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Women In Greek Mythology

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C. Kerényi (essay date 1949)

SOURCE: "Kore," in Essays on a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and The Mysteries of Eleusis, by C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, translated by R. F. C. Hull, Bollingen Series, XXII, Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 101-55.

[In the following excerpt, from an essay originally published in 1949, Kerényi analyzes the nature of "maiden goddesses" and their role and function in Greek mythology. Kerényi describes the Kore, or maiden goddess, as a paradox, in that she represents both mother and maiden, both "begetter and begotten."]

How can a man know what a woman's life is? A woman's life is quite different from a man's. God has ordered it so. A man is the same from the time of his circumcision to the time of his withering. He is the same before he has sought out a woman for the first time, and afterwards. But the day when a woman enjoys her first love cuts her in two. She becomes another woman on that day. The man is the same after his first love as he was before. The woman is from the day of her first love another. That continues so all through life. The man spends a night by a woman and goes away. His life and body are always the same. The woman conceives. As a mother she is another person than the woman without child. She carries the fruit of the night for nine months in her body. Something grows. Something grows into her life that never again departs from it. She is a mother. She is and remains a mother even though her child die, though all her children die. For at one time she carried the child under her heart. And it does not go out of her heart ever again. Not even when it is dead. All this the man does not know; he knows nothing. He does not know the difference before love and after love, before motherhood and after motherhood. He can know nothing. Only a woman can know that and speak of that. That is why we won't be told what to do by our husbands. A woman can only do one thing. She can respect herself. She can keep herself decent. She must always be as her nature is. She must always be maiden and always be mother. Before every love she is a maiden, after every love she is a mother. In this you can see whether she is a good woman or not.

Let these words of a noble Abyssinian woman, quoted by Frobenius in one of his finest books, Der Kopf als Schicksal (p. 88), stand as a motto in preparation and confirmation of what is said in the sequel. I did not know them when I wrote my study of the Kore. They are meant at the same time to stand in remembrance of a great man, whose life's work is an abiding stimulus to all those concerned with anthropology and mythology.


The Florentine Renaissance came to love the Homeric hymns even more than the two great epics. Marsilius Ficinus, the translator of Plato, began by translating the Homeric and Orphic hymns. We know that he also sang them in the antique manner to the accompaniment of a lute. Angelo Poliziano, another leading spirit of Florentine humanism, paraphrased a hymn to Aphrodite—neither the greatest nor the least of those ascribed to Homer—in his own verses. We could say that he painted it in the style of the Quattrocento were it not for the...

(This entire section contains 32670 words.)

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painter who actually did so, with Poliziano's poetic assistance: Botticelli.1The Birth of Venus is not a good name for this picture. It is rather Aphrodite's arrival in Cyprus according to the Homeric hymn, or, in accordance with the significance of this masterpiece and the role it has played in our civilization, Aphrodite's arrival among us. Botticelli's picture contains at least as much living mythology as the Homeric hymn.2

Aphrodite's birth is different: brutal and violent, and departing from the style of Homeric poetry in just as archaic a manner as from the style of Botticelli. In both cases the mutilation of Uranos, the casting of his manhood into the sea, the whole terrible foregoing history, the titanic mythology of the world's beginnings—all this was swept aside. The unity of that mythological moment when begetter and begotten were one in the womb of the water3 had been broken up even in Hesiod and become a historical process. In Hesiod, too, we hear of Aphrodite drifting, drifting on the waves, as Maui did in the myth of the Polynesians.4 At last the white foam gave birth to the girl who took her name from it: [aphros] is foam and Aphrodite the goddess. This ancient etymology, accepted by Hesiod, derived its credibility from a grand mythological vision that must be still older: from the picture of Anadyomene, the goddess risen from the waves. Representations of Aphrodite's arrival are later. The mild breeze carries the great goddess, already born, to one of her sacred islands, or, in Botticelli's picture, to firm ground.

The soft foam that cushions Aphrodite is a symbol of her birth, and fits in with the Homeric style just as the mussel-shell does with Botticelli's. In the Roman poets we read that Venus was born of a mussel-shell, or that she journeyed in a mussel-shell over the sea. Ancient representations show her as if growing out of a mussel. We need not surmise with H. Usener, the eminent philologist, that the growth of the pearl was at the bottom of the symbol.5 Later, this image was blended with the archaic foam-image. Originally yet another kind of mussel, by no means so noble, was the creature sacred to Aphrodite in Cnidos.6 The mussel in general constitutes a most graphic example and expression, appealing at once to the senses, of the aphrodisian properties of the "humid element." The Homeric poem was too spiritual to employ this symbol. Poliziano was too sensual to be able to forget it. Venus steps out of her mussel-shell in Botticelli in such a way that you can see immediately: it belongs to the goddess, yet she is leaving it behind her as she leaves behind the whole of primitive mythology, which Poliziano nevertheless relates according to Hesiod.

From the high sea, stepping out of a mussel-shell, borne along by the wind and received by the gaily clad goddess of earth, Aphrodite Anadyomene arrives. She is an aspect of the primordial maiden, Protogonos Kore. Botticelli's picture helps us, as modern men, to conjure up the vision of Anadyomene. And she must be conjured up if we want to understand the goddesses of the Greeks. She is the closest to the origins.

The Paradox of the Mythological Idea

To the religious-minded man of the Greek world, his divinities had always appeared in classical perfection since the time of Homer. And undoubtedly they appeared not as the fictions or creations of art but as living deities who could be believed in. They can best be understood as eternal forms, the great world-realities. "The reason for the mightiness of all these figures lies in their truth."7 As psychologists we may stress the fact that this truth is always a psychic reality; as historians we may add that the psychic reality of such a truth, as indeed of all truth, changes with time;8 as biologists we may call the alteration of the power that so moves us natural decay, but the essentially convincing inner structure of the classical Greek divinities remains unshakable for all time.

We have a handy comparison in the kind of formula that gives us a clear picture of the balance of tremendous cosmic forces, that catches the world in each of its aspects as though in a border-line situation and presents it to the mind as though the least disturbance of that balance would bring about a universal collapse. Every natural law is just such a balanced aspect of the world and is immediately intelligible as the mathematical formulation of a border-line situation.

So it is with the figures of gods. In Apollo sublimest clarity and the darkness of death face one another, perfectly poised and equal, on a border-line;9 in Dionysus, life and death;10 in Zeus, might and right11—to name only the three greatest. In relation to the cosmos as a whole, these divinities are merely certain aspects of it; in themselves they are wholes,12 "worlds" which have aspects in their turn, and contradictory aspects for the very reason that their structure combines contradictions in perfect equilibrium.

Such gods can only be understood as spiritual ideas; in other words, they can only be known by immediate revelation.13 They cannot emerge step by step from something quite different. And conversely, we cannot imagine or believe in a god who did not appear to the spirit, who was not an immediate spiritual revelation. The very possibility of the Greek divinities, the reason for their credibility, consists in the fact that they are ideal.

If the historian ventures to adopt an attitude in accord with this knowledge; if he is bold enough to take the things of the spirit spiritually, and religion religiously, he immediately lights on a paradox. He can easily go so far back into the prehistory of the Greek gods that the balance we have spoken of dissolves before his eyes and all certain outlines vanish. Artemis, for instance, is to be found in the untamedness of young animals and equally in the terrors of birth. In the classical figure of this goddess, the wildness and the terrors meet at a border-line: they are in equilibrium.14 The further we penetrate into her prehistory, the more the outlines connected with the name of "Artemis" evaporate. The border-line situation widens into a border-region midway between motherhood and maidenhood, joie de vivre and lust for murder, fecundity and animality. The more we realize that the divinity of the gods can only be experienced spiritually, in the illumination of an idea, by direct revelation, the more we sense a difficulty. The majority of investigators shrink from recognizing ideal figures in the gods, thinking of much that is the reverse of ideal in the early history of Greek religion so far as known.

It is a paradox, but nothing impossible, that we meet here: the revelation of something that is dark in comparison with an idea, but ideal in comparison with blind feeling—the revelation of something still unopened, like a bud. All the most ancient mythological ideas are buds of this sort. Above all, the idea of genesis and origin—an idea which every living thing experiences in its own genesis and, to that extent, realizes in fact. Mythologically, the idea is embodied in miraculous "primal beings," either in such a way that in them father and child, prime begetter and prime begotten, are one and the same, or that the fate of the woman becomes the symbol and expression of all genesis and origination. Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus, Hermes, Asklepios, Heracles—all may be regarded as having evolved out of a mythological primordial child, who originally comprised both begetter and begotten.15 The same idea, seen as the woman's fate, presented itself to the Greeks in equally budlike form. The budlike quality of it is expressed in the name often given to its personification: Kore, which is simply the goddess "Maiden."

The Kore-goddess throws light on the old mythological idea in its budlike capacity to unfold and yet to contain a whole compact world in itself. The idea can also be likened to a nucleus. We have to understand, as it were, the structure hidden in the "abyss of the nucleus." In so doing, we must not forget the figure of Anadyomene. We shall have an assurance that our understanding is true to life if this ideal structure, as we conceive it, remains compatible with her image.


Maiden-goddesses are far more typical of Greek religion than boy-gods or even, perhaps, divine youths. Divine maidens are in fact so typical of this religion that it cannot be called either a "Father religion" or a "Mother religion," or yet a combination of both. It is as though the Olympian order had thrust the great Mother Goddesses of olden time into the background for the sole purpose of throwing the divine Korai into sharper relief. In the innermost circle of the hierarchy of Greek gods—both on Olympus and in the lesser world of many a Greek city—it was not Hera, Zeus' spouse, who shared dominion with him so much as the androgynous figure of Pallas Athene.

In the Peloponnese she was also adored as "Mother Athene,"16 and to the Athenians she was very much the "Mother."17 Nevertheless, this designation does not. affect her essence, which cannot be better expressed than by the word "Kore." She was called by this more often than by the other name for virgin—parthenos. The very coins that bore her image were known as korai in Athenian parlance.18 Her "maidenhood," however, was not thought of in connection with the mother whose daughter she might have been. The goddess Metis, who might have been her mother, vanished in Zeus, and Pallas Athene sprang from her father.19 Still less was her "maidenhood" understood in connection with a man, for whom she might have been intended or to whom she might have fallen like any other maiden. The Greek idea of divinity seems first to have freed itself from sexuality in the maidenhood of Athene, without, however, forfeiting a characteristic otherwise peculiar to male divinities like Zeus and Apollo, namely intellectual and spiritual power.20

In the outer circle of the Olympian hierarchy there reigns yet another maiden—Artemis. She too is both Kore and Parthenos. But her maidenhood expresses something different from Athene's.21 Her world is the wide world of Nature, and the brute realities balanced in her—unsubdued virginity and the terrors of birth—have their dominion in a purely naturalistic, feminine world. Athene's maidenhood excluded the very possibility of her succumbing to a man; with Artemis, on the other hand, her maidenhood presupposes this possibility. The connection between Artemis the Kore and her mother is looser than between the Kore Persephone and Demeter. Yet Leto is not forgotten when we evoke a vision of Artemis: she is there, enjoying the spectacle of Artemis dancing.22 The great mythological poets of antiquity, like Aeschylus,23 and the experts on old mythologems, like Callimachus,24 ventured to hint that it was a question of only one Kore and one mother, namely Demeter's daughter, be she called Artemis or Persephone.

Persephone, generally called Kore or Pais … by the Greeks, differs from Athene in the same way as Artemis. She is a Kore not because she is above all feminine connections—with mother or husband—but because she embodies these connections as two forms of being each carried to extremes and balanced against one another. One of the forms (daughter with mother) appears as life; the other (young girl with husband) as death. Mother and daughter form a living unity in a border-line situation—a natural unit which, equally naturally, carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. As a maiden, Persephone is an Artemisian figure. She might well have been one of the companions of Artemis who were untrue to their maidenhood and thus paid the penalty of death. This is what in fact happens (though she herself is guiltless) because it is in her nature to happen.

Athene and Artemis as the playmates of Persephone, who were present at her rape'25—thus the myth unites the three variations on the theme of the Kore in a single incident. Artemis and Persephone are like two sides of the same reality. Artemis is the active one. She carries death in herself in the form of murder; according to Homer she was a lioness to women,26 and in Arcady and Attica she was a bear.27 Persephone is completely passive. She was picking flowers when she was raped by the Lord of the Dead. They were heavily scented flowers, stupefying flowers like the narcissus.28 Poets have never failed to catch the significance of this scene. For one of them29 the flowers were "hell-hounds on her heels" for another30 it was a case of "Persephone gathering flowers, herself a fairer flower." The Kore is a creature destined to a flower-like existence which cannot be better described than by one of the poets mentioned:31

… a little torrent of life
leaps up to the summit of the stem, gleams,
 over round the bend
of the parabola of curved flight,
sinks, and is gone, like a comet curving into
  the invisible.

Such would seem to be the essence of Persephone: a lingering on the borders of Hades, a fleeting moment of climax, no sooner here than gone. This Kore would be a perfectly ideal figure, a poetic image as clear and pure as a mathematical formula, if it were all nothing but an allegory. An allegory of woman's fate: the borders of Hades an allegory of the border-line between maidenhood and the "other" life, and the seducer, King of the Underworld, an allegory of the earthly bridegroom and husband. But it is not so. As the relics of the Persephone cult show, the meaning is the other way about. She was worshipped in the most serious manner as the Queen of the Dead, and the rape of the bride was an allegory of death. Lost maidenhood and the crossing of the borders of Hades are allegorical equivalents—the one can stand for the other equally well.

This kind of equivalence only exists in a given sphere, in an immediately recognizable spiritual connection that can combine very different things, such as marriage and death, in one comprehensive idea. Mythological ideas are like the compact buds of such connections. They always contain more than the non-mythological mind could conceive. This is also true of the Kore, whom we have so far been considering only in her most human form. Here, then, is our Persephone: a creature standing unsubdued on a pinnacle of life and there meeting her fate—a fate that means death in fulfilment and dominion in death.


The oldest account of the rape of the Kore is at the beginning of the Homeric hymn to Demeter. The unknown poet sets out to sing of Demeter, the great Mother Goddess, "of her and her daughter." The "two goddesses" …, so they were called at Eleusis, the sacred place whose fame the hymn declares. They are to be thought of as a double figure, one half of which is the ideal complement of the other. Persephone is, above all, her mother's Kore: without her, Demeter would not be a Meter.

Persephone appears in just as ideal a light in another connection as well—as the half of another double figure, the Rulers of the Underworld. Here, as her bridegroom's Kore, she belongs (much as the equivalent Thessalian figure was called "Admetus' Kore")32 to her husband, Hades, to whom she was given by Zeus. The triad consisting of Mother, Kore, and Seducer has a clear and natural place in Zeus' world-order. Clarity and naturalness and a well-defined place in Zeus' world are characteristic of the Homeric style of the hymn.

But a third goddess has a notable part to play beside mother and daughter. According to the hymn, Persephone was raped somewhere in the distance, on the flat ground near the mythological Mount Nyssa, where she was playing with the daughters of Oceanus. The scene, however, is still of our world, the world in which our sun shines, to whom Demeter can appeal as the surest eye-witness of the rape. Like the sun, this third goddess appears to belong to the Demeter-Persephone world: Hecate. She is in her cave when the sun sees the seduction. All she hears are the cries of the seduced. She is often held to be the representative of the moon, particularly as she is closely related to this heavenly body in other ways.33

On the other hand she would seem to be the double of Demeter herself She hears the victim's voice, just as Demeter hears it. She meets Demeter "with a light in her hand" and asks about the seducer in words which, according to an Orphic version of the hymn, are Demeter's own. Then, the poet says, they both go to seek the sun, the eye-witness. There are, however, two versions of the mythologem, one of which leads Demeter,34 the other Hecate,35 to the Underworld in search of Persephone. After mother and daughter are reunited, Hecate once more appears in the hymn in order to receive the Kore and remain her companion always: Hecate and Persephone are as inseparable as Persephone and Demeter. Gaia, the Earth Mother, has no connection whatever with Demeter in the hymn; she is the seducer's accomplice. So Hecate's close relationship with the double figure of Demeter and the Kore is all the more striking.

A compact group, a triad of unmistakable individuals, this is how the hymn shows the three goddesses: Mother, Daughter, and the moon-goddess Hecate. They are easily confused on sacred monuments, because the torch appears to be the attribute of each of them. This emblem accords with the epithet phosphoros, which is applied to Hecate more than once.36 She is thus explicitly called the "bringer of light." The torch she carries is described in the hymn as … "light," but not as a means of purification, which is how many moderns are inclined to take this palpable symbol. "Light-bringing" is no doubt an essential part of the goddess's nature, but the torch is characteristic not only of Hecate, it also plays an important part in the Demeter and Persephone cult. One torch, two torches held by the same goddess, three torches in a row,37 or the "crossed torch" with four lights, all these occur as attributes of both Demeter and Persephone;38 and this variety of forms proves that we are dealing with some sort of expression rather than an application; a symbol, not a means to a practical end. In the hymn itself Demeter appears with two burning torches.39 Further investigation outside the confines of the strictly Homeric Zeusworld convinces us that we are not far wrong in our surmise that Hecate is a second Demeter.

As Greek religion developed, there appeared, even in places where the overlordship of Zeus so characteristic of the Homeric religion was of long standing, certain divinities who, on the fringes of the Hellenic cultural world, had retained all their pre-Homeric, pristine freshness. Thus the great goddess of the town of Pherai in Thessaly—Pheraia-—came to Athens as a "foreign" divinity. In this torch-bearing goddess the Athenians recognized their own Hecate,40 whereas in her Thessalian home Pheraia was none other than Demeter herself.41 Pheraia's daughter was also known as Hecate, a different Hecate from the great goddess of Pherai, though obviously resembling her mother.42 Demeter and her daughter display, in a more primitive form than the Homeric and Attic one, features that permit both of them to appear as Hecate. Or, looking at it from the other point of view, we could say: the Greeks attached the name "Hecate" to a goddess who united in herself affinities with the moon, a Demetrian nature, and Korelike characteristics—not only those of Persephone but of Artemis as well. She was invoked as the daughter of Demeter and the daughter of Leto.43 Hecate and Artemis, Trivia and Diana are used so often as equivalent names in ancient literature that we cannot regard this as wholly groundless, any more than we can the familiar equation of Persephone with the moon44 and Diana with Luna.45

The budlike idea of the connection between three aspects of the world—maiden, mother, and moon—hovers at the back of the triad of goddesses in the Homeric hymn. Hecate has a subordinate part to play in keeping with her position on the fringes of the Zeus-world. And yet she still retains, even under Zeus' rule, the characteristics of that archaic figure who preceded the historical Hecate. One such characteristic, and the chief among them, is the triple form which appears relatively late in artistic representations of the goddess,46 but is indirectly confirmed by Hesiod. The poet of the Theogony acclaims her as the mighty Mistress of three realms—earth, heaven, and sea.47 He also says that the goddess already had this dominion in the time of the Titans, before Zeus and his order. The new ruler of the world honoured her by leaving her in her former majesty.

The classical figure of Hecate stands stiff and strange in the Greek world, built up on a triangle, and with faces turned in three directions. They tried to get rid of the stiffness of these Hecate statues by breaking up the triune goddess into three dancing maidens. Later times were to stick more rigidly to the characteristic number 3 than did the classical age of Hesiod. The fact that Hecateia were set up at the crossing of three roads and that these places were held especially sacred to Hecate does not militate against the Hesiodic or cosmic conception of the number 3: all crossings of three roads point clearly and obviously enough to the possibility of dividing the world into three parts. At the same time Hecate, as Mistress of the Spirits, warned the Greeks that a threefold division would necessarily leave, side by side with the ordered world of Zeus, a chaotic region in which the amorphousness of the primitive world could live on as the Underworld. The Greeks took Hecate's triplicity as something underworldly.

But in earlier times, before Hecate's three faces had petrified into the well-known Hecateia, these three aspects, it seems, were so many aspects or realms of the world, so many possible developments of one and the same compact, budlike idea. Hence we see the inner connection between Demeter, the Kore, and Hecate—and thus the profoundest idea of the mythologem as unfolded in the hymn—in the figure of what is apparently the least of the goddesses, the most subordinate of the three.

Besides her Kore quality, her affinity with the moon and with a primitive world of ghosts, a sort of motherliness also pertains to the idea of Hecate. Like Artemis or Mother Earth herself, she was … nurse and nourisher of all those born after her.48 In the hymn it is Demeter that appears in this role, as nurse of the king's youngest son in Eleusis. And it is to her figure that our concern with Hecate now leads us. In her as well those elements are contained which, besides those already mentioned, constitute the fundamental idea of the hymn. We must not forget for an instant that it is not the idea of the classical or still later Hecate that comes closest to this fundamental idea, but of an original Demeter and Hecate in one person.


