DEMETER was the Olympian goddess of agriculture, grain and bread.
This page contains stories of Demeter's wrath, the most famous of which include the great famine, insatiable hunger of Erysikhthon, and metamorphoses of Askalabos and Askalaphos.
(1) WRATH WANDERINGS
ASKALABOS (Ascalabus) A man of Argos (southern Greece) who was transformed into a spotted gecko by Demeter as punishment for mocking the goddess' ravenous drinking of meal as she rested during the search for her daughter.
ASKALAPHOS (Ascalaphus) An underworld daimon who was transformed by Demeter into a lizard or screech-owl as punishment for reporting to Haides that her daughter had tasted the fruit of the pomegranate.
KOLONTAS (Colontas) A man Argos (southern Greece) who was burnt up within his house as punishment for driving Demeter away when she sought his hospitality in the search for her daughter.
MINTHE An underworld nymph who was loved by the god Haides but abandoned when he fell in love with Persephone. When she complained to be superior to the goddess and that she would win back the heart of the god, Demeter was furious and transformed her into a mint plant.
POSEIDON Demeter brought famine to the earth after Poseidon raped her in the form of a horse, while she was searching for her daughter Persephone.
SEIRENES (Sirens) Aitolian nymph handmaidens of the goddess Persephone who were transformed into bird-like monsters by Demeter as punishment for refusing to help in the search for their mistress. According to some, the transformation was a blessing, bestowed upon the Seirenes at their own request.
ZEUS The king of the gods felt the wrath of Demeter when he gave her daughter Persephone away to Haides. In retaliation she brought deadly starvation to the race of man, threatening to destroy them, if her daughter were not returned.
(2) WRATH OTHER
ERYSIKHTHON, TRIOPAS, or AITHON (Erysichthon) A king of one of the Thessalian kingdoms (northern Greece) who was inflicted with unquenchable hunger as punishment for having felled the Dryad-inhabited oaks of Demeter's sacred grove.
KARNABON (Carnabon) A king of the Getai of Thrake (north of Greece) who slew the flying serpents which drew the chariot of Demeter's hero Triptolemos. As punishment the goddess sent another pair of the beasts to destroy him. He was then placed amongst the stars as Ophiokhos (the Serpent-Holder).
LYNKOS (Lyncus) A king of Skythia (north-eastern Europe) who was transformed by Demeter into a lynx when he tried to kill her prophet Triptolemos.
PYRRHOS (Pyrrhus) An historical Makedonian general who was killed during an attack on the city of Argos by a woman throwing a roof-tile. His death occurred outside the temple of Demeter, and the locals claimed it was the goddess who threw the deadly tile.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
DEMETER WRATH : THE GREAT FAMINE
LOCALE : Eleusis, Attika (Southern Greece) OR Arkadia (Southern Greece)
Homeric Hymn 2 to Demeter 303 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th or 6th B.C.) :
"But golden-haired (xanthe) 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. 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 (eustephanos) 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. So she would have destroyed the whole race of man with cruel famine and have robbed them who dwell on Olympos of their glorious right of gifts and sacrifices, had not Zeus perceived and marked this in his heart. First he sent golden-winged Iris to call rich-haired (eukomos) Demeter, lovely in form. So he commanded. And she obeyed the dark-clouded Son of Kronos, and sped with swift feet across the space between. She came to the stronghold of fragrant Eleusis, and there finding dark-cloaked (kyanopeplos) Demeter in her temple, spake to her and uttered winged words : ‘Demeter, father Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, calls you to come join the tribes of the eternal gods: come therefore, and let not the message I bring from Zeus pass unobeyed.’
Thus said Iris imploring her. But Demeter's heart was not moved. Then again the father sent forth all the blessed and eternal gods besides : and they came, one after the other, and kept calling her and offering many very beautiful gifts and whatever right she might be pleased to choose among the deathless gods. Yet no one was able to persuade her mind and will, so wrath was she in her heart; but she stubbornly rejected all their words : for she vowed that she would never set foot on fragrant Olympos nor let fruit spring out of the ground, until she beheld with her eyes her own fair-faced daughter.
Now when all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer heard this, he sent Argeiphontes (Hermes) whose wand is of gold to Erebos, so that having won over Hades with soft words, he might lead forth chaste Persephone to the light from the misty gloom to join the gods, and that her mother might see her with her eyes and cease from her anger. And Hermes obeyed, and leaving the house of Olympus, straightway sprang down with speed to the hidden places of the earth. And he found the lord Aides in his house seated upon a couch . . . and strong Argeiphontes drew near and said : ‘Dark-haired Hades, ruler over the departed, father 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, and so she makes an end of the honours of the undying gods.’"
