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Priestess of Demeter

The Priestess of Demeter and Kore was an ancient office and participated in many festivals associated with the goddess of agriculture, such as Thesmophoria, Haloa, and Calamea. Only the office of the hierophant was considered superior. The Priestess played the role of Demeter and Daughter in the sacred representation during the Greater Mysteries, while the hierophant played the role of Hades and Zeus. The office was for life, and she was eponymous (events and inscriptions were dated according to her name), indicating that in her distant origin, the sacred cult of Demeter was a cult of women. The resolutions mention her alongside the hierophant and sometimes before him. She often argued with the hierophants about who was responsible for the sacrifices. She came from the Eumolpidae or the Fi…

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Priestess of Demeter

The Priestess of Demeter and Kore was an ancient office and participated in many festivals associated with the goddess of agriculture, such as Thesmophoria, Haloa, and Calamea. Only the office of the hierophant was considered superior. The Priestess played the role of Demeter and Daughter in the sacred representation during the Greater Mysteries, while the hierophant played the role of Hades and Zeus. The office was for life, and she was eponymous (events and inscriptions were dated according to her name), indicating that in her distant origin, the sacred cult of Demeter was a cult of women. The resolutions mention her alongside the hierophant and sometimes before him. She often argued with the hierophants about who was responsible for the sacrifices. She came from the Eumolpidae or the Fileides. She lived in the Sacred House and received an obol from each mystes during the Lesser and the Greater Mysteries (an essential source of income as the number of mystai could reach three thousand per year).

Grave stele of Herophanta and Posideos [Herophanta was a priestess of Demeter in Smyrna], ca. 250 BCE, sculpture, The J. Paul Getty Museum © The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California

 

Attic red-figure fragments from a bell krater; (a) two women burning at the altar, 470-450 BCE, vessel, The British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

Marble grave stele of a priestess named Choirine in an inscription, 370-360 BCE, sculpture, The British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum