Greek Mythology >> Greek Gods >> Olympian Gods >> Demeter >> Demeter Goddess of


Greek Name




Latin Spelling




Demeter-Ceres | Greco-Roman marble statue | State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Demeter-Ceres, Greco-Roman marble statue, State Hermitage Museum

DEMETER was the Olympian goddess of agriculture, grain and bread--the sustenance of mankind.

This page describes her divine roles and privileges including agriculture, law and order, the afterlife and her identification with foreign goddesses.

The information here is best read in conjunction with the "Cult of Demeter" and "Titles & Epithets" pages.




Demeter was the goddess of grain and bread, the staple food of the ancient Greeks.
She was also, by contrast, the goddess of starvation and hunger. When the crops failed, hunger would quickly follow. Like most of the Greek gods, she represented a force of nature, which in its dual nature could bring either blessing (a bountiful harvest) or curse (crop failure).

Hesiod, Works and Days 25 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
"That which the earth bears, Demeter's grain."

Hesiod, Works and Days 299 ff :
"Work, high-born Perses [the poet's brother], that Limos (Hunger) may hate you, and venerable Demeter richly crowned may love you and fill your barn with food; for Hunger is altogether a meet comrade for the sluggard. Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle."

Hesiod, Works and Days 392 ff :
"When the Pleiades . . . are rising, begin your harvest [in May], and your ploughing when they are going to set [in November] . . . strip to sow and strip to plough and strip to reap, if you wish to get in all Demeter's fruits in due season, and that each kind may grow in its season."

Hesiod, Works and Days 465 ff :
"Pray to Zeus Khthonios (of the Earth) [Haides] and to pure Demeter to make Demeter's holy grain sound and heavy, when first you begin ploughing, when you hold in your hand the end of the plough-tail and bring down your stick on the backs of the oxen as they draw on the pole-bar by the yoke-straps."

Hesiod, Works and Days 597 ff :
"Set your slaves to winnow Demeter's holy grain, when strong Oarion [the constellation Orion] first appears [in July], on a smooth threshing-floor in an airy place."

Hesiod, Works and Days 805 ff :
"Look about you very carefully and throw out Demeter's holy grain upon the well-rolled threshing floor on the seventh of the mid-month."

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 267 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"[Demeter addresses Metaneira :] ‘Lo! I am that Demeter who has share of honour and is the greatest help and cause of joy to the undying gods and mortal men [that is, in the giving of grain].’"

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 303 ff :
"Demeter sat there [in her new-built temple in Eleusis] apart from all the blessed gods and stayed, wasting with yearning for her deep-bosomed daughter [i.e. Persephone who was abducted by Haides]. Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year for mankind over the all-nourishing earth: the ground would not make the seed sprout, for rich-crowned Demeter kept it hid. In the fields the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain, and much white barley was cast upon the land without avail.
And so she would have destroyed the whole race of man with cruel famine . . . had not Zeus perceived and marked this in his heart . . .
[Hermes, the messenger of Zeus, addresses Haides :] ‘Zeus bids me bring noble Persephone forth from Erebos unto the gods, that her mother may see her with her eyes and cease from her dread anger with the immortals; for now she plans an awful deed, to destroy the weakly tribes of earthborn men by keeping seed hidden beneath the earth.’"

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 398 ff :
"[Demeter to Persephone upon her return from Haides :] ‘If you have tasted food, you must go back again beneath the secret places of the earth, there to dwell a third part of the seasons every year: yet for the two parts you shall be with me [Demeter] and the other deathless gods. But when the earth shall bloom with the fragrant flowers of spring in every kind, then from the realm of darkness and gloom thou shalt come up once more to be a wonder for gods and mortal men [with the seasonal growing of the grain and fruits].’"

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 441 ff :
"And all-seeing Zeus sent a messenger to them [Demeter and Persephone newly returned from the underworld], rich-haired Rhea, to bring dark-cloaked Demeter to join the families of the gods: . . . and he [Zeus] agreed that her daughter [Demeter's daughter Persephone] should go down for the third part of the circling year to darkness and gloom [winter], but for the two parts [spring and summer] should live with her mother and the other deathless gods. [N.B. The early Greeks divided the year into three rather than four seasons.] . . .
Swiftly she [Rhea] rushed down from the peaks of Olympos and came to the plain of Rharos, rich, fertile corn-land once, but then in nowise fruitful, for it lay idle and utterly leafless, because the white grains was hidden by design of trim-ankled Demeter. But afterwards, as springtime waxed, it was soon to be waving with long ears of corn, and its rich furrows to be loaded with grain upon the ground, while others would already be bound in sheaves . . . Then bright-coiffed Rhea said to Demeter : ‘Come, my daughter . . . increase forthwith for men the fruit that gives them life.’
So spake Rhea. And well-girdled Demeter did not refuse but straightway made fruit to spring up from the rich lands, so that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers."

