CCIV 110 WOMEN IN ANCIENT GREECE
SPRING 2000

BACKGROUND NOTES

HOMERIC HYMN TO DEMETER





Suggestions for Study
For each class, I suggest that you first read the assigned text "cold," using only the notes. Just go through it and let yourself be confused, if that happens. (None of the readings is all that long: most of them are under 20 pages; the few that are longer are easier reading.) Second, read the supplementary material, if any is assigned (passages from the "Introduction" and the like). Third, read the Background Material on this site. Fourth, reread the assigned text. Now you should understand it better and you should have answers to some of the questions that will have arisen in the course of your initial reading. Fifth, consult the Illustration and Study Questions site on the Web, and spend some time thinking about the issues raised there.
As a general rule, for each class hour at Wesleyan, you are expected to spend three hours of preparation time. Thus, for each of our classes, which meet for an hour and 20 minutes, you should plan to spend about four hours in preparation time. For many classes, you will not need this much time. When you have time left over, you should spend it thinking about your paper, beginning a draft, and/or commenting on other students' papers.


Contents (Sections):
Homeric Hymn to Demeter
The Homeric Hymns
The Rape of Persephone
Hecate
Helios
Iambe
Eleusis
The Eleusinian Mysteries
Triptolemus
The Thesmophoria
Additional Discussions
The Adonia



The Homeric Hymns
The Homeric Hymns range in date from about the eighth to the sixth centuries BCE. The Homeric and Hesiodic epics thus form a background to them.

The Theogony is an especially important background document for the Homeric Hymns, since the hymns as a whole fill out and specify the honors accorded to each of the Olympian divinities.

Thus, there are Homeric Hymns to Zeus, Hera, Hestia/Dionysus, Demeter, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, and Hermes (the twelve canonical Olympians), as well as to Gaia, the hero Herakles, the Dioscouri (Sons of Zeus), and to Helios (see below) and Selene (the moon).

All of the Homeric hymns recount important chapters in the mythological history of the Olympians. Several of them (including the Hymn to Demeter) share structural features with the Theogony. And several (again including the Hymn to Demeter) fill in an important aspect of the cosmogony that was left undeveloped in the Theogony: the relationship between gods and mortals.

What conclusions do you draw from the first section of the poem about the relationship between gods and mortals?



The Rape of Persephone
The Homeric Hymns range in date from about the eighth to the sixth centuries BCE. The Homeric and Hesiodic epics thus form a background to them.

Links to terracotta plaques on study page

also to terracotta plaques with them enthroned; Locri votive relief at Haifa 480 bce; on coin 460-450; Codrus painter last quarter of 5th century (on couch together); mid 4th century at home together small large;

also to Apulian vases with underworld

also to later painitngs? Bernini small DG Rosetti P with pomegranate



Hecate
An important section of the Theogony is the Hymn to Hecate (lines 411-55). Consult the Theogony and the background notes to the Theogony to familiarize yourself with Hecate's characteristics and the circumstances of her birth.

What characteristics of Hecate as related both in the Theogony and in this hymn make her an appropriate first divinity for Demeter to consult? Note that, at the end of the poem, Hecate appears again (lines 448-40), and that she gains the permanent characteristic there of becoming Persephone's "attendant and follower."



Helios
Hecate and Demeter speed off together to consult Helios. Who is he, and why do they approach him for information? Consult the background notes on the Theogony to see how Helios fits into the evolution of the cosmogony in Hesiod.



Iambe
Iambe's name is the feminine form of iambos, the name of the genre to which Semonides' poem on women belonged. Consult the background notes on Semonides to remind yourself of the characteristics of this genre.

Ritual jesting and obscenity were common in the cults of Demeter and Dionysus, and figure also in the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries associated with Demeter and Persephone (see below). The mythographer Apollodorus says that Iambe's jesting was the reason for the practice of ritual jesting at the Thesmophoria, a festival celebrated in honor of Demeter and Persephone (see below). (See also note I.5.1, n. 5 at the bottom of the link to Apollodorus.)

But in other versions of the myth of Demeter, the goddess is received by a woman named Baubo, who makes her laugh by exposing herself, in a ritual gesture called anasyrma ("lifting up [of skirts]"). A set of statuettes from Priene, a Greek city on the east coast of Asia Minor, are usually identified as "Baubo" figurines. In these figurines, the female body is represented as the face conflated with the lower part of the abdomen, much like the phalluses decorated with eyes, mouth, and sometimes also legs that appear on vase paintings and also as statuettes.

