§ 1 Of beautiful-haired Demeter, revered goddess, I begin to sing,
And her long-ankled daughter, whom Aedoneus [Hades]
Seized, and deep sounding wide-seeing Zeus gave her to him,
Far from Demeter of the golden nails, of the glorious fruit,
§ 5 While she was playing with Ocean's deep-breasted daughters.
Persephone was plucking flowers, roses, crocus and beautiful violets,
In a soft meadow, and irises, and the hyacinth
And narcissus, which Earth as a favour to Hades according to Zeus's plans
Produced to be a snare for the maiden with the face of a flower,
§ 10 A gleaming wonder: it was awesome to look upon,
Both for immortal gods and mortal men.
From its root it had produced a hundred petals,
And they gave off the sweetest perfume, so that the whole of the sky above,
And the whole earth laughed, and the salt swell of the ocean.
§ 15 So she in her astonishment reached out with both her hands
To take the beautiful plaything. Then suddenly the earth of wide ways gaped
About the plain of Nysa, where the Lord Who Receives Many leapt
On his immortal horses, the many-named son of Kronos.
He seized her unwilling, and led her wailing onto
§ 20 His golden chariot. And her voice rose steeply,
As she called on her father Zeus, the highest and best of the gods.
No god or person
Heard her voice, not even the olives of good fruit [?],
Except the daughter of Persaeus, she who always thinks
§ 25 Delicately from her cave, Hecate of the bright headband,
And the Sun-god, glorious son of Hyperion,
While the girl called for her father the son of Kronos. But he sat apart
Far from the gods in a temple sought with many prayers,
Receiving holy sacrifices from mortals.
§ 30 But she was led unwillingly at the suggestion of Zeus
By his brother, He Who Commands Many and Receives Many,
With his immortal horses, he the many-named son of Kronos.
And as long as she, a goddess, still looked upon the earth and starry sky,
The strong-flowing sea full of fish,
§ 35 And the sun’s beams, and still hoped to see her dear mother
And the tribe of everlasting gods,
So long did hope warm her dear heart, pained as she was;
The mountain peaks and the ocean depths echoed
With her immortal cry: and her goddess mother heard her.
§ 40 Sharp pain seized her heart, and she ripped apart the band
Around her immortal hair with her own hands,
And her dark-blue veil fell from her shoulders;
She rushed down like a bird over the earth and sea
In her fury, but no-one was willing to tell her truthfully,
§ 45 Neither god nor mortal,
Nor did any bird come to her with a truthful message.
For nine days the goddess Demeter roamed
Over the earth with flaming torches in her hands,
Without eating ambrosia or drinking sweet nectar
§ 50 In her grief, nor did she cast water on her skin.
But when the tenth bright dawn came,
Hecate met her, holding a flame in her hands,
And speaking to her, made this announcement:
“Lady Demeter, bearer of the seasons, glorious-gifted,
§ 55 Which of the skyey gods or mortals
Has seized Persephone and afflicted your dear heart?
For I heard a voice, though I couldn’t see with my eyes
Who it was – and I always tell you the whole truth immediately.”
So spoke Hecate; but the daughter of fair-haired Rhea
§ 60 Did not reply to her, but swiftly with her
Rushed away, holding flaming torches in her hands.
They came to the Sun, the lookout of gods and men,
And stood in front of his horses, and the bright goddess asked him:
“Helios, respect me now, you at least, if ever
§ 65 In word or deed I warmed your heart and mind –
The daughter I bore, my sweet offspring, glorious in looks,
It was her loud voice I heard through the barren air,
As if she were being overpowered, but I couldn’t see her with my eyes.
You look down with your beams over the whole earth
§ 70 And sea, from the divine sky above --
Tell me truthfully if you have seen my dear child anywhere,
And the one who took her away from me unwillingly and by force,
And then left, whether it is one of the gods or mortal men.”
So she spoke; and the son of Hyperion answered her:
§ 75 “Daughter of fair-haired Rhea, queen Demeter,
You will soon know, for I esteem you greatly, and pity you
In your distress for your long-ankled daughter. No other immortal
Is responsible for this except cloud-gathering Zeus,
Who gave her in her blossoming youth to Hades, his brother,
§ 80 To be called his wife. He seized her with his horses and brought her
Screaming to the murky gloom below.
