Celeus was the chief prince among several men who had power in Eleusis. He is conventionally identified as the King of Eleusis. A mythological tradition claimed that he was the brother of Dysaules and son of Eleusis or Rarus. Celeus married Metaneira and had two sons and four daughters: Demophon, Triptolemus, Kallidike, Kleisidike, Demo and Kallithoe. According to Pausanias, he had three daughters: Diogenea, Pammerope, and Saesara. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter refers to him with various words, including koiranos (also used for Hades) and basileus. Bright-minded Celeus welcomed Demeter to his palace when the goddess came to Eleusis during her futile search for Persephone. In return for the hospitality she received from sky-nurtured Celeus, Demeter attempted to make his youngest son, Demophon, immortal. Still, the plan failed after the intervention of the child’s mother. The goddess was frustrated at the untimely interruption of the ritual and demanded that the people of Eleusis build her a temple and an altar. Celeus assembled the people and ordered them to erect a splendid temple and an altar on top of the hill. The Eleusinians obeyed straightaway, hearing his voice. When Persephone returned, Demeter assembled the princes of Eleusis (Celeus, Diocles, Eumolpus, Triptolemus and Polyxenus) and revealed to them the way to perform the sacred rites. Thus, Celeus became one of Demeter’s original priests. According to the Greek epic poet Nonnus of Panopolis, Demeter mourned Celeus’ passing and consoled Metaneira and Triptolemus. Celeus enjoyed a cult in Eleusis, but his role in the Mysteries remained somewhat secondary.
Celeus, assisted by his two daughters, making a libation, Alexis Louis Pierre Housselin, ca. 1844 - 1861, engraving, The New York Public Library © The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library