Demeter (DEH-MEH-ter) ("barley mother") was the Greek goddess of agriculture, health, birth and marriage. She was associated with the Roman goddess Ceres; also, she was the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, and therefore the sister of Zeus. Her priestesses were addressed with the title Melissa.
Demeter taught mankind the arts of agriculture: sowing seeds, ploughing, harvesting, etc. She was especially popular with rural folk, those who most benefited directly from her assistance.
Demeter had several children; these included Persephone, the consort of Hades, and Plutus, the god of wealth. Persephone became the goddess of the underworld when Hades abducted her from the earth and brought her into the underworld. She had been playing with some nymphs (or Leucippe) whom Demeter changed into the Sirens as punishment for not having interfered. Life came to a stand still as the depressed Demeter (goddess of the earth) searched for her lost daughter (resting on the stone, Agelasta). Finally, Zeus could not put up with the dying earth and forced Hades to return Persephone by sending Hermes to retrieve her. But before she was released, Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds, which forced her to return six months each year. When Demeter and her daughter were together, the earth flourished with vegetation. But for six months each year, when Persephone returned to the underworld, the earth once again became a barren realm. It was during her trip to retrieve Persephone from the underworld that she revealed the Eleusinian mysteries. In an alternate version, Hecate rescued Persephone.
While Demeter was searching for her daughter, having taken the form of an old woman called Doso, she received a hospitable welcome from Celeus, the King of Eleusis in Attica (and also Phytalus). He asked her to nurse Demophon and Triptolemus, his sons by Metanira. As a gift to Celeus, because of his hospitality, Demeter planned to make Demophon immortal by burning his mortal spirit away in the family hearth every night. She was unable to complete the ritual because Metanira walked in on her one night. Instead, Demeter chose to teach Triptolemus the art of agriculture and, from him, the rest of Greece learned the plant and reap crops. He flew across the land on a winged chariot while Demeter and Persephone cared for him, and helped him complete his mission of educating the whole of Greece on the art of agriculture.
Demeter was usually portrayed on a chariot, and frequently associated with images of the harvest, including flowers, fruit, and grain. She was also sometimes pictured with Persephone.
Poseidon once pursued Demeter. She turned herself into a mare; and he became a stallion and captured her. Their child was a horse, Arion.
Demeter was identified with Gaia, Cybele and Rhea. She was sometimes referred to with the name Damia as the goddess of growth in nature. As Auxesia, she was the goddess of growth. Demeter Chloe ("the young one") was an epithet frequently applied to her. As a goddess of marriage, women in Greek cities celebrated the festival of Thesmophoria, which comes from another epithet for Demeter: Demeter Thesmophoros ("she of the regular customs").
- With Iasion
- With Poseidon
- With Zeus
- Unknown father