The sphere of human realities, such as maidenhood and motherhood, is enlarged in the Demeter hymn insofar as it now, thanks to Hecate, suggests a relationship to the moon. At the same time Demeter herself seems to lead us back to something purely human. "La déesse mère vouée à l'éternel regret de sa fille disparue" is how a historian of Greek sculpture describes the celebrated seated statue of her found in Cnidos.49 These words might also characterize the Demeter of the hymn. The poet describes Persephone's rape at the beginning of the poem, and from then on it is full of her divine mother's pain and grief. Even in their reunion there is still a portion of bitterness, for Persephone has eaten, while with her husband, of the pomegranate and has to spend a third of every year with him.50 The mother never quite succeeds in getting her daughter back again.

Human sorrow, yet not merely human. For the goddess lets no crops grow during her daughter's absence, and by means of the earth's unfruitfulness she compels the gods to restore her daughter. And she it is who, appeased, lets fruit and flowers grow once more. She "lets" all this "come up,"51 she who is adored as Anesidora, Chloe ("the Green One"), and Karpophoros ("Bringer of Fruit"). As Horephoros she also brings the favourable season. Science is in the greatest doubt whether she should be identified with the earth or with the grain, or should be regarded as a subterranean power. There are adherents to all three views among the learned. In order to decide for one or the other we must have a clear understanding of the Homeric poet's point of view.

Demeter describes herself in the hymn as being "of the greatest use and the greatest joy to gods and men."52 There is not a word about her having taught men the use of agriculture and the joys of the grain. She could have done—and, according to other sources, did—this just as Aphrodite taught her particular "works"—love—had she felt any special desire to do so. Aphrodite is all love, the great goddess who is the cosmic principle and ideal illustration of her works, which she alone makes possible. Once Aphrodite has become a psychic reality, love is the unavoidable and obvious thing. Equally obviously, the idea of Demeter includes, for the Homeric poet, the idea of agriculture, and her fate the fate of the grain.

Neither does the goddess show men what has to be done with the grain. What she does show, after the earth has yielded up its fruit, are the mysteries of Eleusis. The mythical king of that place and his sons learn from her the secret usages of the cult, which the poet may not disclose. He who has seen the unutterable works of Demeter is fortunate: the uninitiate will enjoy no such lot in the darkness of death.53

So much we learn from the Homeric poet. For him, grain is the self-evident gift of the goddess. What Demeter shows to mortals over and above this is something worthy of note but not to be named.… The hymn is completely unthinkable without this allusion to the mysterious, supreme gift of the goddess. But we do not need to write a poem just to say something self-evident and already tacitly assumed, as is this connection between Demeter and the grain.54 It is no less fundamental to the hymn than the other connections we have mentioned, between marriage and death and maiden and moon. On this self-evident foundation rests the special thing that the goddess does and shows. One of the symbols that was displayed in the Eleusinian mysteries on Demeter's instructions was a single ear of grain.55 So the self-evident gift of the goddess serves to express what was revealed only to the initiate. The core of the Demetrian idea has grain and motherhood as its natural sheath and disguise. All three aspects—Mother Goddess, Corn Goddess, and Goddess of esoteric mysteries—belong to the figure of Demeter; none of them can be thought away, and the latter two in particular are closely connected in the hymn.

The strange conduct of Demeter as a nurse seems, in the hymn, to rest likewise on these two aspects. When, still unknown, the goddess came to Eleusis she offered her services as nurse to the friendly daughters of the king. These gave her the king's youngest son, Demophoön, to look after. Every night she laid him secretly in the fire—a singular method of obtaining immortality for her charge! The Homeric poet likens the child so placed to a flaming brand or torch.… He may have been thinking of the great part the torch played in the nocturnal celebrations at Eleusis. The mythological picture of the child in the fire56 is in accord with the fact that in the mysteries the birth of a divine child was celebrated with the shining of a great light. Caught in her strange and awful act, the goddess speaks, in words of mystic revelation, of the ignorance of men.57 Had they understanding of good and evil, she says, they would also understand the significance of that apparently deadly deed.

The meaning of it—good concealed in evil—is immortality. There can be no doubt of that. It is scarcely necessary to point out that Demeter's behaviour is not "anthropomorphic." To be laid in the fire and yet to remain alive, indeed to win immortality—that is no human fate. Does the goddess, perhaps, overstep the bounds of the humanly possible by reason of her sovereignty in that other domain of hers, which includes the fate of the grain? And not only by reason of her power, but because of her form? It would seem so, when we consider that the Demetrian fruit is perfected for human nourishment in the fire. Whether it is parched or baked as bread, death by fire is the fate of the grain. Nevertheless, every sort of grain is eternal. "I am not dead"—so sings the Maize God of the Cora Indians of Mexico after he is given over to the fire.58 "My younger brothers (mankind) appear but once. Do they not die forever? But I never die; I appear continually.… Among another tribe of Mexican Indians, the Tahumares, new-born boys undergo, on the third day, a rite very similar to what the Cora Indians do to the cobs that signify the Maize God: they make a great fire out of the stalks and carry the child three times through the smoke in all four directions. They do this, so runs the explanation today, in order that the child may thrive and be successful in life, i.e., in "raising corn."59

Of all the analogies that have been collected60 this seems to fit best. Demeter treats Demophoön as though he were grain. Not, however, in order to make a successful farmer out of him. The Demophoön incident points as clearly as does the whole hymn to the fact that immortality is one of Demeter's gifts and that this immortality is akin to that of the grain. Old questions at once arise: Is Demeter's motherhood to be understood metaphorically? Was not the goddess, before she became completely anthropomorphic, a "Corn Mother," the ripe corn being taken as a maternal entity? And consequently, is not her daughter only apparently a maiden, but in reality a kind of plant? In late antiquity the word [korē was explained as the feminine form of [koros] (sprout).61 Another old interpretation is in the same spirit, which saw in Demeter's ravished daughter the grain for sowing.62 The disappearance of both as though in death and their resurrection-like return said much in favour of this view. Yet even in antiquity such interpretations were merely rationalistic explanations which reversed the religious meaning: for the religious-minded man the grain expressed an inexpressible divine reality rather than that the goddess, Demeter's daughter, expressed the grain. The Kore figure of Persephone may have been the allegorical equivalent of the grain, but they are so equivalent that each can stand for the other. Both allude only to that unutterable thing hinted at in the very name of this Kore—… the Maiden not to be named.63

Mother divided from daughter, and the mown ear, are two symbols of something unspeakably painful that is hidden in the Demeter-aspect of the world; but also of something very consoling. Demeter contains this consolation in herself and reveals it in Eleusis. Seen as a whole, the Demetrian idea is not confined to purely human forms and relations, nor is it exhausted in the great reality of the grain. But in this non-human reality the idea is more comprehensive than it is in its purely human forms. The grain-figure is essentially the figure of both origin and end, of mother and daughter; and just because of that it points beyond the individual to the universal and eternal. It is always the grain that sinks to earth and returns, always the grain that is mown down in golden fullness and yet, as fat and healthy seed, remains whole, mother and daughter in one.

The symbolical value of the grain in the Demeter religion is vouched for in every way. The mown ear in Eleusis, five beautiful stalks of wheat in a little temple depicted on a vase64—there is evidence enough. The two great goddesses …65 are not diminished in their aspect as grain; on the contrary they become greater, more comprehensive, more cosmic. Herein lies the real religious value of everything in the fate of the grain that reminded the Greeks of the fate of Persephone. And what did not remind them of it? There was hardly anything that did not do so. The only thing that is impossible is to reduce the whole mythologem of mother and daughter, and the innumerable associations that unfold in it like a bud, merely to the fate of the grain and to understand it purely allegorically. The mythological idea does not keep strictly to any natural process; it is enriched by them and enriches them in turn. It takes from nature but gives back again, and this is the sense in which we are to think of the relationship between the Persephone myth and the fate of the grain.

In Attica, besides the lesser mysteries in Agrai and the great mysteries in Eleusis, there were various other festivals connected with Persephone. Two of them fell at the time of the sowing: the Eleusinian mysteries and a women's festival, the Thesmophoria, from which men were excluded. Both involved fasting, following the example of Demeter's fast; and thus both were in some way connected with the disappearance of the Kore, which occasioned the fasting. Hence it was the sowing of the grain that reminded the Greeks of the Kore's rape.

The link between sowing the grain and vanishing in the underworld is confirmed by a further correspondence of myth and cult. The Orphic variants of the mythologem relegated the events in the Homeric hymn to a very primitive setting.66 A swineherd comes in, with the name of Eubuleus (a name also of Hades); he is the witness of the rape, because his pigs were swallowed up by the earth along with Persephone. This story is borne out—as the sources themselves show67—by the fact that young pigs were cast into pits in honour of the two goddesses. We learn this in connection with the Thesmophoria; but it would be clear enough in any case that an analogy existed between the cavalier treatment of pigs and the sowing of the grain.

The pig is Demeter's sacrificial animal. In one connection, where it is dedicated to the Eleusinian mysteries, it is called …68 the "uterine animal" of the earth, just as the dolphin was the "uterine animal" of the sea.69 It was customary for Demeter to receive a gravid sow as a sacrificial offering.70 The mother animal is a fit offering to the Mother Goddess, the pig in the pit a fit offering to her vanished daughter. As symbols of the goddesses, pig and grain are perfect parallels. Even the decomposed bodies of the pigs were drawn into the cult: the noisome remains were fetched up again, put on the altar, and used to make the sowing more fruitful.71 If, then, the pig-and-grain parallel lays stress on corruption, it will no doubt remind us that the grain decays under the earth and thus, in this state of fruitful death, hints at the Kore dwelling in the realm of the dead.

So the Demeter idea is not lacking in the element of corruption coupled with the Kore's subterranean abode. Seen in terms of the Persephone myth, the fruitful death of the grain, religiously emphasized by the particulars of the pig-sacrifice, acquires a symbolic value, just as it is used as a parable for another idea: "Verily I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."72 The corn and the pig buried in earth and left to decay point to a mythological happening and, interpreted accordingly, become transparently clear and hallowed.

The happenings of the natural process and the development of the mythological idea coincide thus far and no further. Persephone spends a third of every year in the underworld. Does the "fruitful death" of the grain last that long? The new crop sprouts much earlier;73 and Demeter, the mother proud of her daughter (the ripened grain), appears much later in her golden garment of ears. According to the myth, the ripened wheat grains would have to fall to earth, the scene of their death and resurrection, immediately after their separation from the "mother." Under the original conditions, when grain grew wild, this was in fact the case. The corresponding mythologem is probably just as old and is closer to the natural process than to the artificial process. True, even in early antiquity the grain was kept in storage chambers and containers almost as in a tomb, the seed-corn generally for four months;74 but it was preserved from decay and coming to life again. This has nothing to do with the myth. The grain in the vaults of Eleusis was part of the temple treasure of Demeter and meant to keep for a long time.

Hence the third of the year cannot be explained as a mere allegory of the agricultural process. The three-fold division is inextricably bound up with the primitive form of the goddess Demeter, who was also Hecate, and Hecate could claim to be mistress of the three realms. In addition, her relations to the moon, the grain, and the realm of the dead are three fundamental traits in her nature. The goddess's sacred number is the special number of the underworld: 3 dominates the chthonic cults of antiquity.75 The division the year into three in the Persephone myth corresponds not to a natural process but to a mythological idea.


A divinity with a number of aspects is very apt to appear only in the one aspect under which he or she is being regarded at the moment. So it is with the primary goddess, who could equally well be called Hecate. In her Persephone aspect she exemplifies the Greek idea of non-being;76 in her Demeter aspect she is a Hellenic form of the idea of the All-Mother. Those of us who are inclined to regard the Greek divinities as unmixed types must, in this case, accustom themselves to a duality of fundamentally different goddesses. But they must also realize that the idea of non-being in Greek religion forms the root-aspect of being.77 This realization will enable them to understand the deep-rooted identity of those two different and yet so closely related figures. Those, on the other hand, who do not incline to this view are tempted to assume a superficial and subsequent merging of two originally independent goddesses.

For this subsequent merging there is of course no evidence whatever, and the connection between the goddesses is anything but superficial. In the very place where, according to modern assumptions, this "superficial" connection is supposed to have been made, namely Eleusis, we see how intimately the Kore and Demeter are in fact connected. The daughter as a goddess originally quite independent of her mother is unthinkable; but what is thinkable, as we shall see, is the original identity of mother and daughter. Persephone's whole being is summed up in an incident that is at once the story of Demeter's own sufferings. The daughter's being is revealed like a flash in her mother's, only to be snuffed out the next moment:

       turns over round the bend
of the parabola of curved flight,
sinks, and is gone.…

The Kore who appears with Demeter is comparable with the Hebe who appears with the great goddess Hera. In ancient Arcadia78 Hera had three forms: maiden…, fulfilled woman…, and woman of sorrows.… As [fulfilled woman] she has in Hebe her own maiden self …, for constant companion.79 That is the static or plastic way of putting what is told in dynamic mythological form in the story of Hera emerging from her bath in the spring Kanathos ever again as a virgin.80 As Hebe's mother she always has Hebe in herself; and as [woman of sorrows] she is endowed with characteristics that remind us of the grieving and recriminatory Demeter.

The comparison with Hera and her daughter may be allowed to stand as a mere analogy, and the question of whether they are both to be regarded as developments of the same mythological idea may be left undiscussed. Archaic Demeter figures are vivid proof that they always contain their own maiden form. Arcadia was familiar with two such Demeters, or rather with one that had two names: a dark, age-old goddess whose bitter rancour makes her kin both to the [Maiden self] and to the sorrowful Eleusinian mother.81 In Phigalia she was called the Black One … in Thelpusa, Demeter Erinys. Both places had the same legend about her, a legend that expresses the deep-rooted identity of the original Demeter and the original Kore mythologically, but none the less clearly.

This is the mythologem of the marriage of the reluctant goddess, and the best-known variation of it came at the beginning of the cyclical epic, Cypria.82 Here the bride—the original Kore—was called Nemesis; the bridegroom and seducer, Zeus. Pursued by the god's desire, the goddess transforms herself into various beasts of the earth, sea, and air. In this last mutation, as wild birds of the primeval swamp—she as a goose, he as a swan—the two divinities celebrate their marriage by rape. For this marriage was and remained a rape. The goddess was not to be softened by love; she succumbed to violence and therefore became the eternal avenger—Nemesis. The Kore to whom she gave birth was called Helen. The daughter had Artemisian traits from her Artemisian mother, Zeus' unwilling bride; and Aphrodisiac traits that were the reason for her being continually ravished. But in her ravishment and revenge, to which so many mortals fell victim, her mother's nature was only repeating itself. Helen is the eternally youthful Nemesis, spoiling for a rape and always wreaking her vengeance afterwards.

A similar story was told in Arcadia of the Demeter whose cognomen Erinys is the same as Nemesis. She, too, was pursued by a god—Poseidon, whose name simply means that he became Demeter's spouse.83 She, too, transformed herself into the shape of an animal in order to escape from her seducer. Our source only speaks of her transformation into a mare, in which shape she was overpowered by Poseidon the horse. Her image in the Phigalian cave, however, was distinguished not only by a horse's head with "snakes and other animals growing out of it," but by a dolphin and a bird as well, apparently a dove. An aquatic animal and a creature of the air would therefore seem to indicate the two other realms in which, apart from the earth, the pursued goddess might have undergone transformations. The Kore who was born of this Nemesislike marriage was called "Mistress" … in Phigalia—that is, with one of Persephone's ritual names. Our source further remarks that in Phigalia the daughter was not a horse, that in Thelpusa she was a being "not to be named" before the uninitiate, and that she had a brother there who was the horse Areion. So the original Demeter seems to have been reborn in her mysterious daughter with the horse-brother just as Nemesis was in Helen.

Strangest of all is the explanation of the goddess's dark Erinys aspect. She is wroth because of the rape of her daughter and at the same time because of the marriage by rape which she herself had to undergo. In the legend that has come down to us, it is said that she was overpowered by Poseidon while she was looking for her ravished daughter. This mythological elaboration doubles the rape, for the goddess experienced the rape in herself, as Kore, and not in a separate girl. A daughter with the name of "Mistress" or "She who is not to be named" was born of this rape. The goddess becomes a mother, rages and grieves over the Kore who was ravished in her own being, the Kore whom she immediately recovers, and in whom she gives birth to herself again. The idea of the original Mother-Daughter goddess, at root a single entity, is at the same time the idea of rebirth.

To enter into the figure of Demeter means to be pursued, to be robbed, raped, to fail to understand, to rage and grieve, but then to get everything back and be born again. And what does all this mean, save to realize the universal principle of life, the fate of everything mortal? What, then, is left over for the figure of Persephone? Beyond question, that which constitutes the structure of the living creature apart from this endlessly repeated drama of coming-to-be and passing-away, namely the uniqueness of the individual and its enthralment to non-being. Uniqueness and non-being understood not philosophically but envisaged corporeally in figures, or rather as these are envisaged in the formless, unsubstantial realm of Hades. There Persephone reigns, the eternally unique one who is no more. Her uniqueness, so we could put it philosophically, forms the [ti]—that something in regard to which even non-being is.84 Had that uniqueness not been, had nothing ever stirred and started up in non-being, then the realm of Hades would not exist; in relation to pure nothing it would not be at all, not even an aspect of the past.

Homer conceives the realm of Hades as amorphously as it was possible for a Greek—that is to say, as poor in form and without any contours, with no connecting lines. He has no use for the method employed in archaic art to express the dead and the deadly: the creation of terrifying monsters and hybrids. Apparitions of this kind are as little suited to his style as to his conception of the shadowy realm. It is no awful shape that prevents the soul of Patroclus from passing through the gate of Hades and across its river. (The gate of Hades, the river, and even the House of Hades in which Patroclus' soul wanders, are all fluid, not marked off from one another; only in comparison with the realm of the living are they something wholly different.) Instead of a single terrifying shape, the whole kingdom of the dead rises up to oppose the entry of the soul of one not yet buried—the shadowy, amorphous kingdom seen as the congregation of all the souls.… 85

Taken individually, the souls are not amorphous: they are the images of the departed …, but not corpselike images. They have nothing of the "living corpse" about them86 which figures in the ghost stories of so many peoples. The soul of Patroclus still has the lovely eyes of the hero, though in the corpse these have long since decayed.87 The [images] in the realm of the dead represent as it were the minimum conceivable amount of form; they are the image with which the deceased individual, through his uniqueness, has enriched the world."88 Over the countless "images" of all that has once been, now heaped together and merged into an indeterminate featureless mass, there reigns Persephone—the eternally unique.

Whenever she is mentioned in the Iliad, she receives the title of… ("awful"), which implies praise and fear of her in equal measure; and she is indissolubly linked to the ruler of the dead. Her husband is sometimes called Hades, sometimes the Zeus of the Underworld. The wife of this Zeus undoubtedly counts as a great goddess, to whom all mortals are subject just as they are to that other Zeus—the ruler of the world seen in his deadly aspect. She has dominion over the manifold powers of death. Here we have the terrible aspects of Persephone, which are merely hinted at in Homeric poetry and are only associated with her—or with her and her husband as an indivisible pair—by implication. The association does not give rise to the firm outlines of a concrete figure, a monstrous figure, say, like the Black Demeter in Phigalia. Homer does not draw any frightening apparition for us, but he brings out the association all the more clearly. In the ninth book of the Iliad it is unmistakable. On one occasion the Erinyes are invoked in the plural. The curse, however, is heard and fulfilled not by a vague throng of vengeful spirits but by the underworldly Zeus and Persephone.89 The second time the curse is addressed to the rulers of the Underworld. The utterer of the curse beats the earth with her hands. She is heard by Erinys, the mist-wandering goddess who dwells in the gloomy nether regions of Erebos.90

There are two ways of considering connections like this between Erinys and the rulers of the Underworld. One way begins with the dispersed state of the various aspects of the gods and believes in a subsequent mythological combination of them, with the result that mythology is understood at best as a co-ordinating and embellishing activity of the mind. Our way is opposed to this. It begins with the mythological ideas, which are easily recognized by their pristine richness and many-sidedness. Mythology is then understood as the mind's creation of gods in the sense that something real and valid is brought into the world.91 Realities that disclose themselves to the mind are timeless. The forms in which they disclose themselves are stages in a process of (budlike) unfolding, and every unfolding tends ultimately towards dissolution. The primary thing for us is not this final state, not the Erinyes as spirits of vengeance, or Demeter and Persephone existing independently side by side, but the historical Demeter Erinys who contains in herself her own Kore figure—Persephone.

The Odyssey furnishes proof that the deadly powers associated with the Homeric Underworld may be regarded as allusions to this goddess. One such power, the power to terrify, to petrify with fright, to turn to stone, is possessed by the Gorgon's head. Odysseus is thinking of this when he sees the countless host of the dead approaching him: perhaps Persephone has sent the Gorgon's head from Hades!92 The mass of shades and the frightful apparition are respectively the indefinite and the definite manifestation of the realm of the dead. Though this realm is the domain of Persephone and her husband, the definite form of it points to the original Demeter.

