Demeter’s Wanderings

Published December 24, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, this one takes place during “Hades and Persephone.”  And, true to my short-sighted ways, it would work better if I’d taken it into account at the time I was writing the earlier version, because the real reason for the main part of the action here is that Demeter learns Zeus had given Persephone to Hades without telling her, and so she became enraged at the gods and wanted, in essence, to hang out with mortals instead.  But because I had her rush right down into the underworld on learning where Persephone had gone, I have to change this up a bit.  (If I ever compile these, that’s something I’ll have to fix in both myths.)


When her lovely daughter Persephone disappeared, Demeter began to walk the earth, searching for her beloved little girl.  But no matter where she went, no one had seen any trace of the child.

By the time a month had passed, Demeter began to despair of ever seeing Persephone’s smiling face again.  Finding herself in Eleusis, she sat down by a well and began to weep.

While she was sitting there crying, a maiden came up to the well for water.  On seeing the beautiful woman crying, she set down her pitcher, and tried to console the woman, patting her shoulder sympathetically.

“What’s wrong?” the girl asked.

“I’ve lost my daughter,” Demeter told her, “and now I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, that’s so sad!  I’m so very sorry for your loss!” the girl exclaimed.  She had seen her infant brother die a few years back, so she knew what terrible grief it was to a mother to go through such losses.  And she knew that what a grieving mother needed was a new baby to distract her.  At least, that had worked for her mother, anyway.  “You should ask your husband to provide you with a new one,” the girl suggested.

Demeter shook her head.  “I have no husband,” she sobbed.

How awful, the girl thought.  This poor woman had lost both her baby and her husband?  “I wish there was something I could do to help,” the girl said sadly, “but I can’t stay long.  My sisters and I have to trade off taking care of our baby brother while our mother is ill.”

Demeter smiled up at the girl, her tears slowing.  “What a good girl you are,” she said.  “Let me help you with the baby.”

Any adult would have been leery of letting a madly grieving woman — who had so recently failed to keep her baby alive — have access to another person’s baby.  But this girl was still too young to have developed cynicism and mistrust, so she agreed readily, thinking that this would solve both problems:  it would cheer up the beautiful woman, and it would get the girl out of taking care of her squalling baby brother.

Gladly, then, the girl led Demeter back to her house, where she and her sisters were glad to turn over all care of the baby to this obliging stranger.  And Demeter quickly proved herself knowledgeable about both babies and running a household, so any worries the sisters might have had were quickly assuaged.

By the time Demeter had been in the house a whole day, she had become quite attached to the infant, a boy named Demophoon.  So that night, she decided to do him a wonderful favor:  she would make him immortal.

By day, she began to feed him on ambrosia, and by night she coated him in the stuff, then placed him in the hot embers at the edge of the hearth to burn away his mortality.  The baby cried and cried, for the procedure was very painful, but no one in the household heard him, and Demeter was able to quiet him down successfully as soon as he was out of the fire.

On the third night of this, tragedy struck:  the baby’s mother recovered from her illness.  While the mother was quite pleased to have someone else continue to take care of her child, once she was well, she was able to hear the baby crying at night, and she came to see what was the cause of his pain.

Seeing her baby in the hearth, the mother cried out in horror and terror.  She ran across the kitchen and snatched the baby out into the safety of her arms, then began to curse Demeter in such terrible language that it made the goddess sad to think of poor little Demophoon hearing it.

The mother’s outrage woke the whole household, and soon they were turning on Demeter, demanding that she be punished for trying to murder their baby.

This awoke the goddess’s anger, and she relaxed her mortal disguise, giving the fools a taste of just who they had angered.  Then, cursing them for their short-sightedness in trying to stop her from making their baby immortal, Demeter departed the house, and went out to the nearest fields.

One by one, she caused every plant to wither and die.  If these people didn’t want their son to live forever, then they didn’t deserve her bounties!

A few days later, Triptolemos, the father of the family appeared at Demeter’s shrine, and laid out a magnificent offering at the foot of her statue.  Demeter didn’t want an offering from him, but she couldn’t help listening to his prayer, none the less.

“Please, great goddess, forgive us for our foolish actions,” he pleaded.  “Even if you can’t forgive my wife and I, please don’t punish everyone around us.  If we must be punished, then strike us down, but don’t starve the innocent.  And don’t punish our innocent son.  We didn’t know you were trying to save him.  It looked like torture; we only wanted to protect him.  Don’t let him suffer for our mistake.”

The man wept as he pleaded with her, and Demeter’s heart softened.  She allowed the plants to grow again — as best they could, since nothing at all was growing much in Persephone’s absence — and spoke to him through her statue, telling him that if he proved his words by giving her daily offerings, then when his son learned to talk, she would speak to him through his son, and give him far greater knowledge of harvesting crops than any man yet knew, but only if he would swear to share that knowledge with all the other men of the world.

Relieved and honored, the man swore he would do as she asked, then went home again, to share the glad tidings with his family.

Many years later, after he had spread knowledge of cultivation all across the world, he and his family began to celebrate the cult of Demeter and Persephone (under her other name, Kore) that made Eleusis famous.


Yay, another lame ending!  Boy, if there were prizes for being unable to end a story properly…

Anyway, there are a lot of versions about Triptolemos.  Sometimes he’s immortal (or at least the son of an immortal or two), sometimes he’s baby Demeter’s trying to make immortal, and…well, let’s just leave it at “there are a lot of versions.”

I’ve loosely based this on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, but mine is a pretty bare bones version, I’m sorry to say.   Things have been crazy around here…

 

 

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