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.