Gorgon-like features are in fact displayed by the Black Demeter, who had a legend in common with Demeter Erinys. The horse-headed goddess was further characterized by having "snakes and other animals growing out of her head." The Gorgon's head in conjunction with a horse's body can be seen in an archaic representation of the killing of Medusa.93 The Gorgon-headed Medusa was, like Demeter, Poseidon's bride. Like her, she gave birth to a horse—Pegasus—and to a mysterious son with the name of Chrysaor, the cognomen of Demeter Chrysaor. Closer scrutiny shows that the most important features in the fate of Persephone are also common to Medusa: she too was the only member of a divine triad—the trinity of Gorgons—to succumb to death by violence.94

The Kore's rape and the killing of Medusa are further connected by the name of the killer. Persephone (in Homer, "Persephoneia," Attic "Perrephatta") may well be a pre-Hellenic word that has been given Greek form; it is most probably connected with the name of Medusa's killer Perseus,95 and can be understood in Greek as "she who was killed by Perseus."96 Perseus has various things in common with Hades; for one thing he wore Hades' cap that made him invisible, and in Lerna he was actually identical with Hades. He immersed Dionysus in the waters, which in this case probably signified the Underworld.97 The similarity between the fates of Dionysus and Persephone does not rest on this alone. We shall not pursue it further here, but shall keep to one aspect of the Medusa-killing.

The Gorgon's head was cut off with a sickle, an ancient mythological weapon with which Uranos was mutilated by Kronos.98 If anything can throw light on the meaning of the use of this instrument and no other, it is the simple fact that from the remotest times this moon-shaped instrument has been used for the cutting of that which bears the seed, i.e., the standing corn. It is almost as if something lunar were fated to die by something moon-shaped. At any rate, certain features in Medusa's fate transparently connect this goddess with the bride, grain, and death aspects of Persephone.

Or, looking at it the other way round, we could say that through the figure of Persephone, the stately Queen of Hades, we glimpse the Gorgon. What we conceive philosophically as the element of non-being in Persephone's nature appears, mythologically, as the hideous Gorgon's head, which the goddess sends forth from the Underworld and which she herself bore in her archaic form. It is not, of course, pure non-being, rather the sort of non-being from which the living shrink as from something with a negative sign: a monstrosity that has usurped the place of the unimaginably beautiful, the nocturnal aspect of what by day is the most desirable of all things.

If we wanted to answer the question of the origin of this symbol, we should have to go more deeply into the antecedents of the other two great Kore figures, Artemis and Athene. There, too, we would meet with the Gorgon's head. Athene wears it on her breast, and Medusa appears on archaic monuments as a primitive form of Artemis, the mistress of wild animals.99 She also has the wings of Nemesis. In her most ancient aspect as Medusa and Nemesis, Artemis proves to be identical with the original Demeter and thus with Persephone. The picture of the killing of Medusa—the most ancient form of Persephone's fate—on the pediment of the archaic temple to Artemis in Corfu commemorates this primitive mythological state.100

From it, the classical figure of Persephone rises up pure and beautiful, Artemisian and Aphrodisiac at once, another Helen, herself the daughter of Nemesis. Her Gorgonesque features remain in the background. On the wonderful little votive tablet in a temple to Persephone in Lower Italy101 the Kore's departure is depicted as well as her rape. It is worthy of Aphrodite herself: winged cupids draw the chariot of the goddess. One would think that it was not Persephone celebrating her triumph, but Aphrodite. And indeed reference could be made to Aphrodite Epitymbidia or Tymborychos,102 goddess of the tombs and the dead. In Persephone the sublimest beauty as well as the most hideous ugliness has its foundation. Non-being can put on an alluring face, and the goddess of the dead can appear in the form of an hetaera. Such were the sirens, Circe and Calypso, but not the Grecian Persephone. The foundation of her aphrodisiac beauty lies in what we have called her uniqueness.

In a world of living and dying, that is, in the world of Demeter and Persephone, there is an intimate connection between uniqueness and beauty. We can regard it from the point of view of beauty alone, as Winckelmann did, thinking unconsciously of Persephone when he said: "Strictly speaking, a beautiful person is beautiful for a moment only." Or we can regard it from the point of view of that instant after which non-being comes, like a dark abyss. At such moments the beautiful shines out in all its supreme radiance, and even a mortal maiden—Antigone advancing towards her bridal chamber, the grave—is then in the likeness of "beautiful Persephone."'103


1 Details in A. Warburg, Die Erneuerung der heidnischen Antike, pp. 6ff.

2 "Mythology" in the sense defined in the Prolegomena, supra.

3 Cf. supra, p. 56.

4 Cf. supra, p. 47.

5 Cf. Usener, Vortrage und Aufsatze (pp. 119ff.) for the classical references.

6 Pliny, Historia naturalis, IX, 80.

7 W. F. Otto, Der europaische Geist und die Weisheit des Ostens (1931), p. 21.

8 Kerényi, Apollon (1941), pp. 15ff.; La Religione antica, pp. Iff.; Die antike Religion, p. 45.

9Apollon, pp. 37ff.

10 W. F. Otto, Dionysos (1933), p. 186.

11Die antike Religion, pp. 78f.

12 Otto, The Homeric Gods, p. 241.

13 Otto, Dionysos, p. 29; Kerényi, Die antike Religion, p. 3.

14Apollon, p. 72.

15 Cf. supra, the sections (6-9, in I) on the first four divinities.

16 Pausanias, V, 3, 3.

17 Euripides, Heraclidae, 771.

18 Hyperides, in Pollux, IX, 74.

19 Hesiod, Theogony, 886ff.

20 Cf. Otto, The Homeric Gods, pp. 54f.

21 Ibid., pp. 89f.

22Odyssey, VI, 106.

23 Herodotus, II, 156; Wilamowitz, Hellenistische Dichtung, II, p. 48.

24 Schneider, Callimachea, II, pp. 197ff.

25 Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 424. Parallels in Allen and Sikes, The Homeric Hymns; cf. also L. Malten, "Altorphische Demetersage," pp. 422ff.

26Iliad, XXI, 483.

27 L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, II, pp. 435 ff.

28 Hymn to Demeter, 7; Preller, Griechische Mythologie, I, p. 760.

29 D. H. Lawrence, "Purple Anemones."

30 Milton, quoted in Allen and Sikes, verse 17.

31 D. H. Lawrence, "Fidelity," in his book Pansies.

32 Hesychius, s.v.

33 Cf. Farnell, II, 598 f.

34 Kerényi, "Zum Vorständnis von Vergilius Aeneis B. VI," p. 422, confirmed by a fragment from the poet Philikos; cf. A. Korte, Hermes, pp. 450f.

35 Callimachus in Scholium to Theocritus, II, 12; Schneider, p. 691.

36 Scholium to Theocritus, II, 12; Euripides, Helen, 569 (fr. 959).

37 Picture of a sacrifice to Persephone in an Attic vase-painting, L. Deubner, Attische Feste, fig. 2.

38 Kerényi, "[ANODOS]-Darstellung in Brindisi," p. 279.

39 Line 48. Similarly Hecate in a relievo in Thasos, cf. Farnell, II, PI. XXXIX a.

40 Hesychius, s.v.

41 Eckhel, Doctrina Nummorum Veterum, II, p. 147; cf. Lobeck, Aglaophamus, II, p. 1213. Cf. also P. Philippson, Thessalische Mythologic, pp. 69ff.

42 Scholium to Lycophron, Alexandra, 1180.

43 Euripides, Ion, 1048; Phoenissae, 108.

44 Kerényi, Pythagoras und Orpheus, pp. 47ff.

45 P. Kretschmer, "Dyaus, [Zeus], Diespiter und die Abstrakta im Indogermanischen," pp. 11 1ff.

46 Farnell, II, pp. 449ff.

47 Hesiod, Theogony, 41 1ff.

48 Hesiod, Theogony, 45off., scholium to Aristophanes, Wasps, 804.

49 Collignon, Histoire de la sculpture grecque, II, p. 362.

50 According to later tradition (Ovid and Hyginus), half the year. We are not concerned with this easily understandable version here, since it is obviously not the primary one.

51 Hymn to Demeter, 471.…

52 Ibid., 268f.

53 Ibid., 473-480.

54 Because of this, the analysis put forward by Wilamowitz (Der Glaube der Hellenen, II, pp. 47ff.) falls to the ground.

55 Hippolytus, Elenchos, V, 8, 39.

56 Cf. supra, pp. 35ff., Kullervo; and Kerényi, Niobe, pp. 75f., 259.

57 Hymn to Demeter, 256f. The words used here by Demeter are taken up in the Orphic version (fr. 49, 95f.), in a later Orphic poem (fr. 233), and in the Carmen aureum Pythagorae, 54f.

58 K. T. Preuss, Der religiose Gehalt der Mythem, p. 8.

59 C. Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, I, p. 272.

60 Frazer, in his edition of Apollodorus (1921), II, pp. 311f.

61 Porphyry, in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, III, 11,7,9.

62 Cicero, De natura deorum, II, 66.

63 Euripides, Helen, 1307 (fr. 63); Carcinus in Diodorus Siculus, V, 5, 1; cf. [aphrastos] in Hesychius, s.v., and [Hekate Aphrastos] Jahrbuch für Phil., Suppl., XXVII (1900), 111.

64 Farnell, III, PI. 11lb, with Lenormant's explanation in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquites grecques et romaines, I, p. 1066.

65 Nilsson, "Die eleusinischen Gottheiten," p. 87.

66 Cf. Malten, pp. 429ff.

67 Clement of Alexandria, Protrepicus, II, 17, 1; Rabe, scholium to Lucian, p. 275.

68 Epicharmus, fr. 100.

69 Cf supra, p. 50.

70 Farnell, pp. 330, 91; 365, 246.

71 Scholium to Lucian, loc. cit.

72 John, 12:24.

73 This objection comes from Nilsson, p. 107.

74 Here, with Cornford, Nilsson (op. cit., p. 108) finds the explanation of the Persephone myth.

75 H. Diels, Sibyllinische Blatter, p. 40.

76 Kerényi, Die antike Religion, pp. 220ff.

77 Kerényi, Dionysos und das Tragische in der Antigone, p. 10.

78 In Stymphalis; Pausanias, VIII, 22.

79 Or, from Hebe's point of view: "It is as though Hebe had separated herself only gradually from the goddess to become her daughter and an independent divinity, as though in the beginning she had been a manifestation of Hera herself." P. Philippson, Griechische Gottheiten in ihren Landschaften (Symbolae Osloenses, suppl. fasc. IX, 1939), p. 48.

80 Pausanias, II, 38, 2.

81 Pausanias, VIII, 25 and 42, our source for what follows. The credibility of Pausanias' description of the Demeter statue in Phigalia is vouched for by the mythologem and art relics as against Wilamowitz, Der Glaube der Hellenen I, pp. 402f.

82 Kerényi, Die Geburt der Helena, pp. 9ff.

83 Kretschmer, "Zur Geschichte der grechischen Dialekte," pp. 28ff.

84 The Platonic expression is here used in the same sense as in Die antike Religion, p. 234.

85Iliad, XXIII, 72.

86 Nor anything of the "corpse spiritualized or dematerialized in some mysterious way," as W. F. Otto (Die Manen, p. 37) expresses the idea that, in his view, best corresponds to the Homeric "shade."

87 Compare with this the terrible state Hector was in when his spirit appeared to Aeneas in Virgil, Aeneid, II, 270ff. As F. Altheim once observed to me, it is as though the Romans clung even in death to the historical figure, the Greeks to the ideal one.

88 According to the Pythagoreans, the image of the unique mixture of elements that produced the individual passes to the moon, never to be replaced (Kerényi, Pythagoras und Orpheus, 2nd edn.: p. 59). Every individual being is accordingly preserved not only in the past of a world temporally conceived (consisting of what has been and is), but in a definite portion of the spatial universe as well. Another such storage-place is the House of Hades, the thesaurus Orci of the Romans.

89Iliad, IX, 454-457.

90 Ibid., 569-572.

91 Kerényi, Apollon, 120; Die antike Religion, p. 65.

92Odyssey, XI, 634f

93 Boeotian wine-jar in relief in Paris, cf. R. Hampe, Frahe griechische Sagenbilder in Bootien, Pls. 36 and 38.

94 Hesiod, Theogony, 276-282; Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, II, 4, 2.

9$ Wilamowitz, Der Glaube der Hellenen, I, pp. 108f.; further details in Altheim, "Persona," pp. 45f.

96 Like [theopompos] in the connotation "he who is sent by God."

97 C. Robert, Die griechische Heldensage, I, p. 243.

98 Hesiod, Theogony, 174-181.

99 Kerényi, Die Geburt der Helena, p. 19; cf Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1885, PI. LIX.

100 The inscriptions mention Artemis; cf. Kaiser Wilhelm II's Erinnerungen an Korfu, p. 105.

101 Lokroi Epizephyroi, cf. Quagliati, "Rilievi votivi arcaici," p. 188.

102 Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanae, XXIII; Clement of Alexandria, Protrepicus, XXXVIII.

103 Kerényi, Dionysos und das Tragische in der Antigone, pp. 12ff.; Die antike Religion, p. 239. Virgil (Aeneid, VI, 142) calls Persephone pulchra Proserpina; … cf. Preller, Griechische Mythologie, p. 301, n. 3.…

References Cited

Abbreviations: ArchRW = Archiv für Religionswissenschaft (Freiburg i. B.). AV = Albae Vigiliae. BS = Bollingen Series. CWJ = Collected Works of C. G. Jung (New York/Princeton and London).

Allen, Thomas William, and Edward Emest Sikes (eds.). The Homeric Hymns. London, 1904; 2nd edn., Oxford, 1936.

Collignon, Leon Maxime. Histoire de la sculpture grecque. Paris 1892-97. 2 vols.

Deubner, Ludwig. Attische Feste. Berlin, 1932.

Diels, Hermann. Sibyllinische Blatter, Berlin, 1890.

Eckhel, Joseph. Doctrina Nummorum Veterum, II. Vindobonae [Vienna], 1792-1839. 8 vols.

Farnell, L. R. The Cults of the Greek States. Oxford, 1896-1909. 5 vols.

Hampe, Roland. Friuhe griechische Sagenbilder in Bootien. (Deutsches Archaologisches Institut.) Athens, 1936.

Kerényi, C. [or Karl]. "[ANODOS]-Darstellung in Brindisi, mit einem Zodiakus von II Zeichen," ArchRW, XXX (1933), 271-307.

——. Die antike Religion: eine Grundlegung. Amsterdam, 1942 [3rd edn., Dusseldorf, 1952]. (Cf. The Religion of the Greeks and Romans and La Religione Antica, qq. v.)

——. Apollon: Studien uber antike Religion und Humanitat. 2nd edn., Amsterdam and Leipzig, 1941; [3rd edn., Dusseldorf, 1953].

——. Dionysos und das Tragische in der "Antigone." (Frankfurter Studien zur Religion und Kultur der Antike, XIII.) Frankfurt a. M., 1935. (Translation in preparation.)

——. "Die Geburt der Helena: eine mythologische Studie dis manibus Leonis Frobenii." Mnemosyne: Bibliotheca classica batava (Lugduni [Leyden]), N.S. 3, III (1939), 161-79.

——. Niobe: Neue Studien iuber antike Religion und Humanitat. Zurich, 1949.

——. La Religione antica. Bologna, 1940. (Tr. from Die antike Religion, q.v.; cf. The Religion of the Greeks and Romans.)

——. "Zum Verständnis von Vergilius Aeneis B. VI: Randbemerkungen zu Nordens Kommentar," Hermes, LXVI (1931), 413-41.

Korte, Alfred. "Der Demeter-Hymnos des Philkos," Hermes, LXVI (1931), 442-54.

Kretschmer, Paul. "Dyaus, [Zeus], Diespiter und die Abstrakta im Indogermanischen," Glotta (Göttingen), XIII (1924), 101-14.

——. "Zur Geschichte der griechischen Dialekte: 1. lonier und Achier, 2. Die Apokope in den griechischen Dialekten," ibid., I (1909), 9-59.

Lawrence, D. H. "Fidelity." In: Pansies. [London?, 1929.]

——. "Purple Anemones." In: The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence. London, 1928. 2 vols. (Vol. II, pp. 163-65.)

Lenormant, F. "Ceres, [Demeter]" In: Charles Daremberg and Edmond Saglio. Dictionnaire des antiquites grecques et romaines. Paris, 1877-1919. 5 vols. in 10. (Vol. I, pp. 1021-78.)

Lobeck, Christian August. Aglaophamus; sive, de theologiae mysticae Graecorum causis libri tres … idemque Poetarum Orphicorum dispersas reliquias collegit. Regiomontii Prussorum (Königsberg = Kaliningrad), 1829. 2 vols.

Lumholtz, Carl. Unknown Mexico: A Record of Five Years' Exploration among the Tribes of the Western Sierra Madre in the 'tierra caliente' of Tepic and Jalisco and among the Tarascos of Michoacan. New York, 1903.

Malten, L. "Altorphische Demetersage," ArchRW, XII (1909), 417-46.

Nilsson, Martin P. "Die eleusinischen Gottheiten," Archrw, XXXII (1935), 79-141.

Otto, Walter F. Dionysos: Mythos und Kultus. (Frankfurter Studien zur Religion und Kultur der Antike, IV.) 2nd edn., Frankfurt a. M., 1933.

——. Der europdische Geist und die Weisheit des Ostens: Gedanken uber das Erbe Homers. Frankfurt a. M., 1931.

——. The Homeric Gods: the Spiritual Significance of Greek Religion. Translated by Moses Hadas. New York, 1954; London, 1955.

——. Die Manen, oder Von den Urformen des Totenglaubens. Berlin, 1923.

Philippson, Paula. Thessalische Mythologie. Zurich, 1944.

Preller, Ludwig. Griechische Mythologie. Edited by Carl Robert. 4th edn., Berlin, 1887-1926. 2 vols. in 6 parts.

Preuss, Konrad Theodor. Der religiose Gehalt der Mythen. Tulbingen, 1933.

Quagliati, Q. "Rilievi votivi arcaici in terracotta di Lokroi Epizephyroi," Ausonia (Rome), III (1908), 136-234.

Robert, Carl. Die griechische Heldensage. Berlin, 1920-26. 3 parts. (In: Ludwig Preller. Griechische Mythologie, q.v., II.)

Schneider, Otto (ed.) Callimachea. Leipzig, 1870-73. 2 vols.

Usener, Hermann. Vortrage und Aufsatze. Leipzig, 1914.

Warburg, Aby Moritz. Die Erneuerung der heidnischen Antike: Kulturwissenschafiliche Beitrage zur Geschichte der europaischen Renaissance. Leipzig, 1932. 2 vols. in 4.

Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, Ulrich Von. Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des kallimachos. Berlin, 1924. 2 vols.

Charlene Spretnak (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Introduction to Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths, Beacon Press, 1992, pp. 17-38.

[In the following essay, Spretnak discusses the early, pre-Hellenic Greek goddesses and argues that following Greece's invasions by the Ionians, Achaeans, and Dorians, the native oral tradition which embraced matriarchal mythology was incorporated into the patriarchal, Olympic tradition of mythology. Under this system, the once-powerful and compassionate pre-Hellenic goddesses were transformed into jealous, disagreeable, troublesome beings.]

Gaia created the world, Pandora gave bountiful gifts, Artemis led Her worshippers in ecstatic dances, Hera rewarded the girls who ran the first Olympic races, and Athena peacefully protected the home. These Goddesses are among the earliest deities known in Greece, but the original mythology surrounding them has been lost. We know their names only through the relatively late myths of the classical period.

Yet for thousands of years before the classical myths took form and then were written down by Hesiod and Homer in the seventh century B.C., a rich oral tradition of mythmaking had existed. Strains of the earlier tradition are evident in the later myths, which reflect the cultural amalgamation of three waves of barbarian invaders, the lonians, the Achaeans, and finally the Dorians, who moved into Greece from 2500 to 1000 B.C. These invaders brought with them a patriarchal social order and their thunderbolt God, Zeus. What they found when they entered Greece was a firmly rooted religion of Goddess worship. In various regions of the mainland and the islands, a Goddess was held sacred and was associated with order, wisdom, protection, and the life-giving processes (e.g., seasonal change, fertility of womb and field). Among the Goddesses we know to have preceded the Olympian system are Gaia, Themis, Rhea, Pandora, Aphrodite, Artemis, Leto, Britomaris, Diktynna, Selene, Hecate, Hera, Athena, Demeter, and Persephone.