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 483 ff :
"Right blessed is he among men on earth whom they [Demeter and Persephone] freely love: soon they do send Ploutos (Agricultural Wealth) as guest to his great house, Ploutos who gives wealth to mortal men."

Aeschylus, Fragment 25 Danaides (from Athenaeus, Deipnosophists xiii. 73. 600B) (trans. Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"The holy Heaven (ouranos) yearns to wound the Earth (khthon) [i.e. Gaia], and yearning layeth hold on the earth to join in wedlock; the rain, fallen from the amorous heaven, impregnates the earth, and it bringeth forth for mankind the food of flocks and herds and Demeter's gifts [i.e. grain]."

Aeschylus, Fragment 161 (from Anonymous, On the Swelling of the Nile) :
"All luxuriant Aigyptos (Egypt), filled with the sacred flood [of the Nile], maketh to spring up Demeter's life-giving grain."

Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 18 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Tell how she [Demeter] 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."

Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 66 ff :
"She [Demeter] sent on him [Erikhthonios] a cruel and evil hunger--a burning hunger and a strong--and he was tormented by a grievous disease. Wretched man, as much as he ate, so much did he desire again."

Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 118 f :
"Damater, greatly hail! Lady of much bounty, of many measures of corn . . . 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 . . . 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."

Orphic Hymn 40 to Demeter (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Universal mother, Deo famed, august, the source of wealth, and various named: great nurse, all-bounteous, blessed and divine, who joyest in peace; to nourish corn is thine. Goddess of seed, of fruits abundant, fair, harvest and threshing are thy constant care . . . Nurse of all mortals, who benignant mind first ploughing oxen to the yoke confined; and gave to men what nature's wants require, with plenteous means of bliss, which all desire. In verdure flourishing, in glory bright, assessor of great Bromios [Dionysos] bearing light: rejoicing in the reapers' sickles, kind, whose nature lucid, earthly, pure, we find . . . Only-begotten, much-producing queen, all flowers are thine, and fruits of lovely green. Bright Goddess, come, with summer's rich increase swelling and pregnant, leading smiling peace; come with fair concord and imperial health, and join with these a needful store of wealth."

Plato, Cratylus 400d & 404b (trans. Fowler) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"[Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods :]
Sokrates: Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . Demeter appears to have been called Demeter, because like a mother (mêtêr) she gives the gift of food."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 42. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"They say [Demeter], angry with Poseidon and grieved at the rape of Persephone, put on black apparel and shut herself up in this cavern [in Arkadia] for a long time . . . [and] all the fruits of the earth were perishing, and the human race dying yet more through famine."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 2. 4-5 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"The goddesses [Demeter and Persephone] made their first appearance on this island [Sicily], and that it was the first, because of the fertility of the soil, to bring forth the fruit of corn . . . Indeed, in the plain of Leontini, we are told, and throughout many other parts of Sikelia the what men call ‘wild’ grows even to this day. And, speaking generally, before the corn was discovered, if one were to raise the question, what manner of land it was of the inhabited earth where the fruits we have mentioned appeared for the first time, the meed of honour may reasonably be accorded to the richest land; and in keeping with what we have stated, it is also to be observed the goddesses who made this discovery [Demeter and Persephone] are those who receive the highest honours among the Sikeliotai (Sicilians)."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 68. 2 :
"Now she [Demeter] discovered the corn before she gave birth to her daughter Persephone, but after the birth of her daughter and the rape of her by Plouton [Haides], she burned all the fruit of the corn, both because of her anger at Zeus and because of her grief over her daughter. After she had found Persephone, however, she became reconciled with Zeus and gave Triptolemos the corn to sow, instructing him both to share the gift with men everywhere and to teach tem everything concerned with the labour of sowing."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 48. 2 :
"To Iasion and Demeter, according to the story the myths relate, was born Ploutos (Wealth), but the reference is, as a matter of fact, to the wealth of the corn, which was presented to Iasion by Demeter."

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 77. 1 :
"Ploutos, we are told, was born in Kretan Tripolos to Demeter and Iasion, and there is a double account of his origin. For some men say that the earth, when it was sowed once by Iasion and given proper cultivation, brought forth such and abundance of fruits that those who saw this bestowed a special name upon the abundance of fruits when they appear and called it ploutos (wealth)."