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 42. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"They [the Arkadians] say [that Demeter], angry with Poseidon [who had raped her] and grieved at the rape of Persephone, she put on black apparel and shut herself up in this cavern for a long time. But when all the fruits of the earth were perishing, and the human race dying yet more through famine, no god, it seemed, knew where Demeter was in hiding, until Pan, they say, visited Arkadia. Roaming from mountain to mountain as he hunted, he came at last to Mount Elaios and spied Demeter, the state she was in and the clothes she wore. So Zeus learnt this from Pan, and sent the Moirai (Fates) to Demeter, who listened to the Moirai and laid aside her wrath, moderating her grief as well."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 25. 3-7 :
"The Thelpousians call the goddess [Demeter] Erinys (Fury), and with them agrees Antimakhos also, who wrote a poem about the expedition of the Argives against Thebes. His verse runs thus :--‘There, they say, is the seat of Demeter Erinys.’
Now Onkios was, according to tradition, a son of Apollon, and held sway in Thelpousian territory around the place Onkion; the goddess has the surname Erinys (Fury) for the following reason. When Demeter was wandering in search of her daughter, she was followed, it is said, by Poseidon, who lusted after her. So she turned, the story runs, into a mare, and grazed with the mares of Onkios; realizing that he was outwitted, Poseidon too changed into a stallion and enjoyed Demeter. At first, they say, Demeter was angry at what had happened, but later on she laid aside her wrath and wished to bathe in the Ladon. So the goddess has obtained two surnames, Erinys (Fury) because of her avenging anger, because the Arkadians call being wrathful ‘being furious,’ and Lousie (Bather) because she bathed in the Ladon [connected with the purification ritual]."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 5. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Longing for the vanished girl [Persephone] her mother [Demeter] searched and visited all lands in turn. And Sikelia's land by Aitna's crags was filled with streams of fire [perhaps loosed by Demeter to destroy the grain-fields of Sicily] which no man could approach, and groaned throughout its length; in grief over the maiden now the folk, beloved of Zeus, were perishing without the corn."
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 68. 1 :
"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, she burned all the fruit of the corn, both because of her anger at Zeus and because of her grief over her daughter."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 475 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"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."
For the REST of the Poseidon and Demeter story see Demeter Loves: Poseidon
For MORE information on the Rape of Persephone see DEMETER MYTHS 1 & DEMETER MYTHS 2
DEMETER WRATH OR FAVOUR : THE SIRENS
LOCALE : Sikelia (Sicily) (Southern Italy)
The Nymphai known as Seirenes were transformed into bird-shaped monsters by Demeter. Some say this metamorphosis was a curse, a punishment for refusing to help in the search for Persephone, others a blessing, helping them in the search for their beloved mistress.
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 892 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"One time they [the Seirenes] had been handmaids to Demeter's gallant Daughter [Persephone], before she was married, and sung to her in chorus. But now, half human and half bird in form, they spent their time watching for ships from a height that overlooked their excellent harbour."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 141 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Sirenes, daughter of the River Achelous and the Muse Melpomene, wandering away after the rape of Proserpina [Persephone], came to the land of Apollo, and there were made flying creatures by the will of Ceres [Demeter] because they had not brought help to her daughter. It was predicted that they would live only until someone who heard their singing would pass by."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 552 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The Acheloides [Seirenes], why should it be that they have feathers now and feet of birds, though still a girl's fair face, the sweet-voiced Sirenes? Was it not because, when Proserpine [Persephone] was picking those spring flowers, they were her comrades there, and, when in vain they'd sought for her through all the lands, they prayed for wings to carry them across the waves, so that the seas should know their search, and found the gods gracious, and then suddenly saw golden plumage clothing all their limbs? Yet to reserve that dower of glorious song, their melodies' enchantment, they retained their fair girls' features and their human voice."
