Triptolemus, famed in legend and featured in statuary and art as the Eleusinian who spread Demeter's gift to other lands, did not seem to have a significant function in the mystery rites themselves. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus he was featured in a tragedy by Sophocles.
What I say is supported by the testimony of Sophocles, the tragic poet, in his drama entitled Triptolemus ; for he there represents Demeter as informing Triptolemus how large a tract of land he would have to travel over while sowing it with the seeds he had given him.
(Roman Antiquities I, 12)
Ovid says this:
Here she gave her fleet car to Triptolemus, and bade him scatter the seed of grain she gave, part in the untilled earth and part in fields that had long lain fallow.... "My country is far-famed Athens; Triptolemus, my name. I came neither by ship over the sea, nor on foot by land; the air opened a path for me. I bring the gifts of Ceres, which, if you sprinkle them over your wide field, will give a fruitful harvest and food not wild."
(Metamorphoses V, 645-647, 652-656)
Xenophon argues for peace between Athens and those to whom Triptolemus first granted Demeter's two main gifts: the mystic rites and the grain.
The right course, indeed, would have been for us not to take up arms against one another in the beginning, since the tradition is that the first strangers to whom Triptolemus, our ancestor, revealed the mystic rites of Demeter and Kore were Heracles, your state's founder, and the Dioscuri, your citizens; and further, that it was upon Peloponnesus that he first bestowed the seed of Demeter's fruit.
(Hellenica VI, 3)
Pausanias is warned in a dream from describing the sanctuary at Athens, though he does describe what pertains to Triptolemus, which could indicate that his role was not part of the secret doctrine. He also mentions Epimenides, a Cretan mystic of the sixth century BC.
Above the fountain are temples: one of them is a temple of Demeter and the Maid (Kore), in the other there is an image of Triptolemus. I will tell the story of Triptolemus, omitting what relates to Deiope, Of all the Greeks it is the Argives who must dispute the claim of the Athenians to antiquity and to the possession of gifts of the gods, just as among the barbarians it is the Egyptians who dispute the claims of the Phrygians. The story runs that when Demeter came to Argos, Pelasgus received her in his house, and that Chrysanthis, knowing the rape of the Maid told it to her. They say that afterwards Trochilus, a priest of the mysteries, fled from Argos on account of the enmity of Agenor, and came to Attica, where he married an Eleusinian wife, and there were born to him two sons, Eubuleus and Triptolemus. This is the Argive story. But the Athenians and those who take their side know that Triptolemus the son of Celeus was the first who sowed cultivated grain. However, some verses of Musaeus (if his they are) declare Triptolemus to be a child of Ocean and Earth; while other verses, which are attributed, in my opinion, with just as little reason, to Orpheus, assert that Eubuleus and Triptolemus were sons of Dysaules, and that, as a reward for the information they gave her about her daughter, Demeter allowed them to sow the grain. Choerilus the Athenian, in a drama called Alope says that Cercyon and Triptolemus were brothers, that their mother was a daughter of Amphictyon, but that the father of Triptolemus was Rarus, and that the father of Cercyon was Poseidon. I purposed to pursue the subject, and describe all the objects that admit of description in the sanctuary at Athens called the Eleusinium, but I was prevented from so doing by a vision in a dream. I will therefore turn to what may be lawfully told to everybody, In front of this temple, in which is the image of Triptolemus, stands a bronze ox as in the act of being led to sacrifice; and Epimenides the Cnosian is portrayed sitting, of whom they say that going into the country he entered a cave and slept, and did not awake until forty years had come and gone, and afterwards he made verses and purified cities, Athens among the rest.
(Pausanias I, 14:1-3)
After Thelpusa the Ladon descends to the sanctuary of Demeter in Onceum. The Thelpusians call the goddess Fury, and with them agrees Antimachus, the poet who celebrated the expedition of the Argives against Thebes. His verse runs thus: -
They say that there is a seat of Demeter Fury in that place. Oncius, according to common fame, was a son of Apollo, and he reigned at Onceum in the land of Thelpusa. The goddess received the surname of Fury on this wise. When Demeter was seeking her daughter, they say that in her wanderings she was followed by Poseidon, who desired to gain her favors. So she turned herself into a mare, and grazed with the mares of Oncius; but Poseidon, detecting the deception, likewise took the form of a horse, and so enjoyed Demeter. They say that at first Demeter was wroth, but that in time she relented, and was fain to bathe in the Ladon. Hence the goddess received two surnames: that of fury (Erinus) on account of her wrath, because the Arcadians call a fit of anger erinuein ; and that of Lusia, because she bathed (lousasthai) in the Ladon. The images in the temple are of wood, but the faces, hands, feet, are of Parian marble. The image of the Fury holds the so-called cista (sacred basket), and in her right hand a torch: the height of the image we guessed to be nine feet. The Lusia appeared to be six feet high. Some think that the image represents Themis, and not Demeter Lusia; but this is an idle fancy, and so I would have them know. They say that Demeter had by Poseidon a daughter, whose name they are not wont to divulge to uninitiated persons, and that he also gave birth to the horse Arion; it was for this reason, they say, that they gave Poseidon the surname of Hippius ('of horses'), and they were first of the Arcadians who did so.
(Pausanias VIII, 25:4-7)
The horse imagery has some collaboration in the words of Pindar:
... and with befitting counsel, while he tends, not only the worship of Demeter with the ruddy feet, and the festival of her daughter with her white horses,
(Olympian Odes VI, 95)
Another example from Arcadia places Poseidon in the mythology and relies heavily upon secrecy. The significance of the pomegranate is parallel with Eleusis.
The Arcadians bring into the sanctuary the fruits of all cultivated trees except the pomegranate. On the right as you leave the temple there is a mirror fitted into the wall. Anyone who looks into this mirror will see himself either very dimly or not at all, but the images of the gods and the throne are clearly visible. Beside the temple of the mistress a little higher up on the right is what is called the Hall. Here the Arcadians perform mysteries, and sacrifice victims to the Mistress in great abundance. Each man sacrifices what he has got. They do not cut the throats of the victims as in the other sacrifices, but each man lops off a limb of the victim, it matters not which. This Mistress is worshipped by the Arcadians above all the gods and they say she is a daughter of Poseidon and Demeter. Mistress is her popular surname, just as the daughter of Demeter by Zeus is surnamed the Maid. The real name of the Maid is Proserpine, as it occurs in the poetry of Homer and of Pamphos before him; but the true name of the Mistress I fear to communicate to the uninitiated.
