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Chapter 28

Demeter and Persephone: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter

Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and agriculture, was an important figure in Greek religion, and the Hymn in this chapter tells the story of the struggle that was said to lie behind the founding of her temple at Eleusis, near Athens. According to this myth, Demeter contended with Zeus, the father of the gods, to have a say in the terms under which her daughter Persephone was to marry. As you read, compare Demeter to the other Greek figure who struggled against the power of Zeus, Prometheus. Consider the story according to the stages represented by Joseph Campbell as occurring in the journey of the hero: what difficulties arise in such an analysis because the hero you are considering is a woman?

Because the worship of Demeter was supposed to confer special blessings in the afterlife, it reflects Greek beliefs with respect to death and a person's fate after it. In addition, this story about Demeter reflects cultural values related to marriage and the role of women. Consider the story of Demeter and Persephone in light of what you have read in this book about the Greek gender gap (Chapter 3).

Claude Levi-Strauss has argued that one of the main motifs running through all of Greek myth is a tension between undervaluing kinship and overvaluing it (Chapter 22). Relate the story of Demeter and Persephone to these themes.



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