For MORE information on these nymphs see SEIRENES
DEMETER WRATH : COLONTAS
LOCALE : Hermione, Argolis (Southern Greece)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 35. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The sanctuary [of Demeter in Hermione] is said by the Hermionians to have been founded by Klymenos (Famous One), son of Phoroneos, and Khthonia (Of the Earth), sister of Klymenos. But the Argive account is that when Demeter came to Argolis, while Atheras and Mysios afforded hospitality to the goddess, Kolontas neither received her into his home nor paid her any other mark of respect. His daughter Khthonia (Of the Earth) disapproved of this conduct. They say that Kolontas was punished by being burnt up along with his house, while Khthonia was brought to Hermione by Demeter, and made the sanctuary for the Hermionians." [N.B. Klymenos was an epithet of the god Haides, and Khthonia of Demeter.]
DEMETER WRATH : ASCALABUS
LOCALE : Near Eleusis, Attika (Southern Greece)
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, and, while she drank, a saucy bold-faced boy stood by and laughed and called her greedy. She in anger threw the unfinished drink with all the grains of barley in his face. His cheeks came out in spots, and where his arms had been legs grew; a tail was added to his altered limbs and then, to keep his power of mischief small, he shrank till he was tinier than a lizard. The crone, amazed, in tears, bent down to touch the changeling creature, but it fled to find a hiding-hole. It has a name to suit its coloured skin--a starry-spotted newt."
This story also appears in Antoninus Liberalis' Metamorphoses 24 (not currently quoted here)
DEMETER WRATH : ASCALAPHUS
LOCALE : The Underworld
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 33 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"When Zeus commanded Plouton [Haides] to send Kore [Persephone] back up [to Demeter], Plouton gave her a pomegranate seed to eat, as assurance that she would not remain long with her mother. With no foreknowledge of the outcome of her act, she consumed it. Askalaphos, the son of Akheron and Gorgyra, bore witness against her, in punishment for which Demeter pinned him down with a heavy rock in Haides' realm [probably in the form of a lizard, askalabos]."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 124 :
"But he [Herakles while in Hades] did roll the stone off Askalaphos . . . As for Askalaphos, Demeter turned him into a horned owl (askalaphos)."
Euphorion of Chalcis, Fragments (trans. Page, Vol. Select Papyri III, No. 121 (2a)) (Greek epic C3rd B.C) :
"On the Akheron may he bear the heavy boulder of Askalaphos, which Demeter in her anger fastened upon his limbs, because he alone bore witness against Phersephone."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 534 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Ceres [Demeter] was resolved to win her daughter [Persephone] back [from Haides]. Not so fate permitted, for the girl had broken her fast and wandering, childlike, through the orchard trees from a low branch had picked a pomegranate and peeled the yellow rind and found the seeds and nibbled seven. The only one who saw was Orphne's son, Ascalaphus, whom she, no the least famous of the Nymphae Avernales (Underworld Nymphs), bore once to Acheron in her dusky bower. He saw and told, in spite, and by his tale stole her return away. The Regina Erebi (Queen of Hell) [Persephone] groaned in distress and changed the tale-bearer into a bird. She threw into his face water from Phlegethon, and lo! a beak and feathers and enormous eyes! Reshaped, he wears great tawny wings, his head swells huge . . . a loathsome bird, ill omen for mankind, a skulking screech-owl, sorrow's harbinger. That tell-tale tongue of his no doubt deserved the punishment."
For MORE information on this daimon see ASKALAPHOS
DEMETER WRATH : MINTHE
LOCALE : Mount Minthe, Elis (Southern Greece) OR the Underworld
Oppian, Cynegetica 3. 485 ff (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd A.D.) :
"Mint (Mintha), men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymphe of Kokytos, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus; but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aitnaian hill [Mount Aitna in Sicily], then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name."
In other versions of this myth it was Persephone who transformed Minthe into a plant.
For MORE information on this nymph see MINTHE
DEMETER WRATH : LYNCUS
LOCALE : Skythia (Black Sea)
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 649 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"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 to mankind knowledge of agriculture]. Scouring high the young prince [Triptolemos] rode through Europe and the realms of Asia till he came to Scythia, where Lyncus ruled, and entered the king's palace. Lyncus asked how he had come, his journey's cause, his name and country. ‘Famous Athenae is my country,’ he answered, ‘and my name is Triptolemus. No sail brought me by sea, nor foot by land, the sky lay wide to give me way. I bring the gifts of Ceres [Demeter]. If you sow them wide over your ploughland, they will give you back bountiful harvests, gentle nourishment.’ That barbarous king was jealous, and to gain himself the credit for that gift so great lavished his hospitality, and when his guest was sunk in sleep, attacked him with a dagger. As he tried to stab his heart, Ceres [Demeter] transformed the king into a lynx; then bade the youth of Mopsosius [Triptolemos] drive her pair of Sacred Serpents (Iugales Sacri) homeward through the air."
