Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Part 2
Translated by E. Bodner and R. Nickel
At the end of Part 1, Metaneira had interrupted Demeter’s attempted apotheosis of Demophon. In anger, the goddess removed the infant from the fire, declared that he could now never be immortal. Now she doffs her mortal disguise and appears in full epiphany before a terrified Metaneira as she departs.
The Epiphany of Demeter
Speaking so, the goddess changed her size and form,275
thrusting away old age. Beauty breathed all around and over her.
A lovely scent spread out from her fragrant robes,
and a brilliance shone far off from the immortal skin of the goddess.
Flaxen locks of hair draped her shoulders,
and with radiant light, the sturdy house was filled like lightning.280
She walked out through the halls and immediately Metaneira’s knees weakened.
She was speechless for a long time and did not at all
remember to pick up her dear son from the floor.
Her sisters heard his piteous cry
and leapt down from their bed laden with tapestries.285
Picking up the child in her hands, one held him in her bosom.
Another lit up the fire and a third ran with tender feet
to raise up the child’s mother from her sweet-smelling bedroom.
Gathering together, they bathed him and as he was struggling,
they embraced him lovingly. But his heart was not soothed;290
for inferior nurses and nannies were holding him.
All night long they were appeasing the illustrious goddess,
trembling in fear, and when Dawn appeared,
to mighty Keleus they spoke truthfully,
as the goddess beautiful-garlanded Demeter commanded.295
He, summoning men from all over to an assembly,
ordered them to build for lovely-haired Demeter a rich temple
and an altar on the jutting hill.
Very quickly they heard him speaking and obeyed.
They made it, as he commanded. And it grew as though divine.300
Demeter causes a famine
When they accomplished the task, rushed with toil,
they went, each of them, to go home.
So dreadful and dog-like a year she made for mortals305
on the all-nourishing Earth; for the Earth
did not sprout any seed—
Much white barley fell barren upon the Earth.
She would have destroyed the race of speech-endowed mortals310
with painful famine,
of the splendid honour of gifts and sacrifices,
First golden-winged Iris he called forth to summon
lovely-haired Demeter, beautiful in form.315
So he spoke. And she obeyed Zeus, the dark-clouded son of Cronus.
She ran between realms with swift feet.
Arriving at the city of fragrant Eleusis,
and found Demeter dark-robed in the temple,
and speaking, addressed her with winged words:320
“Demeter, father Zeus with imperishable knowledge summons you
to come join the race of everlasting gods.
Come, don’t let my message from Zeus be unaccomplished.”
So she spoke, entreating. But Demeter’s heart was not persuaded.
Then father Zeus sent out one after another325
all the blessed everlasting gods. One after another,
they summoned her and offered many beautiful gifts and
honours which she might wish to take from the immortals.
But no one could persuade her heart or her thoughts,
since she was very angry in her heart.
or make fruit spring up from the Earth,
until she saw with her own eyes her fair-eyed daughter.
Hermes goes to Hades
When deep-thundering, wide-seeing Zeus heard this,
he sent the Watch-dog Slayer with the golden wand into the dark Underworld335
to persuade Hades with gentle words and
to lead holy Persephone out from the misty Darkness
into the light among the gods, so that her mother
could see her with her own eyes and end her anger.
Hermes did not disobey. Swiftly he leapt down into340
the Earth’s hiding places leaving his home on Olympus.
He found the king within his palace
seated on his marriage bed beside his timid spouse,
against her will and longing for her mother. Far away she
[was devising a plan to punish the carefree gods for their actions.]345
Standing nearby the powerful Watch-dog Slayer addressed him:
“Dark-haired Hades, ruler of the dead,
father Zeus urges you to bring noble Persephone
out from the Darkness among the upper gods so that her mother
might see her with her own eyes and cease her anger and deadly wrath350
against the immortals. She is plotting an enormous action,
to destroy the weakened stock of Earth-born men and women
hiding the seed beneath the ground, wiping out the honours
of the immortals. She holds onto a deadly anger and no longer
keeps company with the gods. Far away in a fragrant temple355
she sits, remaining in the rocky city of Eleusis.”
He finished speaking, and Aidoneus, the king of those below, smiled
with his eyebrows. He did not disobey the command of king Zeus.
Straightaway he gave orders to attentive Persephone,
“Go, Persephone, to your dark-robed mother.360
Keep a gentle heart and spirit in your breast
and do not despair too much beyond others.
Among the immortals I will not be an unworthy husband,
brother as I am of your father, Zeus.
Honours will be yours, the greatest among the immortals:
Against those who commit injustice there will be vengeance for all days,
when they fail to appease your anger with sacrificial offerings,
performing holy rites and presenting fitting gifts.”
So he spoke, and thoughtful Persephone rejoiced.370
Straightaway she leapt up with joy. But he in secret
gave her the sweet seed of a pomegranate to eat,
keeping watch all around him, so that she might not remain all her days
there beside revered Demeter of the dark robes.
Then Hades, commander of many, harnessed375
immortal horses before a golden chariot.
She mounted the chariot box; beside her the powerful Watch-dog Slayer,
taking the reins and goad in his hands,
sped away from the palace. The two horses took flight.
Swiftly they completed the long journey. Neither the sea380
nor river waters, grassy valleys,
mountain peaks held back the immortal horses’ onrush.
High above they cut through the air as they sped along.
Hermes stopped the horses and led the way to where well garlanded Demeter
waited before her fragrant temple.
For her part, Persephone, [when she saw with her own eyes],
jumped down, [leaving behind chariot and horses],
to run to her mother [and threw her arms around her neck.]
