Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods
The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Part 1
Translated by E. Bodner and R. Nickel
Demeter, flaxen-haired, formidable goddess: with her I begin my song,
and with her slender-ankled daughter whom Aidoneus
abducted. Loud-thundering, wide-seeing Zeus gave his permission,
distant from Demeter of the golden-sword and glorious fruit.
The Abduction of Persephone
The girl was playing with Ocean’s ample-breasted daughters,5
gathering flowers — roses, crocus, and lovely violets,
all along the soft-meadow, irises, hyacinth, and a narcissus flower:
Gaia made it grow — a trap for the maiden whose face was like a flower bud —
part of Zeus’s plan, showing her support for the All-Receiver.
Radiantly it glittered, an object of wonder for all to see,10
immortal gods and human mortals.
From its roots a hundred blossoms grew,
their scent, the sweetest perfume. All the wide heaven above,
all the Earth, and the salty swell of the sea laughed.
Amazed, she reached out with both hands15
to take the delightful toy, but the wide-wayed Earth gaped open.
There, along the Plain of Nysa, the All-Receiving son of Cronus
who has many names leapt out with his immortal horses.
He seized her against her will and on his golden chariot
he carried her away wailing. With high-pitched screams she cried out,20
calling to her father, highest and best son of Cronos,
But no one of the immortals nor of mortal men
heard her cries, not even the olive trees with their glorious fruit,
except for the carefree daughter of Persaios,
Hecate of the shining diadem; from her cave she heard.25
So did lord Helios, glorious son of Hyperion,
as the girl called upon her father, the son of Cronus. But far away
he was seated apart from the gods in a temple where many come to worship
receiving rich sacrifices from mortal men.
Zeus set the plan in motion, and her uncle30
who receives and commands many, Cronus’ son who has many names
carried her away with his mortal horses against her will.
As long as she saw the Earth,
and starry sky, the swift-flowing, fish-filled sea,
and the Sun’s rays, she still hoped to see35
her beloved mother and the community of the everlasting gods.
Hope still enchanted her great mind, even as she grieved.
The mountain peaks and the sea’s depths echoed back
her immortal voice, and her queenly mother heard.
Sharp grief took hold of her heart. With her hands,40
she tore the headband around her fragrant hair,
and cast the deep blue veil from her shoulders.
Like a bird over land and sea she rushed
in frenzied terror. But no god, no mortal
was willing to give her an accurate account,45
no bird came as a truth-bearing messenger.
For nine days and nights queenly Deo wandered
over the Earth with blazing torches in her hands.
In her grief she ate no ambrosia,
drank no sweet nectar, nor washed her flesh.50
Hekate and Helios intervene
But when the tenth Dawn brought her light,
Hekate came to her, holding a torch in her hands.
She came to tell her what she knew:
“Honoured Demeter, Bringer of the Seasons, Splendid Giver of Gifts,
who of the heavenly gods or mortal men55
abducted Persephone and brought this grief to your heart?
I heard her voice but did not see with my eyes
who it was. Everything I’m swiftly telling you is true.”
So spoke Hekate. But the daughter of fair-haired Rhea
gave no response. Swiftly she rushed away, together with Hecate,60
holding blazing torches in her hands.
They came to Helios who watches over gods and men.
They stood before his horses, and the divine goddess questioned him:
“Helios, honour me — like you, I am a god — if ever I pleased
your heart and spirit with word or action.65
The daughter I bore — sweet child, still growing, noble in beauty —
I heard her voice throbbing through the empty air,
as though she was being attacked, but with my eyes I saw nothing.
Since you look down from the sky with your rays
over all the Earth and sea,70
tell me truly if you have seen my beloved child anywhere.
What god or mortal has seized her and taken her
against her will away from me?”
So she spoke and Hyperion’s son answered her,
“Daughter of flaxen-haired Rhea, noble Demeter,75
you will know, for I respect and pity you greatly
in your grief for your slender-ankled child. No one else
Of the immortals is responsible other than cloud-gathering Zeus,
who gave her to Hades, your own brother, to be called
his youthful wife. He has seized her and taken her80
crying aloud down to the misty darkness.
But, goddess, cease your loud lamentation. You must not
keep insatiable anger like this, in vain. No undignified son-in-law
among the immortals is the commander of many, Hades,
your own brother, born of the same seed. As for honour85
he received Fate’s allotment when first the three-fold division occurred.
He dwells among those whom Fate assigned him to command.”