For a RELATED myth see Demeter Wrath: Carnabon (below)
DEMETER WRATH : CARNABON
LOCALE : Getae, Thrake (North of Greece)
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 14 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Serpent-Holder [Constellation Ophiuchus]. Ophiuchus, who, by our writers, is called the Serpent-holder, is stationed above Scorpio, and holds in his hands a serpent which coils about his body. Many have called him Carnabon, king of the Getae, who lived in Thrace. He came into power at the time when it is thought grain was first given to mortals. For when Ceres [Demeter] was distributing her bounties to men, she bade Triptolemus, whose nurse she had been, go around to all the nations and distribute grain, so that they and their descendants might more easily rise above primitive ways of living. He went in a dragon car, and is said to have been the first to use one wheel, so as not to be delayed in his journey. When he came to the king of the Getae, whom we mentioned above, he was at first hospitably received. Later, not as a beneficent and innocent visitor, but as a most cruel foe, he was seized by treachery, and he who was ready to prolong the lives of others, almost lost his own life. For at the order of Carnabon one dragon was killed, so that Tiptolemus might not hope his dragon car could save him when he realized an ambush was being prepared. But Ceres is said to have come there, and restored the stolen chariot to the youth, substituting another dragon, and punishing the king with no slight punishment for his malevolent attempt. For Hegesianax [Greek writer early C2nd B.C.] says that Ceres [Demeter], for men's remembrance, pictures Carnabon among the stars, holding a dragon in his hands as if to kill it. He lived so painfully that he brought on himself a most welcome death."
For RELATED myths see Demeter Wrath: Lyncus and Demeter Wrath: Erysichthon
DEMETER WRATH : ERYSICHTHON, TRIOPAS OR AETHON
LOCALE : Dotion, Thessalia (Northern Greece) OR Rhodes (Greek Aegean)
Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 65 ff(trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Let us not speak of that which brought the tear to Deo! . . . Better to tell--a warning to men that they avoid transgression--how she made the son of Triopas [Erikhthonios] hateful and pitiful to see.
Not yet in the land of Knidos, but sill in holy Dotion dwelt the Pelasgians and unto thyself they made a fair grove abounding in trees; hardly would an arrow have passed through them. Therein was pine, and therein were mighty elms, and therein were pear-trees, and therein were fair sweet-apples; and from the ditches gushes up water as it were of amber. And the goddess loved the place to madness, even as Eleusis, as Triopion [in Karia], as Enna [in Sicily].
But when their favouring fortune became wroth with the Triopidai (sons of Triopas), then the worse counsel took hold of Erysikhthon. He hastened with twenty attendants, all in their prime, all men-giants able to lift a whole city, arming them both with double axes and with hatchets, and they rushed shameless into the grove of Demeter. Now there was a poplar, a great tree reaching to the sky, and thereby the Nymphai were wont to sport at noontide. This poplar was smitten first and cried a woeful cry to the others. Demeter marked that her holy tree was in pain, and she as angered and said : ‘Who cuts down my fir tree?’
Straightway she likened her to Nikippe, whom the city had appointed to be her public priestess, and in her hand she grasped her fillets and her poppy, and from her shoulder hung her key [as priestess]. And she spake to soothe the wicked and shameless man and said : ‘My child, who cutest down the trees which are dedicated to the gods, stay, my child, child of thy parents' many prayers, cease and turn back thine attendants, lest the lady Demeter be angered, whose holy place thou makest desolate.’
But with a look more fierce than that wherewith a lioness looks on the hunter on the hills of Tmaros- a lioness with new-born cubs, whose eye they say is of all most terrible--he said : ‘Vie back, lest I fix my great axe in thy flesh! These trees shall make my tight dwelling wherein evermore I shall hold pleasing banquets enough for my companions.’
So spake the youth and Nemesis recorded his evil speech. And Demeter was angered beyond telling and put on her goddess shape. Her steps touched the earth, but her head reached unto Olympos. And they, half-dead when they beheld the lady goddess, rushed suddenly away, leaving the bronze axes in the trees. And she left the others alone--for they followed by constraint beneath their master's hand--but she answered their angry king : ‘Yea, yea, build thy house, dog, dog, that thou art, wherein thou shalt hold festival; for frequent banquets shall be thine hereafter.’
So much she said and devised evil things for Erysikhthon. Straightway she sent on him 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. Twenty prepared the banquet for him, and twelve drew wine.