But cease your wailing, goddess – nor should you
In vain even so have enormous anger. Nor is it unseemly
That your relative among the immortals, Aedoneus who commands many,
§ 85 Has done this, being your own brother of the same family; also, in his honour
He has obtained that third share, when the distribution fell to him,
Among the immortals, over whom he has been allotted king.”
So he spoke, and called to his horses – and they, under the rebuke,
Lightly carried the swift chariot like long-winged birds.
§ 90 But a more dreadful and more dog-like pain came to her heart –
In fury, then, at the black-clouded son of Kronos,
She went away from the assembly of the gods and huge Olympus,
And came to the cities of men and their rich deeds,
Altering her appearance for a long time. Looking upon her,
§ 95 No man or deep-girdled woman recognised her,
Till she came to the house of wise Celeus,
Who at that time was the king of fragrant Eleusis.
She sat down nearby on the road, sorrowing in her heart,
At the well of Parthenos, where the citizens drew their water,
§ 100 In the shade of a small olive tree above her,
In the guise of an old woman who has ceased
From childbirth and the gifts of lovely-garlanded Aphrodite,
Such as are the nurses of the children of men who administer laws,
And are their housekeepers.
§ 105 The daughters of Eleusinian Celeus saw her
As they were going to the well to draw water, in order to bring it
In bronze pitchers back to their father’s dear house,
Four of them, like goddesses, in youthful flower,
Callidike, Cleisidike, lovely Demo
§ 110 And Callithoe, who was the eldest.
They did not recognise her – difficult it is for goddesses to be seen by mortals.
Standing near her they spoke these winged words:
“Who are you, old lady, of those who are very ancient?
Why have you come away from the city? Why don’t you approach
§ 115 The house? There you will find women in the shady house
Who are the same age as you, and those who are younger,
Who will love you in word and in deed.”
So they spoke. And the lady goddess answered them:
“My dear children, whichever women you are,
§ 120 Welcome. I will tell you. It is not unseemly
To tell you the truth, since you ask.
My name is Doso -- my lady mother gave it to me.
Now I have come over the broad surface of the sea
From Crete unwillingly, because pirate men
§ 125 Led me away by force. Then in their swift ship
They put in at Thorikos, where the women
Stepped onto the shore in throngs, as well as the men.
They began preparing a meal at the stern of the ship;
But I had no desire for a delicious meal –
§ 130 Stealthily I moved off along the dark shore
And escaped the overbearing commanders, so that I wouldn’t be sold
And they wouldn’t take me across the sea and enjoy a profit from me.
So I came here wandering destitute. I don’t know
What this country is, or who the people are.
§ 135 But may all the gods who have their homes in Olympus
Grant you wedded husbands, and to give birth to children,
As all parents wish – but pity me, girls.
[But pledge this to me clearly, so that I may find out,]
Earnestly, dear children, to whose house I am to come,
Man or woman, so that I may do work for them,
§ 140 Willingly, the things that are done by a woman past her youth:
I could hold a baby in my arms
And nurse it well, and watch over the house,
And I could make the bed in a corner of the well-built bedroom
For the master, and teach the women how to do things.”
§ 145 So she spoke; and Callidike answered her at once,
The unwed daughter of Celeus, who was the most beautiful:
“Old mother, we humans are forced to endure, pained though we be,
The gifts of the gods – for I daresay they are much more powerful.
But I will instruct you clearly, and name
§ 150 The men who have here the great power of honour,
And who are the chieftains of the people, and protect the city’s
Battlements with their counsels and upright laws.
They are shrewd Triptolemos and Diocles,
Polyxenes and blameless Eumolpos,
§ 155 And Dolichos and our noble father,
All of whose wives are preparing the house within.
None of the women at first sight of you
Would dishonour your appearance and turn you away from the house,
But will welcome you – for you are like the gods.
§ 160 If you like, wait for us to go to our father’s house
And tell our deep-girdled mother
Metaneira all this completely, to see if she will bid you
To come to our house, and not seek other people’s houses.
There is a darling son in the well-built house
§ 165 Born recently and being looked after, who is much prayed over and kissed.
If you were to nurse him, and he were to reach the middle of youth,
Easily would one of the women look at you
And be envious – so great would be the gifts of your nursing.”
