Who is Demeter? - Greek Goddess Demeter
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Who is Demeter?

Wheat field (Demeter)

April 2016 - For the Greeks, Demeter is an earth goddess; her name is De, which means earth (the same word as Gaia) and meter, which means mother. Demeter is the goddess of growing things, especially of grains like wheat and barley and millet.

Demeter's daughter, Persephone, is the grain itself, so Demeter is the earth giving birth to the grain.

Mythologically, Demeter is the sister of Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and Hera, and so, like them, she is the daughter of Gaia, or Earth. This makes a lot of sense for a goddess of growing crops, because that is exactly what produces crops: earth.

Demeter and Persephone
Demeter, Persephone, and Triptolemos
(the boy), an 1899 drawing from a
stone carving found at Eleusis .

The most important story about Demeter is that of her daughter Persephone. She's also a minor character in the story of Tantalus and his son Pelops.

Demeter also plays an important part in the Greek religious mystery cult at Eleusis. (To find out more about Triptolemos, read about Eleusis.)

Learn by doing: bake a loaf of bread
More about Persephone

Bibliography and further reading about Demeter:

D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, by Edgar and Ingri D'Aulaire.

Greek Religion, by Walter Burkert (reprinted 1987). By a leading expert. He has sections on each of the Greek gods, and discusses their deeper meanings, and their function in Greek society.

Ancient Mystery Cults, by Walter Burkert (reprinted 1989). More about Demeter at Eleusis and other mystery cults.

Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, by G.E. Mylonas (1961).

Watch out! On Demeter, there are a lot of books which are more neo-pagan religion, or Freudian theory, than they are historical facts. The books we recommend have been selected for their strict historical accuracy.

More about Persephone
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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