For whatsoever things vex Demeter, vex also Dionysos; for Dionysos shares the anger of Demeter. His parents for shame sent him not to common feast or banquet, and all manner of excuse was devised. The sons of Ormenos came to bid him to the games of Athene Itonia. Then his mother refused the bidding : ‘He is not at home : for yesterday he is gone unto Krannon to demand a dept of a hundred oxen.’ Polyxo came, mother of Aktorion--for she was preparing a marriage for her child--inviting both Triopas and his son. But the lady, heavy-hearted, answered with tears : ‘Triopas will come, but Erysikhthon a boar wounded on Pindos of fair glens and he hath lain abed for nine days.’ Poor child-loving mother, what falsehood didst thou not tell? One was giving a feast : ‘Erysikhthon is abroad.’ One was brining home a bride : ‘A quoit hath struck Erysikhthon,’ or ‘he hath had a fall from his car,’ or ‘he is counting his flocks on Othrys.’ Then he within the house, an all-day banqueter, ate all things beyond reckoning. But his evil belly leaped all the more as he ate, and all the eatables poured, in vain and thanklessly, as it were into the depths of the sea. And even as the snow upon Mimas, as a wax doll in the sun, yea, even more that these he wasted to the very sinews: only sinews and bones had the poor man left. His mother wept, and greatly groaned his two sisters, and the breast that suckled him and the ten handmaidens over and over. And Triopas himself laid hands on his grey hairs, calling on Poseidon, who heeded not, with such words as these : ‘False father, behold this the third generation of thy sons--if I am son of thee and of Kanake, daughter of Aiolos, and this hapless child is mine. Would that he had been smitten by Apollon and that my hands had buried him! But now he sits an accursed glutton before mine eyes. Either do thou remove from him his cruel disease or take and feed him thyself; for my tables area already exhausted. Desolate are my folds and empty my byres of four-footed beasts; for already the cooks have said me "no".’
But even the mules they loosed from the great wains and he ate the heifer that his mother was feeding for Hestia and the racing horse and the war charger, and the cat at which the little vermin trembled.
So long as there were stores in the house of Triopas, only the chambers of the house were aware of the evil thing; but when his teeth dried up the rich house, then the king's son sat at the crossways, begging for crusts and the cast out refuse of the feast. 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."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 14 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Some, too, have said that he [the constellation Ophiochus] is Triopas, king of the Thessalians, who, in trying to roof his own house, tore down the temple of Ceres [Demeter], built by the men of old. When hunger was brought on him by Ceres for this deed, he could never afterward be satisfied by any amount of food. Last of all, toward the end of his life, when a snake was sent to plague him, he suffered many ills, and at last winning death, was put among the stars by the will of Ceres. And so the snake, coiling round him, still seems to inflict deserved and everlasting punishment."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 8. 739 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Some have the gift to change and change again in many forms . . . That gift of shape-changing Erysichthon's daughter [Mestra] also possessed. Her father was a man who spurned the gods and never censed their shrines. His axe once violated Nemus Cereale's [Demeter's] grove, his blade profaned her ancient holy trees. Among them stood a giant oak, matured in centuries of growing strength, itself a grove; around it wreaths and garlands hung and votive tablets, proofs of prayers fulfilled. Often beneath its shade Dryades danced in festival and often hand in hand their line circled its trunk, full fifty feet of giant girth; it towered high above the woodland trees as they above the grass. Yet even so that wicked man refused to spare his blade, and bade his woodsmen fell that sacred oak, and when he saw them slow to obey he seized the axe himself, and cried ‘Be this the tree the goddess loves, be this the goddess' very self, its leafy crown shall touch the ground today,’ and poised his axe to strike a slanting cut. The holy tree shuddered and groaned, and every leaf and acorn grew pale and pallor spread on each long branch. And when his impious stroke wounded the trunk, blood issued, flowing from the severed bark, as when a mighty bull is sacrificed before the altar and from his riven neck the lifeblood pours. All stood aghast, but one was bold to thwart the crime, to stay the steel.
Then Triopeius [Erysichthon] glared at him : ‘Take this for pious thoughts’ he cried and turned the axe against the man and struck the man's head off, and blow on blow, attacked the oak again.
