Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lectio Homerica: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter Part Four

It has been a while, so thank you for your patience.  Here is part four of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter along with my contemplative impressions. 

But grief yet more terrible and savage came into the heart of Demeter, and thereafter she was so angered with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos that she avoided the gathering of the gods and high Olympus, and went to the towns and rich fields of men, disfiguring her form a long while. And no one of men or deep-bosomed women knew her when they saw her, until she came to the house of wise Celeus who then was lord of fragrant Eleusis. Vexed in her dear heart, she sat near the wayside by the Maiden Well, from which the women of the place were used to draw water, in a shady place over which grew an olive shrub. And she was like an ancient woman who is cut off from childbearing and the gifts of garland-loving Aphrodite, like the nurses of kings' children who deal justice, or like the house-keepers in their echoing halls. There the daughters of Celeus, son of Eleusis, saw her, as they were coming for easy-drawn water, to carry it in pitchers of bronze to their dear father's house: four were they and like goddesses in the flower of their girlhood, Callidice and Cleisidice and lovely Demo and Callithoe who was the eldest of them all. They knew her not, —for the gods are not easily discerned by mortals —, but standing near by her spoke winged words:

“Old mother, whence and who are you of folk born long ago? Why are you gone away from the city and do not draw near the houses? For there in the shady halls are women of just such age as you, and others younger; and they would welcome you both by word and by deed.”

Thus they said. And she, that queen among goddesses answered them saying: “Hail, dear children, whosoever you are of woman-kind. [120] I will tell you my story; for it is not unseemly that I should tell you truly what you ask. Doso is my name, for my stately mother gave it me. And now I am come from Crete over the sea's wide back, —not willingly; but against my liking, by force of strength, pirates brought me thence. Afterwards they put in with their swift craft to Thoricus, and there the women landed on the shore in full throng and the men likewise, and they began to make ready a meal by the stern-cables of the ship. But my heart craved not pleasant food, and I fled secretly across the dark country and escaped my masters, that they should not take me unpurchased across the sea, there to win a price for me. And so I wandered and am come here: and I know not at all what land this is or what people are in it. But may all those who dwell on Olympus give you husbands and birth of children as parents desire, so you take pity on me, maidens, and show me this clearly that I may learn, dear children, to the house of what man and woman I may go, to work for them cheerfully at such tasks as belong to a woman of my age. Well could I nurse a new born child, holding him in my arms, or keep house, or spread my masters' bed in a recess of the well-built chamber, or teach the women their work.”
So said the goddess

I have to start by saying that I have been using the translation available on the Perseus Project, and I would really liked to explore some of the other translations available to as well.  Unfortunately, for today this one version will have to do. 

Here, however, we have the first introduction to Demeter's descent into the world of man.  I see it almost as a penance or a punishment, but it may have been so much more than that.  She goes all over our world, or the world as the ancient Greeks knew it, and only in one place did people show her this kindness, Eleusis.  This place, of course, would become the most sacred site in the story of Demeter and Persephone for all eternity.  Here she weaves an elaborate back story to keep her Goddess nature from being revealed.  I love that the Greeks often fell back on the pirates as the archetypal "Bad Guy".  Today, we have romanticized pirates to a great degree, but here Demeter describes the fictitious pirates that stole her from Crete and randomly plopped her down here on the Greek main land.  And because of the kindness of the daughters of the king of Eleusis, Demeter's entire story begins to unfold. This passage gives me a sense of excited expectation. Knowing the gifts that Demeter brings to the world and I am about to discover their secrets. 

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