Study Guides for the Homeric Hymns to Aphrodite and Demeter

Make sure you still read the shorter hymns to goddesses, as these will tell you essential aspects of the goddesses and their functions. We will focus on the two long hymns to Aphrodite and Demeter, which contrast with each other in tone, but, as will become apparent in class, having underlying thematic similarities. As you read the Demeter Hymn, try to think about how its themes and concerns resemble the Aphrodite Hymn. These questions are intended to direct your reading.

Hymn to Aphrodite

1-33. Note the three goddesses over whom Aphrodite has no power: Athena, Artemis and Hestia. Why does the Hymn begin with the limitations of Aphrodite's power?

34-44. Does the Hymn absolve Zeus of responsibility for his adulteries by blaming Aphrodite?

45-67. Why does Zeus want to make Aphrodite fall in love with a mortal man? (And, anyway, where does he suddenly get this power?) Note that Zeus still has her fall in love with a handsome man.

68-74. What significance do you think her affinity with the animals has?

75-108 Study Anchises approach to her carefully. Why does he start by comparing her to Artemis and finish with Athena, sneaking Aphrodite into the middle? What does he seem to want from her?

109-41 Why is her response persuasive to him?

142-54 Study HIS response carefully for any signs that he still suspects he is talking to a goddess.

155-79 Why does she reveal herself so quickly, after a single episode of love-making? Does this indicate that she went there with a special purpose?

180-9 Why is Anchises so upset? What does he fear?

190-289 Note how she redirects his anxieties to the larger question of human mortality. Look at the examples she cites of liaisons between mortals and immortals; why do some work and other do not? If you need more information about any character in the list, consult the index of Apollodorus. Pay close attention to the story of Eos and Tithonus as this will factor into other myths.

Aeneas is, literally, the man of grief. This folk etymology from his mother's grief is transformed in Aeneas' life to refer to his own suffering, as he will lead a band of refugees from Troy to found a colony in Italy. Aeneas thus becomes the father of Rome and his mother, Venus, one its principal deities; think about that next time you can only think of gladiators when Rome is mentioned.

Why is Aphrodite so concerned that Anchises tell nobody the identity of the mother of Aeneas. If you had slept with Aphrodite, would you be able to keep it a secret?


Hymn to Demeter

1-32 Why does the text tell us that Demeter was not informed that Zeus would give their daughter to Hades? Think about the potential symbolism of girls playing in a meadow and picking flowers.

33-89 Why do you think nobody was willing to tell Demeter the truth? Why does Demeter grieve even more when she discovers the identity of the culprits and Persephone's husband?

90-144 Demeter withdraws from the gods., travelling in disguise. Note she tells a tale that she is from Crete.

145-231 Demeter takes a job as a nurse to the local royal household

232-74 Take special note of her bathing the child in fire and feeding him ambrosia. We'll see this pattern elsewhere. What is Demeter trying to accomplish? What does she want?

Demeter commands that the Eleusians build her a temple. Thus starts the complex of buildings that become home to the Eleusinian Mysteries

275-313 The wrath of Demeter. Note that only now does she withdraw fertility from the Earth, and that this famine threatens the gods themselves, who seem to need sacrifice.

314-56 Zeus sends Iris to Demeter and Hermes to Hades to negotiate. Why not send Hermes to Demeter?

357-433 Compare carefully the subsequent interaction between Persephone and Hades with what she tells her mother about the pomegranate she ate. And, why a pomegranate? Note that, once again, it is the males who are sneaky, not the females

434 -69 Why does the eating of the pomegranate necessiate Persesphone's dual existence? Note the images of female solidarity at the end of the hymn

470- end The Eleusinian Mysteries are established. To understand what happens here read this about the Eleusinian Mysteries. Click the blue arrows to continue on for several screens.

In general, think about the point of view from which this story is told, and why you think is the main purpose (or purposes) of the myth.


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