So she spoke; and Demeter nodded her assent. And the girls filled
§ 170 The shining vessels with water and carried them exulting.
Swiftly they came to their father’s great house, and straight away told
Their mother what they had seen and heard. And she straight away
Came and bid them to call for boundless wages,
And like deer or calves in spring
§ 175 Leaping about the meadow as they satisfy their hearts with pasture,
So they, holding the folds of their lovely robes,
Rushed about the hollow highway. The hair about their shoulders
Rushed down like the crocus flowers.
They found the glorious goddess nearby on the road, exactly where
§ 180 They had left her before; then they led her to their dear father’s
House. But she walked behind them, sorrowing in her heart,
With her head covered. And the goddess’s dark-blue robe
Wound about her slender feet.
At once they came to the house of god-nourished Celeus,
§ 185 And went through the portico, where their lady mother
Sat at the pillar of the sturdy-made roof,
Holding at her breast her son, the young baby; and they ran to her.
But the goddess walked to the threshold and her head touched
The roof, and she filled the doors with a divine radiance.
§ 190 And they were seized by reverence, awe, and pale fear.
But the mother withdrew from her chair and bade her sit down.
However Demeter bearer of the seasons, glorious-gifted,
Did not want to sit down on the bright chair,
But waited there unwillingly, with her beautiful eyes cast downwards,
§ 195 Till Iambe, who was knowing and careful, placed for her
A fixed seat, and draped a bright-shining fleece over it.
There she sat down, and held a veil in front of her.
For a long time she sat on the couch without speaking, sorrowing,
Nor did she embrace anyone in word or deed,
§ 200 But without laughing and not tasting food or drink
She sat wasting away in longing for her deep-girdled daughter,
Till Iambe, who was knowing and careful, with jests
Made many jokes and turned the mood of the divine lady,
By smiling and laughing, and keeping her heart gracious:
§ 205 So she pleased the goddess afterwards with her kindly temperament.
Metaneira filled a cup of honey-sweet wine and gave it
To her; but she shook her head, and said it was not proper
To drink red wine. But she asked her to give her barley
And water, and mix it with delicate mint for her to drink.
§ 210 And she made the drink and gave it to the goddess as she had bid.
And out of holy custom the great goddess Deo received it.
Then well-girdled Metaneira began addressing her:
“Welcome, lady, since I do not expect you are from bad parents,
But from good ones. Since your eyes project reverence
§ 215 And grace, as if you were from law-making kings.
But we humans are forced to endure, pained though we be,
The gifts of the gods – for their yoke lies on our necks.
But as it is, since you have come here, all that is mine will be yours.
Nurse my son here, whom the gods granted to me
§ 220 Late-born and unexpected – but he is much prayed-for.
If you were to nurse him, and he were to reach the middle of youth,
Easily would one of the women look at you
And be envious – so great would be the gifts of your nursing.”
And well-garlanded Demeter spoke to her:
§ 225 “A great welcome to you as well, my lady – and may the gods grant you good things.
I will receive your child willingly, as you bid me;
And I will nurse him, and not, I expect, with the follies of a nurse,
Nor will a spell harm him, or a cutting beneath.
For I know an antidote better than a woodcutter,
§ 230 And I know a good safeguard from a harmful spell.”
So she spoke, and received him in her fragrant breast
With her immortal hands; and the mother’s heart was delighted.
Thus was the glorious son of prudent Celeus,
Demophoon, whom the well-girdled Metaneira had borne,
§ 235 Nursed by her in the house. And he grew strong like a god,
And did not eat grain, without suckling on his mother’s milk –
For by day the beautiful-garlanded Demeter
Would anoint him with ambrosia as if he had been born a god,
And breathe sweetly over him and hold him at her breast;
But at night she would hide him in the heart of the fire, like a brand,
§ 240 In secret from his parents. But great wonder was done for them,
As he grew up flourishing early – for he looked like the gods.
And she would have made him ageless and immortal,
If well-girdled Metaneira in her foolishness
Had not watched out the night from her fragrant bedroom
§ 245 And spied him. She shrieked and struck both her thighs,
Fearing for her son, and was greatly deluded in her heart,
And wailing she spoke to him in winged words:
“Oh my son Demophoon, the stranger woman is hiding you
In a great fire, and has given me moaning and mournful cares!”
