Mothers and daughters. Persephone and Demeter.

— korē
— Demeter

1a. Nikandre Korē, 7th c. BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

1b. Inscription on the Nikandre Korē. Image: beazley.ox.ac.uk. The inscription is written in boustrophedon, meaning ‘ox-turning’, like a plough in a field (left to right, then right to left etc.).

Inscription on Nikandre kore oxford

Nikandre dedicated me to the far-shooter of arrows,
the excellent daughter of Deinodikes of Naxos,
sister of Deinomenes, wife of Phraxos

2. Women in the Classical World p29:

“It has been suggested that the statues represent these young women in a specific situation known to us from Archaic literary sources, their appearance in religious sanctuaries on the occasion of public festivals…These were virtually the only times when a girl of marriageable age might appear in public, and the most behavior expected of her is echoed in the demure downward gaze of many korai. Yet at the same time, paradoxically, she might call attention to herself with her elegant clothes, elaborately styled hair, expensive jewelry, makeup, and even a gesture of pulling her garment tight, emphasizing breasts, legs, and buttocks. Her beauty makes her an adornment to her family, to be appraised by prospective husbands; yet she should not call attention to herself, lest she invite unwanted admirers.”

3. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 1-46

I begin to sing of Demeter, the holy goddess with the beautiful hair. And her daughter [Persephone] too. The one with the delicate ankles, whom Hades seized. She was given away by Zeus, the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide. Demeter did not take part in this, she of the golden double-axe, she who glories in the harvest. [5] She [Persephone] was having a good time, along with the daughters of Okeanos, who wear their girdles slung low. She was picking flowers: roses, crocus, and beautiful violets. Up and down the soft meadow. Iris blossoms too she picked, and hyacinth. And the narcissus, which was grown as a lure for the flower-faced girl by Gaia [Earth]. All according to the plans of Zeus. She [= Gaia] was doing a favor for the one who receives many guests [= Hades]. [10] It [the narcissus] was a wondrous thing in its splendor. To look at it gives a sense of holy awe to the immortal gods as well as mortal humans. It has a hundred heads growing from the root up. Its sweet fragrance spread over the wide skies up above. And the earth below smiled back in all its radiance. So too the churning mass of the salty sea.

[15] She [Persephone] was filled with a sense of wonder, and she reached out with both hands to take hold of the pretty plaything. And the earth, full of roads leading every which way, opened up under her. It happened on the Plain of Nysa. There it was that the Lord who receives many guests[= Hades] made his lunge. He was riding on a chariot drawn by immortal horses. The son of Kronos. The one known by many names. He seized her against her will, put her on his golden chariot, [20] And drove away as she wept. She cried with a piercing voice, calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos, the highest and the best. But not one of the immortal ones, or of human mortals, heard her voice. Not even the olive trees which bear their splendid harvest. Except for the daughter of Persaios, the one who keeps in mind the vigor of nature. [25] She heard it from her cave. She is Hekate, with the splendid headband. And the Lord Helios [Sun] heard it too, the magnificent son of Hyperion. They heard the daughter calling upon her father [Zeus], the son of Kronos. But he, all by himself, was seated far apart from the gods, inside a temple, the precinct of many prayers. He was receiving beautiful sacrificial rites from mortal humans.

[30] She was being taken, against her will, at the behest of Zeus, by her father’s brother, the one who makes many signs, the one who receives many guests, the son of Kronos, the one with many names. On the chariot drawn by immortal horses. So long as the earth and the star-filled sky were still within the goddess’s [Persephone’s] view, as also the fish-swarming sea, with its strong currents, [35] as also the rays of the sun, she still had hope that she would yet see her dear mother and that special group, the immortal gods. For that long a time her great mind was soothed by hope, distressed as she was. The peaks of mountains resounded, as did the depths of the sea, with her immortal voice. And the Lady Mother [Demeter] heard her.[40] And a sharp pain seized her heart. The headband on her hair she tore off with her own immortal hands and threw a dark cloak over her shoulders. She sped off like a bird, soaring over land and sea, looking and looking. But no one was willing to tell her the truth [45], not one of the gods, not one of the mortal humans, not one of the birds, messengers of the truth.

4. Hades abducts Persephone. Fresco from royal tomb at Vergina (ancient Aigai), Macedonia, c. 336 BCE. Vergina Archaeological Museum, in situ. Image: Wikimedia.


5. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 93-117.

She went away, visiting the cities of humans, with all their fertile landholdings, shading over her appearance, for a long time. And not one of men, [95] looking at her, could recognize her. Not one of women, either, who are accustomed to wear their girdles low-slung. Until, one day, she came to the house of bright-minded Keleos, who was at that time ruler of Eleusis, fragrant with incense. She sat down near the road, sad in her dear heart, at the well called Parthenion [= the Virgin’s Place], where the people of the polis used to draw water. [100] She sat in the shade, under the thick growth of an olive tree, looking like an old woman who had lived through many years and who is deprived of giving childbirth and of the gifts of Aphrodite, lover of garlands in the hair. She was like those nursemaids who belong to kings, administrators of divine ordinances, and who are guardians of children in echoing palaces.

