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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Demeter

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Demeter

Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

The mother goddess Demeter (Δημήτηρ), the daughter of Cronus and Rhea and sister of Zeus and Hera, was one of the twelve Olympians, the major deities of the Greek pantheon. Her Roman equivalent is Ceres (the origin of the word cereal).

She was associated with harvests and credited with the gift of agriculture to humans. She was given the epiphets Sito (σίτος: wheat) as the giver of corn, and Thesmophoros (θεσμός, from thesmos, divine order, unwritten law) for her part in agricultural society in which civilization and the rule of law developed.

Along with her daughter Persephone (Περσεφόνη, also known as Kore and Despoina, the Maiden [1]), who was abducted by Hades, Demeter was associated with the underworld and the cycle of the seasons, life and death. In the Homeric Hymns she is referred to as "rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess", and "Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts". [2]

Worship of Demeter included a mystery cult, particularly popular among women, which had its most important centre at Eleusis, northwest of Athens. Most of the details of the cult are unknown since initiates were sworn to secrecy. As the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Thesmophoria, the annual Athenian festival of secret rituals connected with marriage customs, attended only by women:

"And of the mystic rites of Demeter, which the Hellenes call Thesmophoria, of these also, although I know, I shall leave unspoken all except so much as piety permits me to tell." [3]

The worship of Demeter spread throughout the Greek world from at least the Archaic period, and her sanctuaries were established as far afield as Dion in Macedonia [4], Megara Hyblaia in Magna Graecia, southern Italy, and particularly at Gela on the south coast of Sicily, an important centre of her cult.

As in the case of other Olympian gods, Demeter's cult probably assimilated the worship of more ancient local deities such as the Phrygian mother goddess Kybele at the Greek cities of Anatolia (Asia Minor).

In myth and worship, Demeter and Persephone were in many cases inseparable, and of the innumerable extant statues, figurines, busts and reliefs associated with their cult it is often impossible to say whether the mother or daughter is depicted due to the lack of distinguishing attributes.

Demeter is often shown seated (enthroned) with Persephone attending her, standing with a long torch. However, according to variations on the myth, Hekate took the place of Persephone while the latter was in the Underworld. Some representations of this scene have been interpreted as seated Artemis attended by Hekate (for example, a votive relief dedicated by Attic Launderers, see below).
 
References to Demeter
on My Favourite Planet
 
The Cheshire Cat Blog:

Dion: the garden of the gods

Head of the Greek goddess Demeter at My Favourite Planet

Head of Demeter.

From the cult statue group by the sculptor
Damophon in the temple of Despoina
(Persephone) at Lykosoura, Arkadia.
190-180 BC.

The head is partly covered by her
himation (a rectangle of woollen cloth
worn as an outer garment).

National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 1734.
 
Demeter at the Eleusinian Mysteries at My Favourite Planet

Demeter at the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Detail of the "Ninnion Tablet" from Eleusis.

See Further details below.
The Great Eleusinian Relief of Demeter, Persephone and Triptolemos, from Eleusis at My Favourite Planet

"The Great Eleusinian Relief", a marble stele from Eleusis with
a votive relief showing Demeter, Triptolemos and Kore (Persephone).

Pentelic marble, circa 440-430 BC. Found in Eleusis in 1859.
Height 218 cm, width 152 cm, depth 21.5 cm, depth of relief 3 cm.
The figures are slightly over life-size.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 126.

Eleusis, on the coast northwest of Athens, was the centre of the mystery cult of Demeter and Kore. This relief shows a scene central to the cult, the myth of how Demeter (left, holding a sceptre) gave ears of wheat to the young Triptolemos (centre), son of of the Eleusinian King Keleos, as the gift of agriculture to mankind (see photos below). The wheat and the goddess's crown are not visible on the relief and were probably attachments or painting. Demeter's daughter Persephone, standing to the right with a torch, blesses Triptolemos by placing her right hand over his head.