Demeter goddess of grain | Athenian red-figure volute krater C5th B.C. | Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe
Demeter, Athenian red-figure volute krater C5th B.C., Badisches Landesmuseum

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 4 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Philomelus [son of Demeter] . . . bought two oxen with what he had, and became the inventor of the wagon [or the plow]. So, by plowing and cultivating the fields, he supported himself."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 341 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Ceres [Demeter] first turned the earth with the curved plough; she first gave corn and crops to bless the land; she first gave laws; all things are Ceres' gift."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 475 ff :
"Where the girl was [Persephone who had been abducted by Haides] she [Demeter] knew not, but reproached the whole wide world--ungrateful, not deserving her gift of grain--and Trinacria (Sicily) in chief where she had found the traces of her loss. So there with angry hands she broke the ploughs that turned the soil and sent to death alike the farmer and his labouring ox, and bade the fields betray their trust, and spoilt the seeds. So there with angry hands she broke the ploughs that turned the soil and sent to death alike the farmer and his labouring ox, and bade the fields betray their trust, and spoilt the seeds. False lay the island's famed fertility, famous through all the world. The young crops died in the first blade, destroyed now by the rain too violent, now by the sun too strong. The stars and the winds assailed them; hungry birds gobbled the scattered seeds; thistles and twitch, unconquerable twitch, wore down the wheat . . . O thou, divine . . . Mother of crops and harvest . . .
Proserpine [Persephone], of two empires alike great deity, spends with her mother [Demeter] half the year' twelve months [summer and spring] and with her husband [Haides] half [autumn and winter]."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 643 ff :
"Bounteous Ceres [Demeter] . . . brought her [winged, serpent-drawn] chariot to Triptolemus [a prince of Eleusis], and gave him seed and bade him scatter it [and impart knowledge of agriculture to mankind]. Partly in virgin land and part in fields long fallow. Scouring high the young prince [Triptolemos] rode through Europe and the realms of Asia . . . [declaring :] ‘I bring the gifts of Ceres [Demeter]. If you sow them wide over your ploughland, they will give you back bountiful harvests, gentle nourishment.’"

Ovid, Metamorphoses 8. 780 ff :
"[Dryades] going to Ceres [Demeter], prayed for punishment on Erysichthon. That most lovely goddess assented and the teeming countryside, laden with harvest, trembled at her nod. A punishment she planned most piteous, were pity not made forfeit by his deed--hunger to rack and rend him; and because Ceres [Demeter] and Fames [Limos the spirit of hunger] may never meet, she charged . . . a rustic Oreas, to take her message . . . and Fames (Hunger) did Ceres' [Demeter's] bidding, though their aims are ever opposite [and brought unrelenting hunger to Erysikhthon]."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 8. 272 ff :
"The king, Oeneus, it's said, when plenty blessed the year, to Ceres [Demeter] gave the first-fruits of the corn . . . The prized oblations, given first to gods of farm and field."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 431 ff :
"The time of Ceres' festival had come . . . when, robed in white, they [the worshippers] bring their first fruit gifts of wheat in garlands."

Ovid, Fasti 4. 575 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Ceres [Demeter] revived her own look and spirit, and crowned her hair with chaplets of corn. A bounteous harvest burst upon idle fields; the bards barely held the heaps of wealth."

Virgil, Georgics 1. 6 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"O Liber [Dionysos] and bounteous Ceres [Demeter], if by your grace Earth changed Chaonia's acorn for the rich corn ear, and blended draughts of Achelous [water] with the newfound grapes."

Virgil, Georgics 1. 94 ff :
"Much service does he do the land who with the mattock breaks up the sluggish clods, and drags over it hurdles of osier; nor is it without reward that golden Ceres [Demeter] looks on him from Olympian heights. Much service, too does he who turns his plough and again breaks crosswise through the ridges which he raised when first he cut the plain."

Virgil, Georgics 1. 147 ff :
"Ceres [Demeter] was the first to teach men to turn the earth with iron, when the acorns and the arbutes of the sacred wood began to fail, and Dodona withheld her food [acorns]."

Virgil, Georgics 1. 160 ff :
"I must tell, too, of the hardy farmers' weapons, without which the crops could be neither sown nor raised. First the share and the curved plough's heavy frame, the slow-rolling wains of the Mother of Eleusis, sledges and drags, and hoes of cruel weight; further, the common wicker ware of Celeus [king of Eleusis], arbute hurdles and the mystic fan of Iacchus."

Virgil, Georgics 1. 208 ff :
"When the Balance [Libra] makes the hours of daytime and sleep equal [in autumn], and now parts the world in twain . . . then is the time to hide in the ground your crop of flax and the poppy of Ceres [Demeter]." [N.B. Poppies and flax were apparently planted to revitalise the soil in the crop rotations.]

Seneca, Medea 761 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"By my [the witch Medea's] compelling Ceres [Demeter] has seen harvest in winter-time."

Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 218 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"At one time you [Egyptian Isis] appear in the guise of Ceres [Demeter], bountiful and primeval bearer of crops. In your delight at recovering your daughter [Persephone], you dispensed with the ancient, barbaric diet of acorns and schooled us in civilizes fare; now you dwell in the fields of Eleusis."

Suidas s.v. Demetrios karpos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Demetreios karpos (Demetrian fruit) : That of Demeter."


