Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lectio Homerica: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter part Five

The following is another installment of the Lectio Homerica series on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.  Today, I am using the Loeb translation.
And straightway the unwed maiden Callidice, goodliest in form of the daughters of Celeus, answered her and said:
"Mother, what the gods send us, we mortals bear perforce, although we suffer; for they are much stronger than we. But now I will teach you clearly, telling you the names of men who have great power and honour here and are chief among the people, guarding our city's coif of towers by their wisdom and true judgements: there is wise Triptolemus and Dioclus and Polyxeinus and blameless Eumolpus and Dolichus and our own brave father. All these have wives who manage in the house, and no one of them, so soon as she had seen you, would dishonour you and turn you from the house, but they will welcome you; for indeed you are godlike. But if you will, stay here; and we will go to our father's house and tell Metaneira, our deep-bosomed mother, all this matter fully, that she may bid you rather come to our home than search after the houses of others. She has an only son, late-born, who is being nursed in our well-built house, a child of many prayers and welcome: if you could bring him up until he reached the full measure of youth, any one of womankind who should see you would straightway envy you, such gifts would our mother give for his upbringing."

So she spake: and the goddess bowed her head in assent. And they filled their shining vessels with water and carried them off rejoicing. Quickly they came to their father's great house and straightway told their mother according as they had heard and seen. Then she bade them go with all speed and invite the stranger to come for a measureless hire. As hinds or heifers in spring time, when sated with pasture, bound about a meadow, so they, holding up the folds of their lovely garments, darted down the hollow path, and their hair like a crocus flower streamed about their shoulders. And they found the good goddess near the wayside where they had left her before, and led her to the house of their dear father. And she walked behind, distressed in her dear heart, with her head veiled and wearing a dark cloak which waved about the slender feet of the goddess.

Soon they came to the house of heaven-nurtured Celeus and went through the portico to where their queenly mother sat by a pillar of the close-fitted roof, holding her son, a tender scion, in her bosom. And the girls ran to her. But the goddess walked to the threshold: and her head reached the roof and she filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance. Then awe and reverence and pale fear took hold of Metaneira, and she rose up from her couch before Demeter, and bade her be seated. But Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of perfect gifts, would not sit upon the bright couch, but stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down until careful Iambe placed a jointed seat for her and threw over it a silvery fleece. Then she sat down and held her veil in her hands before her face. A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drinks because she pined with longing for her deep-bosomed daughter, until careful Iambe -- who pleased her moods in aftertime also -- moved the holy lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart. Then Metaneira filled a cup with sweet wine and offered it to her; but she refused it, for she said it was not lawful for her to drink red wine, but bade them mix meal and water with soft mint and give her to drink. And Metaneira mixed the draught and gave it to the goddess as she bade. So the great queen Deo received it to observe the sacrament.
For just a moment, the Goddess abandons her quest for her only daughter and spends time in the house of a deserving family in Eleusis to help them with their needs.  She shows great care and benevolence, but never once does she forget her long term task. 

There are several passages in this section of the hymn that I just love.  The way the words roll off the tongue.  When the daughters go back to the well to retrieve the old woman, they are described "As hinds or heifers in spring time, when sated with pasture, bound about a meadow, so they, holding up the folds of their lovely garments, darted down the hollow path, and their hair like a crocus flower streamed about their shoulders."  It is just beautiful.  It speaks to me of the joy and power of youth.  Perhaps Demeter saw in them the spark of Persephone.  I love the colors that paint this scene.  The yellows, purples and whites of the maidens running through the bright green grass. 

And in the last paragraph, it tells us that Metaneira catches just a glimpse of Demeter's true nature.  Here Demeter is also referred to as "Bringer of Seasons", which by my estimation didn't actually begin being a task of her's until this very story unfolded.  It also mentioned Iambe, who appears to be able to cheer the goddess with just a bit of humor.  If only we knew the words she said.  It also gives us a recipe for a drink - an offering - for Demeter herself.  Meal, water and mint.  There are some historical suggestions as to what this concoction is, but there are many ways to practically apply it to the devotional practice of honoring Demeter.  However, I can't help but think of the contradictory nature of Demeter imbibing the mint plant when her own Daughter, supposedly later in her own story, would have a negative connection to is as she turned her husband's lover into the mint plant as punishment for adultery. 

I am eager to continue Demeter's quest to discover her Daughter. 

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