The discovery of the stele was a chance find; it had been reused as a paving stone on the floor of the Church of Saint Zacharias (Άγιος Ζαχαρίας), outside the sanctuary. [5]
 
The Ninnion Tablet, a terracotta votive plaque dedicated to Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis at My Favourite Planet

The "Ninnion Tablet", a terracotta votive pinax (painted plaque) [6], dedicated by a
woman named Ninnion to Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis. The pinax, in the form
of a naiskos (small temple), depicts the religious rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Made in Attica, dated to around 370 BC. Found in Eleusis in 1895.
Height 44.5 cm, width 33 cm.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 11036.

The "Ninnion Tablet" was found in nine fragments, to the south of the Telesterion at Eleusis, during excavations directed by the Greek archaeologist Andreas Skias (Ανδρέας Σκιάς, 1861-1922). The four holes in the pinax indicate that it was hung on a wall, perhaps at the Telesterion itself.

The inscription on the base states that the pinax was dedicated by a woman named Ninnion to the "two goddesses": ΝΙΝΝΙΟΝ ΤΟΙΝ ΘΕ[ΟΙ]Ν Α[ΝΕΘΗΚΕN] (NINNION TOIN THEOIN ANETHIKEN). It was scratched on the ceramic surface after it had been fired, and it has been suggested that the pinax was sold ready-made and then dedicated by the purchaser.

It is generally agreed by scholars that the pinax is unique in depicting one or more rituals of the secret Eleusinian Mysteries (Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια). However, the very secrecy surrounding the Mysteries and the puzzling iconographies of surviving ancient artworks associated with them have so far made an entirely convincing interpretation of the persons, objects, symbols and activities painted on the plaque impossible. There have been several attempts to decipher exactly who and what is represented, whether the main scene depicts one ritual or two separate phases of the rites, or whether the action takes place at the Lesser or Greater festival. [7]

Below is an attempt to describe the paintings on the pinax, roughly following the museum labelling, with caveats, probablys and maybes.
 
The pediment of the Ninnion Tablet from Eleusis at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the pediment (gable) of the naiskos on the "Ninnion Tablet".

The pediment of the naiskos is topped by an akroterion in the form of an ancathus leaf.

The painting on the pediment may depict participants at the pannychis, the sacred all-night feast. The central figure, perhaps a deity, preistess or initiate, wearing a wreath and with a kernos (a sacred vessel) fastened to his/her head, is surrounded by four figures, also wreathed. The two outside figures are youths; the female figure left of the central figure appears to be playing pipes (the surface is too damaged to be certain); the bearded male figure to the right holds a jug or cup.

The central figure is too indistinct to make a certain identification, and the depiction of the faces of the figures in the main scene (see below) too similar to make a comparison. White has been used for all the female figures on the pinax, except Demeter, whereas all the males are completely red. The facial features, hairstyle and garment (white with a pattern of black dots) of this figure are very similar to those of the female torch-bearer in the main scene. It is, then, most likely a female (Persephone or Hekate?), although it has been suggested that it could be Dionysus, who was associated with the Mysteries. The archaeologist George E. Mylonas [7] was of the opinion that Dionysus does not appear on the pinax.

Below this is a row of what appear to be lunar discs and crescents in various positions. It is not known whether these have an astronomical significance, but they may be related to the myth of Demeter and Persephone or the rites and festivals.
 
The main scene of the Ninnion Tablet at My Favourite Planet

The main scene of the "Ninnion Tablet".

The main scene appears to depict the arrival of initiates to the sacred rites, and their meeting with Demeter and other deities.

The figures are arranged in two rows. At the top right Demeter, seated on the "secret cista" and holding a staff in her left hand. Left of her Persephone, holding two torches, and below her Iakchos the torch-bearer, receive a procession of men and women initiates arriving at the sanctuary, all crowned and holding blossoming branches and staffs. Each woman has a kernos, a sacred vessel, fastened to her head.

In the centre of the lower row are the wreathed omphalos above intersecting bakchoi, symbols of the mystery rites. The seated female figure at the bottom right may be a deity, a priestess of Demeter or Ninnion herself.

Alternatively, The female figure with the torches to the left of Demeter may be the goddess Hekate, and the seated figure below may be Persephone.
 
