Hymn VI (To Demeter)

Callimachus

[Hymn of the Thesmophoria Festival in Athens] As the Basket comes, greet it, ye women, saying ‘Demeter, greatly hail! Lady of much bounty, of many measures of corn.’ As the Basket comes, from the ground shall ye behold it, ye uninitiated, and gaze not from the roof or from aloft – child nor wife nor maid hath shed her hair [dedicated it at puberty] – neither then nor when we spit from parched mouths fasting [Nesteia, the second day of the Thesmophoria, was a day of fasting]. Hesperos [the star Venus] from the clouds marks the time of its coming: Hesperos, who alone persuaded Demeter to drink, what time she pursued the unknown tracks of her stolen daughter [Persephone]. Lady, how were thy feet able to carry thee unto the West, unto the Melanoi (Black Men) and where the golden apples are? Thou didst not drink nor dist thou eat during that time nor didst thou wash. Thrice didst thou cross Akheloios with his silver eddies, and as often didst thou pass over each of the ever-flowing rivers, and thrice didst thou seat thee on the ground beside the fountain Kallikhoros [well at Eleusis], parched and without drinking, and didst not eat nor wash. Nay, nay, let us not speak of that which brought the tear to Deo! Better to tell how she gave cities pleasing ordinances; better to tell how she was the first to cut straw and holy sheaves of corn-ears and put in oxen to tread them, what time Triptolemos was taught the good craft … O Demeter, never may that man be my friend who is hateful to thee, nor ever may he share party-wall with me; ill neighbours I abhor. Sing, ye maidens, and ye mothers, say with them: ‘Damater, greatly hail! Lady of much bounty, of many measures of corn.’ And as the four white-haired horses convey the Basket, so unto us will the great goddess of wide dominion come brining white spring and white harvest and winter and autumn, and keep us to another year. And as unsandalled and with hair unbound we walk the city, so shall we have foot and head unharmed for ever. And as the van-bearers bear vans [skull-shaped baskets, sued for offering first-fruits to the gods] full of gold, so may we get gold unstinted. Far as the City Chambers let the uninitiated follow, but the initiated even unto the very shrine of the goddess – as many as are under sixty years. But show that are heavy and she that stretches her hand to Eileithyia [goddess of childbirth] and she that is in pain – sufficient it is that they go so far as their knees are able. And to them Deo shall give all things to overflowing, even as if they came unto her temple. Hail, goddess, and save this people in harmony and in prosperity, and in the fields bring us all pleasant things! Feed our kine, bring us flocks, bring us the corn-ear, bring us harvest! And nurse peace, that he who sows may also reap. Be gracious, O thrice-prayed for, great Queen of goddesses!

 

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