What Was the Physical Description of Demeter?

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The Greek goddess Demeter is portrayed as a mature woman, usually crowned and dressed in finery, and holding sheaves of wheat or barley. She is usually seated on a throne, and sometimes holds a cornucopia or the four-headed Eleusinian torch. In Homer’s “Odyssey,” she is described as blond-haired, though most depictions of her in art show dark, curly hair.

To the ancient Greeks, Demeter was not only the goddess of the harvest and the symbol of the Earth’s bounty, but also the goddess of the Eleusinian mysteries, the initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Persephone and Demeter. The secret rites of the mysteries were related to the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who is abducted by the god Hades and carried off to live in the underworld. Demeter, distraught by the loss of her daughter, causes a disastrous drought. Alarmed at the thought of losing the sacrifice and worship of countless starving people, Zeus intervenes and allows Persephone to return to her mother. However, the rule of the Fates said that whoever consumes food in the Underworld is condemned to stay there forever. Hades, who has tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds, forces her to return to his realm for several months each year. During these months, Demeter neglects to tend the earth, and crops wither and die. Persephone’s return each spring causes Demeter to rejoice, which causes the plants of Earth to burst forth into life again.