2. Persephone (from phero and phonos, ‘she who brings destruction’), also called Persephatta at Athens (from ptersis and ephapto, ‘she who fixes destruction’) and Proserpina (‘the fearful one’) at Rome, was, it seems, a title of the Nymph when she sacrificed the sacred king. The title ‘Hecate’ (‘one hundred’) apparently refers to the hundred lunar months of his reign, and to the hundredfold harvest. The king’s death by a thunderbolt, or by the teeth of horses, or at the hands of the tanist, was his common fate in primitive Greece.
3. Core’s abduction by Hades forms part of the myth in which the Hellenic trinity of gods forcibly marry the pre-Hellenic Triple-goddess – Zeus, Hera; Zeus or Poseidon, Demeter; Hades, Core – as in Irish myth Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba marry the Triple-goddess Eire, Fodhla, and Banbha (see 7. 6 and 16. 1). It refers to male usurpation of the female agricultural mysteries in primitive times. Thus the incident of Demeter’s refusal to provide corn for mankind is only another version of Ino’s conspiracy to destroy Athamas’s harvest (see 70. c). Further, the Core myth accounts for the winter burial of a female corn-puppet, which was uncovered in the early spring and found to be sprouting; this pre-Hellenic custom survived in the countryside in Classical times, and is illustrated by vase-paintings of men freeing Core from a mound of earth with mattocks, or breaking open Mother Earth’s head with axes.
4. The story of Erysichthon, son of Tropias, is moral anecdote: among the Greeks, as among the Latins and early Irish, the felling of a sacred grove carried the death penalty. But a desperate and useless hunger for food, which the Elizabethans called ‘the wolf’, would not be an appropriate punishment for tree-felling, and Erysichthon’s name – also borne by a son of Cecrops the patriarchalist and introducer of barley-cakes (see 25. d) – means ‘earth-tearer’, which suggests that his real crime was daring to plough without Demeter’s consent, like Athamas. Pandareus’s stealing of the golden dog suggests Cretan intervention in Greece, when the Achaeans tried to reform agricultural ritual. This dog, taken from the Earth-goddess, seems to have been the visible proof of the Achaean High King’s independence of her (see 124. 1).
5. The myths of Hylas (‘of the woodland’ – see 150. 1), Adonis (see 18. 7), Lityerses (see 136. e), and Linus (see 147. 1) describes the annual mourning for the sacred king, or his boy-surrogate, sacrificed to placate the goddess of vegetation. This same surrogate appears in the legend of Triptolemus, who rode in a serpent-drawn chariot and carried sacks of corn, to symbolize that his death brought wealth. He was also Plutus (‘wealthy’), begotten in the ploughed field, from whom Hades’s euphemistic title ‘Pluto’ is borrowed. Triptolemus (triptolmaios, ‘thrice daring’) may be a title awarded the sacred king for having three times dared to plough the field and couple with the corn-priestess. Celeus, Diocles, and Eumolpus, whom Demeter taught the art of agriculture, represent priestly heads of the Amphictyonic League – Metaneira is described as Amphictyon’s daughter – who honoured her at Eleusis.
6. It was at Eleusis (‘advent’), a Mycenaean city, that the great Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated, in the month called Boedromion (‘running for help’). Demeter’s ecstatic initiates symbolically consummated her love affair with Iasius, or Triptolemus, or Zeus, in an inner recess of the shrine, by working a phallic object up and down a woman’s top-boot; hence Eleusis suggests a worn-down derivative of Eilythuies, ‘[the temple] of her who rages in a lurking place’. The mystagogues, dressed as shepherds, then entered with joyful shouts, and displayed a winnowing-fan, containing the child Brimus, son of Brimo (‘angry one’), the immediate fruit of this ritual marriage. Brimo was a title of Demeter’s, and Brimus a synonym for Plutus; but his celebrants knew him best as Iacchus – from the riotuous hymn, the Iacchus, which was sung on the sixth day of the Mysteries during a torchlight procession from Demeter’s temple.
7. Eumolpus represents the singing shepherds who brought in the child; Triptolemus is a cowherd, in service to Io the Moon-goddess as cow (see 56. 1), who watered the seed-corn; and Eubuleus a swineherd, in service to the goddess Marpessa (see 74. 4 and 96. 2), Phorcis, Choere, or Cerdo, the Sow-goddess, who made the corn sprout. Eubuleus was the first to reveal Core’s fate, because ‘swineherd’, in early European myth, means soothsayer, or magician. Thus Eumaeus (‘searching well’), Odysseus’s swineherd (see 171. a), is addressed as dios (‘god-like’); and though, by Classical times, swineherds had long ceased to exercise their prophetic art, swine were still sacrificed to Demeter and Persephone by being thrown down natural chasms. Eubuleus is not said to have benefited from Demeter’s instruction, probably because her cult as Sow-goddess had been suppressed at Eleusis.