A replica of the Ninnion Tablet by Thomas Kotsigiannis, Eleusis Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

A modern copy of the "Ninnion Tablet" in the museum at Eleusis.

The replica was commissioned by the Greek Ministry of Culture,
and made in 2009 by Thomas Kotsigiannis.

Another replica of the pinax was made by the Swiss artist
Émile Gilliéron (1850–1924) shortly after its discovery.

The copy has the advantage of not being displayed behind glass,
and therefore it is easier to look at without reflections or shadows.

Eleusis Archaeological Museum.
Marble relief of Demeter and Persephone from the Acropolis, Athens at My Favourite Planet

Part of a marble relief of Demeter and Persephone
from the Athens Acropolis. Late 5th century BC.

Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Acr. 1348.
Marble relief of Demeter at My Favourite Planet

Marble relief of Demeter. From Kozçeşme village (Biga/Çanakkale),
northwestern Anatolia, Turkey. Late Classical period, 4th century BC.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 4942 T.
A marble votive relief dedicated by Attic Launderers at My Favourite Planet

Marble votive relief dedicated by Attic Launderers.

Pentelic marble. 2nd half of the 4th century BC.
Found in 1759 at the Panathenaic Stadium, Athens.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 709.
Acquired by Waagen in 1841 from the Museum Nani, Venice.

The findspot of the Panathenaic Stadium suggests that the relief came from a sanctuary on the nearby Ilissos river, where there was a sanctuary of Pan, Hermes and the Nymphs, a sanctuary for the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the Temple of Artemis Agrotera (Artemis of the Fields).

The front of the marble slab is divided into three horizontal areas, with a relief above and below the dedicatory inscription. The relief was dedicated to "the nymphs and all gods" by twelve male and female launderers (10 washermen and 2 washerwomen) whose names are thought to be those of slaves.

The scene above the inscription is set in a cave and shows Hermes leading a procession of three Nymphs towards a mask of the river god Acheloos. On the far left. On the right Pan sits cross-legged playing his syrinx (pan pipes).

On the right of the lower scene a seated goddess, either Demeter or Artemis, is attended by a standing deity, either Persephone (Kore) or Hekate, holding a long torch. On the left a bearded male figure, perhaps a local hero or patron of the launderers, is depicted at the same scale as the goddesses. He stands before an altar with a horse. He wears a short chiton (tunic) and a chlamys (short riding cloak) and holds in his right hand an object which is now broken and unidentifiable.

Height 40.5 cm, width 44 cm, depth 10 cm.
 
Ceramic bust of Demeter wearing a polos in Catania, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Ceramic bust of Demeter wearing a polos. 5th century BC.

Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily.
Inv. No. 5685. From the Biscari Collection.
Ceramic bust of the cult of Demeter and Kore, Syracuse, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Painted ceramic bust of the type belonging to the cult
of Demeter and Kore. Early 4th century BC.

Found in the Well of Artemis, Piazza della Vittoria, Syracuse, Sicily.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse.
Terracotta head of a bust as a votive offering to Demeter and Kore at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta head of a bust as a votive offering to Demeter and Kore.

3rd century BC. From Syracuse, Sicily.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse.
Marble statue of enthroned Demeter from the sanctuary of Demeter, Knidos at My Favourite Planet   Detail of the statue of Demeter from Knidos at My Favourite Planet
Life-size marble statue of enthroned Demeter, known as "Demeter of Knidos". 350-330 BC.

Excavated in 1858 by the British archaeologist Sir Charles Thomas Newton (1816-1894),
in the sanctuary of Demeter at Knidos, Caria (near Bodrum, Turkey). [8] Height 152 cm.

The head was sculpted separately from the body. The lower arms and hands are missing.
She probably held a libation bowl or torch. The goddess is depicted as the epitome of
Greek womanhood, serene, mature, motherly and modestly veiled. It is thought that
a statue of her daughter Persephone may have stood next to her.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1859.11-26.26 (Sculpture 1300).
Colossal marble statue of Demeter, Capitoline Museums, Rome at My Favourite Planet   Detail of the statue of Demeter, Capitoline Museums, Rome at My Favourite Planet
Colossal marble statue of Demeter.