The invaders' new Gods, the Olympians, differ in many ways from the earlier Goddesses. The pre-Hellenic Goddesses are enmeshed with people's daily experiencing of the energy forces in life; Olympian Gods are distant, removed, "up there." Unlike the flowing, protective love of a Mother-Goddess, the character of the Olympian Gods is judgmental. Olympian Gods are much more warlike than their predecessors and are often involved in strife. The pre-Hellenic Goddesses are powerful and compassionate, yet those whom the Greeks incorporated into the new order were transformed severely. The great Hera was made into a disagreeable, jealous wife; Athena was made into a cold, masculine daughter; Aphrodite was made into a frivolous sexual creature; Artemis was made into the quite forgettable sister of Apollo; and Pandora was made into the troublesome, treacherous source of human woes. These prototypes later evolved into the wicked witch, the cruel stepmother, the passive princess, etc., of our fairy tales. Of all the great Mother-Goddesses, only Demeter survives intact. However, she is not included in the main group on Mount Olympus, in spite of the fact that she is a very old deity and was well known on both the islands and the mainland.

Although the pre-Hellenic Goddesses pre-date considerably the Greek Gods, these Goddesses are relatively late derivatives of the Great Goddess, the supreme deity for millennia in many parts of the world. Her worship seems to have evolved from the awe experienced by our early ancestors as they regularly observed woman's body as the source of life. Paleolithic statues celebrate the mysteries of the female: Woman's body bled painlessly in rhythm with the moon, and her body miraculously made people, then provided food for the young by making milk. (In a primitive culture, copulation is not usually associated with the miracle of new life; paternity was not recognized for a long while.) A further mystery to our ancestors was that woman could draw from her body women and men.

Perhaps the earliest Paleolithic statues, dating from 25,000 B.C., are expressions of the female body as living microcosm of the Jlarger experiences of cyclic change, birth, renewal, and nurture. In time these energies became embodied in the sacred presence of the Great Goddess, the encompassing matrix of female power. On her surface she produced food, into her womb she received the dead. Rituals in her honor took place in womb-like caves, often with vulva-like entrances and long, slippery corridors; both the cave entrances and grave sites were often painted with bloodlike red ochre, a clay used as pigment. As society evolved, so did the powers of the Goddess. She was revered as the source of life, death and rebirth; as the giver of the arts, divine wisdom, and just law; and as the protector of peace and the nurturer of growth. She was all forces, active and passive, creative and destructive, fierce and gentle.

The Great Goddess was known by many names in many cultures. At various sites of her worship, certain attributes were stressed. Because the traits that were emphasized came to be associated with the local name for the Goddess—and may have been inspired by a particular woman—many derivative forms evolved. The seeming multiplicity of deities is misleading since each was a facet of the one, omnipotent Goddess. Eventually, some of the Goddesses reproduced, always parthenogenetically in prepatriarchal mythology. If the child was a daughter, she joined her mother in administering supernatural powers. If the child was a son, he became his mother's lover and held a subordinate role in the mythology. In graphic representations the son/lover is always pictured as being smaller than the Goddess and is usually in the background. The original perception of the Goddess as the parthenogenetic source of life was still held sacred long after certain biological facts were recognized among her worshippers.

Reclaiming Pre-Hellenic Mythology

The Greek myths of the classical period have long been considered the Greek myths. The classicist Jane Ellen Harrison was among the first to recognize that those myths are actually a late development in a long mythic tradition: "Beneath this splendid surface [of Homer's Olympian myths] lies a stratum … at once more primitive and more permanent." Drawing from various sources of evidence, Harrison delineated the strong contrasts between the matrifocal, pre-Hellenic body of mythology and the patriarchal, Olympian system that later evolved.

As successful conquerors, the invaders blended certain aspects of pre-Hellenic religion, i.e., principally the Goddesses' names, with their own patriarchal Gods and themes. For example, Hera had long been associated with the "sacred marriage"—the merging of the lunar cow and the solar bull. However, "sacred marriage" is used in Olympian mythology to refer to Hera's marriage to Zeus. The fact that their union was always a stormy one is thought by many classicists to be a historical reference to the forced merging of the two cultures: Hera is the powerful native queen who is coerced but never subdued by the alien conqueror.

There are a number of reasons why this chapter of our cultural history has been "lost." The most obvious is that the pre-Hellenic myths are the religion of a conquered people, so they were co-opted and replaced for political reasons. Second, pre-Hellenic mythology was an oral tradition, and many of the clues to its nature have been lost over the past 3500 years. Third, a culturally imposed bias among many Victorian and contemporary scholars prevented them from accepting the evidence that deity was originally perceived as female in most areas of the world. In the literature, one never reads of "the religion of Artemis" and "the cult of Jesus"; it is always the other way around. One of the most renowned living mythologists wrote a few years ago that although "paleolithic deposits in Asia and Europe have yielded a great many bone statuettes representing a nude Goddess … we cannot deduce from the presence of the paleolithic female statuettes, the non-existence of the worship of a divine masculine Being" [his italics]. Similarly, another scholar theorized that the reason numerous Goddess statues are the sole trace of deity during the early Neolithic period on Crete is that the actual supreme deity was probably a male God whose representation was forbidden! If these researchers had dug up numerous statues of male Gods on a remote island, it is extremely unlikely that they would deduce the existence of an unrepresented, supreme "divine feminine Being."

Fortunately for posterity, a number of open-minded classicists and archaeologists have labored to uncover the realities of our pre-Hellenic past. Jane Ellen Harrison, Marija Gimbutas, Lewis Farnell, Robert Graves, E. 0. James, Carl Kerenyi, Martin Nilsson, George Thompson, and R. F. Willetts are among those who have made extensive contributions to our understanding of pre-Hellenic culture and consciousness. Still, much information has been lost concerning pre-Hellenic religion. In order to reconstruct the myths, fragments must be assembled from various sources. One area of evidence is archaeological discoveries. Very early statues, shrines, picture-seals on rings, and labelled figures on ceramic vessels all point to the deeds and rituals associated with various Goddesses. A second area is the writings from the classical period. Homer, Hesiod, Pausanius, Herodotus, Strabo, and others sometimes mentioned, and occasionally recorded rather fully, very old observances of Goddess worship that still took place at certain sites in Greece. A third area is the oral tradition. Many of the stories were preserved among the rustic people; at Ephesus in Anatolia, for instance, the worship of Artemis was kept alive well into the Christian era.…

The charge can be leveled against the pre-Hellenic myths that they have less plot design, intrigue, and dramatic tension than does Olympian mythology. This is true. Since pre-Hellenic religion flourished and then was crushed before the era of extensive written records, we can hardly do more than piece together portraits of the Goddesses. However, our knowledge of the pre-Hellenic myths, even if incomplete, reveals a compelling alternative to patriarchal cosmology and metaphysics—a more integrated view of life on Earth.…

In addition, the pre-Hellenic myths depict a view of life that is quite different from that expressed in the Olympian myths. Even if we had encyclopedic records of the earlier mythology, it seems highly unlikely, judging by what has survived, that themes of deceit, treachery, alienation, and brutality informed the pre-Hellenic sacred stories. If such Olympian themes had been embraced by the pre-Hellenic peoples as well, they would have been expressed in the many artifacts and fragments of script. They are not. The pre-Hellenic myths, instead, tell of harmonious bonds among humans, animals, and nature. They express respect for and celebration of the mysteries of body and spirit.

The latest edition of the voluminous Cambridge Ancient History deftly notes that various aspects of the pre-Hellenic religion are "under lively discussion." Quite so. It is important that the evidence be aired, that connections be made, that particulars be debated. Yet the essence of these prehistoric myths will be grasped only if we can let go of a protective, supposedly detached pose and enter into the body of myths with openness. If we can succeed in reading these spiritual stories with spiritual perceptions, a sense of continuity with our past may result.

Implications for Patriarchal Religion and Culture

When compared to the religions of the Goddess in Europe and elsewhere, the Judeo-Christian tradition was "born yesterday." In fact, the very notion of supreme deity, i.e., ultimate power, being male is a relatively recent invention. Zeus first appeared around 2500 B.C., and Abraham, the first patriarch of the Old Testament, is dated by Biblical scholars at 1800 B.C.; in contrast, some of the Goddess statues are dated at 25,000 B.C. Therefore, what we see around us, that is, patriarchal religion and social order, is not "the natural order" for all humankind since Day One based on "the Natural Law."

The new, patriarchal religion co-opted the older mythic symbols and inverted their meaning: The female, Eve, was now weak-willed and treacherous; the sacred bough was now forbidden; and the serpent, symbol of regeneration and renewal with its shedding skins, was now the embodiment of evil. The Goddess religion and its "pagan" worshippers were brutally destroyed in the Biblical lands, just as they had been conquered, co-opted, and destroyed in Old Europe, the Middle East, and India by Indo-European invaders. The Old Testament is the military and cultural record (albeit considerably laundered) of a massive political coup. It is important to note that we did not emerge into patriarchal religion from a dark, chaotic, immature period of primitivism; Goddess-centered cultures, including Minoan Crete, were highly evolved. (See When God Was A Woman by Merlin Stone and The Language of the Goddess and The Civilization of the Goddess by Marija Gimbutas.)

In the Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary is clearly rooted in the older Goddess religion because she produces her child parthenogenetically (And Jesus himself is true to the older pattern of the Goddess' son/lover dying at the Spring Equinox and being reborn at the Winter Solstice.) The church co-opted Mary in order to make converts. She is not included in the core symbols, i.e., the trinity, but the church fathers discovered they could not attract followers in the heavily Goddess-oriented Mediterranean and Celtic cultures, which then stretched from the Balkans to the British Isles, without a Goddess on their banners: Mary, Mother of God, formerly God herself. Far from "elevating the feminine," the church demoted her, stripped her of her power, and rendered her docile and sexless.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has long sought to eradicate all traces of Goddess religion. The Old Testament is full of references to slaughtering the pagans and destroying their shrines, yet their presence continued through every Biblical era. On the other side of the Mediterranean, her worshippers were equally steadfast. Long into the Christian age, the women of Greece and Anatolia (Turkey) insisted on praying to Artemis in time of childbirth, and the church forcibly closed the last Goddess temple as late as 500 A.D. Many of the Goddess' sacred sites, such as the Parthenon of the Acropolis, were converted into Christian churches. During the Middle Ages, the widespread witch-burnings, a patriarchally approved campaign of mass murder, were largely designed to eliminate independent women who still followed the Old Religion, i.e., worshipped the Goddess in some form, observed nature's holy days (solstices and equinoxes), and practiced herbal healing, abortion, and contraception. In the medieval legends of St. George (the church) slaying the dragon (the huge snake-like symbol of the Old Religion), the dragon's head often grows back. Today a similar wave of rebellion is challenging patriarchal religion. (See The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess by Starhawk and Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler.)

Problems with Jungian Uses of Greek Goddess Mythology

There are almost as many interpretations of myth as there are mythologists. Two poles of the spectrum are represented by Robert Graves and Carl Jung. Graves maintains, "Greek mythology was no more mysterious in content than are modern election cartoons."1 In his two-volume study, The Greek Myths, Graves' extensive annotations are a treasury of information on the interplay of matriarchal and patriarchal politics. Jung, in contrast, wrote, "We can hardly suppose that myth and mystery were invented for any conscious purpose; it seems much more likely that they were the involuntary revelation of a psychic, but unconscious, pre-condition."2 With regard to pre-Olympian mythology specifically, both of these perspectives are valid.

Certainly there are a number of political references in classical mythology to the trauma of occupation by the barbarian invaders. Just as Hera's turbulent marriage to Zeus is thought to be a historical reference, so classicists have proposed that the rape of Persephone reflects the rape of the pre-Hellenic culture and does not seem to have been part of her mythology before the invasions. (In Jungian terms, the rape would be seen as an intrusion of patriarchal consciousness into the earlier matriarchal mode.)

Another example supporting Graves' view is the myth of the rivalry between Athena and Poseidon, which bears clues to a massive societal shift away from pre-Hellenic customs. In a vote by the citizens of Athens, the men voted for Poseidon and the women for Athena. Since the women outnumbered the men by one, Athena won. To appease the wrath of Poseidon, the men inflicted upon the women a triple punishment: They were to lose their vote, their children were no longer to be called by their mothers' name; and they themselves were no longer to be called Athenians after their Goddess.

On the other hand, both pre-Hellenic and classical mythology also abound with references to the psyche. Jung was aware, of course, of the matriarchal stratum of our cultural history. He warned that most myth reflects archetypes only indirectly because the mythological traditions that have survived through long periods of time have "received a specific stamp," have been "submitted to conscious elaboration," and have evolved as a "historical formula."3 Jung knew that the classical Greek myths, for instance, had been "elaborated" extensively, and he once referred to them as "the hackneyed chronique scandaleuse of Olympus."4 However, he never made a clear, consistent distinction between the two bodies of Greek mythology. In 1954 Jung wrote, "… in Greek mythology matriarchal and patriarchal elements are about equally mixed."5 This is an accurate statement only if one specifies that pre-Hellenic mythology is matriarchal and classical mythology is largely patriarchal. We have seen that the nature of the deities in each of these traditions varies so markedly that it is misleading to speak simply of the Greek myths. When Jungian psychologists purport to cite from mythology original "revelations" of the female psyche and then go back only as far as the patriarchal, revisionist portraits of the Goddesses, they are looking in the wrong place.

In addition to the character traits and deeds of the pre-Hellenic Goddesses, their symbols were radically transformed. To gloss over this transformation is to present misinformation. In a discussion of the mother archetype in mythology, Jung wrote, "Evil symbols are the witch, the dragon (or any devouring or entwining animal, such as a large fish or serpent)… This list is not, of course, complete; it presents only the most important features of the mother archetype."6 Does it? Or does it present only features of the patriarchal archetype of the mother? Witches, serpents, and dragons were never "evil symbols" in the traditon of the Goddess.

When Jung spoke of archetypes and their symbols, he was reaching for "collective unconscious contents … primordial types, that is, with universal images that have existed since the remotest times."7 In view of patriarchy's "managing of information" for the past 3500 years, their traditions of mythology and religion do not allow us full views of our earliest archetypal images. Therefore, it would seem more accurate to speak of "patriarchal archetypes," rather than "archetypes," when discussing psychological developments in patriarchal cultures such as our own.

The concept of elucidating the nature of the modern female psyche by drawing on expressions of the female in myth is a creative and potentially profound approach. Dozens of books and scores of articles have been written by Jungians who seek such answers in Greek mythology. Unfortunately, almost none of them conveys an understanding of the two radically different systems therein. Nearly always they turn to the classical myths, composed in seventh century B.C. and even later. These are a very limited source of data on the female psyche; they are clearly tales with a point of view.

Somewhere near the beginning of Jungian treatises on this topic is usually a disclaimer about interest in any historical or social framework of the mythology: The myths are studied purely for their expressions of the unconscious. However, continual references are made to the antiquity of the myths, so as to place them far back in history. The problem is that this is almost never done specifically. For example, throughout Women's Mysteries, Esther Harding refers to "the ancients."8 Does this mean our ancestors from the Neolithic, matrifocal period of culture—or the later patriarchal stage? The adjective antique is equally nebulous. Maria-Louise von Franz refers simply to "the antique mother goddesses."9 Does she mean the wise, powerful, autonomous Goddesses of the pre-Olympian era—or the petty, jealous, victimized Goddesses of the classical era? Like most of her colleagues, she would have it both ways: She states, "… the mother-goddesses depict absolutely unreflecting femininity," which is exemplified by "a terrible scene" about jealousy, for instance. Then von Franz observes "the mother-goddess always behaved like that."10 In patriarchal mythology, that is! The Goddesses are portrayed so differently in the two traditions that there is almost nothing that "always" applies in both their pre-Hellenic and their classical versions.

Another problem is that the Great Goddess may be too large a concept for the Jungian constructs of "the feminine." Jungian analysts speak of the Goddess as being synonymous with "the feminine principle, Eros"11 or with "feminine nature."12 True, the Goddess was the ultimate expression of female being, but her nature was all-encompassing, e.g., giver of divine law, fierce protector, gentle nurturer. If she were a pure expression of the Jungian notion of "the feminine consciousness," these traits would not be possible. They would have to be explained via "animus energies," which would be impossible in an embodiment of pure "femininity." The Great Goddess was supreme power and was all. (For a discussion of the patriarchal biases involved in the Jungian theory of anima/animus, see Changing of the Gods by Naomi Goldenberg.)

An exception to most Jungian treatments of Greek Goddess mythology is "Hera: Bound and Unbound" by Murray Stein.13 Drawing on the work of classicists, principally Kerenyi, Stein does acknowledge the difference between the pre-Hellenic and the Olympian portrayals of Hera. However, he asserts that her classical role as the archetypal wife had also been her pre-Hellenic role and that "'wifehood' was her essential mode of being."14 Stein maintains that Hera's central goal was always "perfection in marriage."15 This is quite impossible. Hera was a very ancient pre-Hellenic deity who was probably worshipped long before the relatively late discovery of paternity and certainly long before the invention of patriarchal marriage. She had always been associated with mating and fecundity, but this is quite different from formalized marriage. As Elizabeth Fisher pointed out in Woman's Creation, human history's first and longest reigning social unit was the mother and child, not the husband and wife.

A more typical example of Jungian treatments of Greek mythology as being revelatory of the modern female psyche is Robert A. Johnson's popular She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, subtitled An Interpretation Based on the Myth of Amor and Psyche and Using Jungian Psychological Concepts. Johnson opens by explaining, "the story of Amor and Psyche is one of the best elucidations available of the psychology of the feminine personality. It is an ancient, pre-Christian myth, first recorded in classical Greek times, having enjoyed a long oral tradition before that…"16 Not very long. The tale of Amor and Psyche became part of the Latin novel The Golden Ass, which was written in the second century A.D. by Apuleius. No doubt it was told before then, but its patriarchal aspects date the myth firmly in the classical era. Johnson further explains that "when we want to study the basic patterns of human behavior and personality, it is instructive to go to the earliest sources."17 Absolutely right. But patriarchal myths are not they.

A principal theme of Johnson's exegesis is that every woman naturally contains "the Aphrodite nature" within her. This sounds quite plausible; after all Aphrodite was the powerful procreative energy that ensured the survival of the race. However, this original nature of Aphrodite is not what Johnson has in mind. Rather, he paints an ultra-patriarchal picture of Aphrodite that almost outdoes Apuleius: She is called "primitive femininity," with "her chief characteristics being vanity, conniving, lust, fertility, and tyranny when she is crossed."18 (Some might find Johnson's inclusion of "fertility" among a string of negative adjectives to be clinically interesting.) In case readers may have missed the point, Johnson then labels Aphrodite "a thorough bitch" and illustrates her existence in modern females with several examples that are pregnant with woman-hating.19 But the mental health of one individual author is not the issue. The central question raised by this approach is What is the effect of telling a woman that much of her true nature is that of "a thorough bitch"and that this is "proved" by "the earliest sources" of mythology?

More than any other Jungian writer, Erich Neumann recognized the powerful implications of the long era of matrifocal mythology. He did so, however, within the boundaries of Jungian theory and so viewed "matriarchal consciousness" as an immature stage "in which the independence of the ego system is not yet fully developed."20 Having spent years compiling the matrifocal research that became The Great Mother, Neumann brought to his interpretation of Amor and Psyche a comprehension of the matrifocal fragments that had survived into the patriarchal myth. Whereas Johnson sees Psyche's sisters only as "the serpent in her paradise" (an ironic metaphor on his part, to be sure) and as evil forces who are intensely jealous and who "devise a venomous plan,"21 Neumann recognizes them as messengers of matrifocal consciousness. Their agitations correspond to a current in Psyche of "matriarchal protest" whereby she begins to question the "unconsciousness of her situation" with Eros (Amor) and her "seemingly total abandonment of her individual consciousness."22 Neumann concludes that it is the conflict between matriarchal and patriarchal psychology that makes the myth of Amor and Psyche intelligible.23

As the search continues for an understanding of archetypal images, Jung would probably have us remember that an archetype is "a hypothetical model, something like the 'pattern of behavior' in biology."24 The portraits of the Goddesses in patriarchal mythology are, indeed, patterns of behavior: They are stories told by men of how women react under patriarchy. As such, they are two steps removed from being natural expressions of the female mode of being. Even when women go back to matriarchal mythology to search for valid expressions, these are not easily captured. Their implications nearly overwhelm us. We dance deftly around their power. And we remember Jung's warning about attempting to fully explain and interpret myths and archetypes: "The most we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress."25

Mythology as a Path in the Spiritual Quest

Today we are experiencing and creating a spiritual awakening. Many people are exploring "new" paths of inner growth; the Judeo-Christian myths and symbols no longer resonate for some of us, if they ever did. Freud believed that the Judeo-Christian tradition "keeps people stupid" because it hands them everything and denies, even forbids, them the individual quest that results in true growth and wisdom. Jung agreed but insisted, "Only religion can replace religion," and encouraged his patients to seek their own means of spiritual exploration and integration. The prepatriarchal Goddess tradition is a rich source from which women and men may draw. Yahweh/God the Father is not the omnipotent deity of all humankind, but is merely a figure in one of the many mythological/religious systems from which people may select personally meaningful aspects. In a world where spiritual expressions are valued for nurturing integration, growth, and a sense of our embeddedness in nature—rather than for providing lockstep control over a populace—diversity and evolutionary process are honored. Such are the values of pre- and postpatriarchal spirituality.


