Demeter (mythology)

goddess Demeter
   In Greek my­thology, Demeter was one of the principal twelve deities. Demeter was the goddess of seed and har­vest—the symbol of the nourishing and fertilizing principle in nature. She was the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, and mother of Persephone. The Greeks con­sidered that good crops depended upon the payment of proper respect to this goddess. They annually offered bulls, cows, pigs, honey cakes, and fruits upon her altars.

   The myth of chief importance in the worship of Demeter related to Persephone. Zeus, Persephone's father, promised her in marriage to Hades, god of the lower world.
   Enticing the maiden to wander away to gather flowers in the field of Enna, Sicily, Zeus caused the earth to open, thus giving Hades an opportunity to carry her away. Demeter heard her daughter's cries, but had no suspicion of what had happened. She searched for Persephone through the whole earth. Finally Helios, the sun god, told Demeter that Hades had stolen her. The fountain Arethusa brought the sad mother news from her daughter. "While passing through the bowels of the earth," she said, "I beheld your Persephone. She is sad, but she reigns as queen in Ere­bus." Demeter vowed she would never re­turn to Olympus without her daughter. Moreover, she afflicted the whole earth, since it had opened to receive her child, with sterility. Zeus sought by every means he could devise to induce her to break her vow. At last, fearing lest the race of men should perish, Zeus sent Hermes to Erebus to bring Persephone back. Hades was in­duced to let his wife return to her mother; but the wily monarch gave her a pome­granate, which she ate. Having eaten of the fruit of Erebus, Persephone could never altogether leave the infernal regions, but was thenceforth compelled to spend there a part of each year. Demeter, con­tent with her daughter's presence for two-thirds of the year, restored fertility to the earth. She taught Triptolemus, whose parents had pitied her sorrows, to use the plow and to sow seed.

   This story is symbolic of the growth of grain which must remain in the dark ground unseen for a time, as Persephone must remain in Erebus. Demeter was iden­tified by the Romans with their Ceres. Demeter is represented in ancient monu­ments as a beautiful woman of matronly appearance. Her face has a kindly expression. She is standing in a chariot drawn by dragons, her head crowned with a garland of wheat. A torch is in one hand and a sheaf of wheat or poppies in the other.