(Pausanias VIII, 37:7-9)
The temple of this cult is described also by Pausanias:
In front of the temple is an altar to Demeter, and another to the Mistress, and after it one to the Great Mother. The images of the goddesses, namely, the mistress and Demeter, as well as the throne on which they sit and the footstool under their feet, are all made of a single block of stone. None of the drapery or work about the throne is made of a different stone, attached with iron clamps or cement: all is of one block, This block was not fetched from outside: they say that, following directions given in a dream, they found it by digging within the enclosure. The size of each of the two images is about that of the image of the Mother at Athens. They are also works of Damophon. Demeter carries a torch in her right hand, the other hand is laid on the Mistress. The Mistress has a scepter, and the basket, as it is called, on her knees: she holds the basket with her right hand.
(Pausanias VIII, 37:2-4)
We find instructions given in a dream in the story of another Arcadian cult:
The other mountain, Mount Elaius, is about thirty furlongs from Phigalia: there is a cave there sacred to Demeter surnamed the Black. All that the people of Thelpusa say touching the loves of Poseidon and Demeter is believed by the Phigalians; but the Phigalians say that Demeter gave birth not to a horse, but to her whom the Arcadians name the Mistress, and they say that afterwards Demeter, wroth with Poseidon, and mourning the rape of Proserpine, put on black raiment, and entering this grotto tarried there in seclusion a long while. But when all the fruits of the earth were wasting away, and the race of man was perishing still more of hunger, none of the other gods, it would seem, knew where Demeter was hid; but Pan, roving over Arcadia, and hunting now on one mountain, now on another, came at last to Mount Elaius, and spied Demeter, and saw the plight she was in, and the garb she wore. So Zeus learnt of his from Pan, and sent the Fates to Demeter, and she hearkened to the Fates, and swallowed her wrath, and abated even from her grief.
For that reason the Phigalians say that they accounted the grotto sacred to Demeter, and set up in it an image of wood. The image, they say, was made thus: it was seated on a rock, and was in the likeness of a woman, all but the head; the head and the hair were those of a horse, and attached to the head were figures of serpents and other wild beasts; she was clad in a tunic that reached even to her feet; on one of her hands was a dolphin, and on the other a dove. Why they made the image thus is plain to any man of ordinary sagacity who is versed in legendary lore. They say they surnamed her Black, because the garb the goddess wore was black. They do not remember who made this wooden image, nor how it caught fire. When the old image disappeared the Phigalians did not give the goddess another in its stead, and as to the festivals and sacrifices, why they neglected most of them, until a dearth came upon the land; then they besought the god, and the Pythian priestess answered them as follows: -
Arcadians, Azanians, acorn-eaters, who inhabit Phigalia, the cave where the Horse-mother Deo lay hid,
You come to learn a riddance of grievous famine,
You who alone have been nomads twice, and twice tasted the berries wild.
'Twas Deo stopped your pasturing, and 'twas Deo caused you again
To go without the cakes of herdsmen who drag the ripe ears home,
Because she was robbed of privileges that men of old bestowed on her and of her ancient honors,
And soon shall she make you to eat each other, and to feast on your children,
If you appease not her wrath with libations offered of the whole people,
And if you adorn not the nook of the tunnel with honors divine.
When the oracle was reported to them, the Phigalians held Demeter in higher honor than before, and in particular they induced Onatas, the Aeginetan, son of Micon, to make them an image of Demeter for so much. There is a bronze Apollo at Pergamus by this Onatus, which is one of the greatest marvels both for size and workmanship. So he made a bronze image for the Phigalians guided by a painting or a copy which he discovered of the ancient wooden image; but he relied mainly, it is said, on directions received in dreams.
(Pausanias VIII, 42:1-7, 11)
The next example implies that the mysteries of the Cabiri were derived from Eleusis.
However that may be, the first who reigned in this country were Polycaon, son of Lelex, and his wife Messene. It was to this Messene that Caucon, son of Celaenus, son of Phylus, brought the orgies of the Great Goddesses from Eleusis. The Athenians say that Phylus himself was a son of Earth, and they are supported by the hymn which Musaeus composed on Demeter for Lycomids. But many years after the time of Caucon the mysteries of the Great Goddesses were raised to higher honor by Lycus, son of Pandion; and the place where he purified the initiated is still named the oak-coppice of Lycus.... And that this Lycus was the son of Pandion is shown by the verses inscribed on the statue of Methapus. For Methapus also made some changes in the mode of celebrating the mysteries. Methapus was an Athenian by descent, and he was a devisor of Mysteries and all sorts of orgies It was he who instituted the mysteries of the Cabiri for the Thebans; and he also set up in the chapel of the Lycomids a statue inscribed with an epigram, which contains a passage confirming what I have said: -
And I purified houses of Hermes ... and paths
Of Demeter and of the first-born Maid, where they say
That Messene instituted for the Great Goddesses a rite
Which she learned from Caucon, illustrious scion of Phylus.
And I marveled how Lycus, son of Pandion,
Established all the sacred rites of Atthis in dear Andania.
(Pausanias IV, 1:5-8)
The following Arcadian cult implies the mythology of the Homeric Hymn.
At the other or western end of the colonnade there is an enclosure sacred to the Great Goddesses. The Great Goddesses are Demeter and the Maid, as I have already shown in my account of Messenia. The Maid is called Savior by the Arcadians.... With regard to the image of the Great Goddesses, that of Demeter is of stone throughout, but the drapery of the Savior is of wood. The height of each is about fifteen feet. The images ... and before them he made small images of girls in tunics reaching to their ankles: each of the two girls bears on her head a basket full of flowers: they are said to be the daughters of Damophon. But those who put a religious interpretation on them think that they are Athena and Artemis gathering flowers with Proserpine.
(Pausanias VIII, 31:1-2)
In his section on Boeotia Pausanias describes another Cabirian mystery cult with origin from Demeter.