§ 250 So she spoke, wailing. But the divine goddess heard her:
Beautiful-garlanded Demeter was angry with her, and sent
The dear son, whom she had borne unexpectedly in the house,
Out of her immortal hands to the ground,
Snatching him from the fire, with a frightening wrath in her heart,
§ 255 And at the same time spoke to well-girdled Metaneira:
“People are ignorant and stupid, not to recognise in advance
The fate of something coming to them that is either good or bad,
But you in your foolishness have been incurably deluded.
For let the curse of the gods know, the water of harsh Styx,
§ 260 That I would have made your dear son ageless and immortal
All his days, and granted him imperishable honour;
But now there is no way he will avoid death and doom.
But imperishable honour will always come to him, because he sat
On my knees and slept in my arms.
§ 265 But with the seasons of the recurring years, for him
The children of Eleusis will always bring together
War and dreadful battle among themselves all their days.
I am Demeter the holder of honour, who has made
The greatest benefit and delight for mortals and immortals.
§ 270 So come now, let the whole people build a huge temple
And an altar under it, under the city and the steep wall
Of Callichoros, from above on the projecting hill.
And I myself will establish my rites, so that then
By acting with purity you may propitiate my heart.”
§ 275 So saying, she changed her stature and appearance
And thrust aside her old age; beauty wafted about her,
And a lovely perfume spread from her fragrant
Robes, and afar the light of the immortal goddess
Shone from her skin, and blond hair flowed down her shoulders,
§ 280 And the crowded house was filled with a brilliance like lightning.
And she went out through the house – but the mother’s knees at once went limp,
And for a long time she was speechless, nor did she remember
To pick her darling son up off the floor.
His sisters heard his piteous voice,
§ 285 And leapt down from their well-spread beds. One of them then
Took the boy in her hands and placed him in her bosom.
She did not light the fire. And she hastened with her delicate feet
To get her mother up and out of the fragrant bedroom.
And gathering round him they began bathing the struggling child,
§ 290 Embracing him lovingly – but his heart was not assuaged:
The nurses and maids that held him were inferior.
All night they were propitiating the glorious god,
Shaking with fear – but when the dawn appeared,
They told the truth to widely-powerful Celeus
§ 295 What the goddess was commanding, the beautiful-garlanded Demeter.
And when he had called the many-bounded people to the assembly,
He ordered a rich temple for fair-haired Demeter
To be built, and an altar on the projecting hill.
And they very quickly obeyed him and listened to his words,
§ 300 And built it as he commanded. And the boy grew like a god.
But when they had completed it and drew back from their toil,
Each of them went home – but blond Demeter,
Sitting there apart from all the gods,
Waited, wasting away in longing for her deep-girdled daughter.
§ 305 She made that year the most dreadful upon the earth rich in pasture,
For people, and the most dog-like. The earth
Did not send upward the seed, but well-garlanded Demeter hid them.
Often in vain did the curve-horned cattle pull the plough in the fields,
Often to no avail did the white barley fall onto the ground.
§ 310 And she would have utterly destroyed the race of articulate humans
With painful famine, and would have deprived the gods
Of the due honour of gifts and burnt sacrifices,
If Zeus had not perceived it and made a plan in his mind.
He urged golden-winged Iris to summon
§ 315 Demeter, she with the fair hair and the lovely form.
So he spoke – and she obeyed the dark-clouded
Son of Cronos, and swiftly sped across the space between with her feet.
She came to the fragrant city of Eleusis
And found dark-blue-robed Demeter in the temple,
§ 320 And addressed her and spoke these winged words:
“Demeter, your father Zeus who has unceasing knowledge summons you
To come to the tribe of the everlasting gods.
Come now – do not let my command from Zeus be unfulfilled.”
So she spoke, beseeching. But Demeter’s heart was not to be persuaded.
§ 325 Once again, then, Zeus brought before him all the blessed gods
That live forever; and they went and summoned her
In succession, and gave her many exquisite gifts
And honours, which she could choose from among the immortals.
But no-one was able to persuade her heart and mind,
§ 330 As she was angry in spirit – she stiffly refused their words
She said she would never step upon fragrant
Olympus, nor send upwards grain from the earth,
Until she had seen with her own eyes her fair-eyed daughter.
