Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lectio Homerica: The Homeric Hymn To Demeter Part Three

This was a particularly difficult section to select, because it is a lot of wordy conversation between gods.  But here is the third installment of The Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Then for nine days queenly Deo wandered over the earth with flaming torches in her hands, so grieved that she never tasted ambrosia and the sweet draught of nectar, [50] nor sprinkled her body with water. But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come, Hecate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news:

“Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts, [55] what god of heaven or what mortal man has rapt away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your dear heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was. But I tell you truly and shortly all I know.”

So, then, said Hecate. [60] And the daughter of rich-haired Rhea answered her not, but sped swiftly with her, holding flaming torches in her hands. So they came to Helios, who is watchman of both gods and men, and stood in front of his horses: and the bright goddess enquired of him: “Helios, do you at least regard me, goddess as I am, [65] if ever by word or deed of mine I have cheered your heart and spirit. Through the fruitless air I heard the thrilling cry of my daughter whom I bare, sweet scion of my body and lovely in form, as of one seized violently; though with my eyes I saw nothing. But you —for with your beams you look down [70] from the bright upper air over all the earth and sea —tell me truly of my dear child, if you have seen her anywhere, what god or mortal man has violently seized her against her will and mine, and so made off.”

So said she. And the Son of Hyperion answered her: [75] “Queen Demeter, daughter of rich-haired Rhea, I will tell you the truth; for I greatly reverence and pity you in your grief for your trim-ankled daughter. None other of the deathless gods is to blame, but only cloud-gathering Zeus who gave her to Hades, her father's brother, to be called his buxom wife. [80] And Hades seized her and took her loudly crying in his chariot down to his realm of mist and gloom. Yet, goddess, cease your loud lament and keep not vain anger unrelentingly: Aidoneus, the Ruler of Many, is no unfitting husband among the deathless gods for your child, [85] being your own brother and born of the same stock: also, for honor, he has that third share which he received when division was made at the first, and is appointed lord of those among whom he dwells.”

So he spake, and called to his horses: and at his chiding they quickly whirled the swift chariot along, like long-winged birds.

I find a lot of the language in this translation from the Perseus Project to be very interested.  First and foremost, I was struck by the constant references to the torches held by both Demeter and Hecate, and both are referred to as "bright".  Demeter, of course, is not currently very bright having shrouded herself on her search for her daughter.  The torch, to me, symoblizes a great wisdom like the Hermit card in the Tarot deck.  A light in the dark.  Several of my friends like to quote Arlo Guthrie:  "You can't have a light without a dark to stick it in."  Maybe, deep in their hearts, both Demeter and Hecate know the truth about what is happening. 
However, the speech by Helios is very profound.  He explains to her that it was, in fact, Persephone's very own father that allowed Persephone to be betrothed to Hades - who is of course brother to both Demeter and Zeus himself.  Helios defends Hades as a mate for Demeter's fair daughter.  He implies that by the very nature of the division of the universe that Persephone will be a Queen of a third of all creation.  And then Helios rides off in his chariot of the sun to converse no more with the grieving mother and her handmaiden. He leaves them to ponder his words. 
I know that the story continues from here, that Demeter does not "cease her loud lament" but continues to search high and low for her daughter even though she knows precisely where she is at this time.
As I have mentioned before, I have my own filter for the myth of Persephone and in my heart of hearts I believe that she truly loves her husband and takes her role as Queen of the Dead very seriously.  I sympathize with Helios in this hymn.  He has been asked to share this information with a very upset mother who has been betrayed by her daughter's father.  At the very least, Zeus could have told Demeter what he had planned to do.  Helios doesn't believe that this is a fate worse than death, no pun intended.  He doesn't paint Hades as the bad guy or, gods forbid, Satan himself.  Helios, like me, believes that Hades is a worthy partner and that Persephone is a worthy Queen. 

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