1 Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Vol. 1, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1960 (1955), p. 22.

2 C. G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9, Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series 20, 1969 (1959), part i, par. 316.

3Ibid., par. 6.

4Ibid., par. 26.

5 Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 11, par. 711.

6 Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9, part i, par. 157.

7Ibid., par. 316.

8 M. Esther Harding, Women's Mysteries, Ancient and Modern, London: Rider & Company, 1971 (1955), p. 103.

9 Marie-Louise von Franz, The Feminine in Fairytales, Irving, Texas: Spring Publications, 1972, p. 22.


11 Harding, p. 34.

12 von Franz, p. 28.

13 Murray Stein, "Hera: Bound and Unbound," Spring, 1977, pp. 105-119.

14" Ibid., pp. 106-107.

15Ibid., p. 114.

16 Robert A. Johnson, She: Understanding Feminine Psychology, New York: Harper & Row, 1977, p. 1.


18Ibid., p. 6.

19Ibid., p. 7.

20 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series 47, 1963 (1955), p. 78.

21 Johnson, pp. 18-19.

22 Erich Neumann, Amor and Psyche: The PsychicDevelopment of the Feminine, Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series 54, 1956, p. 76.

23Ibid., p. 146.

24 Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9, part i, par. 5n.

25Ibid., par. 271.

Robert Emmet Meagher (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: "The Duality of Helen," in Helen: Myth, Legend, and the Culture of Misogyny, Continuum, 1995, pp. 49-69.

[In the following essay, Meagher examines the depiction of women as both goddesses and humans in Greek mythology, specifically in Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days. Meagher notes the ways in which Hesiod subverts earlier oral traditions, in which women were birth goddesses and creators rather than (as in Olympian myths) created by male gods to bring misery and death to human men.]

The many facets and faces of Helen have come down to two. The one is bright, provoking desire and joy. The other is dark, provoking hatred and grief. The relationship and balance between these two, however, remains to be examined. To minds like the Greeks', noted for critical reasoning, committed to ratio and proportion, unresolved dualism is no better than an unanswered question. Besides, the poetic and political traditions of archaic and classical Greece make it manifestly clear that men were at peace neither with Helen in particular nor with women in general.1

Indeed, outside the artistic temenos of those poems and pots in which Helen's bared face or breasts made warriors drop their swords and surrender to her loveliness, Helen's spectacular beauty provided her with little or no protection against the insults of centuries. Helen-bashing was an accepted poetic pastime. However desirous Helen was renowned to be, she was mostly an object of contempt. Add to this phenomenon the demonstrably profound and rarely denied misogyny of the Greek tradition, and it is a short leap to some rather disturbing conclusions regarding male ambivalence, or the lack thereof, toward Helen and her countless, more ordinary images, the women of Greece. We will avoid that leap for now, however, and take instead what may appear to be an unwarranted detour. We will consider the figure of Pandora, the first woman of Hesiod; and from her we will find our way back—a short distance—to Helen. Our own eventual and peculiar defense of Helen will be seen to depend on what we discover from Pandora and on the relevance of those discoveries to Helen's case. For now all that is needed is the benefit of whatever doubt this detour might instill.

The composition of the Theogony and of Works and Days, attributed to a supposed Boeotian farmer-poet by the name of Hesiod, is commonly assigned to the late eighth or early seventh century.2 To confine these works, however, to the pen or stylus of a single man and to a narrow chink of all but lost time is to overlook several salient realities. The works of Hesiod, like those of Homer, represent both the terminus of a vast oral tradition and the source of a vast written tradition. Their debts to the past as well as their authority over the future are incalculable. Since we are unable to hear a past we cannot read, the words of Homer and Hesiod appear to have emerged from a silent void resembling that of the first verses of Genesis. Indeed, what we know as Greek literature was first conjured into existence by the voices of Homer and Hesiod. We cannot afford to forget, however, those countless other anonymous voices of uncertain origin and age, who like underground rivers fed the first visible streams of archaic Greek poetry.3 They are the true Muses to whom both Homer and Hesiod were so outspokenly grateful.

All this is to say that when we read Hesiod we cannot really know whose voice we hear nor precisely whence it comes. The alphabet, like a cloak thrown over a ghost, makes merely spoken words visible; yet we cannot see through that cloak, behind the written word, to the oral past which is lost in its own preservation. The more we learn about that past from other sources, however, the older and more vast it becomes, a fact that we will soon confront in the figure of Pandora.

The Theogony is an account of origins, preeminently the origins of those divine beings who compose and preside over the cosmos. It is also a narrative of divine history, tracing the succession of regimes seen to have culminated in the reign of Olympian Zeus. The narrative of Zeus's rise to power and of the consolidation of his regime is doubtless rooted in an earlier array of succession myths, which circulated throughout the ancient Near East. The proportion of Hesiod's debt owed to each tradition and the itinerary of each transmission are matters of wide and likely irresolvable disagreement. The likeliest principal influences on Hesiod's account of the succession from Ouranos to Kronos to Zeus, together with Zeus's collateral struggles with the Titans, with Prometheus, and with Typhoeus, would seem to be the Hittite versions of the Hurrian Kumarbi4 and Ullikummi5 myths as well as the Babylonian Enuma Elish.6 M. L. West suggests that a hellenized version of such Oriental material reached Hesiod via Crete and Delphi, whereas P. Walcot traces its transmission, particularly that of the Enuma Elish, from Al Mina in northern Syria to Euboea, and from there to Boeotia, the reputed homeland of Hesiod and a center of cultural influence in the archaic period.7

The Theogony, like most theological works, is no example of sublimely unbiased metaphysics. Instead, it is highly political. In it, the regime of Zeus and the reign of Olympian justice are celebrated as the achievement of the aeons, the arrival of celestial civilization. It is, one might say, Hesiod's version of "how the West was won." In the Theogony, Hesiod, a poet with "a burning passion for Zeus," offers "not just the story of the beginnings of the universe and the history of the gods" but "even more a resounding hymn of praise in honor of Zeus … relating the exploits of the king of the gods, as just as he is terrible."8 It is most like the hymns to Yahweh attributed to David or the Enuma Elish, which sings the praises of the divine warrior-king Marduk. In each instance, there is a fusion of absolute authority, martial glory, and what promises to be justice. In each instance, too, there is the clear subordination of female to male, presented as an evolution from the old order to the new, and from savage, even theriomorphic, ways to resplendent anthropomorphism.9 When the divine becomes so transparent to the human, it is little wonder that the human is seen to resemble the divine.

The Theogony may be the oldest Greek literature we possess; in any event, it addresses the oldest of times and of concerns, human concerns. For while humanity may appear quite peripheral to the Theogony, the opposite is the case. Indeed, "Hesiod's cosmos is human—or at least protohuman—before it is a cosmos, and the Theogony is the story of its progressive humanization."10 In other words, Hesiod's account of origins traces the development of a world that becomes progressively familiar with time, progressively human and progressively Greek.

The origin of peculiar immediate interest to us, in our defense of Helen, is not surprisingly the origin of women, the first woman, who is called the "kalon kakon."11 In fact, it is this very name that draws us to the Theogony. Comprised of two adjectives—kalon meaning "beautiful" and kakon meaning "evil"—it is essentially dualistic. Paradigmatic Woman, which we may assume this first woman to be, is, it seems, a living oxymoron, a living contradiction, which is precisely what we have already found Helen to be. Perhaps the faithless Helen has been faithful at least to her origins as a woman; and it would appear that Hesiod has provided, in kalon kakon, her definitive epithet. The truth is that he has provided much more.

Out of any context, kalon kakon would be irresolvably ambiguous. It could mean "beautiful evil" or "evil beauty" or "beauty-evil." We would have no clear indication as to which of woman's elements is substantive and which only modifying. We could not know whether woman, in being called kalon kakon, was being called: (a) essentially beautiful though qualifiedly evil; or (b) essentially evil though qualifiedly beautiful; or (c) essentially both evil and beautiful. In this tangle of words there lie profound differences, which Hesiod for his own purposes sorts out for us. When he is through, there is no ambiguity left. In the context provided by Hesiod, it is kakon that defines the substance or essence of woman. Repeatedly, kakon is made to stand alone, stripped of kalon. The truth of woman is stripped of pretense, and woman is revealed as unambiguously evil: "Thunderous Zeus made women to be a kakon for mortal men"12 "he fashioned this kakon for men to make them pay for the theft of fire."13 What then, has become of the kalon, the beauty of woman?

Before responding to this question directly, we must consider the fuller context within which the story of the kalon kakon occurs. Woman, as stated above, is made and presented to man in retaliation for the theft of fire; but that theft by Prometheus, son of lapetos, was provoked by Zeus's withdrawal of fire from mankind in retaliation for Prometheus's earlier theft of the finest sacrificial portions. In the perpetration of both thefts, Prometheus proved himself more clever than Zeus, using his dolie techne,14 his "deceptive skill," to outwit the king of the gods. In the first instance, Prometheus wrapped the meat and fatty portions of the sacrificial ox in the victim's inedible hide and stomach and then wrapped the bare bones in glistening fat, knowing that Zeus would mistakenly insist on the latter as his prerogative. In the second instance, Prometheus concealed living embers in a hollow fennel stalk, enabling him to elude Zeus's embargo and to return fire to mankind. The theme is unmistakable. Skill or craft (techneē is set to work in creating a ruse (dolon) which even a reputedly intelligent godhead would fall for. Poetic justice, much less Olympian justice, requires, however, that the tables be turned. In falling twice for the same dolon, Zeus has to have learned, or remembered, something. Enter woman; but not yet.

The words techne, dolie, and dolon occur repeatedly in Hesiod's account of Prometheus's twin offenses, which lead up to Zeus's retaliation in kind.15 But these are not their first appearances in the Theogony. There is an older and equally significant Hesiodic history to these words and the deeds they describe. When the hate of Kronos for his father peaked and Kronos plotted with his mother Gaia against Ouranos, she thought up for the two of them an "evil deception" (dolien … kaken … technin),16 which West translates "a nasty trick,"17 an understatement to be sure. Later, when Kronos learned from Gaia and Ouranos that he too would be undone by his own child and began to swallow methodically his wife's children as they dropped from her womb, further technē18 did the trick. Zeus was hidden away in a rock cave; and a massive rock was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Kronos, of course, went for the dolon and swallowed the rock-baby, just as Zeus in due course would swallow the bundle of bones, and as man, the last in a line of dupes, would take woman home with him.

It is this same word—dolon—that resolves the ambiguity of woman and puts her seeming contradictions in perspective; for woman, once she is properly adorned, veiled, and crowned, is called a dolon,19 a "trick," a "baited trap." It is eminently true of woman, as fashioned and fitted out by the gods, that what you see is not what you get, which makes her a fitting rebuttal for the glistening bag of bones foisted upon Zeus. The difference between woman's beauty and her evil is the difference between appearance and reality.20 Robed in silver, modestly veiled, garlanded with flowers, and crowned with gold, woman is a thauma,21 a "wonder to behold." Gods and men, mortals and immortals, are filled with awe at the sight of her. Unlike the gods, however, men are defenseless against her charms. Woman is a "lure" before which men are "without resistance."22 She is, in short, the irresistible bride whom men will be unable not to take home with them. But when they do, when they remove the veils, the robes, the flowers, all the cosmetic evasions given her by the gods, when they rapidly exhaust her superficial charms, then men will find out that they have taken into their homes and their lives a pēma mega,23 a great misery, a great pit into which all of their toilsome efforts will be quite futilely poured.

Before considering this woman, man's pēma mega, in still further detail, we would do well once again to open wide the scope of our considerations to encompass the history within which this moment, the moment of woman's creation and man's ruin, occurs. More precisely, the moment I have in mind begins with the sacrifice gone wrong at Mekone and ends with humanity's, even Prometheus's, consequent misery. Brief insubordination results in lasting subordination, with a vengeance to be remembered. This moment is framed by two statements: first,

It was just as men and gods were in crisis (ekrinonto) at Mekone that he [Prometheus] cunningly cut up a great ox, apportioning it in such a way as to seduce Zeus into making a big mistake;24

and second,

Thus it is impossible to mislead or to elude the mind of Zeus.25

The issue here is clearly sovereignty. What has happened before, one would imagine, could happen again. In a line of ultimately unstable regimes, the stability of Zeus's regime is theoretically and practically open to question. That there is indeed a crisis, something remaining to be decided, is made evident by the two stunning challenges to Zeus's wit and rule soon offered by Prometheus in the name of humankind. In fact, all four sons of lapetos and Klymene—Atlas, Menoitios, Prometheus, and Epimetheus—are minor trouble from the start. Coeval with Zeus, they represent a rival line of descent from Ouranos and Gaia, which, if allied with unruly mankind, could spell major trouble. Indeed, their very names—"the Endurer," "the Endeavorer," "the Forethinker" (one with creative imagination, seeing things before they exist or happen), and "the Afterthinker" (one who sees things only after they exist or happen)—suggest that these figures represent larger-than-life human paradigms, magic mirrors, in which men may see themselves and their possibilities blown large. Most troublesome is Prometheus, who seems determined to bring Zeus down and to elevate the status of humankind by giving them creative imagination, defiant wit, and divine fire, in short all that is needed to make them like gods.26 With Prometheus as a model27 and benefactor, humankind may embrace ambitions which they have yet to imagine, much less act on.

Apparently, at Mekone in Sikyon, all this—the imminent contest between humankind and Zeus—was to be decided. In the act of animal sacrifice,28 the central ritual act of Greek religion, the essential order of the cosmos would be affirmed and entrenched. The primacy of gods over men and of men over beasts would be made ritually visible and politically secure. The cornerstone of Greek piety and Olympian politics would be laid. For all this to be, however, the sacrifice must be duly performed, which was what Prometheus neither had in mind nor did. The humiliating failure of the krisis, the critical test of Zeus's sovereignty, prompted Zeus to take the more extreme measure of withholding from men any access to divine firepower or transformative force, without which men would soon be virtual animals, shivering in caves and eating their meat raw. Then, thwarted a second time, Zeus devised his final solution: woman. Woman would guarantee that man, with or without fire, had offered his last threat to the sovereignty of Zeus. She would be living testimony to the truth that "it is impossible to mislead or to elude the mind of Zeus." As an added bonus, she would make man suffer for ever having imagined otherwise.

Essentially the same account of the First Woman, man's pēma mega, the exquisitely tied fly—momentary splendor and then all hook—is to be found in Hesiod's Works and Days. The context for that account is, however, a good deal more mundane than the framework of the Theogony. While in the Theogony the human story was only beginning, humankind is mostly old history in Works and Days. Four ages of man have come and gone, each a good deal worse than the one before;29 and Hesiod finds himself in the fifth, wishing he were anywhere else. Strife defines every relationship; virtue is rewarded with misery, and so is everything else. Yet it was not always so. Men once lived without toil and without pain. Like fruit they ripened in the sun of the god's blessings; and then, when full, they dropped from life, as from a tree, quietly in their sleep. Hesiod's account of the fall of man begs the question Why? Why and from where so much misery? The answer is again woman, the source of all of man's woes.30

Although in Works and Days the First Woman has a name, a name of great significance (Pandora), she is presented in very much the same terms as in the Theogony. She is bait set by the gods for men, who with pounding enthusiasm throw themselves upon her, expecting to embrace bliss and discovering, in retrospect, that they have swallowed their doom. It is no wonder that her first husband is named Epimetheus, that is, "Afterthought"—one who learns the truth, the essential evil of woman, only later, on the morning after. She is given the awesome exterior of a goddess;31 the ethos or inner character of a sneak thief; and the noos, the heart and mind, of a kyon, a dog, a predatory scavenger who waits for men to fall and then picks clean their bones.32 Her face, the focus of her appearance, is immortal, provoking immortal thoughts; her soul, invisible at first yet revealed implacably in all she does, is the deadly handiwork of Argosslaying Hermes, the guide of souls lost to the world below.33 Woman is like a gleaming gold cup brimming with poison, with honey smeared around its lip: lovely to behold, sweet to the lips, and lethal to the last drop.

Woman, adorned by the gods with every beauty and grace, burdens man with all that is hideous and devouring in his new condition. Woman, the recipient of all that is bright, is the giver of all that is dark. Indeed, both of these claims are conveyed in her name, Pandōra, which means at the same time both the "Allgifted" and the "All-giver." Like her other, impersonal name, kalon kakon, this new name suggests an essential ambiguity which Hesiod is quick to interpret and so to resolve. Hesiod's comment on the naming of woman tells the whole story. She is called Pandora, he informs us, because "all those who dwell on Olympos gave each one to her a gift, a grief for men who strive and toil."34 Pandora, "all-gifted" with every kalon is the "all-giver" of every kakon. All of the divine largesse which she embodies has only one purpose: human misery.

Pandora, then, is indeed the recipient of the gifts of all the gods. She is not, however, their final recipient; for these gifts are intended ultimately and primarily for men, to provide for their endless torment. First there are the cosmetic gifts, Pandora's various charms and adornments, which serve to ensnare men; then there are the dark contents of Pandora's jar, released forever among men when Pandora removes its lid. Toil, disease, pain, care, old age—all of the myria lygra,35 the innumerable miseries that make up man's condition—pour from the jar of Pandora the "All-giver," the giver of all grief.

The transparent meaning of this text has been obscured over recent centuries by the substitution of "box" for "jar," a decisive change of image attributed to the sixteenth-century monk Erasmus, who mistranslated the original Greek word pithos with Latin pyxis.36 A pithos is an often huge earthenware jar used to store and to preserve wine or oil or other foodstuffs.37 Womb-like in shape, it is also a symbol for the earth, the mother of all. In early Helladic burials, the pithos frequently served as a coffin.38 After the corpse was folded into fetal position and inserted into the pithos, honey was often poured over the dead as a preservative;39 and then the lid was sealed in place. The womb-like shape of the pithos, the fetal position of the corpse, and the sweet nourishing fluid surrounding it all suggest birth as well as death—in other words, the presence of hope, the hope of regeneration, which like the hope in Pandora's jar remains in the pithos until the end of time.

In this context we may recall the story of Glaukos, who as a child fell into a pithos full of honey and disappeared.40 When Polyeidus, commanded by Minos to find the boy, descended into the labyrinthine palace and came upon an owl,41 he knew the boy to be dead and soon found him head down in a pithos of honey. Minos's next demand was for the regeneration of his son from the pithos, which Polyeidus was enabled to accomplish through the magical properties of an herb, which a serpent42 happened to be carrying in its mouth to its own dead mate.43 While this story contains multiple images integral to our concerns here, our present focus is upon the pithos, the symbol and locus of both death and rebirth.

The implications of the pithos for the story of Pandora are immediately clear and telling. Pandora's gifts are released not from some box she holds but from her own womb. Her fault lies not in her curiosity but in her being. She is constitutionally deceptive and essentially lethal; for when she opens the lid of the pithos and gives birth, she brings death as well. Death, Hesiod makes clear, comes soon and miserably, after a toilsome life. The lid of Pandora's pithos is opened first in the act of love, to which men are drawn by her irresistible charms; and then the lid is opened again to give birth either to men who will live out short miserable lives or to her own unique progeny, the separate race of women, who will extend the human plague indefinitely. At the end of the day, as it were, the lid is opened a last time to receive the dead, exhausted by life.44

Pandora herself, it would appear, is the pithos, from which dismal, prolific mankind issues forth and to which men return, either to bury their desires for a moment or to be buried forever. This image of woman as pithos is very old indeed, the inheritance and not the creation of Hesiod.45 From the Neolithic period onward, over four thousand years before Hesiod, earthenware vessels—some large and wide-mouthed for storage and others in a range of shapes for a variety of uses—were frequently shaped or painted to suggest their identity with woman or womb. In addition to bearing the face, the breasts, the vagina, and other anatomical features, these pots were commonly painted or inscribed with emblems, images, and what may be interpreted as a symbolic script, all together making unmistakable the intimate association of woman with life, death, and regeneration.46

It is also true that Pandora is not the pithos, which Hesiod mentions as an object apparently separate from Pandora herself, the woman. Imaginatively one, they are literally two, disconnected, estranged. What is more, a profound, pervasive estrangement may be discerned within the entire account of Pandora, from her creation to her deployment. Like her pithos, assuming for the moment its earthenware composition, Pandora is fashioned from clay, moistened with water.47 Commissioned by Zeus, she is the handiwork of Hephaestos. Her beginning, then, is uniquely unnatural. She is the work not of nature (physis) but of craft (techne). Although the entire race of women and, from this day forth, all men are to issue from a womb, either hers or that of one of her daughters, Pandora herself comes into being not from the belly of a woman but from the hands of a man.48

There is a double humiliation and reversal here: first, that woman, the womb of all humankind, should be fashioned from clay, literally like a pot; and second, that the potter should be a man. In Hesiod's account, man has somehow come into being long before and without woman; it is woman who is the afterthought, derivative and secondary. At the very least, this violates unmolested common sense. Admittedly, the emergence of the first human being presents a challenge to any imagination, ancient or modern; but already with the second and the third human being, a clear pattern presents itself. Nothing is observed more universally than that every human being comes from woman. The existence of women before men is a mystery, while the existence of men before women is a contradiction, which is precisely what Hesiod intends.

The inseparable bond between woman and the unfolding of life is embedded in the word physis, a word encompassing the entire order of nature and yet referring quite specifically to the female genitalia,49 the lips of Pandora's jar. In Hesiod, what spills from these lips is not so much joy and life as misery and death.50 Sex, something apparently new and overwhelming to Epimetheus, disrupts the harmonious order of things. Woman, herself a contrivance, overturns nature, irrevocably. Because of her, men can no longer appear and disappear inexplicably, like flowers. Instead, they must be born and must die. No thought, if we enter Hesiod's imagination, is to him stranger and more unsettling. We are mistaken, however, if we suppose his imagination to be innocent and primitive, the product of clueless wonder. He knows what he is doing, and why. His is not the original account of such matters; rather, his is a conscious denial of that account, an effort to articulate its demise. He is a man not with a silly idea but with a powerful ideology, which at the same time happens to be silly.

Hesiod is not alone, of course, in his overturning of the self-evident order of things in which woman and womb are the natural—that is, genital—source of man. In the J, or Yahwist, account of creation, composed during the reign of Solomon and thus the older of the two creation accounts in Genesis, man is created first to a deathless, god-like existence; and woman is the afterthought, a by-product of man.51 Soon, almost inevitably it seems, she brings sex, laborious birth from the womb, a life of labor, and certain death. Similarly, Enkidu, Adam's Mesopotamian counterpart, is torn from idyllic nature by woman, the seductress, whose irresistible charms leave him weakened and marked for death, a death whose universal claim Gilgamesh sees reflected in his dying friend's eyes. Amidst the diverse complexity of these and other ancient accounts of the first man and woman, we may perceive a common thread in the assertion that it is woman, an unwitting interloper into the original scheme of things, who disturbs the natural order, bringing sex, strife, suffering, and death.

The second form of humiliation and reversal inflicted upon woman by Hesiod is related to the first. She is made to be the one fashioned from clay and not the fashicl-r—the pot, as it were, and not the potter. Contrary to Hesiod's account, however, woman seems to have been the first to work with clay, whether as creatrix or as simple potter. "The art of pottery," writes Robert Briffault, "is a feminine invention; the original potter was a woman. Among all primitive peoples the ceramic art is found in the hands of woman, and only under the influence of advanced culture does it become a man's occupation."52 This original association of woman with pottery is reflected in those early creation myths wherein it is woman who fashions man from clay. In perhaps the earliest of these,53 already current in the third millennium, the birth-goddess Nammu, the primeval sea, "the mother who gave birth to all the gods," mixes the first mortal clay and, together with Earth-mother Ninmah and the goddesses of birth, fashions the first human beings. Compared with these goddesses, the likes of Greek Hephaestos and Egyptian Khnum are newcomers to the art of pottery, much less to the fashioning of human life.

A striking feature of these myths of female creativity is the conflation of nature and craft, sexuality and ceramics, in the fashioning of humankind. The potters are birth-and-womb-goddesses, mothers all. Thus, in Atrahasis, the first mortals—nips of clay fashioned into human form by birth-goddesses—step forth nine months later from a "womb." Womb and kiln, it seems, are one, as are flesh and clay. To say with the same breath that all life comes from earth and that all life comes from woman is not yet a contradiction but a truth, reflected in the art and imagery of clay, softened with water and impregnated with form. In a world of images, pithos, woman, womb, and earth are one.

Hesiod works with these same images, disfiguring them until they reflect only shame. The poet too is a potter of sorts; and it is, after all, Hesiod who shapes Pandora and her pithos on his poetic wheel. His Pandora, the mother of all living, is not only less than divine but less than human. Prehistoric and ancient potters and artists, in their creation of female figurines and "pot-ladies,"… commonly emphasized woman's genitals and breasts, her mysterious fonts of life and nurture; and, when they gave the lower torso exaggerated proportions, it was to provide space for the fullness of life contained therein. Hesiod, on the other hand, in his depiction of Pandora and of the separate race of women who are her daughters, is all but obsessed with the female gastēr, the belly.54 For him, it might be said, the belly is the physis of woman.

Zeus's preoccupation with "bellies" is not surprising in context; for bellies have been a theme and a problem in the Theogony long before the appearance of woman. In fact, the succession myth in which Zeus takes the ultimate place involves a succession of "bellies." When the offspring of Gaia and Ouranos prove frightful and loathsome to their father, he hides them away at birth in Gaia's keuthmōn55 her "hiding place" or "hole," the chthonic equivalent of a gastēr. Later, when Kronos has filled his father's shoes and begins doing away with his own children, he takes no chances. He swallows them himself, which works well until he consumes an indigestible boulder wrapped in swaddling clothes. We remember the scheme; but now we sharpen our focus on two words crucial to the account of it. While the stone-baby passes into the nēdys56 (meaning any of the body's cavities: belly, bowels, or womb) of Kronos, the flesh-and-ichor baby Zeus passes into a dark cave deep within the sacred keuthos57 (the same word as keuthmōn), or "hiding place," of Gaia or Earth, wherein Ouranos once upon a time confined his unwanted progeny. The womb of Earth, once a place of peril, has become, it seems, a place of refuge. The next relevant belly is Zeus's own, which he hopes to fill with the sacrificial feast at Mekone. Clearly his outrage over being given a bag of bones wrapped in slabs of fat and his ensuing outburst have to do not only with wounded pride but also with an empty stomach, which brings us back to the belly of woman, created as a curse to repay man in kind for a spoiled feast and for stolen fire.

Ever since the revenge of Zeus, men's days are long and hard, full of labor. Meanwhile, like bees, or bellies with heads, women stay at home in their hives, waiting to consume the fruit of others'—namely, men's—labors.58 Woman is reduced by Hesiod to her belly; and the belly, the gastēr, is seen as a symbol of lazy, insensitive, insatiable demand.59 Like a living, bottomless pithos, woman swallows the labors and the very life of her mate. On the other hand, the full force of the synecdoche by which woman is her belly, as well as its close connection with the pithos of Pandora, are lost unless we recall that gastēr means not only "belly" but also "womb." Women's demands are not confined to food. Her sexual demands, and their consequences, are likewise consuming. Defined by compulsive desire, woman hungers for both food and sex; and, in return, she produces only more hungry mouths and wombs and, admittedly, male offspring—her sole justification—who will in turn and all too soon inherit the misery of their fathers. In short, Epimetheus and every man after him, to use a familiar colloquialism, can say legitimately of his spouse that "she will be the death of me."

The ultimately lethal and bottomless gastēr or pithos that is woman is, admittedly, only an image of and a prelude to that all-consuming chasm or hole, the dark keuthmōn of goddess Earth, certain to swallow from first to last every child of woman. Pandora, the first mortal woman, is but an image and agent of Gaia, the first divine woman. Thus, when Pandora removes the lid from her pithos, we may imagine her opening the gates of Tartaros, "a place of decay, at the end of the vast earth."60 Indeed, Hesiod, in his description of Tartaros61 in the Theogony, seems to think of it as a great storage jar.62 This same thought clearly guided the painter of a fifth-century lekythos or funerary vase on which Hermes psychopompos, guide to the world below, is depicted standing next to a giant pithos, half-buried in the earth, from which come forth in flight the winged spirits of the dead.63

Pandora is not, then, the first female to be reduced to and indentified with her all-consuming "hole." Nor is she the first female to be the living source of misery and grief. In the beginning, according to the Theogony, there was Chaos, which in Greek means dark "Abyss" or "Chasm" without any connotation of confusion or disarray;64 and there was Gaia, the "Mother of All,"65 the first Pandora or "All-giver," the foundation of all.66 These two, Gaia and Chaos, simply come to be—like the primordial hillock emerging from the waters of chaos in Egyptian myth67—and from them proceeds all that ever is; but this line of descent and its early products prove mostly unacceptable in poetic retrospect. Besides, nothing about mortal men—their origins and history—is revealed in this account, a matter to which Hesiod turns in Works and Days. There, before presenting his own version of man's story, however, he alludes to an account of divine and human origins quite different from his own and makes the following offer:

If you like, I will summarize another tale
for you, well and skillfully—mind you take
it in—telling how gods and mortal men have
come from the same starting-point.68

Possibly he has no takers. For whatever reason, Hesiod says no more here of this common source of all divine and human being, perhaps because he has already told that tale in the Theogony.

That Earth, emergent from watery Chaos, is the common source of all beings—human, divine, and otherwise—is confirmed on the golden diadem fashioned by Hephaestos for the first woman. On this wondrous object, we are told, there are wrought many images presenting to the eye "all the awesome creatures spawned by sea and earth."69 There is telling irony in this crown's being placed on the head of woman, from whose fertile depths shall pour out myria lygra, all the innumerable ills of humankind. Queen of grief, woman shall repeat within time what took place before time, before Kronos, before the erotic lineage that led to Zeus. At first, we recall, Chaos brought forth Erebos, the darkness of the world below, and black Nyx, night. From feminine Nyx came forth an ominous brood70 including Death, Pain, the Fates, the Destinies, Nemesis, hateful Age, and Eris or strife. Daughter Eris, in turn, spawned progeny71 every bit as dark as those of her mother Night, progeny that include Quarrels, Labor, Famine, Lies, Murder, Wars, Anarchy, and Ruin. All of these, we know, have found their way into the pithos, the belly-womb, of Pandora, the mortal image of that dark, primeval chasm from which everything we know and dread has come.

At the same time, Gaia produced her own firstborn, Sky, "as an equal to herself,"72 and soon, under the novel influence of Eros, the "limb-weakener,"73 Earth and Sky mated and produced Kronos and his siblings, all so monstrous and hateful to Ouranos that he refused them entry into the light, keeping them hidden away in Gaia's "secret hole." Groaning with distress, Gaia schemed with her son to release her brood from the tyranny of Ouranos. Their scheme and its outcome are already familiar to us; yet it is well to have certain details fresh before our eyes. According to plan, as Ouranos, quickened with desire, spread himself over Gaia, Kronos, with a jagged flint sickle, sliced away his father's genitals, hurling them into the sea. The fertile blood of Ouranos sprayed Gaia with the seed of Giants and of the Furies, while the sea boiled up and from its foam there emerged the goddess Cypris or Aphrodite, accompanied by Eros and Himeros, or Desire. When, after the act, the hated sons were released into the light, Ouranos named them Titans and said that vengeance would follow them, a vengeance whose trail led all the way to Pandora.

There are quite evidently too many distinct fibers here to weave now into our account of woman and of the feminine origin of evil. With only a few in place, however, the pattern of the whole becomes clear. Long before Pandora releases from her womb the full plague of toil and pain and death, which humans know as their condition, Gaia and Nyx, female Earth and Night, have released into the cosmos the paradigms, as it were, of Pandora's "gifts." From the "hole," the dark, mysterious cavity, the gastēr, the belly-womb of woman, divine and human, imagined as a great pithos or jar, pour out all those bitter realities under which the divine and human orders, the cosmos and the polis, languish. Not until the female gastēr is replaced by its male counterpart will the pollution of woman be lifted from the family of the gods and from the race of men. The last great birth of the Theogony, the birth of Athena from Zeus marks precisely that event in the divine order. In fact, the entire movement of the Theogony, the narrative of the origin of the gods, may be seen as a progression, a triumphal ascent as Hesiod would have it, from the female womb of Gaia to the male womb of Zeus, and so from savage nature to Olympian civility.

After Zeus has proved himself supreme in cosmic combat, he becomes king and lord of the gods. Hesiod's one-sentence account of this moment provides all we need to assess the dynamics of the scene.74 Like Marduk of Babylon and Yahweh of Israel, but unlike several other divine warrior-kings who "win some and lose some," Zeus has swept the field of rivals.75 His power is incontestable. Gaia, who has retained her realism if little else, knows that hers and anyone else's independent claims to primacy are memories now, nothing more. Zeus, we are told, is elevated into place by acclamation, but not spontaneously; for Hesiod adds the intriguing detail that behind the proclamation of Zeus's sovereignty by the divine assembly lie Gaia's phradmosynesin, her "cunning maneuvers."76 She is not so far behind the scenes or the times to escape his notice. If nothing else, she is a survivor.

Conquest alone does not make kings. Proper sovereignty requires not only prowess in battle but preeminence in the council of the gods.77 The arts of war must be complemented by the arts of peace. For a king to rule both in time of peace and in time of war, his word must prevail as surely as does his sword. In the Enuma Elish, the warrior king Marduk, triumphant in battle, is confirmed in his kingship by the full pantheon.78 Having slain Tiamat, Marduk forms the ordered cosmos from her chaotic matter; and, in response, the other gods bestow upon him the "Fifty Names," encompassing all of their own proper powers and prerogatives. He is now not only the one who "performed miracles in the battle with Tiamat," but is "profound in wisdom, skilled in understanding."79 His sovereignty is whole and complete.80

We find this very same pattern replicated in the Theogony. After the last of his dynastic battles, Zeus, triumphant over Ouranos, Titans, and Typhoeus, restores order to the cosmos; but his will not be a lasting order unless he can complete his sovereignty with wit, cunning, and wisdom. This he accomplishes with the "swallowing" of Metis, the goddess of cunning and wise counsel, "who among all gods and mortals is wisest."81 In short, he metabolizes all of her powers. Initially, of course, he makes her his wife, his first wife; but he seems to be aware that we are what we eat, not what we marry. Both his father and his grandfather were outwitted by their wives because they had failed to realize this. As a result, they married too soon and swallowed too late; mistakes he does not repeat.

Zeus, with timely advice from Ouranos and Gaia, works a unique variation on the succession and swallowing themes, appropriating his own eminently clever wife's powers and plots before it is too late not to succumb to them. "By marrying, mastering, and swallowing Metis," write Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, "he becomes more than simply a monarch: he becomes Sovereignty itself."82 Then, after putting away mother and daughter, pregnant Metis and unborn Athena, deep within his n&dys83 (meaning any bodily cavity: mouth, belly, or womb) Zeus takes, as his second wife, Themis. Like Egyptian Maat or the Mesopotamian mes, Themis is the embodiment of all that is right and just in the societies of mortals and immortals. Unlike Metis, Themis, it seems, need not be swallowed in order to be at his disposal. It is enough for her to be at his side. Of all the gods, surely she is the one who can be trusted. Their six daughters—the Horai (the "Watchful Ones": Order, Justice, and Peace) and the Moirai (the "Fates": the Spinner, the Allotter, and the Unyielding One)—take after their mother and serve their father, perfectly complementing his inhuman force and his unprincipled cunning. Now the reign of Zeus promises to be both secure and just, unable either to be overthrown from without or to be corrupted from within.

Zeus, in swallowing Metis, not only reverses the succession of unwitting, unstable regimes beginning with Ouranos, but reverses as well the primacy of female fecundity beginning with Gaia. Hesiod's insistence that Zeus does so with the advice and consent of both Ouranos and Gaia84 may resemble the charade in which consent is elicited from sacrificial animals just prior to their demise. Regardless, their apparent concurrence in this most radical of overturnings confers upon it both a certain legitimacy and a seeming continuity with the past, neither of which it could claim for itself.

Already first in "firepower," now—with Themis at his side, Metis in his head, and Athena in his "womb"—Zeus has consolidated in himself every essential power and prerogative in the universe. For the moment, we focus on fecundity; for this is perhaps his most strange and radical acquisition. Nothing, it was suggested earlier, is observed more universally than that every human being, and for that matter every anthropomorphic divine being, comes from woman. Zeus, by absorbing pregnant Metis, fetus and all, and taking the unborn Athena into his own male womb, from which she will soon be born, overturns the most inalienable claim of woman and severs her defining bond with nature and with life. With the parthenogenetic birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, history has a new beginning, in which woman plays no essential role. Not only is she powerless in the formulation of nomos (custom and law), but now she is irrelevant to the unfolding of physis, or nature. Like Pandora, every woman is an afterthought—and an unfortunate one at that.

There are, as one might expect, alternative accounts of Athena's origins.85 One such account, preserved iconically, is found on a pithos dating from approximately 700 B.C.E., whose neck is "decorated with a picture of a winged goddess, who sits with outstretched arms on a throne; from her head there springs another winged figure, armed with a helmet, a spear, and perhaps a thunderbolt."86 Walcot argues that there is only one possible interpretation of this scene: the birth of Athena from a goddess, presumably Metis. There is indeed a tradition according to which Metis not only conceived Athena but gave birth to her as well.87" Regardless, by any account the female womb did not go out of service. Even Hesiod's Zeus continued to employ the wombs of his wives and of other women. In giving birth himself, he apparently intended to establish a principle, not a practice.

In the human order, men have been, so far, unsuccessful in finding a male replacement for Pandora and her womb. In the Greek world, this failure was not for lack of will or desire. Indeed, "the dream of a purely paternal heredity never ceased to haunt the Greek imagination."88 Greek poetry is resonant with the voices of men who long for a world exorcised of women, a world in which men by themselves are capable of producing their own sons. Insofar as the divine order, as imagined by men, reflects the human order, as experienced by men, Zeus's two parthenogenetic successes, that is, Athena born from his head and Dionysos born from his fatty thigh, may reflect directly the failures of men at the same endeavor. Here, misogyny may be seen to conspire with the love of men for men; for when men make love to men, their seed often finds its way to the head and to the thighs, the would-be "wombs" of Zeus. Fantasy, likewise, finds its way to poetry and to being born as myth.

Apart from these moments of fantasy, Gaia and Pandora, Earth and Woman, remain the mothers of all that lives. Pandora is to the human order and the race of men what Gaia is to the divine order and the race of gods. Pandora is "Gaia in human form,"89 "a kind of Gaia reborn, symbol of the power of the female, displaced from the divine onto the human realm."90 The power of Gaia and Pandora, focused on the gastēr, is in Hesiod's revisionist mythology, however, no longer primarily the power of fecundity and life, but rather the power of hunger and death. The homology between Gaia and Pandora (and, by extension, between Helen and Gaia) is indeed close and complex. In fact, the virtual identity of Gaia and Pandora has long been widely accepted and rarely questioned.91 The remaining question for us here concerns the bond, if any, between Helen and Pandora and, by extension, between Helen and Gaia.

The most obvious, indisputable bond between Helen and Pandora lies in the fact that Pandora is the first woman, the mother of the separate genos or race of women, and Helen is thereby her distant daughter. When we consider that Hesiod describes that race as oloion,92 which means at the same time both "deadly" and "lost," we may go further and propose that Helen is the most notorious of Pandora's daughters. Helen, then, may be seen as Pandora's avatar or emanantion, her image, which in turn recalls Helen's relationship with Aphrodite, and appropriately so; for Aphrodite is as close to the figure of Pandora as she is to the figure of Helen. After all, Pandora and Helen possess in common the divinely compelling charis, the outward loveliness or simply "charm," of Aphrodite. It is Aphrodite's gift to them both. Furthermore, in Works and Days, Pandora is accompanied by Potnia Peitho, mistress Persuasion, who, as we have already seen, is the virtual "double"93 of Aphrodite, perhaps even a designation for Aphrodite herself.94 This same Peitho, whom Sappho regards as a "cheat" and as "Aphrodite's daughter,"95 is at the same time a frequent "vase-companion" of Helen. In fact, in ancient iconography, it is frequently Aphrodite and Peitho together who accompany Helen to ensure either Helen's elopement with Paris or her reconciliation with Menelaos.96 Additionally, two other cosmetic benefactors of Pandora, Hephaestos and Athena, have equally close associations, respectively, with Helen, the weaver of tapestries, and with Aphrodite, the heartthrob of Hephaestos.

What is most telling, however, is that in the Greek poetic tradition Pandora and Helen manifest the same profound duality and suffer the same resolution of that duality in the consistent disfavor in which they find themselves. Pandora and Helen are virtually defined by the contradiction between their outward loveliness and their inward perversity, the disparity between their apparent charm and their essential fatality. Both are misleading and mischievous, not by virtue of anything they say or do but by virtue of what they are: in a word, "women"; and, in the words of the seventh-century iambic poet Semonides, women represent "the greatest kakon or evil Zeus has made."97 Woman's noos or mind and heart, the seat of her perversity, was made by Zeus "apart" and "in the beginning."98 Zeus creates woman from the inside out, while men discover woman from the outside in. In other words, Zeus begins with the essential reality, while men start with the appearances. The intended and actual result is that women—Pandora, Helen, and "all the other tribes of women"99—are desired by men, briefly, and then forever hated. In no more time than it takes for men to pass from illusion to reality, women pass from being objects of desire to being objects of loathing.

Yes, women are the greatest evil Zeus has
If someone who has a woman imagines her
To him, she will prove all the more evil.