Five-and-twenty furlongs from here you come to a grove of Cabirian Demeter and the Maid: the initiated are allowed to enter it. About seven furlongs from this grove is the sanctuary of the Cabiri. I must crave pardon of the curious if I preserve silence as to who the Cabiri are, and what rites are performed in honor of them and their mother. There is, however, nothing to prevent me disclosing the account which the Thebans give of the origin of the rites. They say that in this place there was once a city, the men of which were named Cabiri; and that Demeter made the acquaintance of Prometheus, one of the Cabiri, and of his son Aetnaeus, and entrusted something to their care; but what it was he entrusted to them and what happened to it, I thought it wrong to set down. At all events, the mysteries are a gift of Demeter to the Cabiri.
(Pausanias IX, 25:5-6)
He adds this extraordinary occurrence:
Once more, when Alexander after his victory gave Thebes and all the land of Thebes to the flames, some Macedonians who entered the sanctuary of the Cabiri because it was in the enemy's country, were destroyed by thunderbolts and lightening from heaven. So holy has this sanctuary been from the beginning.
(Pausanias IX, 25:10)
Here is another example of divine punishment and reward:
But the most remarkable object of all is a sanctuary of Demeter on Mount Pron. The Hermionians say that the founders of this sanctuary were Clymenus, son of Phoroneus, and his sister Chthonia. But the Argive story is this. When Demeter came to Argolis she was hospitably received by Athera and Mysius. However, Colontas neither opened his house to the goddess nor paid her any other mark of respect. But this churlish behavior was not to the mind of his daughter Chthonia. They each had their reward: the house of Colontas was burnt down and he in it; but Chthonia was brought by Demeter to Hermion and founded the sanctuary. However that may have been, the goddess herself is certainly called Chthonia ('subterranean'), and they celebrate a festival called Chthonia every year in summer-time.
(Pausanias II, 35:4-5)
Another set of mysteries in Arcadia taken from Eleusis:
The Pheneatians have also a sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Eleusinian, and they celebrate mysteries in her honor, alleging that rites identical with those performed at Eleusis were instituted in their land; for Naus, they say, a grandson of Eumolpus, came to their country in obedience to an oracle from Delphi. Beside the sanctuary of the Eleusinian goddess is what is called the Petroma, two great stones fitted to each other. Every second year, when they are celebrating what they call the Greater Mysteries they open these stones, and taking out of them certain writings which bear on the mysteries, they read them in the hearing of the initiated, and put them back in their place that same night. I know, too, that on the weightiest matters most of the Pheneatians swear by the Petroma. There is a round top on it, which contains a mask of Demeter Cidaria: this mask the priest puts on his face at the Greater Mysteries, and smites the Underground Folk with rods. I suppose there is some legend to account for the custom. The Pheneatians have a legend that Demeter came hither on her wanderings even before Naus; and that to those of the Pheneatians who welcomed her hospitably she gave all the different kinds of pulse except beans. They have a sacred story about the bean to show why they think it an unclean kind of pulse. The men who received the goddess, according to the Pheneatian legend, were Trisaules and Damithales: They built a temple of Demeter Thesmia ('goddess of laws') under Mount Cyllene, and instituted in her honor the mysteries which they still celebrate.
(Pausanias VIII, 15:1-4)
Strabo summarizes many different rites this way:
Now most of the Greeks assigned to Dionysus, Apollo, Hecate, the Muses, and above all to Demeter, everything of an orgiastic or Bacchic or choral nature, as well as the mystic element in initiations; and they give the name "Iacchus" not only to Dionysus but also to the leader-in-chief of the mysteries, who is the genius of Demeter. And branch-bearing, choral dancing, and initiations are common elements in the worship of these gods. As for the Muses and Apollo, the Muses preside over the choruses, whereas Apollo presides both over these and the rites of divination. But all educated men, and especially the musician, are ministers of the Muses; and both these and those who have to do with divination are ministers of Apollo; and the initiated and torch-bearers and hierophants, of Demeter; and the Sileni and Satyri and Bacchae, and also the Lenae and Thyiae and Mimallones and Naides and Nymphae and the beings called Tityri, of Dionysus.
(Strabo Geography X, 3:10)
Pindar indicates the introduction of Dionysus to Demeter in relation to music or perhaps his well known function of dancing.
Was it haply, when you did bring into being Dionysus of the flowing locks, who is enthroned beside Demeter of the clashing cymbals?
(Isthmian VII, 3-5)
In Sophocles' Antigone, the chorus calls upon Dionysus as he who welcomes the initiates to Eleusis.
O you of many names, glory of the Cadmeian bride, offspring of loud-thundering Zeus! you who watches over famed Italia, and reigns, where all guests are welcomed, in the sheltered plain of Eleusinian Deo! O Bacchus,
Pausanias gives this description:
Hard by is a temple of Demeter with images of the goddess, her daughter, and Iacchus, who is holding a torch. An inscription in Attic letters on the wall declares that they are works of Praxiteles.
Diodorus relates the original Dionysus as the son of Persephone herself.
This god (Dionysus) was born in Crete, men say, of Zeus and Persephone, and Orpheus has handed down the tradition in the initiatory rites that he was torn in pieces by the Titans.
Many references to Iacchos, the divine child, will be found throughout the essay.
It is impossible to conclude how significant an influence Orphism had on Eleusis for there is no solid evidence for it or against it. Pausanias says this of the renowned mystic:
In my opinion Orpheus was a man who surpassed his predecessors in the beauty of his poetry, and attained great power because he was believed to have discovered mystic rites, purifications for wicked deeds, remedies for diseases, and modes of averting the wrath of the gods.... But some say that Orpheus was struck dead by the god with a thunderbolt on account of certain revelations which he had made to men at the mysteries.
The varieties of mystical experience hymned by Orpheus often are related to Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus (translated Ceres, Proserpine, and Bacchus respectively) and refer to mystic rites or Telete, which means the celebration of the Mysteries from teleo, to make perfect. (Mylonas Eleusis p. 320) Although not necessarily used in the Eleusinian Mysteries, these hymns give one the feeling of a comparable mysticism We have already given "To Proserpine," "To Pluto," and "To Ceres," and all of the following refer directly to Bacchus, Demeter (Ceres), or Persephone (Proserpine); the first is complete, the rest selections. These were sung by devoted mystics to their gods.