Once he finished speaking, he summoned his horses. At his call,
They lightly bore away his swift chariot, like long-winged birds.
But to her heart came a more fierce and dog-like grief.90
Demeter comes to Eleusis
Angry at the dark-clouded son of Cronus and
abandoning the assembly of the gods and lofty Olympus,
she made her way to the cities and rich fields of men and women,
concealing her true form over a long time. No one of men
and deep-girded women when they saw her, recognized her,95
until she came to the house of wise-minded Keleos
who was then a leader in fragrant Eleusis.
She sat by the road, grieving in her heart,
near the Maidens’ Well where the citizens fetch water,
in the shade which an olive bush produced from above.100
She looked like an old woman, born long ago,
Excluded from childbirth and the gifts of garland-loving Aphrodite.
Such are children’s nurses and housekeepers
in the echoing palaces of kings who administer laws.
The daughters of Eleusinian Keleus saw her105
when they came to fetch water easily drawn
into bronze pitchers to carry home to the beloved house of their father:
four of them, just like goddesses, in the flower of their youth — ,
Kallidike, Kleisidike, and lovely Demo,
and Kallithoe, who was eldest of all.110
They did not recognize her — gods are difficult for mortals to see.
Standing near, they spoke to her with winged words:
“Who are you, old woman, of people born long ago and where are you from?
Why did you go away from the city and not approach
the houses? There, throughout their shady halls, are women115
as old as you and younger ones too
who would welcome you both with kind words and gestures.”
So they spoke. And she, a queen among goddesses, answered with this story:
“Dear children, whoever you are of delicate women,
greetings. I will tell you. Surely it is not unseemly,120
when you ask me to tell the truth.
I will give you my name: Doso.
I came, unwillingly. With violent force
pirate men abducted me against my will.125
They set sail for Thorikos in their swift ship, and once there, the women
all in a group disembarked onto the land, and the men too.
They began to prepare dinner beside the ship’s stern cables.
But my spirit desired no sweet-tasting dinner.
Secretly hastening through the dark land,130
I fled my arrogant commanders, so that they would receive
no benefit from the price of selling me, a captive not paid for, as a slave.
So I came wandering here.
But may all those who have houses on Olympus135
give you wedded husbands and, with them, children to bear,
when your parents wish it.
dear children, to whose house I should go,
to the home of what man and woman, so that I may work for them,
eagerly, the kind of work suitable for an elderly woman?140
Holding a new-born in my arms,
expertly I would care for the child and watch over the house.
I would make the master’s bed in the nook of a well-built bedroom
and supervise the women at their work.”
So spoke the goddess. At once the unwed maiden,145
Kallidike, the most beautiful of Keleus’s daughters, answered her:
“Sweet mother, though we grieve, we humans are forced by Necessity
to bear the gifts of the gods, for they are much stronger.
I will advise you clearly in these matters and name
the men who have great power and honour here,150
leaders of the community who protect the city’s battlements
with their advice and straight judgments:
prudent Triptolemos and Dioklos,
Polyxeinos, and blameless Eumolpos,
Dolichos, and our own noble father.155
The wives of all of these men preside over their houses.
None these women on first sight will exclude you
from her house, dishonouring your appearance.
They will accept you. For you are truly godlike.
If you are willing, wait here, that we may go160
to our father’s house and tell all these things right through
to our deep-girded mother, Metaneira, in the hope that she may urge you
to come to our house and not seek out the house of others.
Her only son is being raised in the well-built halls,
born late in her life, but much desired and gladly welcomed.165
If you care for him and he reaches the measure of youth,
easily anyone of delicate women, seeing you,
will be jealous. Our mother will give such great rewards for his rearing.”
So she spoke. Demeter nodded her head in assent. The maidens,
fillingtheir shining pitchers, left, pleased with themselves.170
Soon they arrived at their father’s great house, and quickly told
their mother what they had seen and heard. She
ordered them to go quickly and summon the goddess, for an immense wage.
Just as deer or calves in spring time
leap through a meadow, satisfying their hearts with food,175
so they, holding up the folds of their lovely, fine robes,
darted down the hollow carriage road. Their unbound hair
floated all around each one’s shoulders, like a crocus flower.
They found the illustrious goddess near the road, where earlier
they had left her. Back to their dear father’s house180
they led the way. The goddess, grieving in her heart,
walked behind them, veiling her head entirely.
Her dark robe coiled all around her slender ankles.
Demeter in the home of Keleus and Metaneira
Quickly they arrived at the house of Zeus-cherished Keleus.