And when deep-sounding wide-seeing Zeus heard this,
§ 335 He sent to Erebos Hermes of the golden wand,
To persuade Hades with gentle words
To bring back holy Persephone from the gloomy murk
Into the light among the gods again, so that her mother
Might see her with her eyes and abandon her wrath.
§ 340 But Hermes could not persuade her -- straight away under the deeps of the earth
Swiftly he leapt, after leaving the seat of Olympus.
He came upon the king of the house inside,
Seated on his bed with his revered partner,
Who was unwilling and greatly longed for her mother. But she far away
§ 345 With the actions of the blessed gods was contriving a clever plan.
Powerful Hermes stood near and spoke:
“Dark haired Hades, ruler of the dead,
Is ordered by my father Zeus to bring back illustrious
Persephone to him, so that her mother
§ 350 May see her with her own eyes and cease her wrath and dreadful anger
Against the immortals; since she is planning a monstrous action,
To kill the unabiding race of earth-going humans,
By hiding the seed under the earth, and thus causing the immortals’ honours
To wither away. Her wrath is dreadful, and she will not mingle
§ 355 With the gods, but sits apart inside the fragrant temple,
Living in the rocky citadel of Eleusis.”
So he spoke. And Aedoneus the king of those below the earth smiled
With his brows, and did not disobey the injunction of king Zeus.
Speedily he ordered prudent Persephone:
§ 360 “Persephone, go to your dark-robed mother,
You whose spirit and heart are gentle,
Nor show too much melancholy beyond anyone else –
Nor will I be thought of as a shameful partner among the immortals,
Who am the brother of your father Zeus; while you are there
§ 365 You will rule over all that lives and crawls,
And will hold the greatest honours among the immortals.
But for those who do you dishonour there will be punishment all their days –
Those who do not propitiate your spirit with burnt sacrifices,
Acting in holy wise, and fulfilling the apportioned gifts.”
§ 370 So he spoke; and thoughtful Persephone rejoiced,
And lightly leapt up with delight. But he
In stealth gave her a honey-sweet pomegranate to eat,
Distributing it to her, so she would not stay all her days
There with revered Demeter of the dark robe.
§ 375 And in front of her Aedoneus the Commander of Many
Prepared the immortal horses for her golden carriage.
She stepped in the carriage, and alongside her mighty Argeiphontes [Hermes]
Took the reins and the whip in his hands
And urged them out through the gates – and the horses flew willingly.
§ 380 Swiftly they accomplished their long journey – neither sea,
River-water, grassy hollows,
Nor mountain-tops stopped the onrush of the immortal horses,
But they went and sliced through the deep sky above them.
And he brought them and stood where the fair-garlanded Demeter was waiting
§ 385 In front of the fragrant temple – and she saw them
And cried out, like a maenad in the wood on a shadowy mountain.
But when Persephone saw her mother’s
Beautiful eyes, she left the carriage and horses,
Leapt into a run, and fell crying on her neck.
§ 390 But as she was holding her in her arms,
She straight away presaged in her heart some scheme, and feared terribly
While ceasing her embrace, and asked her:
“My child, it is not true, then, that when you were down below
You tasted any food? Tell me, don’t hide it, so that we both will know.
§ 395 As when you were alongside hateful Hades
You were honoured by me and your black-clouded father
Among all the immortal gods.
If you had tasted any, you will have to live
One third of the year under the deeps of the earth,
§ 400 And two-thirds with me and the other immortals.
But when the earth flourishes with flowers
In spring fragrant and many-coloured, at that time from under the murky gloom
You are to rise up, a great wonder to gods and mortals.
[Tell me now – how did he manage to seize you and bring you under the murky gloom?]
What scheme did Hades use to trick you?”
§ 405 And the very beautiful Persephone answered her:
“I will tell you the whole truth, mother.
When the swift luck-bringing messenger Hermes came to me
From his father Zeus and the other children of Ouranos,
He said he had come from Erebus, so that you might see me with your eyes
§ 410 And cease from your rancour and terrible fury at the immortals.
I at once leapt with delight; but stealthily
He threw me a pomegranate, a food sweet as honey,
And compelled me unwillingly by force to taste it.
I will tell you how he seized me with a shrewd stratagem
§ 415 From my father Zeus, and left, taking me under the depths of the earth,
And will go through every detail, as you ask me.
