Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lectio Homerica: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter Part 1

I had forgotten that I had started this project a little while back.  It was based on the contemplative Christian prayer practice called Lectio Divina.  I decided that perhaps I  need to finish this.  However, to start, I thought I would reprint the first several installments from my Livejournal, originally published in January of 2006:

I have always had very personal relationship with Persephone. It has been a lovely and evolving relationship. When I became first involved in paganism (publicly) I was all of 18 years old. I was very much in the "Maiden" phase of life as the Wiccan tradition describes and I related to the innocent "Kore" aspect of the Persephone story. However, as I have grown I have found myself on a similar path as Persephone herself. Having chosen not to have children I don't relate with the wiccan model of "Maiden Mother Crone" any more, but I do relate to the story of Persephone and her journey from Maid to Queen of the underworld.

So, here begins the story of Demeter and her beautiful daughter.

"I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess -- of her and her trim-ankled daughter whom Aidoneus [Hades] rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Oceanus and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus which Earth made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please the Host of Many, to be a snare for the bloom-like girl -- a marvelous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea's salt swell laughed for joy. And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy; but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa, and the lord, Host of Many, with his immortal horses sprang out upon her -- the Son of Cronos, He who has many names. He caught her up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. Then she cried out shrilly with her voice, calling upon her father, the Son of Cronos, who is most high and excellent. But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave, and the lord Helios, Hyperion's bright son, as she cried to her father, the Son of Cronos. But he was sitting aloof, apart from the gods, in his temple where many pray, and receiving sweet offerings from mortal men. So he, that Son of Cronos, of many names, who is Ruler of Many and Host of Many, was bearing her away by leave of Zeus on his immortal chariot -- his own brother's child and all unwilling."

For those playing along at home, I am reading a translation by Diane Rayor (which the above is not). And I have just read the first section of the hymn here (it is a very long one).

I have never been a huge fan of the abduction part of the myth of Persephone. There is a more feminist version that I learned in college where Hades plays no part at all – that Persephone's journey was entirely her own choice. However, I have in my head a version likely in the middle. One where Persephone chose for herself to marry Hades and go with him into the underworld. This is not, of course, true to the Homeric version. But I like the idea that no only did Persephone have a choice but she chose to leave her Mother for her Husband's home.

And while I still see that choice between the lines of of this Hymn, I know it is self imposed.

What speaks to me of this version is the command of Zeus for Gaia (named Earth in the above version but specifically called the Goddess Gaia in the Rayor version) to grow an irresistible flower for the maiden Persephone to pluck – thus distracting her from Hades' approach and giving him the opportunity to snatch her. What does that flower represent? To me, it shows the choice Persephone made for love and beauty in her life. Zeus may have commanded the earth to grow that flower, but it was Persephone who chose to pluck it.

There are many such temptations in my life – that flower represents all the choices I have made and are they as beautiful and ultimately as fruitful as the choice that Persephone herself made. Are these choices painful at the start, like the author of this Hymn would like us to believe it was for the maiden goddess?

The plucking of this beautiful flower is Persephone's first steps into the underworld over which she will reign as Queen. She doesn't know her fate now, but soon her choice will show her what it is she was destined for.

We have to be more careful about which flowers we do pluck from day to day. At least I do. Some temptations are productive and some are not. Like Zeus commanding Gaia grow that irresistible flower – how are the gods here to guide our choices?

Now - this is NOT a Hymn to Persephone - it is honoring her Mother. So why do I so fixate on Persephone's part in this story? I don't know actually - but based on the first section that is what I see. I suspect my relationship with Demeter will evolve as I continue to reflect on the rest of the Hymn.

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