Then deep from Deoia the tree's heart there came a voice: ‘I, Ceres' [Demeter's] Nympha, Ceres' most favourite Nympha, dwell in this oak, and, dying, prophesy that punishment is night for what you do, to comfort me in death.’ But he pursued his crime, till weakened by so many blows, hauled down by ropes, at last the giant oak crashed and its weight laid low the trees around. Heartbroken by their loss--the grove's loss too--her sister Dryades, clad in mourning black, 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 or Hunger] may never meet, she charged a Numinis Montes (Mountain Sprite), a rustic Oreas, to take her message . . . She gave the chariot; riding through the air the Oreas reached Scythia; on a peak of granite men call Caucasos she unyoked the Serpentes and set out in search of Fames (Hunger), and found her in a stubborn stony field . . . Eyeing her from a distance, fearing to go closer, the Nympha gave her the goddess' orders and hardly waiting, though some way away, though just arrived, she felt, or seemed to feel, hunger and seized the reins and soaring high she drove the Dracones back to Haemonia.
Fames (Hunger) did Ceres' [Demeter's] bidding, though their aims are ever opposite, and, wafted down the wind, reached the king's palace and at once entered the scoundrel's room and, as he slept, wrapped him in her arms and breathed upon him, filling with herself his mouth and throat and lungs, and channelled through his hollow veins her craving emptiness; then, duty done, quitting the fertile earth, returned to her bleak home, her caves of dearth. Still gentle Somnus (Sleep) on wings of quietness soothed Erysichthon. In his sleep he dreamed of food and feasting, chewed and champed n nothing, wore tooth on tooth, stuffed down his cheated gullet imaginary food, and course on course devoured the empty air. But when he woke, and peace had fled, a furious appetite reigned in his ravenous throat and burning belly. At once whatever sea or land or air can furnish he demands, and when the board groans he complains he's starving; while he feasts calls for more courses; more he crams his guts, the more he craves. And as from every land the rivers flow to fill the insatiate sea, which never fills; or as fire never refuses fuel and, ravening, burns logs beyond counting, and the more it gets the more it wants and, glutted, grows on greed; so wicked Erysichthon's appetite with all those countless feasts is stoked - and starves; food compels food; eating makes emptiness.
Now hunger and his belly's deep abyss exhausted his ancestral wealth, but still hunger was unexhausted and the flame of greed blazed unappeased, until at last, his fortune sunk and swallowed, there remained his daughter [Mestra], undeserving such a father. Her too he sold; but she, a highborn girl, would be no master's slave and, stretching her hands towards the sea near by, ‘Save me,’ she cried, ‘from slavery, thou who didst steal the prize of my virginity!’ The thief was Neptunus [Poseidon], who did not spurn her prayer and, though her master a moment past had seen her, changed her shape--she was a man, clothed like a fisherman [and so escaped her captor] . . .
When her father saw his daughter had this changeability, he often sold her and away she went a mare, a cow, a bird, a deer, and brought her glutton father food, unfairly gained. Yet when his wicked frenzy had consumed all sustenance and for the dire disease provision failed, the ill-starred wretch began to gnaw himself, and dwindled bite by bite as his own flesh supplied his appetite."
Suidas s.v. Aithon (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Aithon (Blazing) : Violent hunger. [So called] from a certain Aithon son of Helios (the Sun), who chopped down Demeter's sacred grove and suffered due punishment and for this was was ever famished."
DEMETER WRATH : PYRRHUS
LOCALE : Argos, Argolis (Southern Greece)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 13. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[The historic Makedonian general] Pyrrhos was wounded in the head [in an attack on the city of Argos]. It is said that his death was caused by a blow from a tile thrown by a woman. The Argives however declare that it was not a woman who killed him but Demeter in the likeness of a woman. This is what the Argives themselves relate about his end, and Lykeas, the guide for the neighborhood, has written a poem which confirms the story. They have a sanctuary of Demeter, built at the command of the oracle, on the spot where Pyrrhos died, and in it Pyrrhos is buried."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 21. 4 :
"The bones of [the historical Makedonian general] Pyrrhos lie in the sanctuary of Demeter [in the city of Argos], beside which, as I have shown in my account of Attika, his death occurred. At the entrance to this sanctuary of Demeter you can see a bronze shield of Pyrrhos hanging dedicated over the door."
- The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th - 4th B.C.
- Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Apollonius Rhodius, The Argonautica - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Callimachus, Hymns - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Greek Papyri III Euphorion, Fragments - Greek Epic C3rd B.C.
- Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History - Greek History C1st B.C.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Oppian, Halieutica - Greek Poetry C3rd A.D.
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Hyginus, Astronomica - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.