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Definition: Demeter from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1835) : the Greek goddess of agriculture compare ceres


Summary Article: Demeter
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Greek mythology, the goddess of agriculture, especially corn (Roman Ceres); daughter of the Titans Kronos and Rhea; and mother of Persephone by Zeus. Demeter and her daughter were worshipped in a sanctuary at Eleusis, where the Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the foremost mystery religions of Greece, were celebrated.

The Thesmophoria was a corn festival held in Demeter's honour at Athens and other centres. It also commemorated the introduction of law and the principles of civilized life, attributed to the goddess because agriculture was regarded as the basis of civilization. She was later identified with the Egyptian goddess Isis.

She is depicted carrying a sceptre and corn or a poppy, and sometimes also a basket and torch. Her sacred animal was the pig.

Myth Demeter was swallowed at birth by Kronos, along with her brothers, Pluto and Poseidon, and sisters, Hera and Hestia; her father believed that one of his children would depose him. Zeus, hidden as a baby, forced him to regurgitate the siblings and, in the new order of gods, Demeter was given the care of plants and harvest, aided by her daughter Persephone.

While Persephone gathered flowers (usually depicted as poppies), she was carried off by Pluto to Hades, the underworld. Demeter searched for her daughter, eventually learning of her fate through Helios, driver of the Sun's chariot. She left Olympus in a rage to live on Earth, giving blessings when kindly received and punishing any rejection, until she was welcomed at Eleusis. Her continued indignation caused famine until Zeus agreed that Persephone should spend half the year with her. The common interpretation of the myth has been that Persephone represented the corn seed, concealed in the ground during part of the year (winter/death) and returning to her mother as the rising corn (spring/life).

During her search for Persephone, Demeter transformed herself into a mare to avoid the amorous attentions of her brother Poseidon, but was caught when he changed into a stallion; their children were the nymph Despoena and black stallion, Arion. The story probably reflects her pre-Hellenic origins as an earth goddess, consort of a sky god who may have evolved into Poseidon; all these deities could take the shape of horses.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

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