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Pluto fell in love with Persephone and with the help of Zeus carried her off secretly.1 But Demeter went about seeking her all over the earth with torches by night and day, and learning from the people of Hermion that Pluto had carried her off,2 she was wroth with the gods and quitted heaven, and came in the likeness of a woman to Eleusis. And first she sat down on the rock which has been named Laughless after her, beside what is called the Well of the Fair Dances3; thereupon she made her way to Celeus, who at that time reigned over the Eleusinians. Some women were in the house, and when they bade her sit down beside them, a certain old crone, Iambe, joked the goddess and made her smile.4 For that reason they say that the women break jests at the Thesmophoria.5

But Metanira, wife of Celeus, had a child and Demeter received it to nurse, and wishing to make it immortal she set the babe of nights on the fire and stripped off its mortal flesh. But as Demophon — for that was the child's name— grew marvelously by day, Praxithea watched, and discovering him buried in the fire she cried out; wherefore the babe was consumed by the fire and the goddess revealed herself.6


1 This account of the rape of Persephone and Demeter's quest of her is based on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The opening passage, including the explanation of the Laughless Stone, is quoted verbally by Zenobius, (Cent. i.7) and the Scholiast on Aristoph. Kn. 785, but without mention of their authority. For other accounts of the rape of Persephone and Demeter's quest of her, see Diod. 5.4.1-3, Diod. 5.68.2; Cicero, In Verrem, Act. 2. lib. 4, cap. 48; Ovid, Fasti iv.419ff.; Ov. Met. 5.346ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 146; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, v.347; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 106-108 (Second Vatican Mythographer 93-100). All these writers agree in mentioning Sicily as the scene of the rape of Persephone; Cicero and Ovid identify the place with EnnaHenna), of which Cicero gives a vivid description. The author of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter says (HH Dem. 16ff.) that the earth yawned “in the Nysian plain,” but whether this was a real or a mythical place is doubtful. See T. W. Allen and E. E. Sikes, The Homeric Hymns, p. 4 (on Hymn i.8). It was probably the luxuriant fertility of Sicily, and particularly the abundance of its corn, which led later writers to place the scene of the rape in that island. In Ovid's version of the visit of Demeter to EleusisOvid, Fasti iv.507ff.), Celeus is not the king of the place but a poor old peasant, who receives the disguised goddess in his humble cottage.

2 This visit paid by the mourning Demeter to Hermion, when she was searching for the lost Persephone, is not mentioned by the author of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, nor, so far as I know, by any other ancient writer except Zenobius, Cent. i.7 and the Scholiast on Aristoph. Kn. 785, both of whom, however, merely copied Apollodorus without naming him. But compare Paus. 2.35.4-8, who mentions the sanctuary of Subterranean Demeter at Hermion, and describes the curious sacrificial ritual observed at it. At Hermion there was a chasm which was supposed to communicate with the infernal regions, and through which Herakles was said to have dragged up Cerberus (Paus. 2.35.10). The statement of Apollodorus in the present passage suggests that according to local tradition Pluto dragged down his bride to hell through the same chasm. So convinced were the good people of Hermion that they possessed a private entrance to the nether regions that they very thriftily abstained from the usual Greek practice of placing money in the mouths of their dead (Strab. 9.6.12). Apparently they thought that it would be a waste of money to pay Charon for ferrying them across to hell when they could get there for nothing from their own backdoor.

3 Compare HH Dem. 98ff., who says that Demeter, sad at heart, sat down by the wayside at the Maiden's Well, under the shadow of an olive tree. Later in the poem (HH. Dem. 270ff. Demeter directs the people of Eleusis to build her a temple and altar “above Callichorum“—that is, the Well of the Fair Dances. Apollodorus identifies the well beside which Demeter sat down with the Well of the Fair Dances. But from Paus. 1.38.6 we learn that the two wells were different and situated at some distance from each other, the Well of the Fair Dances being close to the Sanctuary of Demeter, and the Maiden's Well, or the Flowery Well, as Pausanias calls it, being outside Eleusis, on the road to Megara. In the course of the modern excavation of the sanctuary at Eleusis, the Well of the Fair Dances was discovered just outside the portal of the sacred precinct. It is carefully built of polygonal stones, and the mouth is surrounded by concentric circles, round which the women of Eleusis probably tripped in the dance. See Πρακτικὰ τῆς Ἀρχαιολογικῆς Ἑταιρίας, Athens, 1892, pp. 33ff. In antiquity solemn oaths were sworn by the water of the well (Alciphron iii.69).

4 As to the jesting of the old woman with Demeter, see HH Dem. 194-206; Scholiast on Nicander, Alex. 130, who calls Demeter's host Hippothoon, son of Poseidon.

5 The jests seem to have been obscene in form (Diod. 5.4.6), but they were probably serious in intention; for at the Thesmophoria rites were performed to ensure the fertility of the fields, and the lewd words of the women may have been thought to quicken the seed by sympathetic magic. See Scholia in Lucianum, ed. H. Rabe (Leipsig, 1906), pp. 275ff.; Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i.62ff., 116, ii.17ff.

6 See Frazer's Appendix to Apollodorus, “Putting Children on the Fire.”

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