A man's good spirits never last a whole day
When the day includes a woman …
Yes, women are the greatest evil Zeus has
And men are bound to them, hand and foot,
With impossible knots tied by god.
It is no wonder that Hades waits at the door
For men at each others' throats
Over women.100

The only reason, presumably, why Pandora was not fought over was that she had, for all we know, only two possible suitors, Prometheus and Epimetheus, and one of them could see beyond the prima nox.

The consortium of Helen, Pandora, and Gaia is, at root, the timeless consortium of women. If Pandora is Gaia in human form, then Helen is Pandora in person. And all three are familiar with golden Aphrodite, who in the Theogony, alone among all the deities eventually composing the Olympian household of Zeus, spans the aeons separating the regime of Zeus from the regime of Ouranos. Thus, in Greek chronology, Aphrodite links the time of origins with the present; for although she belongs to the first generation of gods, Aphrodite finds her way into the Olympic pantheon and to Helen's side. And Helen—the living image of Gaia, Aphrodite, and Pandora—is, at least potentially, all women.

Lineage among images and emanations is, admittedly, a tenuous reality traced in leaps as often as in close, careful steps. Some would find any movement now from Helen to Gaia to be a leap, while others would consider it a modest, even obvious, step. Perhaps, once again, Aphrodite provides a common bond and a bit of light here. Aphrodite's communality with Pandora and with Helen is already clear; and her bond with Gaia should become, momentarily, a shade more evident.

According to Herodotus, the very oldest temple of Aphrodite was her temple in Ascalon, Syria.101 It was from there, he said, that her cult was carried to Cyprus and to Cythera, which coincides with what has been said already of her Near Eastern roots. What is more, Aphrodite's cult name in the temple of Ascalon was Ourania, "Queen of Heaven," a name and a cult denounced in the prophetic writings of Jeremiah102 and possibly her earliest title among the Greeks, a title suggesting her association with Ouranos. The cult of Aphrodite Ourania is widely attested among Hellenic communities, and her most illustrious cult image was carved of ivory and gold for her by Pheidias for her shrine at Olympia. How close the name Ourania brings Aphrodite to Gaia, who mothered, mated with, and helped to unman Ouranos, is surely a matter for speculation and debate; but at the least it is one more gesture back to the earliest times, to the time of origin. The name Ourania is for us a heuristic clue to the meaning of Aphrodite, Pandora, and Helen, the meaning of Woman. It points us in the direction of, if not directly to, Gaia, the Mother of All.

The worship of Gaia, Earth, was aboriginal to the earliest Hellenic tribes. To her belonged the mysterious powers of life and of death and of regeneration, of dreams and of prophecies. Incarnate as a serpent, she brought healing, vision, and rebirth. Hesiod, we know, lamented the steady decline in the status and condition of men from the first to the fifth age, wherein he found himself, full of complaints; but we also know that his complaints, though legitimate, overlook the far more drastic decline of women, human and divine. Gaia, the first woman, the first mother, shared the denigration of her human daughters. Even so, in the Oresteia of Aeschylus, which heralds the final Olympian eclipse of the feminine, celebrating male ascendancy in cosmos and polis alike, Gaia is not forgotten. At the earth's navel, in the holy precinct of Delphi, the Pythia, the serpent-priestess, pays Gaia peculiar deference. "Of all the gods," she says in the opening lines of the Eumenides, "I pray to Gaia first."103

Aphrodite, Pandora, and Helen, as well as their myriad imaginative counterparts such as Demeter,104 Ariadne, and Korē, like emanations from a single source, point us back to the first woman, the first mother, the first pithos, the first font of life and of death and of regeneration. They point us to a time beyond the specific traditions of Greece, before the familiar voices of Greek poetry construe Mother Earth and the mortal mothers who imitate her105 as devouring and deceitful beings, loved too soon and loathed too late. We may catch a glimpse of that first feminine power and presence, the true mother of Helen, in the Hymn to Gaia:

The Mother of us all,
the oldest of all,
 splendid as rock

Whatever there is of the land
it is she
 who nourishes it,
it is the Earth [Gaia]
 that I sing

Whoever you are,
howsoever you come
  across her sacred ground
 you of the sea,
 you that fly,
it is she
 who nourishes you

 out of her treasures
  Beautiful children
  beautiful harvests
   are achieved from you
  The giving of life itself,
  the taking of it back
  to or from
   any man
    are yours… 106

Here too, unless I am mistaken, we glimpse the reality of Helen, a reality that Euripides too must have glimpsed; for, … he sought eventually to disclose it.


1 Robert Lamberton, in his work on Hesiod, finds the "echoes" of Hesiod's virulent sexism to be "omnipresent in Greek literature and in the sphere of its influence. The exclusion of the female from the world of discourse in Hesiod, constitutes, along with the degradation of the female into a series of bestial grotesques in the poetry of Semonides of Amorgos, the principal archaic manifestation of a hostility that is one of the most problematic aspects of the subsequent tradition" (Hesiod [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988], p. 103).

2 P. Walcot argues that the floruit of Hesiod was approximately 730 B.C.E. and that the Theogony preceded Works and Days (Hesiod and the Near East [Cardiff: University of Wales, 1966], pp. 109, 81). Chester G. Starr, however, who argues for different authors for the above works, places the Theogony in the early or mid-seventh century, which is in general agreement with G. S. Kirk's linguistic comparisons of the Theogony with the Iliad and the Homeric Hymns. See Chester G. Starr, The Origins of Greek Civilization (New York: Knopf, 1961), pp. 268, 270-71; G. S. Kirk, Hesiode et son Influence, Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique 7 (Geneva, 1962), pp. 63-64.

3 Many of the arguable "sources" of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry are not altogether invisible, of course; for the emergence of written from oral traditions occurred much earlier in Egypt and the Near East than on the Greek mainland.

4 See Hans G. Güterbock, Kumarbi, in The American Journal of Archaeology 52 (1948): 123-34. H. W. F. Saggs suggests that the ultimate source for both the Greek and the Hurrian/Hittite succession myths may be the Babylonian Myth of Harab (Civilization Before Greece and Rome [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989], p. 294). See also Thorkild Jacobsen, "The Harab Myth," in Sources from the Ancient Near East (Malibu, Calif.: Undena, 1984), vol. 2, fasc. 3, pp. 6-26.

5 See Hans G. Güterbock, The Song of Ullikummi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952).

6 See The Epic of Creation, in Myths from Mesopotamia, translated by Stephanie Dalley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 228-77.

7 See Hesiod, Theogony & Works and Days, translated by M. L. West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), Introduction, p. xii; Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East, pp. 121-23. Walcot suggests, as well, that the same route may have been taken by the Phoenician alphabet, brought home by Greeks who had been resident in northern Syria.

See also Roland Hampe, Frühe griechische Sagenbilder in Böotien (Athens: Athen. Dt. Arch. Inst., 1936), p. 55; Pierre Guillon, La Béotie antique (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1948), p. 27.

8 Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East, pp. 30, 32, 129.

9 For a discussion of the influence of Babylonian materials, most specifically the Enuma Elish, on Hesiod, see Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East, pp. 27-54. Concerning the origins and development of the cult of Yahweh in ancient Israel, see Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God (New York: Harper & Row, 1987). And for a comparison of the Hebrew and Babylonian materials regarding the origins of the cosmos and of humanity, as well as the ascendancies of Marduk and of Yahweh, see Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951). Gerda Lerner considers all three traditions, though most substantially those of Mesopotamia and Israel, in The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

10 Lamberton, Hesiod, p. 77.

11 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 585, translation mine.

12 Ibid., 600-601.

13 Ibid., 570. A further, admittedly remote, though possible, connection between Pandora and stolen fire may be glimpsed in legends recounting how woman once kept fire in her vagina. See Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962), p. 80.

14 Ibid., 560.

15 See ibid., 540, 547, 550, 555, 560, 562.

16 Ibid., 160; see 175.

17 Hesiod, Theogony & Works and Days, trans. West, p. 8.

18 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 496.

19 Ibid., 589.

20 I use the categories "appearance" and "reality" advisedly here, where one might be tempted to use, instead, "form" and "matter" (particularly as Hesiod refers to woman as a likeness or form); for the latter more technical categories are quite volatile and prone to change. In the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, form—not matter—is the more real of the two; and Aristotle explicitly contrasts the sexes by likening man to form and woman to matter.

21 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 581.

22 Ibid., 589.

23 Ibid., 592.

24 Ibid., 535-37.

25 Ibid., 613.

26 For a fuller discussion of what the figure of Prometheus represents, see Jean-Pierre Vernant, "The Myth of Prometheus in Hesiod," in Myth and Society in Ancient Greece (New York: Zone, 1980), pp. 183-201; and Robert Emmet Meagher, ("Techne," in Perspecta 24, The Yale Architectural Journal (New York: Rizzoli, 1988), pp. 159-64. If, indeed, the threat posed by Prometheus, in concert with humankind, is that men might become like gods, it may be of interest to note that a similar promise is presented to Adam and Eve by the serpent who tells Eve that if she and her mate will eat of the forbidden tree they "will be like divine beings" (Tanakh [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988], Genesis 3:5). At the outset of this encounter, the serpent is described as "the shrewdest of all the wild beasts" (2:25), while Adam and Eve are depicted as naked but as yet feeling no shame (3:1). What is obvious only in the original Hebrew is that the author of this account has created a pun here. The serpent is "shrewd" ('arum) and the first humans are "naked" ('arom), words written alike but vocalized differently. Soon Adam and Eve, in seeking to be shrewd like the serpent realize their nakedness, knowing desire and shame in the same instant. This same convergence of nakedness, desire, and would-be resemblance to the gods is suggested in the Gilgamesh, wherein the temple prostitute "exposes her sex" to the primordial man Enkidu, and six days later, we are told, "he drew himself up,"

 for his understanding had broadened.
Turning around, he sat down at the harlot's
  gazing into her face,
  his ears attentive as the harlot spoke.
The harlot said to Enkidu:
 "You are beautiful, Enkidu,
 you are become like a god."

(The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985], p. 9, lines 183-88).

The correspondence of these earlier Near Eastern stories with that of Prometheus and Pandora is evident. Aided and abetted by Prometheus, men will soon be as shrewd as Zeus, and possibly more so. God-like cleverness combined with divine force is all the provocation Zeus needs to act. He will give to man, in the person of Epimetheus, a woman to consume him and his desires. Man will know nakedness, the secrets of woman, not the secrets of god. Intimacy with woman will spell estrangement from god, as it does in Genesis and Gilgamesh. See David Damrosch, The Narrative Covenant: Transformations of Genre in the Growth of Biblical Literature (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), chapter 3, "Gilgamesh and Genesis," pp. 88-143, esp. pp. 138-43.

27 Particularly when this account is conflated with its synopsis in Works and Days (47-58), Prometheus emerges as the First Man, or precisely as the most threatening of the several aspects of original man reflected in the sons of lapetos and Klymene. This is made clear when Zeus tells him that the First Woman, whose creation he is about to commission, will be a pēma mega for Prometheus himself and "for future men" (andrasin essomenoisin, 56).

28 In the slaughtering of a willing beast, both the fellowship and the divide between men and animals is made evident; and in the meat feast that follows, wherein the choice portions are raised to the gods and the lesser portions are shared among men, both the fellowship and the divide between men and gods is made evident. In the sacrificial ritual, duly performed, the hierarchical ordering of god, man, and beast is articulated and enacted. For a further and fuller consideration of animal sacrifice, see Walter Burkert, Homo Necans, The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), passim, and Greek Religion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 55-68. See also Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays, edited by Froma I. Zeitlin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), chapter 17, "A General Theory of Sacrifice and the Slaying of the Victims in the Greek Thusia," pp. 290-302; and Robert Emmet Meagher, Mortal Vision, the Wisdom of Euripides (New York: St. Martin's, 1989), pp. 64-65. For a more specific discussion of the Athenian Buphonia, the slaying of an ox for "Zeus of the City," see Burkert, Homo Necans, pp. 136-43.

29 Actually, this simplified schema is complicated and contradicted by Hesiod's insertion of a fifth race of heroes between the brazen and the iron races. The delineation of world ages in steady decline and their association with specific metals of diminishing value may be traced to Babylonian materials. See A. Jeremias, "Ages of the World (Babylonian)," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), 1:183-87. The same idea is found in other traditions as well, such as the Persian Avesta and the Hebrew Book of Daniel, wherein Daniel interprets for the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar his dream of a brilliant and dreadful statue with a gold head, silver chest and arms, bronze belly and thighs, iron legs, and feet of both iron and clay, a statue that fell apart into tiny pieces before the king's eyes. Daniel takes it all to mean the rise and fall of five kingdoms to be succeeded by the never-ending kingdom of the God of heaven (2:31-45).

30 Pietro Pucci provides an illuminating schematization of the differences between life before woman and life with woman. In the oppositions listed below, which Pucci calls "the edi'fying intentions of the text," Hesiod's original man and original woman are neatly distilled for us:

Godlike man Woman resembling the goddesses
Identity Imitation, copy
Symmetry Addition, excess, loss
Natural birth from earth  Manufacture with earth and water
No reproduction, unicity  Sexuality, reproduction
Spontaneity  Artifice, art, toil
Truth  Falsity
Natural sleep  Diseases, death

See Pietro Pucci, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 106.

31 The dressing and adorning of Pandora in Works and Days (72-76), together with the corresponding account in the Theogony (573-89), find a close parallel in the second Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, wherein Aphrodite, when she emerges newborn from the sea at Cyprus, is enrobed and crowned by the Horai, the daughters of Zeus and Themis, whereupon she is brought before the immortals, who wonder at her. Although the first woman, fashioned from moistened clay, may be said to emerge from the earth, she is crowned at once with a golden diadem, wrought by Hephaestos, on which were worked images of "all the myriad creatures spawned by the solid land and the sea" (Theogony, 582). Like Aphrodite, who steps from the sea onto dry land to be welcomed, adorned, and gazed upon, so the first woman is at once associated with both earth and sea.

Walcot, on the other hand, emphasizes the likeness between the Hesiodic scenes of the First Woman's being robed, adorned, crowned, admired, and named and similar scenes of the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut's birth and coronation presented in a series of reliefs and inscriptions on a colonnade of her memorial temple at Deir el-Bahari in West Thebes. In order to explain the possible influence of these scenes from fifteenth-century Egypt on eighth-century Greek poetry, Walcot cites evidence of direct Mycenaean contact with Egypt in the period after approximately 1570 B.C.E. and the resulting Egyptian influences discernible in Mycenaean ideas and images of sacred kingship. Finally, he endeavors to trace those same influences still further into archaic Greek poetry and concludes that "there is nothing improbable after all in the theory that Hesiod's description of the preparation of Pandora may be traced back to the Mycenaean period, and that, when we start to look for its origins, we must go beyond the confines of the Greek world" (Walcot, Hesiod, pp. 65-74). See also Edouard Henri Naville, The Temple of Deir el Bahari (London: Egypt Exploration Fund), Part II (1897), pp. 12-18 and plates 46-55; Part III (1898), pp. 1-9 and plates 56-64; James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906), pp. 75-100; H. Brunner, Die Geburt des Göttkonigs, Agyptologische Abhandlungen 10 (Wiesbaden: 0. Harrassowitz, 1964).

32 See Hesiod, Works and Days (Oxford), 60-68.

33 See ibid., 68, 77

34 Ibid., 81-82, translation mine. M. L. West (Theogony & Works and Days [New York: Oxford University Press, 1988], p. 39) translates this line as follows: "and he named this woman Pandora, Allgift, because all the dwellers on Olympus made her their gift—a calamity for men who live by bread." Presumably, "Allgift" is intended to mean both "recipient" and "source," both "all-gifted" and "all-giving," while emphasizing that Pandora is from the outset intended and "gifted" by the gods as a deadly "gift" to men. In short, the gift (dōron) of woman comes down to grief (pēma).

35 See Hesiod, Works and Days (Oxford), 100.

36 See Dora and Erwin Panofsky, Pandora's Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol, Bollingen Series 52 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 17-20, for a discussion of Erasmus's possible reasons for what must have been a conscious substitution of pyxis for dolium, which surely the learned Erasmus knew to be the Latin equivalent for the Greek pithos. The Latin word pyxis, on the other hand, properly translates its exact phonetic equivalent in Greek.

37 Walcot has argued that Pandora's pithos or jar referred to in Works and Days is a magic cauldron or pot, made of metal, most probably bronze ("Pandora's Jar, Erga 83-105," Hermes, 89 [1961]: 250). Concerning the magical properties of bronze, see G. Germain, Essai sur les origines de certains themes odysseens et sur la genese de l'Odyssee (Paris: These Fac. des Lettres Paris Presses Universitaires, 1954), pp. 153 ff. Walcot suggests elsewhere that the Homeric counterpart to Hesiod's jar, a place of imprisonment and not merely storage, is the bronze cauldron in which Ares was chained for thirteen months by the sons of Aloeus, until, nearly dead from his long ordeal, he was rescued at last by Hermes, presumably in his capacity as psychopompos, guide of souls lost to the light (Hesiod and the Near East, p. 61). See also Homer, Iliad (Loeb), 5.385-91. The idea that bronze might be an appropriate material for Pandora's jar finds support in the Old Anatolian myth entitled "The Disappearance of Telipinu," the son of the great storm god, in which we read:

Down in the Dark Earth stand great pahli-
Their lids are of lead. Their latches are of
That which goes into them doesn't come up
it perishes therein. So may they seize
anger, wrath, sin, and sullenness, and may
  they not
come back (here).

Bronze pahli-vessels, were wide-mouthed storage pots with lids, essentially bronze pithoi. An identical account of these vessels and their function appears in the corresponding myth of "The Disappearance of Hannahanna," the Hurrian-Hittite Mother Goddess frequently associated with myths of vanishing gods. See Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., trans., and Gary M. Beckman, ed., Hittite Myths (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), pp. 17, 28.

38 Long before this, as early as 3500 B.C.E., burial in large earthenware jars may be traced to Asia Minor. Also very early and quite widespread was the use of honey in the cult of the dead. See Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, Bollingen Series 47 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), pp. 264-67; and A. W. Persson, The Religion of Greece in Prehistoric Times, Sather Classical Lectures 17 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1942), pp. 13-18. In fact, burial in fetal position within egg-shaped earthenware pots is documented throughout southern and southeastern Europe from the Neolithic period onward, which practice clearly expresses "the idea of burial in the mother's womb. Burial in the womb is analogous to a seed being planted in the earth, and it was therefore natural to expect new life to emerge from the old" (Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess [New York: Harper & Row, 1989], p. 151).

39 The choe, drink offerings poured out from large vessels over the earth to the dead and to chthonic deities, may include honey, milk, water, oil, and wine. See Burkert, Greek Religion, pp. 70-72. Thus Odysseus, in preparation for his visit to the land of the dead, digs a pit and pours into it three cups for the dead and the gods below to drink: the first of honey mixed with milk, the second of sweet wine, and the third of water. See Homer, Odyssey (Loeb), 10.517-20. See also Aeschylus, Persians (Oxford), 607-22 and Libation Bearers (Oxford), 84-164; Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus (Oxford), 466-92; Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris (Oxford), 157-66.

40 From the Geometric period onwards, simple pot burials were regularly given to infants and children, a practice that persisted in the classical period. See Robert Garland, The Greek Way of Death (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 78. For a full discussion of the myth of Glaukos, see Persson, Religion of Greece in Prehistoric Times, pp. 9-24.

The expression "to fall into a jar of honey" means simply and euphemistically "to die." See Persson, Religion of Greece in Prehistoric Times, p. 12. Curiously, there is one preserved instance of a child's having "fallen" not only into honey but into the honeycomb itself. In the museum at Vrana near Marathon, there are kept the local remains of a child buried in two beehives, placed end to end to make his coffin. It is perhaps mistaken to suggest, however, as Garland does, that these two hives provided merely a "cheap" form of makeshift burial. "In the light of this evidence"—namely, the evidence for burying children in simple pots and even beehives—Garland concludes, "it is difficult to resist the impression that any serviceable container was acceptable for the body of a child" (Greek Way of Death, pp. 78, 81). Yet it may be that we would do well to resist just this impression in the additional light shed by the central significance of honey and of bees in the cult of the dead. See Gimbutas, Language of the Goddess, pp. 270-75, and The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 181-85. See also E. Richards-Mantzoulinou, "Melissa Potnia," Athens Annals of Archaeology 12 (1980): 1.72-92; and Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess (London: Arcana/Penguin, 1993), pp. 118-20.

In this context, it is interesting to recall that the infant Zeus, born in a Cretan cave inhabited by bees, was said to have been nourished by them. The fact that this Zeus was a year-child, dying and being reborn annually, would suggest that the bees and their nourishment may have played a role in his rebirth. See Martin P. Nilsson, The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its Survival in Greek Religion (Lund: Gleerup, 1950), pp. 542-43.

Also, Gorgons, who can draw out one's very life-breath and turn living flesh to stone, sometimes have the heads of bees, as depicted on a proto-Attic vase found at Eleusis and dated ca. 675-650. See G. M. A. Richter, A Handbook of Greek Art (London: Phaidon Press, 1959), p. 286, fig. 405.