Pentelic marble. Roman period copy after a Greek original of the 5th century BC.
Found in 1876 in the area of the Auditorium, in the Horti Maecenatiani (Gardens
of Maecenas), Rome. The statue probably stood in a devotional site in the gardens.
Several ancient artefacts have been discovered at this location, including a number
associated with the worship of Dionysus (see the Dionysus page).

Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 905.
Plaster cast of the Demeter Cherchel statue, Pergamon Museum, Berlin at My Favourite Planet   Detail of the cast of the Demeter Cherchel statue at My Favourite Planet
Plaster cast of a "Demeter Cherchel" type statue. Height without base 233 cm.

Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (SMB).

The marble original in the Altes Museum, Berlin (Inv. No. Sk 83) is thought to be a Roman period copy, made around 150 AD, of a lost work of circa 450 BC. It is one of a number of similar, over-lifesized statues of the type named after the two examples discovered in Cherchel (now in the Archaeological Museum of Cherchell, Algeria).

The cast does not include the modern lower arms and attributes which were added to the statue in the Altes Museum during restorations in the 18th and 19th centuries. The original was recorded in 1549/1550 as standing in the garden of the Palazzo Soderini, Rome. It was purchased in Rome by Bianconi in 1766 for Frederick the Great (Friederiche der Grosse) who placed it outside the Neue Palais, Potsdam.
 
Marble bust of Demeter wearing a diadem and veil, Palazzo Altemps, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Marble bust of Demeter wearing a diadem and veil.

Coarse marble. A 2nd century AD, Roman copy after 5th and 4th century Greek prototypes.
It may be an idealized portrait of a member of the Roman imperial family. The diadem was
originally decorated with small pearls, now lost. The tip of the nose has been restored.

Palazzo Altemps, National Museum of Rome, Italy. Inv. No. 8596.
Ludovisi Collection, from the Cesi Collection.
Relief of Demeter from the sanctuary of Isis, Dion, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Marble relief of Isis-Demeter from the facade of the main temple
of the sanctuary of Isis, Dion, Macedonia, Greece. 2nd century BC.

Dion Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 410.
For further information about the relief and the sanctuaries of Demeter and Isis at Dion, Macedonia, see:

Dion: the garden of the gods at The Cheshire Cat Blog.
 
Head of Demeter from the sanctuary of Demeter, Dion, Macedonia, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of Demeter, discovered
in 1973 in the sanctuary of Demeter,
Dion, Macedonia. 4th century BC.

Dion Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 200.
 

Terracotta bust of Demeter from Olynthos at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta bust of a goddess, probably Demeter,
from Olynthos, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece.
End of the 5th century BC. It was hung on a
wall in a private house.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
   
Fragmentary bronze statue of Demeter, Izmir Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

Part of a bronze statue thought to depict Demeter,
found in 1953 by sponge fishermen in the sea near
Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus), Turkey. [9]

Hellenistic period, 4th century BC. Height 81 cm.

Izmir Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 3544.
Terracotta figurines dedicated to Demeter and Persephone from Gela, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta figurines dedicated to Demeter and Persephone and clay lamps.

Made in Sicily around 500-450 BC. From Gela, Sicily.

The worship of Demeter and Persephone (Kore) was particularly popular in Sicily.
At Gela, on the south coast, there were several major sanctuaries dedicated to
the goddesses at which a large number of terracotta votive offerings and lamps
have been found. The lamps suggest that rituals took place in semi-darkness.

British Museum.
Terracottas: GR 1863,0728.273, 274, 266, 268 and 269.
Lamps: GR 1863,2728.117 and 121.
Votive relief of Demeter, Kore, Iakchos and worshippers from City Eleusinion, Athens at My Favourite Planet

Marble votive relief of Demeter, Kore, Iakchos and worshippers, from the City Eleusinion, Athens.

Pentelic marble. Late 4th century BC. Found 11 June 1947 at the west foot of the Areopagus.
Height 21.8 cm, width 31.2 cm.

Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 1251.