They walked through the corridor where their queenly mother185
sat near a pillar of the strongly made roof,
holding a child in her bosom: a newborn.
The maidens ran to her. But as the goddess crossed over the threshold,
her head reached the ceiling and she filled the doorway with a divine radiance.
Reverence, astonished awe, and pale fear seized the lady.190
She yielded her seat and urged the goddess to sit.
But Demeter, giver of splendid gifts, bringer of seasons,
did not wish to sit upon the radiant couch.
In silence, she waited, casting her beautiful eyes downward,
until hard working Iambe placed195
a well-built chair for her and threw over it a silver-shining fleece
Iambe and Metaneira console Demeter
Sitting down thre, Demeter held her veil in her hands.
Speechless and grieving she sat on the chair for a long time.
She did not greet anyone, neither by word nor gesture.
Without laughter, without tasting food and drink,200
she sat, wasting away with longing for her deep-girded daughter
Until hard working Iambe, making faces at her side and
telling her many jokes, moved the holy mistress
to smile and laugh and have a gracious spirit once again.
From that time forward, Iambe always pleased the goddess’s moods.205
Metaneira gave her a goblet filled with honey-sweet wine.
But Demeter refused. She said it was not right for her
to drink red wine. She urged her host to give her
a mixture of water with barley-meal and soft pennyroyal to drink.
Once the potion was made, Metaneira offered it to her, as had she requested.210
Accepting it to show respect, the great queen Deo [drank].
With these words, well-girded Metaneira began to speak:
“Greetings, Lady, since I suspect you are not from base parents,
but good ones. Reverence shines forth from your eyes,
and grace too, as if from law-ministering kings.215
Though we grieve, we humans are forced by Necessity
to bear the gifts of the gods. For a yoke lies upon our necks.
Now, since you came here, whatever I have will be here for you.
Raise this child for me, a child the gods granted
late-born and unexpected but still much desired by me.220
If you raise him and he reaches the measure of youth —
easily anyone of these delicate women, seeing you,
will be envious — then I will give you immense rewards for his rearing.”
Again well-garlanded Demeter spoke to her:
“You also, Lady, many greetings. May the gods grant you fortune.225
Eagerly I will take the child to raise for you, as you bid me.
I will raise him and, I expect, neither a bewitching nor the undercutter
will harm him through the neglect of his nurse.
For I know an antidote much stronger than the woodcutter;
I know a fine safeguard against baneful bewitchings.”230
Demeter and Demophoön
Speaking so, she took him into her fragrant bosom
with immortal hands and his mother rejoiced in her heart.
So the shining son of noble Keleus,
Demophoön, whom well-girded Metaneira bore,
she nursed in the halls.
He was eating no grain, nor sucking [the milk from his mother. For, by day,
lovely-garlanded] Demeter anointed him with ambrosia, as if he were born of a god,
while sweetly breathing over him and holding him in her bosom.
But by night, she buried him in the force of the fire, like a fire-brand,
in secret from his dear parents; to them she brought about a great wonder240
that he was growing so early; For he had become like the gods to look at.
And she would have made him immortal and ageless,
if not for the thoughtlessness of well-girded Metaneira,
who, watching from her fragrant bedroom one night,
and wailing she spoke to him with winged words:
and she causes mourning and baneful sorrow for me.”
So she spoke, lamenting.. And she, shining among goddesses, heard her.250
Angry with her, lovely-garlanded Demeter
seized the dear child, whom Metaneira bore unexpected in the halls,
from the fire with immortal hands and hurled him to the ground.
With dreadful anger in her heart,
she spoke to well-girded Metaneira.:255
“Humans are oblivious and without the sense to know
their destiny, whether coming upon good or bad.
You were incurably misled by your own foolishness.
May the oath of the gods, the harsh Stygian water, know
that I would have made the dear child immortal and ageless260
forever and I would have granted him imperishable honour.
Now he will not be able to flee mortality and death.
Still, his honour will be ever-imperishable because on my knees
he climbed and in my arms he slept.
Through seasons and the passing years,265
the children of th Eleusinians will wage battle and hostile strife
always with one another for all days.
I am Demeter, honour-holder, who is the greatest
benefit and delight for immortals and mortals.
Come, let all the people of the community build me a great temple270
and an altar below it, beneath the city and towering wall
of Kallichoron atop the jutting hill.
I myself will reveal my secret rites, so that when
you offer sacrifices reverently, you may appease my mind.”