To Amphietus Bacchus
Terrestrial Dionysus, hear my pray'r,
Rise vigilant with Nymphs of lovely hair:
Great Amphietus Bacchus, annual God,
Who laid asleep in Proserpine's abode,
Her sacred seat, didst lull to drowsy rest
The rites triennial and the sacred feast;
Which rous'd again by thee, in graceful ring,
Thy nurses round thee mystic anthems sing;
When briskly dancing with rejoicing pow'rs,
Thou mov'st in concert with the circling hours,
Come blessed, fruitful, horned, and divine,
And on this sacred Telete propitious shine;
Accept the pious incense and the pray'r,
And make prolific holy fruits thy care.
Of Jove and Proserpine occultly born
In beds ineffable; all-bless'd pow'r,
Whom with triennial off'rings men adore.
Immortal daemon, hear my suppliant voice,
Give me in blameless plenty to rejoice;
And listen gracious to my mystic pray'r,
Surrounded with thy choir of nurses fair,
To the Nereids
Give plenteous wealth, and bless our mystic rites;
For you at first disclosed the rites divine,
Of holy Bacchus and of Proserpine,
To the Nymphs
With Bacchus and with Ceres hear my pray'r,
And to mankind abundant favor bear;
Propitious listen to your suppliant's voice,
Come, and benignant in these rites rejoice;
Give plenteous seasons and sufficient wealth,
And pour in lasting streams, continued health.
Whom Proserpine permits to view the light,
And visit mortals from the realms of night.
Constant attending on the sacred rites,
And feast triennial, which thy soul delights;
When thy son's wondrous birth mankind relate
And secrets pure and holy celebrate.
Now I invoke thee, great Cadmean queen,
To bless thy mystics, lenient and serene.
Descended from the secret bed divine
Of Pluto's queen, the fair-hair'd Proserpine.
'Tis thine to sink in Tartarus profound,
And shine again thro' heav'ns illustrious round
Come, timely pow'r, with providential care,
And to thy mystics earth's productions bear.
To the Curetes
Fam'd deities the guards of Proserpine,
Preserving rites mysterious and divine:
To the Seasons
Invested with a veil of shining dew,
A flow'ry veil delightful to the view:
Attending Proserpine, when back from night
The Fates and Graces lead her up to light;
When in a band harmonious they advance,
And joyful round her form the solemn dance.
With Ceres triumphing, and Jove divine,
Propitious come, and on our incense shine;
Give earth a store of blameless fruits to bear,
And make these novel mystics' life your care.
Great daemon, source of all, whose pow'r can make
The sacred basis of blest Ceres shake,...
Send to thy mystics necessary wealth,
With gentle peace, and ever tranquil health.
Of all that Ceres' fertile realms contains,
By which th'all parent Goddess life sustains,
Or dismal Tartarus is doom'd to keep,
Widely extended, or the sounding deep;
For thee all Nature's various realms obey,
Who rul'st alone, with universal sway.
Come, blessed pow'r, regard these mystic fires,
And far avert unlawful mad desires.
By thee transmuted, Ceres' body pure
Became a dragon's savage and obscure.
Avert thy anger, hear me when I pray,
And, by fix'd fate, drive fancy's fears away.
More selections refer to mystic rites. (Ibid.) To Orpheus the whole cosmos is alive and divine.
To the Sun
Propitious on these mystic labors shine,
And bless thy suppliants with a life divine.
To the Moon
Shine on these sacred rites with prosp'rous rays,
And pleas'd accept thy suppliants' mystic praise.
To the Stars
These sacred rites regard with conscious rays,
And end our works devoted to your praise.
Hear me, O queen, and fav'rbly attend,
And to this Telete divine afford a pleasing end.
To the Daemon
O holy blessed father, hear my pray'r,
Disperse the seed of life-consuming care,
With fav'ring mind the sacred rites attend,
And grant to life a glorious blessed end.
To the Muse
Commanding queens, who lead to sacred light
The intellect refin'd from Error's night;
And to mankind each holy rite disclose,
For mystic knowledge from your nature flows....
Come, venerable, various pow'rs divine,
With fav'ring aspect on your mystics shine;
Bring glorious, ardent, lovely, fam'd desire,
And warm my bosom with your sacred fire .
For all the culture of our life is thine.
Come, blessed pow'r and to these rites incline:
Thy holy light increase, and unconfin'd
Diffuse its radiance on thy mystics' mind
Honor'd by all, of form divinely bright,
Majestic virgin, wand'ring in the night.
Mankind from thee first learnt perfective rites,
And Bacchus' nightly choirs thy soul delights;
For the God's honors to disclose is thine,
And holy mysteries and rites divine.
Be present Goddess, to my pray'r inclin'd,
And bless thy Telete with fav'ring mind.
Hear me, O Death, whose empire unconfin'd
Extends to mortal tribes of ev'ry kind.
On thee the portion of our time depends,
Whose absence lengthens life, whose presence ends.
Thy sleep perpetual bursts the vivid folds
By which the soul attracting body holds:
To Mnemosyne or the Goddess of Memory
The consort I invoke of Jove divine,
Source of the holy, sweetly speaking Nine;
Free from th'oblivion of the fallen mind,
By whom the soul with intellect is join'd.
Reason's increase and thought to thee belong,
All-powerful, pleasant, vigilant and strong.
'Tis thine to waken from lethargic rest
All thoughts deposited within the breast;
And naught neglecting, vig'rous to excite
The mental eye from dark oblivion's night
Come, blessed pow'r, thy mystics' mem'ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe's fetters break.
Propitious on a novel mystic shine,
And crown his wishes with a life divine.
(Taylor Mystical Hymns of Orpheus )
In Shakespeare's Tempest, Prospero invokes Ceres to bless the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda. Ceres sings:
Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barn and garners never empty,
Vines with clust'ring bunches growing,
Plants with goodly burthen bowing:
Spring come to you at the farthest
In the very end of harvest'
Scarcity and want shall shun you;
Ceres' blessing so is on you.
(IV, I, 110-117)
The earth, again, they looked upon as a kind of vessel which holds all growing things and so gave it the name "mother;" and in like manner the Greeks also call it Demeter, the word having been slightly changed in the course of time; for in olden time they called her Ge Meter (Earth Mother), to which Orpheus bears witness when he speaks of "Earth the Mother of all, Demeter giver of wealth."
Socrates terms her:
Demeter is who gives food like a mother;
(Plato Cratylus 404c)
In his Golden Bough James George Frazer has emphasized the nature aspects of the deities. He has collected the following epithets for Demeter which he found in relation to her agricultural function: "Wheat-lover," "She of the Corn," "Sheaf-bearer," "She of the Threshing-floor," "She of the Winnowing-fan," "Nurse of the Corn-ears," "Crowned with :Ears of Corn," "She of the Seed," "She of the Green Fruits," "Heavy with Summer fruits," "Fruit-bearer," "She of the Great Loaf," and "She of the Great Barley Loaf." (Spirits of the Corn Vol. 1, p. 110-117) Porphyry explained kore (maiden) as being the feminine form of koros (sprout).
Athenaeus gives us a beautiful fragment from a non-extant play of Aeschylus, showing Love to be the essential factor behind Demeter's nurturing:
Again, the most august Aeschylus, in his Danaids, introduces Aphrodite herself saying: "The chaste heaven loves to violate the earth, and love lays hold on earth to join in wedlock. The rain from the streaming heaven falls down and impregnates the earth; and she brings forth her mortals the pasturage of sheep and Demeter's sustenance; and the ripe season for the trees is perfected by the watery union. Of all this I am the cause."
(The Deipnosophists XIII, 600b)
In art Persephone sometimes appears rising out of the earth as the personification of the young grain sprouting in the spring. A coin of Lampsacus of the fourth century CE is a good example and is described by Percy Gardner in Types of Greek Coins. Nilsson in his Greek Folk Religion explains the Corn Maiden emerging from the ground surrounded by three satyrs dancing who strike the ground with their hammers as a common practice of smashing the clods of earth after plowing which is done before the grain sprouts. (p. 53-54)
Diodorus gives this allegorical interpretation of Dionysus, Zeus, and Demeter:
Furthermore, the early men have given Dionysus the name of "Dimetor" ("twice-born"), reckoning it as a single and first birth when the plant is set in the ground and begins to grow, and as a second birth when it becomes laden with fruit and ripens its clusters, the god, therefore, being considered as having been born once from the earth and again from the vine. And though the writers of myths have handed down the account of a third birth as well, at which as they say the sons of Gaia tore to pieces the god, who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him, but his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time, such accounts as this they trace back to certain causes found in nature. For he is considered to be the son of Zeus and Demeter, they hold, by reason of the fact that the vine gets its growth both from the earth and from rain and so bears as its fruit the wine which is pressed out from the clusters of grapes; and the statement that he was torn to pieces, while yet a youth, by the "earth-born" signifies the harvesting of the fruit by the laborers, and the boiling of his members has been worked into a myth by reason of the fact that most men boil the wine and then mix it, thereby improving its natural aroma and quality. Again, the account of his members, which the "earth-born" treated with despite, being brought together again and restored to their former natural state, shows forth that the vine, which has been stripped of its fruit and pruned at the yearly seasons, is restored by the earth to the high level of fruitfulness which it had before. For, in general, the ancient poets and writers of myths spoke of Demeter as Ge Meter (Earth Mother). And with these stories the teachings agree which are set forth in the Orphic poems and are introduced into their rites, but it is not lawful to recount them in detail to the uninitiated.
(Diodorus III, 62:5-8)
Diodorus has more on the agricultural deities Demeter and the second of three Dionysuses he distinguishes in his Library of History.
And in general, the myths relate that the gods who receive the greatest approval at the hands of human beings are those who excelled in their benefactions by reason of their discovery of good things, namely, Dionysus and Demeter, the former because he was the discoverer of the most pleasing drink, the latter because she gave to the race of men the most excellent of the dry foods.
Some writers of myths, however, relate that there was a second Dionysus who was much earlier in time than the one we have just mentioned. For according to them there was born of Zeus and Persephone a Dionysus who is called by some Sabazius and whose birth and sacrifices and honors are celebrated at night and in secret, because of the disgrace resulting from the intercourse of the sexes. They state also that he excelled in sagacity and was the first to attempt the yoking of oxen and by their aid to effect the sowing of the seed, this being the reason why they also represent him as wearing a horn.
(Diodorus IV, 3-4)
The second Dionysus, the writers of myth relate, was born to Zeus by Persephone, though some say it was Demeter. He is represented by them as the first man to have yoked oxen to the plough, human beings before that time having prepared the ground by hand. Many other things also, which are useful for agriculture, were skillfully devised by him, whereby the masses were relieved of their great distress; and in return for this those whom he had benefited accorded to him honors and sacrifices like those offered to the gods, since all men were eager, because of the magnitude of his service to them, to accord to him immortality. And as a special symbol and token the painters and sculptors represented him with horns, at the same time making manifest thereby the other nature of Dionysus and also showing forth the magnitude of the service which he had devised for the farmers by his invention of the plough.
(Diodorus III, 64)
Writing about the Egyptians in his Isis and Osiris, Plutarch describes the feelings behind primitive farming and how they could easily lead to an analogy with death.
The season of the year also gives us a suspicion that this gloominess is brought about because of the disappearance from our sight of the crops and fruits that people in days of old did not regard as gods, but as necessary and important contributions of the gods toward the avoidance of a savage and a bestial life. At the time of year when they saw some of the fruit vanishing and disappearing completely from the tree, while they themselves were sowing others in a mean and poverty-stricken fashion still, scraping away the earth with their hands and again replacing it, committing the seed to the ground with uncertain expectation of their ever appearing again or coming to fruition they did many things like persons at a funeral in mourning for their dead.
(Isis and Osiris 70)
Frazer describes how the anxieties of the ancient Greek farmer in regard to whether were released through a festival of supplication to Demeter. The festival called Proeroia sends the first fruits of the harvest to Athens to avoid famine. (Spirits of the Corn Vol. 1, p. 51)
Hesiod in his Works and Days of the ninth century BC indicates how much the blessings of Demeter meant to the farmer of those ancient times.
Little concern has he with quarrels and courts who has not a year's victuals laid up betimes, even that which the earth bears, Demeter's grain.
(Hesiod Works and Days 31)
But do you at any rate, always remembering my charge, work, high-born Perses, that Hunger may hate you, and venerable Demeter richly crowned may love you and fill your barn with food.
Pray to Zeus of the Earth and to pure Demeter to make Demeter's holy grain sound and heavy, when first you begin ploughing, when you hold in your hand the end of the plough-tail and bring down your stock on the backs of the oxen as they draw on the pole-bar by the yoke-straps.
In the same ancient work, Hesiod gives instructions on how to consult the stars to determine when to plow and harvest.
When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, are rising, begin your harvest, and your ploughing when they are going to set. Forty nights and days they are hidden and appear again as the year moves round, when first you sharpen your sickle. This is the law of the plains, and of those who live near the sea, and who inhabit rich country, the glens and dingles far from the tossing sea,---strip to sow and strip to plough and strip to reap, if you wish to get in all Demeter's fruits in due season, and that each kind may grow in its season.
Set your slaves to winnow Demeter's holy grain, when strong Orion first appears, on a smooth threshing-floor in an airy place.
But when the Pleiades and Hyades and strong Orion begin to set, then remember to plough in season: and so the completed year will fitly pass beneath the earth.
The Pleiades are near the end of Taurus, and Orion covers the end of Taurus and the beginning of Gemini. Thus the sun passed through them in Hesiod's time during May. While the sun was passing their portion of the zodiac they would not be visible, but shortly thereafter they would be seen just before sunrise. In this way the Pleiades would indicate harvest and Orion threshing. They would be setting just before sunrise at the opposite time of the year in November, the time for plowing in the Aegean climate.
Euripides' extant tragedy The Suppliants is set at Eleusis and begins with these supplications of Aethra:
O Demeter, guardian of this Eleusinian land, and you servants of the goddess who attend her sanctuary, grant happiness to me and my son Theseus, to the city of Athens and the country of Pittheus.... Now it chanced, that I had left my house and come to offer sacrifice on behalf of the earth's crop at this shrine, where first the fruitful corn showed its bristling shocks above the soil. And here at the holy altar of the twain goddesses, Demeter and her daughter, I wait, holding these sprays of foliage, a bond that binds not, in compassion for these childless mothers, hoary with age, and from reverence for the sacred fillets.
(The Suppliants 1-4, 30-35)
Ovid pleads for the bull which serves man well, giving over the useless pig for sacrifice . As far as we know the trend at Eleusis was in this direction.
You attendants, with tucked up robes, take the knives away from the ox; let the ox plough; sacrifice the lazy sow. The ax should never smite the neck that fits the yoke; let him live and often labor in the hard soil.
(Fasti IV, 409-416)
Finally he gives us the sentiment of kind gods.
Good Ceres is content with little, if that little be but pure.
(Fasti IV 407-408)
Herodotus gives this cryptic account:
On this lake it is that the Egyptians represent by night his sufferings whose name I refrain from mentioning, and this representation they call their Mysteries. I know well the whole course of the proceedings in these ceremonies, but they shall not pass my lips. So too, with regard to the mysteries of Demeter, which the Greek term "the Thesmophoria," I know them, but I shall not mention them, except so far as may be done without impiety. The daughters of Danaus brought these rites from Egypt, and taught them to the Pelasgic women of the Peloponnese. Afterward, when the inhabitants of the peninsula were driven from their homes by the Dorians, the rites perished. Only in Arcadia, where the natives remained and were not compelled to migrate, their observance continued.
(The History II, 171)
Both Hesiod and Homer briefly mention a grain ritual on a threshing floor.
Look about you very carefully and throw out Demeter's holy grain upon the well-rolled threshing floor on the seventh of the mid-month.
(Hesiod Works and Days 805-807)
As the breezes sport with the chaff upon some goodly threshing floor, when men are winnowing - while yellow Demeter blows with the wind to sift the chaff from the grain, and the chaff-heaps grow whiter and whiter -
(Homer Iliad V, 499-502)
The Stemia on the 7th of Pyanepsion, the month after Boedromion, was the last festival before the Thesmophoria when the women ate the pomegranate seeds and probably was concerned with the mother's visit to her daughter in the underworld. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 149-150) The sexual symbolism of the pomegranate finds elaboration in Athenaeus' discussion of mylloi..
Heracleides of Syracuse in his work On Institutions says that in Syracuse, on the Day of Consummation at the Thesmophoria, cakes of sesame and honey were molded in the shape of the female pudenda, and called throughout the whole of Sicily mylloi and carried about in honor of the goddesses.
(The Deipnosophists XIV, 646f)
Nilsson recounts how in a fertility ritual connected to the Thesmophoria during threshing pigs were thrown into subterranean hollows, and the putrefied remains were brought back up at the autumn Thesmophoria festival of sowing, laid on altars, and mixed with seed corn as a fertility charm. The swine was the animal sacred to Demeter, and pigs were sacrificed prior to initiation. Figures of swine are found at Eleusis. (Greek Folk Religion p. 49) Pausanias also relates this ritual to Demeter and Persephone.
When you have crossed the Asopus and are just ten furlongs from the city you come to the ruins of Potniae. Amongst them is a grove of Demeter and the Maid, The images at the river which flows past Potniae ... they name the goddesses. At a stated time they perform certain customary ceremonies: in particular they throw sucking pigs into what they call the hallsy and they say that at the same time next year those pigs appear at Dodona.
(Pausanias IX, 8:1)
So strongly did the Eleusinian Mysteries underlie Greek culture, that every year a peace was declared for their celebration, the truce lasting throughout the Greek world for fifty-five days. O marvelous power of the goddesses who can bring peace to mankind! Even in certain cases involving foreigners who obeyed no Greek traditions they seemed to exert a force in war when the sanctity of Eleusis was imperiled. Once the Persians had burned the sanctuary at Eleusis; supernatural forces prevented the same fate again, aiding the Greeks at Salamis to the most crucial victory in their history. Plutarch relates how Aristides thoughtfully consulted the gods before the battle.
Tisamenus, the Elean, had prophesied to Pausanias and all the Greeks, and foretold them victory if they made no attempt upon the enemy, but stood on their defense. But Aristides sending to Delphi, the god answered that the Athenians should overcome their enemies in case they made supplication to Zeus and Hera of Cithaeron, Pan and the nymphs Shragitides, and sacrificed to the heroes Androcrates, Leucon, Pisander, Damocrates, Hypsion, Actaeon, and Polyidus; and if they fought within their own territories in the plain of Demeter Eleusinia and Persephone....
But the plain of Demeter Eleusinia, and the offer of victory to the Athenians, if they fought on their own territories, recalled them again, and transferred the war into the country of Attica. In this juncture, Arimnestus, who commanded the Plataeans, dreamed that Zeus, the Savior, asked him what the Greeks had resolved upon; and that he answered, "Tomorrow, my Lord, we march our army to Eleusis, and there give the barbarians battle according to the directions of the oracle of Apollo."
