The Narcissus and the Pomegranate

An Archaeology of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter
Ann Suter
Examines in detail the two myths in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the relation of the hymn to historic cult activities at Eleusis


Offering a new understanding of the Hymn to Demeter, Ann Suter provides an analysis of methodological approaches, reconciling the seemingly disparate pieces of the complex narrative of the hymn. Examining evidence from other versions of the hymn's myths, as well as from Greek religion, linguistics, and archaeology, she offers a new understanding of the relationships among the hymn's personages—Persephone, Demeter, Hades, and Zeus—as they developed and crystallized, providing a new chronology for the cults of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis.

In The Narcissus and the Pomegranate, the author analyzes the traditional language of the hymn and Persephone's retelling of her story to Demeter, arguing that the hymn involves an earlier tale of Demeter and Persephone that predates the seventh century. Suter uses anthropological applications to illustrate that the story of Persephone's abduction does not reflect a female initiation rite into adulthood, as has been argued, but rather a hieros gamos. These methodologies point to the conclusion that Persephone was once a powerful goddess in her own right, independent of Hades and of Demeter as well.

To test these possibilities, the book next examines evidence from outside the hymn. Other versions of the two myths in the hymn support the idea that these myths—Persephone's abduction and Demeter's nursing of Demophoôon—were once separate and were later combined to create a new story. Analysis of the goddesses' names in Homeric texts and Linear B documents likewise show that the two goddesses were once quite separate and that Persephone was the more ancient of the two. Evidence from the chief archaeological sites, from vase painting, and other artistic forms enhances the argument. Thus, outside evidence supports the conclusions of the textual analyses, giving surprising substantiation that the hymn itself commemorates the early days of the worship of the goddesses as a mother/daughter pair.

This book will be of particular interest to scholars of religious history, art history, archaeology, and literature. It is also accessible to the general reader interested in Greek literature, myths, and religion.

Ann Suter is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

Praise / Awards

  • "Suter penetrates the crusted interpretations (and sometimes elementary misreadings) of Demeter's ancient myth. She regenerates the fertile Cretan deity's obfuscated story in a radically innovative Homeric Hymn. The angry goddess blesses her speculations. Basing her study on deep knowledge of myth patterns and comparable cultic histories, Suter separates pre-eminent Demeter from the earlier goddesses at Eleusis and from later Olympian patriarchies. She also separates her cult from her erstwhile rival's, the non-Eleusinian, dread and independent Persephone's. Suter thus refutes infantilizing views of the accommodation of the two goddesses that retrojected later pagan and Christian developments and improves on the more recent archaeological and literary scholarship."
    —Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University
  • "Ann Suter's aptly named 'archaeology' of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter reads at times like a detective story. This meticulously researched study brings together a prodigious array of theoretical tools and forms of evidence in support of its sometimes daring conclusions. But the daring is balanced by unusual care in the testing of hypotheses."
    —Lilian E. Doherty, University of Maryland
  • "Ultimately, the value of the work does not reside in the historical reliability of its accounts of the development of cult and myth, but in the example the work provides of a scholar's enthusiastic and imaginative engagement with a work of Greek literature. While the book is intended for scholars, it will also be very useful for undergraduate and graduate students starting out in the study of Greek religion, as a demonstration of the way various methodologies can be applied to the Hymn."

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 328pp.
  • 3 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11249-4

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  • $94.95 U.S.