8. ‘Rarus’, whether it means ‘an abortive child’, or ‘a womb’, is an inappropriate name for a king, and will have referred to the womb of the Corn-mother from which the corn sprang.
9. Iambe and Baubo personify the obscene songs, in iambic metre, which were sung to relieve emotional tension at the Eleusinian Mysteries; but Iambe, Demeter, and Baubo form the familiar triad of maiden, nymph, and crone. Old nurses in Greek myth nearly always stand for the goddess as Crone. Abas was turned into a lizard, because lizards are found in the hottest and driest places, and can live without water; this is a moral anecdote told to teach children respect for their elders and reverence for the gods.
10. The story of Demeter’s attempt to make Demophoön immortal is paralleled in the myths of Medea (see 156. a) and Thetis (see 181. r). It refers, partly, to the widespread primitive custom of ‘saining’ children against evil spirits with sacred fire carried around them at birth, or with a hot griddle set under them; partly to the custom of burning boys to death, as a vicarious sacrifice for the sacred king (see 92. 7), and so conferring immortality on them. Celeus, the name of Demophoön’s father, can mean ‘burner’ as well as ‘woodpecker’ or ‘sorcerer’.
11. A primitive taboo rested on red-coloured food, which might be offered to the dead only (see 170. 5); and the pomegranate was supposed to have sprung – like the eight-petalled scarlet anemone – from the blood of Adonis, or Tammuz (see 18. 7). The seven pomegranate seeds represent, perhaps, the seven phases of the moon during which farmers wait for the green corn-shoots to appear. But Persephone eating the pomegranate is originally Sheol, the Goddess of Hell, devouring Tammuz; while Ishtar (Sheol herself in a different guise) weeps to placate his ghost. Hera, as a former Death-goddess, also held a pomegranate.
12. The ascalaphos, or short-eared owl, was a bird of evil omen; and the fable of his tale-bearing is told to account for the noisiness of owls in November, before the three winter months of Core’s absence begin. Heracles released Ascalaphus (see 134. d).
13. Demeter’s gift of the fig to Phytalus, whose family was a leading one in Attica (see 97. a), means no more than that the practice of figcaprification – pollenizing the domestic tree with a branch of the wild one – ceased to be a female prerogative at the same time as agriculture. The taboo on the planting of beans by men seems to have survived later than that on grain, because of the close connexion between beans and ghosts. In Rome beans were thrown to ghosts at the All Souls’ festival, and if a plant grew from one of these, and a woman ate its beans, she would be impregnated by a ghost. Hence the Pythagoreans abstained from beans lest they might deny an ancestor his chance of reincarnation.
14. Demeter is said to have reached Greece by way of Crete, landing at Thoricus in Attica (Hymn to Demeter 123). This is probable: the Cretans had established themselves in Attica, where they first worked the silver mines at Laureium. Moreover, Eleusis is a Mycenaean site, and Diodorus Siculus (v. 77) says that rites akin to the Eleusinian were performed at Cnossus for all who cared to attend, and that (v. 79) according to the Cretans all rites of initiation were invented by their ancestors. But Demeter’s origin is to be looked for in Libya.
15. The flowers which, according to Ovid, Core was picking were poppies. An image of a goddess with poppy-heads in her headdress was found at Gazi in Crete; another goddess on a mou
ld from Palaiokastro holds poppies in her hand; and on the gold ring from the Acropolis Treasure at Mycenae a seated Demeter gives three poppy-heads to a standing Core. Poppy-seeds were used as a condiment on bread, and poppies are naturally associated with Demeter, since they grow in cornfields; but Core picks or accepts poppies because of the soporific qualities, and because of their scarlet colour which promises resurrection after death (see 27. 12). She is about to retire for her annual sleep.
ATHENE’S NATURE AND DEEDS
ATHENE invented the flute, the trumpet, the earthenware pot, the plough, the rake, the ox-yoke, the horse-bridle, the chariot, and the ship. She first taught the science of numbers, and all women’s arts, such as cooking, weaving, and spinning. Although a goddess of war, she gets no pleasure from battle, as Ares and Eris do, but rather from settling disputes, and upholding the law by pacific means. She bears no arms in time of peace and, if ever she needs any, will usually borrow a set from Zeus. Her mercy is great: when the judges’ votes are equal in a criminal trial at the Areiopagus, she always gives a casting vote to liberate the accused. Yet, once engaged in battle, she never loses the day, even against Ares himself, being better grounded in tactics and strategy than he; and wise captains always approach her for advice.1
b. Many gods, Titans, and giants would gladly have married Athene, but she has repulsed all advances. On one occasion, in the course of the Trojan War, not wishing to borrow arms from Zeus, who had declared himself neutral, she asked Hephaestus to make her a set of her own. Hephaestus refused payment, saying coyly that he would undertake the work for love; and when, missing the implication of these words, she entered the smithy to watch him beat out the red-hot metal, he suddenly turned about and tried to outrage her. Hephaestus, who does not often behave so grossly, was the victim of a malicious joke: Poseidon had just informed him that Athene was on her way to the smithy, with Zeus’s consent, hopefully expecting to have violent love made to her. As she tore herself away, Hephaestus ejaculated against her thigh, a little above the knee. She wiped off the seed with a handful of wool, which she threw away in disgust; it fell to the ground near Athens, and accidentally fertilized Mother Earth, who was on a visit there. Revolted at the prospect of bearing a child which Hephaestus had tried to father on Athene, Mother Earth declared that she would accept no responsibility for its upbringing.
c. ‘Very well,’ said Athene, ‘I will take care of it myself.’ So she took charge of the infant as soon as he was born, called him Erichthonius and, not wishing Poseidon to laugh at the success of his practical joke, hid him in a sacred basket; this she gave to Aglauros, eldest daughter of the Athenian King Cecrops, with orders to guard it carefully.2
d. Cecrops, a son of Mother Earth and, like Erichthonius – whom some suppose to have been his father – part man, part serpent, was the first king to recognize paternity. He married a daughter of Actaeus, the earliest King of Attica. He also instituted monogamy, divided Attica into twelve communities, built temples to Athene, and abolished certain bloody sacrifices in favour of sober barley-cake offerings.3 His wife was named Agraulos; and his three daughters, Aglauros, Herse, and Pandrosos, lived in a three-roomed house on the Acropolis. One evening, when the girls had returned from a festival, carrying Athene’s sacred baskets on their heads, Hermes bribed Aglauros to give him access to Herse, the youngest of the three, with whom he had fallen violently in love. Aglauros kept Hermes’s gold, but did nothing to earn it, because Athene had made her jealous of Herse’s good fortune; so Hermes strode angrily into the house, turned Aglauros to stone, and had his will of Herse. After Herse had borne Hermes two sons, Cephalus, the beloved of Eos, and Ceryx, the first herald of the Eleusinian Mysteries, she and Pandrosos and their mother Agraulos were curious enough to peep beneath the lid of the basket which Aglauros had carried. Seeing a child with a serpent’s tail for legs, they screamed in fear and, headed by Agraulos, leaped from the Acropolis.4
e. On learning of this fatality, Athene was so grieved that she let fall the enormous rock which she had been carrying to the Acropolis as an additional fortification, and it became Mount Lycabettus. As for the crow that had brought her the news, she changed its colour from white to black, and forbade all crows ever again to visit the Acropolis. Erichthonius then took refuge in Athene’s aegis, where she reared him so tenderly that some mistook her for his mother. Later, he became King of Athens, where he instituted the worship of Athene, and taught his fellow-citizens the use of silver. His image was set among the stars as the constellation Auriga, since he had introduced the four-horse chariot.5
f. Another, very different, account of Agraulos’s death is current: namely that once, when an assault was being launched against Athens, she threw herself from the Acropolis, in obedience to an oracle, and so saved the day. This version purports to explain why all young Athenians, on first taking up arms, visit the temple of Agraulos and there dedicate their lives to the city.6
g. Athene, though as modest as Artemis, is far more generous. When Teiresias, one day, accidentally surprised her in a bath, she laid her hands over his eyes and blinded him, but gave him inward sight by way of a compensation.7
h. She is not recorded to have shown petulant jealousy on more than a single occasion. This is the story. Arachne, a princess of Lydian Colophon – famed for its purple dye – was so skilled in the art of weaving that Athene herself could not compete with her. Shown a cloth into which Arachne had woven illustrations of Olympian love affairs, the goddess searched closely to find a fault but, unable to do so, tore it up in a cold, vengeful rage. When the terrified Arachne hanged herself from a rafter, Athene turned her into a spider – the insect she hates most – and the rope into a cobweb, up which Arachne climbed to safety.8
1. Tzetzes: On Lycophron 520; Hesychius sub Hippia; Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid iv. 402; Pindar: Olympian Odes xiii. 79; Livy: vii. 3; Pausanias: i. 24. 3, etc.; Homer: Iliad i. 199 ff.; v. 736; v. 840–863; xxi. 391–422; Aeschylus: Eumenides 753.
2. Hyginus: Poetic Astronomy ii. 13; Apollodorus: iii. 14.6; Hyginus: Fabula 166.
3. Pausanias: i. 5. 3; viii. 2. 1; Apollodorus: iii. 14. 1; Strabo: ix. 1. 20; Aristophanes: Plutus 773; Athenaeus: p. 555c; Eustathius: On Homer p. 1156; Parian Marble: lines 2–4.
4. Apollodorus: iii. 14. 3 and 6; Inscriptiones Graecae xiv. 1389; Hyginus: Fabula 166.
6. Suidas and Hesychius sub Agraulos; Plutarch: Alcibiades 15.
7. Callimachus: The Bathing of Pallas.
8. Ovid: Metamorphoses vi. 1–145; Virgil: Georgics iv. 246.
1. The Athenians made their goddess’s maidenhood symbolic of the city’s invincibility; and therefore disguised early myths of her outrage by Poseidon (see 19. 2), and Boreas (see 48. 1); and denied that Erichthonius, Apollo, and Lychnus (‘lamp’) were her sons by Hephaestus. They derived ‘Erichthonius’ from either erion, ‘wool’, or eris, ‘strife’, and chthonos, ‘earth’, and invented the myth of his birth to explain the presence, in archaic pictures, of a serpent-child peeping from the goddess’s aegis. Poseidon’s part in the birth of Erichthonius may originally have been a simpler and more direct one; why else should Erichthonius introduce the Poseidonian four-horse chariot into Athens?
2. Athene had been the Triple-goddess, and when the central person, the Goddess as Nymph, was suppressed and myths relating to her transferred to Aphrodite, Oreithyia (see 48. b), or Alcippe (see 19. b), there remained the Maiden clad in goat-skins, who specialized in war (see 8. 1), and the Crone, who inspired oracles and presided over all the arts. Erichthonius is perhaps an expanded form of Erechtheus (see 47. 1), meaning ‘from the land of heather’ (see 18. 1) rather than ‘much earth’, as is usually said; the Athenians represented him as a serpent with a human head, because he was the hero, or ghost, of the sacrificed king who made the Crone’s wishes k
nown. In this Crone-aspect, Athene was attended by an owl and a crow. The ancient royal family of Athens claimed descent from Erichthonius and Erechtheus, and called themselves Erechtheids; they used to wear golden serpents as amulets and kept a sacred serpent in the Erechtheum. But Erichthonius was also a procreative wind from the heather-clad mountains, and Athene’s aegis (or a replica) was taken to all newly married couples at Athens, to ensure their fertility (Suidas sub Aegis).
3. Some of the finest Cretan pots are known to have been made by women, and so originally, no doubt, were all the useful instruments invented by Athene; but in Classical Greece an artisan had to be a man. Silver was at first a more valuable metal than gold, since harder to refine, and sacred to the moon; Periclean Athens owed her pre-eminence largely to the rich silver mines at Laureium first worked by the Cretans, which allowed her to import food and buy allies.
4. The occasion on which Cecrops’s daughters leaped from the Acropolis may have been a Hellenic capture of Athens, after which an attempt was made to force monogamy on Athene’s priestesses, as in the myth of Halirrhothius (see 19. b). They preferred death to dishonour – hence the oath taken by the Athenian youths at Agraulos’s shrine. The other story of Agraulos’s death is merely a moral anecdote: a warning against the violation of Athene’s mysteries. ‘Agraulos’ was one more title of the Moon-goddess; agraulos and its transliteration aglauros mean much the same thing, agraulos being a Homeric epithet for shepherds, and aglauros (like herse and pandrosos) referring to the moon as the reputed source of the dew which refreshed the pastures. At Athens girls went out under the full moon at midsummer to gather dew – the same custom survived in England until the last century – for sacred purposes. The festival was called the Hersephoria, or ‘dew-gathering’; Agraulos or Agraule was, in fact, a title of Athene herself, and Agraule is said to have been worshipped in Cyprus until late times (Porphyry: On Vegetarianism 30) with human sacrifices. A gold ring from Mycenae shows three priestesses advancing towards a temple; the two leaders scatter dew, the third (presumably Agraulos) has a branch tied to her elbow. The ceremony perhaps originated in Crete. Hermes’s seduction of Herse, for which he paid Aglauros in gold, must refer to the ritual prostitution of priestesses before an image of the goddess – Aglauros turned to stone. The sacred baskets carried on such occasions will have contained phallic snakes and similar orgiastic objects. Ritual prostitution by devotees of the Moon-goddess was practised in Crete, Cyprus, Syria, Asia Minor, and Palestine.