(Plutarch Aristides 12)
Herodotus gives two accounts of the mystical events before and during the battle which took place on the same day as the Mysteries were due to be celebrated (around September 23 on our calendar) in the year 480 BC.
The following is a tale which was told by Dicaeus, the son of Theocydes, an Athenian, who was at this time in exile and had gained a good report among the Medes. He declared that after the army of Xerxes had, in the absence of the Athenians, wasted Attica, he chanced to be with Demaratus, the Lacedaemonian in the Thriasian plain, and that while there, he saw a cloud of dust advancing from Eleusis, such as a host of thirty thousand men might raise. As he and his companion were wondering who the men, from whom the dust arose, could possibly be, a sound of voices reached his ear, and he thought that he recognized the mystic hymn to Bacchus, Now Demaratus was unacquainted with the rites of Eleusis, and so he inquired of Dicaeus what the voices were saying. Dicaeus made answer -
O Demaratus! beyond a doubt some mighty calamity is about to befall the king's army! For it is manifest, inasmuch as Attica is deserted by its inhabitants, that the sound which we have heard is an unearthly one and is now upon its way from Eleusis to aid the Athenians and their confederates. If it descends upon the Peloponnese, danger will threaten the king himself and his land army - if it moves towards the ships at Salamis, 'twill go hard but the king's fleet there suffers destruction. Every year the Athenians celebrate this feast to the Mother and the Daughter; and all who wish, whether they be Athenians or any other Greeks, are initiated. The sound thou hearest is the Bacchic song, which is wont to be sung at that festival.
"Hush now," rejoined the other; "and see thou tell no man of this matter. For if thy words be brought to the king's ear, thou wilt assuredly lose thy head because of them; neither I nor any man living can save thee. Hold thy peace therefore. The gods will see to the king's army." Thus Demaratus counseled him; and they looked, and saw the dust, from which the sound arose, become a cloud, and the cloud rise up into the air and sail away to Salamis, making for the station of the Grecian fleet. Then they knew it was the fleet of Xerxes which would suffer destruction. Such was the tale told by Dicaeus the son of Theocydes; and he appealed for its truth to Demaratus and other eye-witnesses.
(Herodotus VIII, 65)
The Persians, as soon as they were put to flight by the Lacedaemonians, ran hastily away, without preserving any order, and took refuge in their own camp, within the wooden defense which they had raised in the Theban territory. It is a marvel to me how it came to pass, that although the battle was fought quite close to the grove of Demeter, yet not a single Persian appears to have died on the sacred soil, nor even to have set foot upon it, while round about the precinct, in the unconsecrated ground, great numbers perished. I imagine - if it is lawful, in matters which concern the gods, to imagine anything - that the goddess herself kept them out, because they had burnt her dwelling at Eleusis. Such, then, was the issue of this battle.
(Herodotus IX, 65)
Plutarch also records how Themistocles who was in love with the same woman as Aristides, manages to carry off the battle foreseen by the oracle.
It is reported that, in the middle of the fight, a great flame rose into the air above the city of Eleusis, and that sounds and voices were heard through all the Thriasian plain, as far as the sea, sounding like a number of men accompanying and escorting the mystic Iacchus, and that a mist seemed to form and rise from the place from whence the sounds came, and, passing forward, fell upon the galleys. Others believed that they saw apparitions, in the shape of armed men, reaching out their hands from the island of Aegina before Grecian galleys; and supposed they were the Aeacidae, whom they had invoked to their aid before the battle. The first man that took a ship was Lycomedes the Athenian, captain of the galley, who cut down its ensign, and dedicated it to Apollo the Laurel-crowned. And as the Persians fought in a narrow arm of the sea, and could bring but part of their fleet to fight, and fell foul of one another, the Greeks thus equaled them in strength and fought with them till the evening forced them back, and obtained, as says Simonides, that noble and famous victory, than which neither amongst the Greek nor barbarians was ever known more glorious exploit on the seas; by the joint valor, indeed, and zeal of all who fought, but by the wisdom and sagacity of Themistocles.
(Plutarch Themistocles 15)
Throughout these descriptions we find Iacchus to be a significant part of the celebration, A more unfortunate event is described in Plutarch's Life of Phocion on the celebrations' last day in Athens.
The resentment felt upon it was heightened by the time it happened in, for the garrison was brought in on the twentieth of the month of Boedromion just at the time of the great festival, when they carry forth Iacchus with solemn pomp from the city to Eleusis; so that the solemnity being disturbed, many began to call to mind instances, both ancient and modern, of divine interventions and intimations. For in old time, upon the occasions of their happiest successes, the presence of the shapes and voices of the mystic ceremonies had been vouchsafed to them, striking terror and amazement into their enemies; but now, at the very season of their celebration, the gods themselves stood witnesses of the saddest oppressions of Greece, the most holy time being profaned, and their greatest jubilee made the unlucky date of their most extreme calamity....
While a candidate for initiation was washing a young pig in the haven of Cantharus, a shark seized him, bit off all his lower parts up to the belly and devoured them, by which the god gave them manifestly to understand, that having lost the lower town and seacoast, they should keep only the upper city.
The Eleusinian Mysteries added greatly to the prestige of Athens. Isocrates states how the Delphic oracle supported Athens' claims to the first-fruits of other cities.
For most of the Hellenic cities, in memory of our ancient services, send us each year the first-fruits of the harvest, and those who neglect to do so have often been admonished by the Pythian priestess to pay us our due portion of their crops and to observe in relation to our city the customs of their fathers.
For the Greeks the performance of the mysteries was the time when the goddesses personally visited them. Athenaeus describes the arrival of the hero Demetrius during the celebration of the Greater Mysteries this way:
For the highest and dearest of the gods are come to our city. Hither, indeed, the time has brought together Demeter and Demetrius. She comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Daughter.