Demeter, enthroned left, holds out a phiale (φιάλη, libation bowl; Latin, patera) in her right hand, and a staff in her left. Right of her stand Persephone, holding a long torch diagonally, and Iakchos, carrying the infant Ploutos (Wealth) who holds a cornucopia. On the right are three smaller worshippers, a woman, a man and a child, probably the dedicators of the relief. The detailing of the low relief is much finer than can be seen under the flat lighting in the museum.

The sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone in Athens was known as the City Eleusinion (Ελευσίνιον). Located to the southeast of the Athenian Agora, along the Sacred Way up to the Acropolis, it had a temple of Demeter and Persephone and a temple of Triptolemos. [10]
 
Terracotta bust of Demeter or Persephone from Taranto at My Favourite Planet

Terracotta bust of Demeter or Persephone holding a torch and a pig.

Made in Taranto, Italy around 420-400 BC. From Rubi.

British Museum. Gr 1856.12-26.325 (Terracotta 1276).
Bequeathed by Sir William Temple.
Votive relief depicting Demeter and Persephone, Eleusis, Greece at My Favourite Planet

Marble votive relief depicting Demeter enthroned, and Persephone (Kore)
or Hekate standing with two torches.

From Eleusis. First quarter of the 5th century BC.

According to George Mylonas [7] and others, the figure on the right may be
Hekate rather than Persephone. There are several variations on the myth of
Demeter and Persephone. In the Homeric hymn to Demeter, Hekate assists
Demeter in her search for Persephone who has been abducted by Hades,
and later becomes Persephone's attendant in the Underworld.

Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5085.
Limestone relief of two female figures, possibly Demeter and Persephone at My Favourite Planet

Limestone relief of two female figures, possibly Demeter and Persephone.

A metope from a Doric tomb. Made in Taranto, southern Italy around 300 BC.

British Museum. Inv. No. Gr 1873.8-20.746 (Sculpture 793).
 

Marble statue of Persephone at My Favourite Planet

Marble statue of Persephone.

Pentelic marble. Work of the school of
Agorakritos of Paros, circa 420-410 BC.
Found on the hill of Mounychia, Piraeus.

The goddess would have originally
held a torch in each hand.

National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 176.
 
Marble statuette of Persephone wearing a high polos and holding a pomegranate flower at My Favourite Planet

Marble statuette of Persephone
wearing a high polos and holding
a pomegranate flower.

Around 350-300 BC.

The pomegranate played an important
role in the cult of Persephone, since she
had eaten its seeds in the Underworld.

British Museum.
GR 1859.12-26.43 (Sculpture 1302).
Terracotta plaque showing Persephone seated at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of a terracotta plaque showing Persephone
seated (beside Hades, now missing).

Made in Medma, southern Italy, around 470 BC.

British Museum. GR 1889.5-21.5 (Terracotta 1220).
Attic red-figure amphora showing Persephone, Triptolemos and Demeter at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an Attic red-figure amphora showing Persephone (Kore), Triptolemos and Demeter.

By a painter of the Polygnotan Group. Third quarter of the 5th century BC. Provenance unknown.

Triptolemos, seated in his winged chariot with a sceptre and phiale (libation bowl), is about
to set off on his mission to teach humans the cultivation of corn. Persephone, left, holds a
torch and an oinochoe (wine jar) for the departure libation. Demeter, right, holds a sceptre.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 1166.
Votive relief depicting Triptolemos being sent on his mission at My Favourite Planet

Votive relief depicting Triptolemos being sent on his mission.

From Eleusis. Early 4th century BC.

Triptolemos, sits on a throne, at the side of which is a coiled, winged serpent.
Persephone (Kore) stands behind him with two torches, and Demeter stands
in front of him. To the right stand four adult worshippers and two children.

Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5061.
 

Marble head of the so-called Triptolemos at My Favourite Planet

Marble head of a young man,
the so-called "Triptolemos".

Roman period, 120-140 AD, perhaps a copy
of a Greek Classical type. Allegedly found
near Herculaneum (Italy) in 1750.

This is the only known head of this type,
identified as Triptolemos.

Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 479.
 
Demeter relief from the Demeter terrace of the Pergamon acropolis at My Favourite Planet

"Demeter relief" from the Demeter terrace of the Pergamon acropolis.

