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The Orphic Hymn to Demeter

The Hymn to Demeter is a typical example of the basic structure of Orphic poems. In contrast to the Homeric Hymn, the poem is short and avoids references to the rape of Persephone and the founding of the Mysteries. Instead, Demeter is presented as the queen of agriculture who brought wealth, beauty and the rule of law. She is the companion of Dionysus, who lives in the sacred valleys of Eleusis and accompanies mortals when they sow the seed and reap the fruit. The hymn looks like an anthology of adjectives but ends with the expression of the innermost desires of the faithful for peace, the rule of law, wealth, and health.

The rape of Kore and the anxious search of Demeter are presented in another hymn, which is addressed to Mother Anthea. This is a name that has been given to Cybele, Rhea and Demeter to indicate the deity who opposes something. In this case, the use of the word is justified by the goddess's opposition to the abduction of Persephone. The hymn refers to Demeter's attempt to find her daughter and introduces essential innovations to the Homeric version of the episode. The goddess descends to the Underworld accompanied by the son of Dysaules (who is considered the wife of Baubo). She gives birth to the divine Eubouleus (perhaps Pluto) in response to the appeals of the faithful. As in the case of the hymn to Demeter, we have here one last request to the goddess to appear to the pious mystai.

The Orphic Hymn to Persephone focuses on the role of Kore as queen of the Underworld. An endless sequence of adjectives fills the verses, which contain almost no reference to the dramatic events that led Demeter's daughter to the dark palaces of Hades (except for the reminder that Persephone became the wife of her abductor in the fall). Instead, the hymn aims to invoke the help of the goddess as the powerful lady of life and death in sending the fruits that will bring prosperity, peace, health and blessed old age to those who cross her land and the kingdom of the mighty Pluto.

The fourth Orphic hymn related to Eleusis is addressed to Pluto as the lord of the dead and the husband of Persephone. The “Zeus of the Underworld” appears as the world's ruler and provider of material abundance to mortals. The poem contains an apparent reference to the abduction of Persephone and her transport in a chariot dragged by four horses to a cave, from which they descended into the dark kingdom of the god. On this point, however, the hymn is clearly influenced by the Eleusinian Mysteries, as it places the cave in the area of ​​Eleusis. This detail is absent from previous versions of the episode. Pluto is treated with the respect it deserves but does not cause terror. Instead, the hymn ends with an invocation to the god to come and bring happiness to the mystai.



Athanassakis, Apostolos και Wolkow, Benjamin. The Orphic Hymns, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Bernabé, Alberto. “Orfeo y Eleusis”, Synthesis (La Plata), 15 (2008), σελ. 13-36.

Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. Redefining ancient Orphism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Powell, Barry. Greek Poems to the Gods: Hymns from Homer to Proclus, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021.



1st (and last) image: Musée du Louvre / François Perrier (1647-1650): Orpheus before Hades and Persephone.

2nd image: Yale Center for British Art / William P. Sherlock (c. 1780-1850): The rape of Persephone.

3rd image: Musée du Louvre / Jacques Reattu (1772): Orpheus in the Underworld.

4th image: Rijksmuseum / Magdalena van de Passe (possibly) (1636-1670): Orpheus in the Underworld.