(The Deipnosophists VI, 253d)
Immediately after his victory at Actium Augustus was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries. In the year 20 BC he returned to Greece and ordered that the Mysteries be celebrated out of season so that the Brahman ambassador of King Poros of India could be admitted. However, the Brahman after witnessing the secret walked into the fire as a public demonstration of his lack of fear of death. (Kerenyi Eleusis p. 100-101)
Even after almost 2,000 years of annual celebration, the Eleusinian Mysteries seemed to have maintained their purity and potency, for Zosimos' account of Emperor Valentinian's attempt to end them in 364 CE brought a refusal from the proconsul of Greece, Praetextatus who declared that this ban would make the life of the Greeks unlivable because they hold the whole human race together, indicating that they still stood as the foundation of Greek religion and the unity of Hellenic peoples. This Hierophant ordered that the sacred Mysteries be celebrated according to the ancient tradition in disobedience of the Emperor's edict.
Whenever light descends to form and color, shadows appear. So the sacred must protect itself from profanation here below. The Greeks recognizing exceptional value guarded it carefully. Silence preserved the spiritual that speech might offend. The Eleusinian Mysteries are one of the most widely spread, best kept secrets in history.
And since they knew that in matters pertaining to the gods the city would be most enraged if any man should be shown to be violating the Mysteries
(Isocrates The Team of Horses 6)
Isocrates has expressed a common sentiment, also employed by one of Lucian's characters.
If I see some initiate of the Mysteries giving away the secret ritual and going through the dances in public, and I get angry and show him up, are you going to consider me the wrongdoer?
(Lucian The Fisherman 33)
Callimachus hints that the ability to hold one's tongue is prerequisite to initiation.
It is a great blessing for you that you have not seen the rites of the dread goddess, or else you would have spewed up their story too.
Aristotle touches on the same theme and also mentions the case of Aeschylus who was born at Eleusis and might have lost his life for the information he gave out in one of his lost plays, except that they could not prove that he had ever been initiated.
But of what he is doing a man might be ignorant, as for instance people say, 'It slipped out of their mouths as they were speaking,' or 'They did not know it was a secret,' as Aeschylus said of the mysteries.
(Nicomachaean Ethics III, I, 17)
Alcibiades, whose rowdy behavior is depicted in Plato's Symposium, is the most famous, or infamous, profaner of the mysteries. He actually mocked them through vulgar initiation. Andocides tells how he was brought to trial on the eve of a major military expedition.
The Assembly had met to give audience to Nicias, Lamachus, and Alcibiades, the generals about to leave with the Sicilian expedition - in fact, Lamachus' flag-ship was already lying off-shore - when suddenly Pythonicus rose before the people and cried: 'Countrymen, you are sending forth this mighty host in all its array upon a perilous enterprise. Yet your commander, Alcibiades, has been holding celebrations of the mysteries in a private house, and others with him; I will prove it, Grant immunity to him whom I indicate, and a non-initiate, a slave belonging to someone here present, shall describe the Mysteries to you. You can punish me as you will, if that is not the truth.'
(Andocides On the Mysteries 11-12)
Plutarch in his Life of Alcibiades gives the results of the case, adding an interesting anecdote showing the spirituality of one of the priestesses.
"Thessalus, the son of Cimon, of the township of Lacia, lays information that Alcibiades, the son of Clinias of the township of the Scambonidae, has committed a crime against the goddess Demeter and Persephone, by representing in derision the holy mysteries, and showing them to his companions in his own house. Where, being habited in such robes as are used by the chief priest, Polytion the torch-bearer, and Theodorus, of the township of Phegaea, the herald; and saluted the rest of his company as Initiates and Novices, all which was done contrary to the laws and institutions of the Eulmolpidae, and the heralds and priests of the temple at Eleusis."
He was condemned as contumacious upon his not appearing, his property confiscated, and it was decreed that all the priests and priestesses should solemnly curse him. But one of them, Theano, the daughter of Menon, of the township of Agraule, is said to have opposed that part of the decree, saying that her holy office obliged her to make prayers, but not execrations.
(Plutarch Alcibiades 34)
Demosthenes in his oration Against Neaera uses the case of a hierophant who favored a certain woman, as an example of the strictness of Athenian law.
It is worth your while, men of Athens, to consider this also - that you punished Archias, who had been hierophant, when he was convicted in court of impiety and of offering sacrifice contrary to the rites handed down by our fathers. Among the charges brought against him was, that at the feast of the harvest he sacrificed on the altar in the court at Eleusis a victim brought by the courtesan Sinope, although it was not lawful to offer victims on that day, and the sacrifice was not his to perform, but the priestess'! It is, then, a monstrous thing that a man who was of the race of the Eumolpidae, born of honorable ancestors and a citizen of Athens, should be punished for having transgressed one of your established customs; and the pleadings of his relatives and friends did not save him, nor the public services which he and his ancestors had rendered to the city; no, nor yet his office of hierophant; but you punished him, because he was judged to be guilty.
(Demosthenes Against Neaera 116-117)
Isocrates is not correct in condemning foreigners outright as knowledge of Greek was the only requirement for initiation; murderers were prohibited unless purified by the priests.
And at the celebration of the Mysteries, the Eumolpidae and the Kerykes, because of our hatred of the Persians, give solemn warning to the other barbarians also, even as to men guilty of murder, that they are forever banned from the sacred rites.
Pausanias tells the story of an Eleusinian martyr.
On the road from Athens to Eleusis, which the Athenians called the Sacred Way, there is the tomb of Anthemocritus. He was the victim of a most foul crime perpetuated by the Megarians; for when he came as a herald to forbid them to encroach on the sacred land, they slew him. And the wrath of the two goddesses abides upon them for that deed to this day; for they were the only Greek people whom even the Emperor Hadrian could not make to thrive.
(Pausanias I, 36:3)
Livy relates an unfortunate accident of the year 201 BC which led to war.
Now the Athenians had undertaken the war against Philip for no sufficient reason, since they retained nothing of their ancient greatness except their spirit. Two young men from Acarnania, during the celebration of the mysteries at Eleusis, though not initiated, had entered the temple of Ceres, ignorant that they were committing sacrilege, and merely following the crowd. Their words easily betrayed them, since they asked foolish questions, and though it was clear that they had come in openly and by mistake they were put to death as if they had committed some heinous crime. The Acarnanians reported this revolting and unfriendly act to Philip, and prevailed upon him to send them Macedonian aid and permit them to attack Athens.
(Livy XXI, xiv, 6-10)
Horace even feared the company of a violator of the sacred mysteries.
There is a sure reward for trusty silence, too. I will forbid the man who has divulged the sacred rites of mystic Ceres, to abide beneath the same roof or to unmoor with me the fragile bark.
(Horace Odes III, ii)