Finally, we may note that in the Old Anatolian myths of vanishing gods, it is the bee, "holding honey in its heart," that is sent repeatedly to search for the lost god, perished in the land of no return. It is the bee that stings him back to consciousness, soothes him with the sweet balm of its wax, and brings him home. See Hoffner and Beckman, Hittite Myths, pp. 13-16, 18, 21, 29, 30, 32-33, 36.

41 The owl, an early symbol for the uterus, commonly presides over the cult of the dead. The figure of the owl served for the Egyptians as the hieroglyph for death. The Burney plaque, from the late Sumerian period (2300 B.C.E.), depicts a winged demon, flanked by owls. She is commonly identified with the Hebrew Lilith, hag of the night and of the dark realms, whose name means "screech owl." See B. Johnson, Lady of the Beasts (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 82; and Isaiah 34:14. Lilith appears in Sumerian myth as Lillake, a demon inhabiting, along with the Anzu-bird and the serpent, the huluppu-tree (possibly a willow), planted and tended by the goddess Inanna. See Samuel Noah Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961), p. 33. Eventually, according to a Sumerian tablet from Ur, the hero Gilgamesh strikes the serpent, smashes the home of Lillake, sending her off like the Anzu-bird to live in the wild, and carves from Inanna's holy tree a throne and a bed. See Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), pp. 3-9, 178-80. Lilith was later said to have been the first wife of Adam, rejected for her refusal to lie beneath him in a posture of submission, and sent off to the wilderness, like her Sumerian counterpart, to live in the company of animals. See Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (New York: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 12, 65-69, 101. Interestingly, in a story dating from sixteenth-century Palestine, Helen of Troy is closely associated with Lilith. See H. Schwartz, Lilith's Cave (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 40-51. For a full discussion of the archaeological evidence linking the owl with death both in Greece and beyond, see Gimbutas, Language of the Goddess, pp. 185, 187, 189, 190-95, 207, 319, 321.

42 Mysteriously emerging from and returning to earth and water, and residing in the tree of life, the serpent is commonly associated both with death and with life, with the world above and the world below. See Gimbutas, Language of the Goddess, pp. 121, 133, 135, 207. The observed fact that the serpent sloughs its dry, dead skin and thereby rejuvenates itself makes it a powerful symbol of rebirth. So embedded was this phenomenon in the Greek imagination that the same word, geras, means both old age and the slough of the serpent. Frequently, in the mythologies of the ancient Near East, the serpent is associated not only with death but also with regeneration. Thus, in the epic of Gilgamesh, when the wife of Utanapishtim, the Sumerian Noah, persuades her husband to share with Gilgamesh the gift of immortality granted them by the gods, this gift comes in the form of a plant. This plant, pulled up from the Apsu, the fresh, sweet waters below the earth, restores youth each time it is eaten. (The Apzu, the waters of Enki, god of the abyss, like semen and amniotic fluid, are alive with engendering power. Enki presides over all three: the sweet waters that impregnate the earth, the semen that impregnates the mother, and the "birth water" that issues forth from the womb. The Sumerian language makes no distinctions here. So, when Gilgamesh plunges into the Apzu in search of rejuvenation, he is returning to the fecund earth and its fertile waters, to the womb of all life. See Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976], p. 111; and Sylvia Brinton Perera, Descent to the Goddess [Toronto: Inner City, 1981], p. 67).

Gilgamesh, however, does not eat the magical plant at once. Instead, exhausted by his efforts to secure the plant, he decides to rest; and, while he is sleeping, a serpent slithers up, eats the plant, and sloughs its skin as it slithers off again. When he awakes, Gilgamesh weeps not only for himself but for all of humankind; for this was the last chance not to die, one by one, forever. See The Epic of Gilgamesh, trans. Kovacs, pp. 106-7, lines 266-309.

The serpent in Genesis, of course, requires no introduction. There too, through the intervention of the serpent, the tree of life is lost and, with it, immortal youth.

Finally, a possible and intriguing link between Helen and the cultic elements preserved in the Glaukos myth is suggested by Nilsson when he states: "From the archaic age onwards the symbols of the Dioscuri are two amphoras, and reliefs and coins show one or both of the amphoras entwined with snakes, or snakes approaching the amphoras" (The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its Survival in Greek Religion, p. 320). Like the snake in the Glaukos myth, the Dioskouroi are here understood as house gods, who appear as snakes and receive offerings left for them in earthenware vessels.

43 See Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (Mt. Kisco: Moyer Bell, 1960), 90: d, e.

44 Hope, which remains in the pithos to greet those who reenter it in death, is accorded little if any significance in Hesiod. The Works and Days presents what no one I know would call a hopeful picture. The timeless hope that the earth, the womb of all life, is a place from which anyone is born a second time seems to have left the kind of impression in Hesiod that plants leave in stones: the silent trace of life in the lifeless. Elpis or hope is nothing but a fossil from a forgotten time when the womb of woman and of the Mother Earth was the source not only of life but of its endless renewal.

45 Erich Neumann holds the central archetypal symbol of woman as vessel to be "the essence of the feminine." "The basic symbolic equation woman = body = vessel corresponds," by his account, "to what is perhaps mankind's—man's as well as woman's—most elementary experience of the Feminine" (Great Mother, p. 39). Interestingly, the Old Egyptian hieroglyph for woman is a pot. See Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York: Johnson Reprint, 1969), 3:473-74.

46 See Gimbutas, Language of the Goddess, passim, particularly pp. 7, 21, 22, 37. Frequently, these vessels took the form of a bird-woman, surrounded by symbols indicating the presence of water and/or trees, the primeval waters and the tree of life. Clearly, both Aphrodite's and Helen's close association with fertility, death, trees, birds, and water suggest that we may find in these oldest pots their faint reflection. Indeed, the claim was made in ancient times that the very first bowl was shaped by using Helen's breast as a mold. See Briffault, The Mothers, 1:473.

Commenting on the identification of woman and pot, Erich Neumann points out: "The vessel character of the Feminine is often emphasized by a duplication of the jar: the woman represented as a jar carries a second jar" (Great Mother, p.121). In this same context, B. Johnson writes: "A figure from the Hisarlik site of Troy furnishes a curious duplication: The Pot Mother holds a jar on her head; at the same time she carries in her hands a small vessel connected to her larger pot body. The pot, in turn, represents the inexhaustible womb of the Bird Goddess, the primeval deep" (Lady of the Beasts, p. 49; see also pp. 38-50).

47 See Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 571; Works and Days (Oxford), 60-62. P. Walcot finds a possible model for this episode in a scene depicted in the already mentioned reliefs on the funerary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. In a series of these reliefs, the ram-god Khnum is ordered by the high god Amon to fashion Hatshepsut and her ka, her life-force, which he proceeds to do on what appears to be a potter's wheel (Hesiod and the Near East, p. 67). See also Brunner, Die Geburt des Göttkonigs, p. 68.

48 In referring here and in the following discussion to Hephaestos as a "man," I am underlining his anthropomorphic masculinity. If it were not unduly awkward, I might refer to him as a "man-god" or "he-god" in the same way that we speak of a "she-witch" or a "she-goat."

49 See John J. Winkler, The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece (New York: Routledge, 1990), Appendix 2, "Phusis and Natura Meaning 'Genitals,"' pp. 217-20.

50 According to Robert Lamberton, the unspoken claim of Hesiod is that "the female genitals are the source of all evil" (Hesiod, p. 102).

51 The name given to the first woman by Adam, after the Fall, is Eve or hawwa, the "mother of all the living" (Genesis 3:20). Quite another interpretation of Eve's name, however, is suggested by the fact that in Aramaic it means "serpent." See Stephen Langdon, The Sumerian Epic of Paradise, the Flood and the Fall of Man, University Museum Publications of the Babylonian Section, vol. 10, no. 1 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1915), pp. 36-37.

The prior and more essentially definitive name given to the first woman by God Yahweh at her creation is 'issa, the one "taken from man" ('is, Genesis 2:23). Here, she appears to be the source neither of all living things as they were meant to be, nor of Adam, original "man." Her only brood is fallen human beings, who were never meant to be and must wrest their livelihood from nature. They must take everything they get from the earth's withholding grasp until it holds them in its grasp forever.

Eve's organic derivation from Adam in the J text is indeed curious. There are myriad interpretations of Eve's origination from Adam's rib, which mostly come down to her inferiority, dependence, and consequent subservience. An interesting alternative is suggested by a Sumerian poem, which Kramer entitles "Enki and Ninhursag: The Affairs of the Water-God." Its two central characters are Enki and Ninhursag, who, under the name of Nintu, may have once been identical with Earth. In this poem, Enki is cursed by Ninhursag for having eaten eight plants, sprouts from Uttu herself, great-granddaughter of Ninhursag and goddess of plants. Eventually, Ninhursag withdraws her curses from the ailing Enki, who hurts all over. For each of his many pains, Ninhursag gives birth to a healing deity. The most relevant section reads as follows:

Ninhursag: "My brother, what hurts thee?"
Enki: "My rib hurts me."
Ninhursag: "To the goddess Ninti I gave
  birth for thee."
(Kramer, Sumerian Mythology, pp. 54-59).

Gerda Lerner, in commenting on this same passage, adds the salient fact that "in Sumerian, the word 'Ninti' has a double meaning, namely 'female ruler of the rib' and 'female ruler of life,' a meaning so close to the meaning of Hebrew hawwa, that "there may be a fusion of the Sumerian Ninti with the Biblical Eve" (Creation of Patriarchy, p. 185).

52 Briffault, The Mothers, 1:466.

53 See Kramer's discussion of the myth of Enki and Ninmah, the Sumerian forerunner to Atrahasis (Sumerian Mythology, pp. 68-72). In the Old Babylonian version of Atrahasis, Nintu, "birthlady"—also called Mami, identical with Ninhursag, whose epithets include "womb-goddess," "mother of the gods," and "mother of all children"—entered the "room of fate" where "the womb-goddesses were assembled." There she pinched off fourteen pieces of clay, which she gave to the womb-goddesses, who created seven males and seven females. See Atrahasis I, in Myths from Mesopotamia, trans. Dalley, p. 14. In the Gilgamesh, it is this same goddess, under the name of Aruru, who pinches off a piece of clay and fashions Enkidu. See Gilgamesh, in Myths from Mesopotamia, trans. Dalley, pp. 52-53; and Jeffrey H. Tigay, The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), chapter 10, "The Creation of Enkidu," pp. 192-97. For a discussion of similarities between the creation of Enkidu and the creation of Adam and Eve, see Morris Jastrow, "Adam and Eve in Babylonian Literature," American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 15 (1899): 193-214; and The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston: Ginn, 1898), chapter 23. See also Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942).

54 See Marilyn B. Arthur, "Cultural Strategies in Hesiod's Theogony: Law, Family, Society," Arethusa 15 (1982): 74-79, and "The Dream of a World without Women: Poetics and Circles of Order in the Theogony Prooemium," Arethusa 16 (1983): 102-4, for a consideration of the meaning of gast r in Hesiod and Homer.

55 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 158.

56 Ibid., 487.

57 Ibid., 483.

58 See ibid., 596-99.

59 M. B. Arthur lists a number of epithets attached to the gastēr in the Odyssey: "hateful" (stygere), "deadly" (oulomenes), "greedy" (analton), "insistent" (memauian), "dismal" (lygres), "unappeasable" (margei), "evildoing" (kakoergos), and a cause for reproach (oneidizon) ("The Dream of a World without Women," p. 102). See Homer, Odyssey, 7.216, 15.344, 17.228= 18.364, 17.286, 17.473, 18.2, 18.53, 18.380.

60 Hesiod, Theogony & Works and Days, trans. West, p. 25, line 731.

61 See Theogony (Oxford), 721-33.

62 See Hesiod, Theogony & Works and Days, trans. West, p. 70, note to line 727; and Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East, p. 61. The pithos imagined by Hesiod in his description of Tartaros is made not of clay but of bronze, like the jar in which Ares was confined and from which he was delivered by Hermes. See Homer, Iliad (Loeb), 385-91. Whether made of bronze or of clay, however, the pithos was widely understood as a symbol of the underworld. "It is of interest to note," comments Persson, "that one of the meanings of the word pithos during the classical period was 'the kingdom of the dead,' Hades. The frequent, often humorous stories which are connected with the the pithos or storage vessel in later mythology show how widespread this idea must have been at one time (cf. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, p. 816)" (Religion of Greece in Prehistoric Times, p. 17).

That the Romans too envisioned the underworld as a kind of pot is argued by H. Wagenvoort, Studies in Roman Literature, Culture and Religion (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1956), pp. 102-31.

63 See Garland, Greek Way of Death, p. 54, on whose description of this vase I rely in my account. The scene on this vase would appear to confirm the identification of Ares' "pithos-prison," discussed above, as indeed Tartaros.

64 See Hesiod, Theogony & Works and Days, trans. West, p. 64, note to line 116 of the Theogony.

65 Hesiod, Works and Days (Oxford), 563.

66 See Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 116-17.

67 Among the several prominent Egyptian myths of creation, the Heliopolitan, which may be traced to the second and third dynasties in the Old Kingdom, came to be the most widely accepted. This myth was centered in On, or Heliopolis (its Greek name), the eminent center of the Egyptian cult of the sun. It was here (six miles northeast of modern Cairo), at the apex of the Nile delta, that the annual floodwaters of the Nile would first begin to recede, revealing the rich earth buried below. This yearly sight was, for the Egyptians, an image of the first emergence of earth, on which the creation of the world took place. The sun-temple of On was itself said to have been built over that primeval hill on which creation began.

In the Hermapolitan myth, referred to in Pyramid texts, that same primeval hill was envisioned as an island—the Isle of Flames—circled by the waters of chaos and death. This island, before the drama of creation began, rose from the dark chaotic waters and provided a place of appearance for the Ogdoad, the eight deities—four male and four female—who created an egg from which broke forth the sun who fashioned humankind and ordered the world. In a variant version, the sun was born on this same hill from a lotus flower, while from the primordial egg there came the first sacred goose. For texts and commentary, see James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 1:1-3; H. Frankfort, H. A. Frankfort, J. A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen, and W. A. Irwin, The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), pp. 50-61; Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1948), pp. 20-22, 154.

68 Hesiod, Theogony & Works and Days, trans. West, p. 40, lines 106-8. See also fragment 1.6 in Merkelbach-West, Fragmenta Hesiodea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 3ff. For a discussion of this passage and of counterinterpretations to that one suggested here, see Pucci, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry, pp. 88-89, and n. 14, p. 117-18.

69 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 582, translation mine. The word for earth here is ēpeiros, "solid land," as opposed to sea. Specifically in Egypt, this word was used to name that land rising above the floodwaters, suggesting a clear link to the primeval hillock of creation. See Liddell and Scott, revised by Jones with McKenzie, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), p. 7776, s.v. ēpeiros.

70 See Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 211-25.

71 See ibid., 226-33.

72 Ibid., 126.

73 Ibid., 120.

74 Ibid., 881-85.

75 Marduk of Babylon, Assur of Assyria, Yahweh of Israel, and Zeus of Greece represent a new breed, as it were, of Iron Age "strongmen," who are marked by militarism and absolute power. See Mark S. Smith, Early History of God, p. 56. Two other Near Eastern storm-gods, Baal and Teshub, in their respective myth cycles, know defeat as well as victory, and even when victorious are not always single-handedly so. See Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East, p. 25. Many of Baal's enemies, for example, are defeated not by him but by Anat. A mythic cycle with perhaps even closer links to the Theogony is the Hurrian Kumarbi Cycle, in which the central contest for kingship among the gods is between Teshub and Kumarbi. Ea, the Mesopotamian god of wisdom, who in the Song of Kumarbi is the foe of Teshub and the ally of Kumarbi, eventually changes sides and, in the Song of Ullikummi, becomes altogether crucial to Teshub's final success. See Hoffner and Beckman, Hittite Myths, II. "Hurrian Myths," pp. 38-61, especially Nos. 14 and 18. Then too, there is the cosmic and dynastic combat of Seth and Horus (see E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians [New York: Dover, 1969], 2:241-60) in which the victory of Horus is neither unassisted nor total, as indicated by the fact that in the reliefs depicting Queen Hatshepsut's coronation, the twin crowns of upper and lower Egypt are placed on her head not by Horus alone but by both Horus and Seth together (see Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972], pp. 106-7).

76 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 884.

77 In books 1 and 2 of the Iliad, this issue informs and even defines the contest between Agamemno n and Achilles over who is the "Best of the Achaeans." It is at root a contest between the scepter, which Agamemnon carries and claims to be traceable to Zeus, and the spear, in the use of which Achilles is peerless. These two symbols, the scepter and the spear, represent the two essential elements of divine kingship: authority and force. Both are ultimately divine. Clearly, Zeus possesses both and rules accordingly. When his word is questioned, his fire decides the matter (see Homer, Iliad [Loeb], 1.580-81; 8.5-27). On earth, in cities, among men, there is rarely if ever the convergence of wisdom and power. Homer knew this as well as did Plato. The question this raises is whether the Olympian paradigm—the perfect coincidence of authority and power—can ever be replicated in the human realm. Then, if the answer is no, if we must choose between brute force and right counsel, the question becomes whether we choose to be governed by only one element of the divine paradigm or find, instead, another paradigm altogether for the formation and governance of human community. Homer, I believe, sought the latter path and with it a new definition of "the Best of the Achaeans."

78 See Myths from Mesopotamia, trans. Dalley, The Epic of Creation, tablet VII, pp. 267-7 4.

79 Ibid., p. 272.

80 Ibid., p. 273: "With fifty epithets the great gods called his fifty names, making his way supreme."

81 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 886.

82 Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 109. From this they go on to explain: "Because all the mētis in the world, all the unexpected possibilities which cunning time conceals are now within Zeus, sovereignty ceases to be the stake played for in a series of indefinitely repeated conflicts and becomes, instead, a stable and permanent state. At this point the king of the gods can celebrate his marriage to Themis and beget fine children for her: the Seasons and the Fates. His irrevocable decisions have fixed the succession of future events as it has [sic] the hierarchy of the different functions, ranks and honours. He has settled them by ordinance once and for all. Whatever comes to pass in the future has, for all time, already been foreseen and determined in the head of Zeus."

83 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 899.

84 Ibid., 891. The reaction of Gaiato the birth of Athena, as recorded in the first Homeric Hymn to Athena, seems a bit more authentic. When she, we are told, together with the rest of the immortals, saw Athena "jump suddenly out of his [Zeus's] sacred head shaking her sharp spear … the earth groaned awfully" (The Homeric Hymns, translated by Charles Boer [Chicago: Swallow, 1970], p. 137).

85 See Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 300-307.

86 Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East, pp. 113-14.

87 See F. Brommer, "Die Geburt der Athena," Jahrbuch Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum 8 (1961): 72-73.

88 Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Hestia Hermès: Sur l'expression religieuse de l'espace et du mouvement chez les Grecs," in Mythe et pensée chez les Grecs (Paris: F. Maspero, 1965), p. 124; see Arthur, "The Dream of a World without Women," p. 97.

89 Christine Downing, The Goddess (New York: Crossroad, 1987), p. 154.

90 Arthur, "Cultural Strategies in Hesiod's Theogony," p. 75.

91 See L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States (Oxford: Clarendon, 1896-1909), 3:25.

92 Hesiod, Theogony (Oxford), 591.

93 Walter F. Otto, The Homeric Gods: The Spiritual Significance of Greek Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1954), p. 102. Pucci points out that "Aphrodite does not appear, but sends in her place some of her occasional helpers to beautify Pandora. The goddess is, then," he concludes, "vicariously represented by the Charities, Peitho, and the Horai, all of whom may bespeak her, but none of whom is a univocal 'sign' of Aphrodite" (Hesiod and the Language of Poetry, p. 96).

94 See Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, 5:624.

95Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958), #65.

96 Again, for a thorough presentation and discussion of the ancient iconographic tradition depicting the varied abductions and retrievals of Helen and its relationship to the poetic tradition's treatment of the same theme, see Lilly B. Ghali-Kahil, Les enlèvements et le retour d'Héléne, dans les textes et les documents figurés, École Francaise D'Athènes, Travaux et Mémoires (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1955).

97 Semonides, 96,115, translation mine. For Greek text, commentary, and a complete translation, see Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Female of the Species (London: Duckworth, 1975).

98 Ibid., 1-2.

99 Ibid., 94-95.

100 Ibid., 96-100, 115-18, as above, translation mine.

101 See Herodotus, The History (Loeb), 1.105.

102 See Jeremiah 7:17; 44:18.

103 Aeschylus, Eumenides (Loeb), 1.

104 Farnell speaks of Demeter as "the brightest of all Gaia's emanations," and states that "her individuality was rooted in the primitive and less developed personality of Gaia" (Cults of the Greek States, 3:28; 3:30).

105 See Plato, Menexenus (Loeb), 238a.

106Homeric Hymns, trans. Boer, p. 5.


Heroes And Heroines In Greek Mythology


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