We were all playing in a lovely meadow ---
Leucippe, Phaeno, Electra and Ianthe,
Melite, Iache, Rhodeia and Callirhoe,
§ 420 Melobosis, Tyche, and Okyrhoe with a face like a flower,
Chryse, Ianeira, Akaste and Admete,
Rhodope, Pluto and lovely Calypso,
Styx, Urania and beauteous Galaxaure,
And war-rousing Pallas and arrow-pouring Artemis ---
§ 425 And plucking charming flowers with our hands,
Mixtures of gentle crocus, irises, hyacinth,
Rose-buds and lilies, wonderful to see,
And the narcissus, which the wide earth produces like a crocus.
And I was plucking one with delight – then the earth beneath me
§ 430 Opened, and the powerful king, Receiver of Many, leapt out of it,
And took me in his golden chariot beneath the earth,
Though I was much unwilling – I sent up a great scream.
All I’m telling you is true, though I’m pained about it.”
So then all day in like-minded spirit
§ 435 They cheered each other’s heart and spirit
In warm embraces. And the force of the pain was stopped.
They gave and received delight from each other.
And Hecate of the bright headband came to them –
She embraced Demeter’s holy daughter many times,
§ 440 And from that time the goddess was her attendant and companion.
But deep-sounding wide-seeing Zeus sent to them as a messenger
Fair-haired Rhea, to bring dark-robed Demeter
To the tribe of the gods, and he promised to give her
Whatever rights she might choose among the immortal gods,
§ 445 And consented that the girl during a complete year
Should spend a third of it under the murky gloom,
But two-thirds with her mother and the other immortals.
So she spoke: and the goddess did not disobey Zeus’s instructions.
Speedily then she rushed down from the heights of Olympus
§ 450 And came to Rarios, once a fertile udder of land,
But at that time infertile, and it stood
Idle and utterly leafless, because with the designs
Of beautiful-ankled Demeter the white barley lay hidden; but afterwards
It was going forthwith to be wavy with long ears of wheat
§ 455 With the growth of spring, and the land’s rich furrows
To be full of wheat, and to be bound in sheaves.
There she arrived first of all from the barren sky,
And they saw and kissed each other in welcome, and were delighted in their hearts.
And Rhea of the bright headband spoke to her:
§ 460 “Deep-sounding wide-seeing Zeus has summoned you from here, my child,
To come to the tribe of gods – he has promised to give you
Whatever rights you might choose among the immortal gods.
And he has consented that the girl during a complete year
Should spend a third of it under the murky gloom,
§ 465 But two-thirds with her mother and the other immortals.
This is what he said would be fulfilled: and he nodded this in assent.
So come, my child, listen to him – don’t rage
Too much and constantly against the black-clouded son of Cronos –-
Increase all the fertile fruit for mankind.”
§ 470 So she spoke – and fair-garlanded Demeter did not disobey him.
At once she sent up the fruit of the fields with rich clods.
The whole wide earth with leaves and flowers
Was filled; and she went to law-making kings
And revealed to Triptolemos, horse-driving Diocles,
§ 475 Mighty Eumolpus, and to Celeus leader of the people,
The performance of her rites, and declared her celebrations to everyone,
To Triptolemos and Polyxenes, and as well to Diocles
The holy things, which it is unlawful to transgress or find out,
Or speak of; for the great reverence of the gods checks their tongue.
§ 480 Blessed is the earth-going human who has seen these rites!
But whoever has not carried out the holy rites, and has not shared in them,
Will never have the same portion when he or she dies and goes under the murky gloom.
But when the divine among goddesses had done all she had promised,
She went back to Olympus among the assembly of the other gods.
§ 485 And there Demeter and Persephone dwell beside Zeus who delights in lightning,
Both of them revered and respected; much blessed is whoever among earth-going
People they love with forward minds.
At once they send to their great house as hearth-companion
Ploutos, who gives riches to mortal men.
§ 490 So come, you who hold the people of fragrant Eleusis,
And sea-girt Paros and rocky Antron,
Lady of the glorious gifts, bringer of the seasons, queen Deo,
You and your very beautiful daughter Persephone –
With forward mind opposite our song accompany our life so that it is pleasant.
§ 500 And I will remember the song of you and your daughter.