dread and terrible of years did the Goddess bring for mortals upon the fruitful earth, nor did the earth send up the seed, for Demeter of the goodly garland concealed it. Many crooked ploughs did the oxen drag through the furrows in vain, and much white barley fell fruitless upon the land. Now would the whole race of mortal men have perished utterly from the stress of famine, and the Gods that hold mansions in Olympus would have lost the share and renown of gift and sacrifice, if Zeus had not conceived a counsel within his heart.

First he roused Iris of the golden wings to speed forth and call the fair- tressed Demeter, the lovesome in beauty. So spake Zeus, and Iris obeyed Zeus, the son of Cronos, who hath dark clouds for his tabernacle, and swiftly she sped adown the space between heaven and earth. Then came she to the citadel of fragrant Eleusis, and in the temple she found Demeter clothed in dark raiment, and speaking winged words addressed her: "Demeter, Father Zeus, whose counsels are imperishable, bids thee back unto the tribes of the eternal Gods. Come thou, then, lest the word of Zeus be of no avail." So spake she in her prayer, but the Goddess yielded not. Thereafter the Father sent forth all the blessed Gods, all of the Immortals, and coming one by one they bade Demeter return, and gave her many splendid gifts, and all honours that she might choose among the immortal Gods. But none availed to persuade by turning her mind and her angry heart, so stubbornly she refused their sayings. For she deemed no more for ever to enter fragrant Olympus, and no more to allow the earth to bear her fruit, until her eyes should behold her fair-faced daughter.

But when far-seeing Zeus, the lord of the thunder-peal, had heard the thing, he sent to Erebus the slayer of Argos, the God of the golden wand, to win over Hades with soft words, and persuade him to bring up holy Persephone into the light, and among the Gods, from forth the murky gloom, that so her mother might behold her, and that her anger might relent. And Hermes disobeyed not, but straightway and speedily went forth beneath the hollow places of the earth, leaving the home of Olympus. That King he found within his dwelling, sitting on a couch with his chaste bedfellow, who sorely grieved for desire of her mother, that still was cherishing a fell design against the ill deeds of the Gods. Then the strong slayer of Argos drew near and spoke: "Hades of the dark locks, thou Prince of men out-worn, Father Zeus bade me bring the dread Persephone forth from Erebus among the Gods, that her mother may behold her, and relent from her anger and terrible wrath against the Immortals, for now she contrives a mighty deed, to destroy the feeble tribes of earth-born men by withholding the seed under the earth. Thereby the honours of the Gods are minished, and fierce is her wrath, nor mingles she with the Gods, but sits apart within the fragrant temple in the steep citadel of Eleusis."

So spake he, and smiling were the brows of Aidoneus, Prince of the dead, nor did he disobey the commands of King Zeus, as speedily he bade the wise Persephone: "Go, Persephone, to thy dark-mantled mother, go with a gentle spirit in thy breast, nor be thou beyond all other folk disconsolate. Verily I shall be no unseemly lord of thine among the Immortals, I that am the brother of Father Zeus, and whilst thou art here shalt thou be mistress over all that lives and moves, but among the Immortals shalt thou have the greatest renown. Upon them that wrong thee shall vengeance be unceasing, upon them that solicit not thy power with sacrifice, and pious deeds, and every acceptable gift."

So spake he, and wise Persephone was glad; and joyously and swiftly she arose, but the God himself, stealthily looking around her, gave her sweet pomegranate seed to eat, and this he did that she might not abide for ever beside revered Demeter of the dark mantle. {204} Then openly did Aidoneus, the Prince of all, get ready the steeds beneath the golden chariot, and she climbed up into the golden chariot, and beside her the strong Slayer of Argos took reins and whip in hand, and drove forth from the halls, and gladly sped the horses twain. Speedily they devoured the long way; nor sea, nor rivers, nor grassy glades, nor cliffs, could stay the rush of the deathless horses; nay, far above them they cleft the deep air in their course. Before the fragrant temple he drove them, and checked them where dwelt Demeter of the goodly garland, who, when she beheld them, rushed forth like a Maenad down a dark mountain woodland. {205}

[But Persephone on the other side rejoiced to see her mother dear, and leaped to meet her; but the mother said, "Child, in Hades hast thou eaten any food? for if thou hast not] then with me and thy father the son of Cronos, who has dark clouds for his tabernacle, shalt thou ever dwell honoured among all the Immortals. But if thou hast tasted food, thou must return again, and beneath the hollows of the earth must dwell in Hades a third portion of the year; yet two parts of the year thou shalt abide with me and the other Immortals. When the earth blossoms with all manner of fragrant flowers, then from beneath the murky gloom shalt thou come again, a mighty marvel to Gods and to mortal men. Now tell me by what wile the strong host of many guests deceived thee? . . . "

