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date: 28 February 2021

Demeterlocked

  • Nicholas J. Richardson

Extract

Demeter, the Greek goddess of corn, identified in Italy with *Ceres. The second part of her name means ‘mother’, and δη (or δα) was thought to mean ‘earth’ in antiquity, but the Greeks had a separate goddess of the Earth, and Demeter came later in the pantheon, as granddaughter of Ge (*Gaia) and sister of *Zeus. An alternative modern theory connects δη with δηαί, the Cretan word for ‘barley’ (cf. ζειά, ‘spelt’), but this is linguistically doubtful. She is, however, certainly the goddess who controls all crops and vegetation, and so the sustainer of life for men and animals. In early epic corn is called ‘Demeter's grain’ (Δημήτερος ἀκτή), and in a Homeric simile ‘blonde Demeter’ herself winnows grain from chaff (Il. 5. 500 f.). Her daughter by Zeus, *Persephone (Attic Pherrephatta), was called simply Κόρη, ‘the Girl’, and the two were so closely linked that they were known as ‘the Two Goddesses’ (τὼ Θεώ) or even sometimes as ‘the Demeters’ (Δημήτερες).

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