Greek goddess of agriculture, Fertility and the Harvest.
Demeter was the goddess of agriculture, fertility, the harvest and sacred law.
Demeter is associated with the fertility of crops, especially of grain. She was very important in agriculture and oversaw the entire process of the production of grains, from the sowing to the harvest.
Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, were central in the Eleusinian Mysteries, an important festival connected with life and death, the exact nature of which remains unknown.
Demeter was also honoured during another festival, the Thesmophoria, which took place in autumn and where only women could participate, in order to celebrate the return of Persephone to earth.
The name Demeter is Greek, from de (or ge, γη, earth) and meter (μήτηρ, mother).
Physical Features, Symbols and Character
Demeter is usually depicted as a fully clothed woman, possibly blonde. She carries a sceptre, ears of corn, sheaf of wheat or a crown of flowers. She is often depicted together with her daughter, Persephone, both clothed in long gowns. The snake and the pig were sacred to her.
In Demeter we see the boundless love of a mother for her child and her immense pain when they are separated. Greeks called her the “Good Goddess”, even though her grief greatly affected them, too.
|Demeter at a Glance|
|Rules over - Patron of||Agriculture, Fertility, Sacred Law and the Harvest|
|Symbols||Wheat, Torch, Cornucopia, Bread|
|Parents||Cronus and Rhea|
|Children||Persephone, Despoina, Arion, Plutus, Philomelus, Eubuleus, Chrysothemis and Amphitheus I|
|Notable Siblings||Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Hestia, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus|
Demeter was the daughter of Cronos and Rea, and sister of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera and Hestia.
Demeter and Persephone
The most famous myth related to the goddess, and one of the most prominent myths in Greek mythology, is the abduction of her daughter, Persephone, by Hades, god of the Underworld.
Demeter and Zeus had a daughter, Persephone, who grew up to become a beautiful young lady. Hades (Pluto) saw Persephone one day and fell in love with her, but, knowing that her mother would never allow him to take her to the Underworld, decided to abduct her and asked Zeus for help. Zeus agreed and, together, the two gods convinced Gaea to help them too.
As Persephone was playing with her friends in a field, Gaea made a very beautiful Narcissus spring from the earth. Persephone, lured by the beauty of the flower, tried to cut it. Suddenly the ground split open, Hades emerged with his chariot and grabbed her. Persephone started crying and shouting, hoping that Zeus, her father, would come to her rescue. Zeus, however, pretended not to hear anything.
Just before leaving the world above, Persephone gave out a huge cry of despair and Demeter heard her. Without knowing what exactly had happened, she disguised herself as an old lady and set out to find her daughter.
Demeter finally arrived in Eleusis, where she was treated with kindness and stayed as the nurse of King Celeus’s son, Demophon. Wanting to repay the court for the way they treated her, she tried to make Demophon immortal by anointing him with ambrosia (food of the gods) and plunging him into fire to burn his mortality. One night Demophon’s mother, Metaneira, saw the incident and, thinking Demeter was going to burn the baby, starting screaming. Demeter got angry at Metaneira’s inability to judge right from wrong, revealed herself and the baby remained mortal. She then demanded the Eleusinians build her a temple and alter, which they immediately did.
Demeter refused to return to Olympus and stayed in the temple, grieving for her daughter and leaving the earth barren, causing famine on earth and discomfort on Olympus due to the lack of sacrifices.
Finally, Zeus sent Iris (the rainbow, messenger of the gods) to give Demeter presents in order to condole her, as well as the rest of the gods and goddesses. But Demeter remained unmoved. Seeing the dire situation, Zeus was left with no choice but to have Hades return Persephone to her mother. Zeus sent Hermes to carry his message, and Hades agreed. However, he forced Persephone to eat a pomegranate seed, which meant she would have to return to the underworld each year and stay there for a quarter of the year. As soon as Demeter and Persephone are brought back together, the fields grow green and full of flowers, and the trees grow leaves and flowers and fruit.
Before Demeter leaves Eleusis to go to Olympus with her daughter, she teaches the kings the secrets of her cult, which are to be known only by those in it.
The time Persephone spends in the underworld is the time of the year when the earth becomes barren, which initially, unlike popular belief, might in fact have been the summer, as Attica, where the myth stems from, was prone to dangerous draughts during the summer.
The Homeric Hymns to Demeter, Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Odyssey, Apollodorus’s Library, Hyginus’s Fabulae, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.