Then fair Persephone answered her august mother: "Behold, I shall tell thee all the truth without fail. I leaped up for joy when boon Hermes, the swift messenger, came from my father Cronides and the other heavenly Gods, with the message that I was to return out of Erebus, that so thou mightest behold me, and cease thine anger and dread wrath against the Immortals. Thereon Hades himself compelled me to taste of a sweet pomegranate seed against my will. And now I will tell thee how, through the crafty device of Cronides my father, he ravished me, and bore me away beneath the hollows of the earth. All that thou askest I will tell thee. We were all playing in the lovely meadows, Leucippe and Phaino, and Electra, and Ianthe, and Melite, and Iache, and Rhodeia, and Callirhoe, and Melobosis, and Tuche, and flower-faced Ocyroe, and Chraesis, and Ianeira, and Acaste, and Admete, and Rhodope, and Plouto, and winsome Calypso, and Styx, and Urania, and beautiful Galaxaure. We were playing there, and plucking beautiful blossoms with our hands; crocuses mingled, and iris, and hyacinth, and roses, and lilies, a marvel to behold, and narcissus, that the wide earth bare, a wile for my undoing. Gladly was I gathering them when the earth gaped beneath, and therefrom leaped the mighty Prince, the host of many guests, and he bare me against my will despite my grief beneath the earth, in his golden chariot; and shrilly did I cry. This all is true that I tell thee."

So the livelong day in oneness of heart did they cheer each other with love, and their minds ceased from sorrow, and great gladness did either win from other. Then came to them Hekate of the fair wimple, and often did she kiss the holy daughter of Demeter, and from that day was her queenly comrade and handmaiden; but to them for a messenger did far-seeing Zeus of the loud thunder-peal send fair-tressed Rhea to bring dark-mantled Demeter among the Gods, with pledge of what honour she might choose among the Immortals. He vowed that her daughter, for the third part of the revolving year, should dwell beneath the murky gloom, but for the other two parts she should abide with her mother and the other gods.

Thus he spake, and the Goddess disobeyed not the commands of Zeus. Swiftly she sped down from the peaks of Olympus, and came to fertile Rarion; fertile of old, but now no longer fruitful; for fallow and leafless it lay, and hidden was the white barley grain by the device of fair-ankled Demeter. None the less with the growing of the Spring the land was to teem with tall ears of corn, and the rich furrows were to be heavy with corn, and the corn to be bound in sheaves. There first did she land from the unharvested ether, and gladly the Goddesses looked on each other, and rejoiced in heart, and thus first did Rhea of the fair wimple speak to Demeter:

"Hither, child; for he calleth thee, far-seeing Zeus, the lord of the deep thunder, to come among the Gods, and has promised thee such honours as thou wilt, and hath decreed that thy child, for the third of the rolling year, shall dwell beneath the murky gloom, but the other two parts with her mother and the rest of the Immortals. So doth he promise that it shall be and thereto nods his head; but come, my child, obey, and be not too unrelenting against the Son of Cronos, the lord of the dark cloud. And anon do thou increase the grain that bringeth life to men."

So spake she, and Demeter of the fair garland obeyed. Speedily she sent up the grain from the rich glebe, and the wide earth was heavy with leaves and flowers: and she hastened, and showed the thing to the kings, the dealers of doom; to Triptolemus and Diocles the charioteer, and mighty Eumolpus, and Celeus the leader of the people; she showed them the manner of her rites, and taught them her goodly mysteries, holy mysteries which none may violate, or search into, or noise abroad, for the great curse from the Gods restrains the voice. Happy is he among deathly men who hath beheld these things! and he that is uninitiate, and hath no lot in them, hath never equal lot in death beneath the murky gloom.

Now when the Goddess had given instruction in all her rites, they went to Olympus, to the gathering of the other Gods. There the Goddesses dwell beside Zeus the lord of the thunder, holy and revered are they. Right happy is he among mortal men whom they dearly love; speedily do they send as a guest to his lofty hall Plutus, who giveth wealth to mortal men. But come thou that holdest the land of fragrant Eleusis, and sea-girt Paros, and rocky Antron, come, Lady Deo! Queen and giver of goodly gifts, and bringer of the Seasons; come thou and thy daughter, beautiful Persephone, and of your grace grant me goodly substance in requital of my song; but I will mind me of thee, and of other minstrelsy.


Andrew Lang