Roman period. Height 89 cm, width 172.5 cm, depth 19 cm.

Found during excavations by Wilhelm Dörpfeld and Hugo Hepding in 1908-1909.
In the centre stands a female figure, depicting either Demeter, Persephone or a
priestess, wearing a wreath and holding a long torch and a phiale (libation bowl).
On the left, a sacrificial bull, standing on two blocks, is tethered by the nose to a
ring fixed in the ground. The tree-like object behind it was thought by Hepding
to be a cypress. On the right, a large, flaming altar, decorated with akroteria
and a garland, next to another long torch standing on a plant-form. [11]

Bergama Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 276.
 
Demeter Notes, references and links

1. Despoina

In modern Greek the word despoina is still used to address young and unmarried women, as in miss or madamoiselle.

2. Homeric hymn to Demeter

Extracts from Hymn 2 to Demeter:

"I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful goddess..."

"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...'"

Anonymous, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. and William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1914. At Perseus Tufts.

3. Herodotus on the mystic rites of Demeter

Herodotus, Histories, Book 2, chapter 171.

The History of Herodotus, Volume I, Book II. English translation by G. C. Macaulay. MacMillan and Co., London and New York, 1890. At Project Gutenberg.

4. Sanctuaries of Demeter in Macedonia

Remains of buildings where the thesmophoria rites were practiced have been found at several locations in northern Greece, including Pella and Amphipolis.

5. The discovery of the Great Eleusinian Relief and the Agios Zacharias church

According to one account, the Great Eleusinian Relief was discovered by the archaeologist Demetrios Philios (Δημήτριος Φίλιος, 1844-1907) who was to direct excavations at Eleusis 1882-1907.

The small, post Byzantine church of Agios Zacharias was built on the east side of the middle aisle of a 5th century Christian basilica (named by archaeologists after the later church), remains of which can still be seen. The church was used as a provisional storeroom and museum for finds from the archaeological site.

6. Pinakes

In the ancient Greek world, a pinax (πίναξ, literally board; plural πίνακες, pinakes) was a plaque (or tablet) of painted wood, moulded and/or painted ceramic, inscribed marble or cast bronze, placed as a votive offering in a temple, sanctuary or tomb. Some pinakes were inscribed wax tablets or painted cloth. The subject of the pinakes was usually one or more deities, standing or enthroned (sometimes represented only by their symbols), often shown being approached by worshippers carrying sacrifices. The term eventually came to denote a painting, and a pinakotheke a picture gallery (as in the "Pinakotheke" of the Propylaia of the Athens Acropolis).

See also:

A 7th century BC Penteskouphia Pinax from Corinth

A 1st century AD "Campana plate" depicting Female dancers around Palladion

7. Literature on Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries

Several books and academic articles have been published on Eleusis, the Eleusinian Mysteries and the artefacts connected with them. One of the best and most readable is still Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries by the Greek archaeologist George Emmanuel Mylonas (Γεώργιος Εμμανουήλ Μυλωνάς, 1898–1988).

First published by Princeton University Press in 1961, Mylonas' substantial, illustrated volume provides an excellent introduction to the history, topography, architecture and archaeology of Eleusis, descriptions of the artefacts discovered at the site, as well as those to be seen at the Eleusis Museum and elsewhere. It also includes discussion of the mythology and worship of Demeter, Persephone and related deities, various aspects of the Mysteries and the phases of the festivals.

Much has changed in the worlds of history, archaeology - and indeed politics - since this book was written; more discoveries have been made, and new viewpoints, ideas and theories have developed. Some of the opinions stated by Mylonas (his own and those of others) have been questioned and superseded. There are also what now seem like notable omissions, such as the question of the use of psychotropic drugs during religious festivals. Still, the scholarship providing the core of the work remains sound and dependable. At over 400 pages it will not provide the kind of general guide required by tourists or casual visitors, but is essential reading for anyone seeking a deeper understanding.

The book was out of print for many years, and several attempts by members of the Archaeological Society of Athens and interested residents of Elefsina (the modern name for Eleusis) to republish the work as well as a Greek translation proved unsuccessful. Finally, in 2010 the small local publishers in Elefsina, Cyceon Tales Publications, brought out editions in Greek and English.