Demeter was the goddess of all the earth's fruits, not only grain (though this was by far the most important food-crop). As the goddess of horticulture, the growing of figs, apples, pears and other fruits fell within her dominion (with the exception of olives, the province of Athena, grapes, the province of Dionysos, and pomegranates). She was also the goddess of vegetable crops (with the exception of beans, which for some reason were regarded as impure).

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 441 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"Well-girdled Demeter . . . made fruit to spring up from the rich lands, so that the whole wide earth was laden with leaves and flowers."

Orphic Hymn 40 to Demeter (trans. Taylor) (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
"Universal mother, Deo famed . . . Goddess of seed, of fruits abundant, fair . . . Only-begotten, much-producing queen, all flowers are thine, and fruits of lovely green."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 42. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Demeter] shut herself up in this cavern for a long time . . . [and] all the fruits of the earth were perishing."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 37. 2 :
"There is a legend that in this place [where the Sacred Way crosses the River Kephissos in Attika] Phytalos welcomed Demeter in his home, for which act the goddess gave him the fig tree."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 15. 1-4 :
"The Pheneatians [of Pheneos, Arkadia] have a story that . . . the wanderings of Demeter brought her to their city also. To those Pheneatians who received her with hospitality into their homes the goddess gave all sorts of pulse save the bean only. There is a sacred story to explain why the bean in their eyes is an impure kind of pulse."


Barley-meal was a porridge-like drink widely consumed in ancient Greece. It was particularly holy to Demeter and was inbibed in the rituals of her Mysteries (instead of wine, the drink of Dionysos).

Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 205 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"Then Metaneira [Queen of Eleusis] filled a cup with sweet wine and offered it to her [Demeter]; but she refused it, for she said it was not lawful for her to drink red wine, but bade them mix meal and water with soft mint and give her to drink. And Metaneira mixed the draught and gave it to the goddess as she bade. So the great queen Deo received it to observe the sacrament."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 444 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"She [Demeter] sought her daughter [the abducted Persephone] still from sunrise until sunset hour by hour. Weary she was and thirsty, for no spring had wet her lips, until she chanced to see a little cottage thatched with straw, and knocked on its low door; then an old crone came out and looked at her, and when she asked for water brought a sweet barley-flavoured drink."


Demeter was worshipped throughout Greece under the title of Thesmophoros (Law-Giver) and was regarded as the goddess who instructed mankind in law.

Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 18 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Tell how she [Demeter] gave cities pleasing ordinances; better to tell how she was the first to cut straw and holy sheaves of corn-ears."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 341 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Ceres [Demeter] first turned the earth with the curved plough; she first gave corn and crops to bless the land; she first gave laws; all things are Ceres' gift."


Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 472 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"Then she [Demeter at Eleusis after the return of Persephone from Haides] went, and to the kings who deal justice, Triptolemos and Diokles, the horse-driver, and to doughty Eumolpos and Keleos, leader of the people, she showed the conduct of her rites and taught them all her Mysteries, to Triptolemos and Polyxeinos and Diokles also,--awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice. Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom."


The ancient agrarian calendar was measured by the rise and setting of the constellations. Naturally several star groups came to be associated with the goddess, included Bootes, the Wain, and Virgo.


Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 25 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Virgin [constellation Virgo] . . . Others call her Fortune [Tykhe]-- others, Ceres [Demeter], and they dispute the more about her because her head is dimly seen."

The constellation Virgo was represented holding a sheaf of grain in her hand centred on the star Spica.


Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 22 :
"[Constellation Gemini the Twins :] Others have called them Triptolemus, whom we mentioned before, and Iasion, beloved of Ceres [Demeter]--both carried to the stars."

For the related MYTHS see Demeter Loves: Iasion and TRIPTOLEMOS


Bootes was Philemos, a son of Demeter and the inventor of the plow. His ox-drawn wain was represented by Ursa Major or the Wain.

For this star MYTH see Demeter Favour: Philomelus


For this star MYTH see Demeter Wrath: Carnabon


Demeter was identified with the Roman goddess Ceres and the Egyptian goddess Isis.


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 9 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Io upon finding her stolen son Epaphos returned to Aigyptos (Egypt) and:] she dedicated an image to Demeter, called Isis by the Aigyptioi (Egyptians), as also they called Io herself."

Herodotus, Histories 2. 156 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"Apollo and Artemis [the Egyptian gods Horus and Bubastis] were they [the Egyptians] say children of Dionysos [Egyptian Osiris] and Isis, and Leto was made their nurse and preserver; in Egyptian, Apollon is Horus, Demeter [is] Isis, Artemis [is] Bubastis."

Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 218 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"I addressed this prayer to the supremely powerful goddess [Isis] : ‘Queen of heaven, at one time you appear in the guise of Ceres [Demeter].’"






A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.