What feature of the iambos, and what aspects of ritual obscenity do you think are relevant to the Iambe episode in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter? What meaning do you think these words and actions might have for Demeter, and why does she respond to them as she does?



Eleusis
Eleusis--the town to which Demeter first came (line 96)--was a village about ten miles northwest of Athens. (Follow this link to a map of the location on Perseus.) By the end of the seventh century BCE the town had been incorporated into the city of Athens.

Eleusis was the site of the worship of Demeter and Persephone from an early period, but in the sixth century the temple (Telesterion) of the goddesses just below the acropolis of the town was rebuilt so that:
(a) the main gate faced the road to Athens (the
Sacred Way), instead of facing the sea, and
(b) the temple was a large square building with ramps on three sides.

Follow this link to the
discussion of the site on Perseus.

This structure was unlike that of other sanctuaries, which conventionally had a rectangular shape and housed a cult statue of the divinity (like the
Parthenon in Athens). Follow this link to see a reconstruction of the sixth-century Eleusinian sanctuary.

Follow this link to see an
aerial view of the site from the southwest on Perseus.

The Eleusinian Telesterion was instead a large square hall which, by the fifth century, had
rock-cut stands and was the largest public building of its kind in Greece.

In the center of the hall was a small, closed room (the anaktoron) where sacred images were kept. (In the sixth century, this room was along the
eastern wall of the sanctuary.)




The Eleusinian Mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries were an Athenian festival open to all Greeks, both slave and free, both men and women.

They were celebrated in the autumn, shortly before the fall plowing, in the month corresponding to our September 15-October 15, and they lasted about a week.

In the first or preliminary phase, the sacred objects were brought from the anaktoron in Eleusis to Athens.

At the beginning of the Mysteries proper, the initiands gathered in Athens, purified themselves by bathing in the sea at the
Bay of Phaleron (about three miles away) and made sacrifices.

Afterwards, the initiands and sacred officials processed from Athens to Eleusis along the Sacred Way.

As the procession passed over the
river Cephisus, men disguised as women stood on the bridge and made obscene jokes against those who were crossing.

The evening arrival at Eleusis was celebrated by a festival of all-night dancing by women carrying kernoi, pottery vessels sacred to Demeter. Follow this link to see examples of
Eleusinian kernoi.

The all-night festival or pannychis also included aischrologia ("obscene language"), and the drinking of the kykeon, a mixture of water, barley and mint (see line 209).

The details of the initiation rite itself are not possible to reconstruct, because they were subject to strict rules of secrecy. The rites were held in the Telesterion, which had a capacity of several thousand people. And it seems that they involved the display of sacred objects, the speaking of sacred words, and perhaps the enactment of a sacred drama.

Many ancient sources affirm that those who had experienced initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries had a better life and were believed to have a better fate after death.

The
Niinnion Tablet from the first half of the fourth century is the only document that can be securely associated with the Eleusinian cult. According to the inscription at its base, it was dedicated to the two goddesses by a woman named Niinnion.

In all three registers of the tablet (lower, upper, and pediment), the same woman appears with the same man. The woman is probably Niinnion herself, and the man someone who accompanied her to be initiated.

In all three registers, Niinnion bears a kernos on her head.

The
pediment represents the pannychis or all-night dance.

The
upper register shows the presentation of the initiates to Persephone (holding the two torches) and Demeter (seated) at the rituals celebrated in Athens before the procession to Eleusis.

The
lower register shows the arrival of the procession at Eleusis, headed by Iacchus (see below), and its presentation to Demeter (seated).



Triptolemus
In later versions of the Demeter myth, Triptolemus received the gift of agriculture from Demeter and disseminated it to mankind in a winged chariot. He was also said to be the son of Metaneira and Keleos, and in myth he gradually replaces Demophon as the nursling of Demeter.

Triptolemus is often represented as a youth, and usually in his winged chariot. On this Attic red figure Nolan Amphora of the classical period (440-430 bce), he is shown receiving grain from Demeter and without his chariot. (Link here for a detail of Triptolemus.) On this Attic red-figure hydria of the early classical period (480-440 bce), he is represented in his chariot, with Demeter on the right and Persephone on the left. But on this earlier vase, an Attic black figure amphora of the archaic period (550-530 bce), he appears as an older, bearded man.