For Demeter, [as she held her beloved child in her arms],390
[suddenly her heart suspected a trick, and she began to tremble dreadfully].
End[ing her embrace, straightaway she questioned her:]
“Child, tell me, you did not [taste, when you were below,]
any food? Speak out; [hide nothing so that we might both know].
For if you did not, you will come up [from dreadful Hades;]395
beside me and your father, the da[rk-clouded son of Cronus],
you will live, held in honour by [all the immortals].
But if you did eat, you will go back down beneath [the Earth’s hiding places]
and live there for a third portion of the seasons [every year],
and two portions with me and the other [immortals].400
Whenever the Earth blossoms with fragrant spring flow[ers]
of every kind, then from the misty darkness
you will rise up again, a great wonder for gods and mortal women and men.
And so, did the powerful god who receives many beguile you with a trick?”
Beautiful Persephone spoke to her mother in response:405
“I will tell you everything unerringly.
When the swift Watch-dog Slayer came
from my father, the son of Cronus, and the other heavenly gods,
to depart from the Darkness — so that, seeing me with your own eyes,
you might cease your anger and dreadful wrath against the immortals —410
I leapt up in joy, but Hades secretly
made me eat the seed of a pomegranate.
He compelled me to swallow it by force, against my will.
How he seized me through the shrewd cunning of Cronus’s son,
my father, and bore me away beneath the Earth’s hiding places,415
I will tell you and recount everything you ask.
All along a lovely meadow, all of us –
Leucippe, Phaino, Electra and Ianthé,
Melité, Iakhé, Rhodeia and Callirhoé,
Melebosis, Tukhé, and Okuroé whose face is like a flower bud,420
Chryseis, Ianeira, Akasté and Admeté,
Rhodopé, Plouto, and graceful Kalypso,
Styx, Ourania, and lovely Galaxaura,
Battle-ready Pallas Athena and arrow-pouring Artemis –
were playing and gathering lovely flowers by hand,425
all mixed together – soft crocus, irises and hyacinth,
rose-buds and lilies, wonderful to see,
and a narcissus which the wide Earth made grow like a crocus.
I was plucking them out of joy, but from beneath the Earth
gave way and the powerful lord who receives many leapt out.430
He carried me off beneath the Earth in his golden chariot,
by force against my will. With high-pitched screams I cried out
Though this causes you pain, everything I tell you is true.”
All day long, with one mind
each comforted the other’s heart and spirit,435
together in each other’s arms, and their spirits ceased grieving.
Each received joy from the other, and gave it in return.
Hecate of the shining headdress came to them;
she too held the daughter of holy Demeter in her embrace.
From that time forward, queenly Hecate has been her attendant and companion.440
Next deep-thundering, wide-seeing Zeus sent a messenger,
fair-haired Rhea, their dark-robed mother,
to bring her back to the company of the gods. He promised
to give whatever honours she might choose among the immortal gods.
He agreed that her daughter remain for a third portion445
of the revolving year beneath the misty Darkness,
and two portions with her mother and the other immortals.
So he spoke, nor did divine Rhea disobey Zeus’s commands.
Swiftly she leapt down the peaks of Mount Olympus
and came to Rharion, a life-bearing, fertile land450
in time before, but at that time it produced no life; it lay
at rest, without a single plant. The white barley remained
concealed through the plans of fair-ankled Demeter. But soon
afterwards it would be adorned with long ears of grain
when spring came once again, and thick rows of wheat and barley455
would stand heavy on the plain, waiting to be tied together in bundles.
There first Rhea came down from the empty air.
So pleased were they to see one another, their hearts were filled with joy.
Then Rhea of the shining headdress spoke to her daughter:
“Come, child, deep-thundering, wide-seeing Zeus summons you460
to return to the company of the gods. He promises to give
[whatever honours you wish] among the immortal gods.
[He has agreed that your daughter] remain for a third portion
[of the revolving year beneath the misty] Darkness,
[and two portions at your side and with the other] immortals.465
[He said that it would be accom]plished like this; he nodded his head in assent.
[Come now, my] child, obey; do not rage excessively
[and without end] against the dark-clouded son of Cronus.
[Quickly now,] allow the life-bearing fruit to grow for men and women.”
Demeter establishes the Eleusinian Mysteries
She spoke, and fair-garlanded Demeter did not disobey.470
At once she sent up the grain of the tilled fields,
and all the wide Earth was weighed down with leaves and
flowers. Then she went to the kings who administer laws –
to Triptolemus and the charioteer Diokles,
to strong Eumolpus and Keleus, leader of his people. She showed them475
the administration of her holy mysteries and revealed her sacred rites to all —
to Triptolemus and Polyxeinos, and in addition to them to Diokles —
awe-inspiring rites that must never be violated [nor asked about]
nor discussed. Great reverence for the gods impedes our speech.
Blessed are they among women and men on Earth who have seen these rites.480
But those who are uninitiated in the holy mysteries and have no share in them, never
have a portion of the same blessings when they are dead beneath the chilly Darkness.
When the shining goddess had established all her rites,
they both made their way to Olympus, to the company of the other gods.
There they dwell alongside Zeus who delights in thunder –485
Revered and adored goddesses.
Straightaway they send a hearth-guest to their great homes —
Prosperity, who grants riches to mortal men and women.
Come now, goddesses who preside over fragrant Eleusis,490
sea-girt Paros and rocky Antros,
queenly Deo, giver of splendid gifts, bringer of seasons,
you and your beautiful daughter, Persephone,
willingly in return for my song grant me a soul-pleasing livelihood.
Next I will remember you and another song.495