[105] She was seen by the daughters of Keleos, son of Eleusinos, who were coming to get water, easy to draw [from the well], in order to carry it in bronze water-jars to the dear home of their father. There were four of them, looking like goddesses with their bloom of adolescence: Kallidike, Kleisidike, and lovely Demo. [110] And then there was Kallithoe, who was the eldest of them all. They did not recognize her [= Demeter]. Gods are hard for mortals to see. They [= the daughters] stood near her and spoke these winged words: “Who are you, and where are you from, old woman, old among old humans? Why has your path taken you far away from the city? Why have you not drawn near to the palace? [115] There, throughout the shaded chambers, are women who are as old as you are, and younger ones too, who would welcome you in word and in deed.”

6. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 184-204.

Straightaway they came to the palace of sky-nurtured Keleos. [185]. They went through the hall, heading for the place where their mistress, their mother, was sitting near the threshold of a well-built chamber, holding in her lap her son, a young seedling. And they ran over to her side. She [= Demeter] in the meantime went over to the threshold and stood on it, with feet firmly planted, and her head reached all the way to the ceiling. And she filled the whole indoors with a divine light. [190] She [= Metaneira] was seized by a sense of respect, by a holy wonder, by a blanching fear. She [= Metaneira] yielded to her [= Demeter] the chair on which she was sitting, and she told her to sit down. But Demeter, the bringer of seasons [horai], the giver of splendid gifts, refused to sit down on the splendid chair, but she stood there silent, with her beautiful eyes downcast, [195] until Iambe, the one who knows what is worth caring about  and what is not, set down for her a well-built stool, on top of which she threw a splendid fleece.

On this she [= Demeter] sat down, holding with her hands a veil before her face. For a long time she sat on the stool, without uttering a sound, in her sadness. And she made no approach, either by word or by gesture, to anyone. [200] Unsmiling, not partaking of food or drink, she sat there, wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle, until Iambe, the one who knows what is dear and what is not, started making fun. Making many jokes, she turned the Holy Lady’s disposition in another direction, making her smile and laugh and have a merry heart.

7. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 302-315.

But blond-haired Demeter sat down and stayed there [= in the temple], shunning the company of all the blessed ones [= the gods]. She was wasting away with yearning for her daughter with the low-slung girdle. [305] She made that year the most terrible one for mortals, all over the Earth, the nurturer of many. It was so terrible, it makes you think of the Hound of Hades. The Earth did not send up any seed. Demeter, she with the beautiful garlands in her hair, kept them [= the seeds] covered underground. Many a curved plough was dragged along the fields by many an ox – all in vain. Many a bright grain of wheat fell into the earth – all for naught.

[310] At this moment, she [= Demeter] could have destroyed the entire race of mortal humans with harsh hunger, thus depriving of their time the dwellers of the Olympian abodes – [the time of] sacrificial portions of meat for eating or for burning, if Zeus had not noticed with his mind, taking note in his heart. First, he sent Iris, with the golden wings, to summon [315] Demeter with the splendid hair, with a beauty that is much loved.

8. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 334-345.

But when the loud-thunderer, the one who sees far and wide, heard this, [335] he sent to Erebos [= Hades] the one with the golden wand, the Argos-killer [= Hermes], so that he may persuade Hades, with gentle words, that he allow holy Persephone to leave the misty realms of darkness and be brought up to the light in order to join the daimones [here = the gods in Olympus], so that her mother may see her with her own eyes and then let go of her anger. [340] Hermes did not disobey, but straightaway he headed down beneath the depths of the earth, rushing full speed, leaving behind the abode of Olympus. And he found the Lord inside his palace, seated on a funeral couch, along with his duly acquired bedmate, the one who was much under duress, yearning for her mother, and suffering from the unbearable things [345] inflicted on her by the will of the blessed ones [= the gods].

9a. Attic red-figure vase (kylix), c. 430 BCE. Interior of cup) shows Persephone, holding something small (pomegranate seed?), sitting and Hades, holding a cornucopia (right) and a phialē (centre), reclining on a couch. Image: British Museum.

Persephone and Hades.jpg


10. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th/6th c. BCE. Translated by Gregory Nagy. 370-384.

[370] And high-minded Persephone rejoiced. Swiftly she set out, with joy. But he [= Hades] gave her, stealthily, the honey-sweet berry of the pomegranate to eat, peering around him. He did not want her to stay for all time over there, at the side of her honorable mother, the one with the dark robe [375] The immortal horses were harnessed to the golden chariot by Hades, the one who makes many signs. She got up on the chariot, and next to her was the powerful Argos-killer, who took reins and whip into his dear hands and shot out of the palace [of Hades]. And the horses sped away eagerly. [380] Swiftly they made their way along the long journey. Neither the sea nor the water of the rivers nor the grassy valleys nor the mountain peaks could hold up the onrush of the immortal horses.

11. Apulian (South Italian) red-figure vase (volute krater), c. 370-350 BCE. Hermes left, accompanies Hades and Persephone in a chariot, with Hekate right. Image: British Museum.

persephone british museum.jpg