There are other young men or boy children associated with Demeter:

Ploutos (see line 489), whose name means "Wealth," was the son of Demeter in the Theogony (lines 976-81). He travels all over the earth and brings riches and wealth to "those into whose hands he falls." Since the economy of ancient Greece was agriculturally based, Ploutos represents the material benefits of the gift of land cultivation. He is thus the guarantor and bringer of prosperity in the present life for mankind, and his gifts balance those having to do with the afterlife. Here is Ploutos represented as a baby in the arms of Eirene ("Peace") in a late classical (375-360 bce) marble statue. But on this vase (side B of the Nolan Amphora described above), he appears as a bearded male cradling a cornucopia in his left arm.

Closely associated with Ploutos was Iacchus, a minor deity connected with Dionysus, whose statue was carried at the head of the Eleusinian procession. (Thus, Iacchus appears in the lower register of the Niinnion tablet, the section that represents the arrival at Eleusis.) In later tradition he, like Ploutos, is a son of Demeter, or, sometimes, of Persephone. And in art, he is generally a torchbearer (as on the Niinnion tablet) conducting the initiates.

It is not uncommon for all three figures--Triptolemus, Iacchus, and Plutus--to be depicted together in an Eleusinian context. Link here to a vase on which they all appear together with Demeter and Persephone.
And on this
Attic red figure Bell krater of the late classical period (360-350 bce) representing the initiation of Herakles into the Eleusinian Mysteries, Triptolemus appears in his chariot on the lower right; Persephone stands in the center, and Demeter is seated at the lower left. To the left and right of Persephone in the upper register of the vase are two figures leading in inititiates who should probably be identified as Iacchus and Eumolpus. On the other side of this vase (not pictured), Ploutos is shown reclining together with Dionysus.



The Thesmophoria
The festival of the Thesmophoria, unlike the Eleusinian Mysteries, was open only to citizen women. It was celebrated in the fall at the time of the planting of the winter wheat, in the month roughly equivalent to our October 15-November 15.

The festival celebrated Demeter and Persephone, was closed to men, and lasted for three days:
On the first, the women set out from their homes and assembled together in an encampment within the city.
On the second day, they sat on the ground, fasted, and practiced ritual obscenity.
On the third day, the women feasted and celebrated; this day was called Kalligeneia ("Beautiful Offspring"), and it focused especially on Demeter's role as the promoter of both human and agricultural fertility.



Additional Discussions
For additional discussion, see the section on "Farming and Fertility" in "Daughters of Demeter." You may also want to consult again the illustration for the essay, which depicts Penelope's return to her mother from the Underworld.

Link here to an interesting paper by a student at Tufts comparing
"Dionysiac Mysteries and Thesmophoria." The paper was was written in Hypertext, using texts and images on Perseus, and it contains much interesting futher information on the Thesmophoria.

And link here to a site on "Demeter, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the Thesmophoria," authored by Sarah Wilkes, who is now a senior Classical Studies major. Sarah originally put the site together for her final project in CCIV 243: Women and the Polis in Spring 1998, and she plans to ampify it with material from her final paper for last semester's course on Aristophanes' Frogs. It's an excellent site, containing well-presented information on all the background topics discussed here. Perhaps you'll be inspired by it either to study the subject further or to try your own hand at composing a site on a course topic (in this course or other ones) that interests you.



The Adonia

The Thesmophoria is sometimes contrasted with the festival of Adonis, an annual rite that was not, like the Thesmophoria, part of the Athenian festival calendar. Thus, it was a private celebration, not sponsored by the city, although, like the Thesmophoria, it was an exclusively women's festival.

The Adonia commemorated and mourned the death at a young age of the god Adonis. As part of the celebration women planted gardens in shallow bowls which were allowed to sprout and then quickly wither and die.

The fertility represented by this festival is the opposite to that which the Thesmophoria sponsor: both the child and the plants flourish initially but then perish.

Associated with the Adonia also was the use of perfumes,oils, and jewelry, in contrast to the noxious odors characteristic of the Thesmophoria, and the practice of sexual abstinence associated with it.

The celebrants may also have been of opposite female types if, as may be the case, the Adonia were especially celebrated by hetaerae. Link here to see a vase on which the
Adonia are represented.

 


Last updated February 13, 2000