English edition: George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries. Cyceon Tales Publications, Harilaou 94, 192 00 Elefsina, Greece, 2010. Paperback, 492 pages, with 88 illustrations, including maps and plans.

Greek edition: Γεώργιος Εμμανουήλ Μυλωνάς, Ελευσίς και ελευσίνια μυστήρια. Κυκεών Tales, Χαριλάου 94, 192 00 Ελευσίνα, 2010. 492 σελ.

The English edition costs 19 Euros, the Greek edition 23 Euros.

Available at the excellent Bar-Café Cyceon Tales, opposite the entrance to the Eleusis Archaeological Site at Eleusis, every day 08.15 - 02.00.

The books can also be ordered from the Cyceon Tales website www.cyceon.gr (in English and Greek):

English edition            Greek edition

Princeton University Press have now reissued the original edition of the book as part of their Princeton Legacy Library series:

George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, Princeton University Press, 2015. 416 pages.

While Princeton is to be applauded for finally republishing this valuable book, their edition costs 54 Dollars, more than double the price of the Cyceon Tales edition. We recommend you buy from Cyceon Tales, and thereby support the local economy and the work of local people to foster the culture of Eleusis - ancient and modern.

8. The discovery of the Demeter of Knidos statue

See:

Sir Charles Thomas Newton and Richard Popplewell Pullan, A History of Discoveries at Halicarnassus, Cnidus and Branchidae. Day and Son, London, 1863.

9. The discovery of a bronze sculpture near Bodrum

On 9 August 1953 the statue got caught in the net of a sponge fisherman from Bodrum (variously named as Achmet Erbil or Ahmet Erbin), at a depth of 75 metres, off the coast of Arap Adasi, near the Knidian peninsula, south of Bodrum. He left it on the beach of the village of Bitez, just to the west of Bodrum.

It was brought to the attention of Geore Ewart Bean (1903-1977), a British professor of Classics at Istanbul University, who happened to be in Bodrum at the time on one of his many tours of archaeological sites in Turkey. Having examined the sculpture, he arranged to have it transported to the museum in Izmir. His account of the find appeared in The Illustrated London News on 7 November 1953, and his sister Margaret Bean gave a talk about it on BBC radio in 1954.

"Last August some Turkish sponge-fishers brought up in their nets the head of a Greek bronze statue, probably a statue of Demeter of the fourth century BC. It is agreed by all to be among the most important artistic finds of recent years. Miss Bean and her brother, an archaeologist, were the first people, besides the villagers of Bitez, to see the fishermen's catch."

Head of a goddess, a radio talk by Margaret Bean, BBC Home Service, 25 February 1954.

See:

George E. Bean, "A masterpiece from the sea", The Illustrated London News, 7 November 1953, pages 747-749.

Brunilde Sismonodo Ridgway, The Bronze Lady From the Sea. Expedition magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1, pages 2-9. Penn Museum, September 1967.

Jeremy Green, Report on the Demeter Side Scan Sonar Search and the Aslan Burnu Site Survey, Turkey, 2004. Report Number 188, Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum, 2004.

"Underwater archaeology spreads in Turkey", Hurriyet Daily News, 4 April 1999.

10. The City Eleusinion of Athens

See:

Margaret M. Miles, The City Eleusinion, The Athenian Agora Vol. 31. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1998.

11. The "Demeter relief" from Pergamon

See:

Wilhelm Dörpfeld, Hugo Hepding, Die Arbeiten zu Pergamon 1908-1909. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung Band 35, Seiten (pages) 509-511, Tafel (plate) XXIX, 2. Eleutherudakis und Barth, Athens, 1910.
 
 
Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:

Greece
Athens, Acropolis Museum
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Dion Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Eleusis Archaeological Museum, Attica
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia

Italy
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Altemps

Italy - Sicily
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Syracuse, Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum

Turkey
Bergama Archaeological Museum
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Izmir Archaeological Museum

United Kingdom
London, British Museum

Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
 
Photos and articles © David John
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