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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 [2] But for Triptolemus, the elder of Metanira's children, she made a chariot of winged dragons, and gave him wheat, with which, wafted through the sky, he sowed the whole inhabited earth.7 But Panyasis affirms that Triptolemus was a son of Eleusis, for he says that Demeter came to him. Pherecydes, however, says that he was a son of Ocean and Earth.8 [3]

But when Zeus ordered Pluto to send up the Maid, Pluto gave her a seed of a pomegranate to eat, in order that she might not tarry long with her mother.9 Not foreseeing the consequence, she swallowed it; and because Ascalaphus, son of Acheron and Gorgyra, bore witness against her, Demeter laid a heavy rock on him in Hades.10 But Persephone was compelled to remain a third of every year with Pluto and the rest of the time with the gods.11

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.”

7 Compare Cornutus, Theologiae Graecae Compendium 28, pp. 53ff. ed. C. Lang; Ovid, Fasti iv.559ff.; Ovid, Tristia iii.8. (9) 1ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 147; Hyginus, Ast. ii.14; Serv. Verg. G. 1.19, 163; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. ii.382; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 3, 107 (First Vatican Mythographer 8; Second Vatican Mythographer 97). The dragon-car of Triptolemus was mentioned by Sophocles in his lost tragedy Triptolemus. See TGF (Nauck 2nd ed.), p. 262, frag. 539; The Fragments of Sophocles, ed. A. C. Pearson, ii.243, frag. 596. In Greek vase-paintings Triptolemus is often represented in his dragon-car. As to the representations of the car in ancient art, see Stephani, in Compte Rendu (St. Petersburg) for 1859, pp. 82ff.; Frazer, note on Paus. vii.18.3 (vol. iv. pp. 142ff.); and especially A. B. Cook, Zeus, i. (Cambridge, 1914), pp. 211ff., who shows that on the earlier monuments Triptolemus is represented sitting on a simple wheel, which probably represents the sun. Apparently he was a mythical embodiment of the first sower. See Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild, i.72ff.

8 The accounts given of the parentage of Triptolemus were very various (Paus. 1.14.2ff.), which we need not wonder at when we remember that he was probably a purely mythical personage. As to Eleusis, the equally mythical hero who is said to have given his name to Eleusis, see Paus. 8.38.7. He is called Eleusinus by Hyginus, Fab. 147 and Serv. Verg. G. 1.19.

9 The Maid (Kore) is Persephone. As to her eating a seed or seeds of a pomegranate, see HH Dem. 371ff., HH Dem. 411ff.; Ov. Met. 5.333ff.; Ovid, Fasti iv.601ff.; Serv. Verg. G. 1.39 and Serv. Aen. 4.462; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. iii.511; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 3, 108 ((First Vatican Mythographer 7; Second Vatican Mythographer 100). There is a widespread belief that if a living person visits the world of the dead and there partakes of food, he cannot return to the land of the living. Thus, the ancient Egyptians believed that, on his way to the spirit land, the soul of a dead person was met by a goddess (Hathor, Nouit, or Nit), who offered him fruits, bread, and water, and that, if he accepted them, he could return to earth no more. See G. Maspero, Histoire Ancienne des Peuples de l'Orient Classiques, les Origines (Paris, 1895), p. 184. Similarly, the natives of New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, say that when a man dies, messengers come from the other world to guide his soul through the air and over the sea to the spirit land. Arrived there, he is welcomed by the other souls and bidden to a banquet, where he is offered food, especially bananas. If he tastes them, his doom is fixed for ever: he cannot return to earth. See the missionary Gagniere, in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, xxxii. (Lyons, 1860), pp. 439ff. The Eastern Melanesians believe that living people can go down to the land of the dead and return alive to the upper world. Persons who have done so relate how in the nether world they were warned by friendly ghosts to eat nothing there. See R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), pp. 277, 286. Similar beliefs prevail and similar tales are told among the Maoris of New Zealand. For example, a woman who believed that she had died and passed to the spirit land, related on her return how there she met with her dead father, who said to her, “You must go back to the earth, for there is no one now left to take care of my grandchild. But remember, if you once eat food in this place, you can never more return to life; so beware not to taste anything offered to you.” See E. Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders (London, 1856), pp. 150-152. Again, they tell of a great chief named Hutu, who performed the same perilous journey. On reaching the place of departed spirits he encountered a certain being called Hine nui te po, that is, Great Mother Night, of whom he inquired the way down to the nether world. She pointed it out to him and gave him a basket of cooked food, saying, “When you reach the lower regions, eat sparingly of your provisions that they may last, and you may not be compelled to partake of their food, for if you do, you cannot return upwards again.” See R. Taylor, Te Ika A Maui, or New Zealand and its Inhabitants, 2nd ed. (London, 1870), p. 271. And the same rule holds good of fairyland, into which living people sometimes stray or are enticed to their sorrow. “Wise people recommend that, in the circumstances, a man should not utter a word till he comes out again, nor, on any account, taste fairy food or drink. If he abstains he is very likely before long dismissed, but if he indulges he straightway loses the will and the power ever to return to the society of men.” See J. G. Campbell, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Glasgow, 1900), p. 17. See further E. S. Hartland, The Science of Fairy Tales (London, 1891), pp. 40ff.

10 As to the talebearer Ascalaphus, below, Apollod. 2.5.12. According to another account, Persephone or Demeter punished him by turning him into a screech-owl. See Ov. Met. 5.538ff.; Serv. Verg. G. 1.39 and Aen. iv.462; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. iii.511; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. p. 108 (Second Vatican Mythographer 100).

11 Apollodorus agrees with the author of the HH Dem. 398ff., HH Dem. 445ff.) that Persephone was to spend one-third of each year with her husband Pluto in the nether world and two-thirds of the year with her mother and the other gods in the upper world. But, according to another account, Persephone was to divide her time equally between the two regions, passing six months below the earth and six months above it. See Ovid, Fasti iv.613ff.; Ov. Met. 5.564ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 146; Serv. Verg. G. 1.39; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. p. 108 (Second Vatican Mythographer 100).

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (21):
    • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, 2.5.12
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 16
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 270
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 411
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 445
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 98
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 194
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 371
    • Homeric Hymns, Hymn 2 to Demeter, 398
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.38.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.38.7
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.14.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.35.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.35.4
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.333
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.346
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.538
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5.564
    • Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil, 4.462
    • Servius, Commentary on the Georgics of Vergil, 1.19
    • Servius, Commentary on the Georgics of Vergil, 1.39
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