Saturday, September 28, 2013

TFBT: The God Demophon

(Dēmophōn) was nourished in the palace, and he shot up equal to a superhuman force, not eating grain, not sucking from the breast. But Demeter used to anoint him with ambrosia, as if he had been born of the goddess, and she would breathe down her sweet breath on him as she held him to her bosom. Homeric Hymn to Demeter 235-238

When I read “and he shot up equal to a daemon”, I recalled (Iliad 18) where Thetis says, “I gave birth to a son who was without fault and powerful conspicuous among heroes; and he shot up like a young tree.  Thetis lovingly brought “forth a son, of strength mightier than his father, whose hand should launch a shaft more powerful than the bolt of thunder or the fearsome trident” (Pindar, Isthmian Ode 8)

Demeter was not in a loving mood. But grief yet more terrible and savage came into the heart of Demeter, and thereafter she was so angered with the dark-clouded Son of Cronus that she avoided the gathering of the gods” (HHD 90)  When Hera was once angry with Zeus, she too went apart from the gods and giving notice to the powers below prayed; “ Harken you now to me, one and all, and grant that I may bear a child apart from Zeus, no wit lesser than him in strength--nay, let him be as much stronger than Zeus as all-seeing Zeus than Cronus.’(Homeric Hymn 3 to Pythian)  The product of Hera’s terrible, savage anger with Zeus was the giant monstrous Typhon; conqueror of Olympus

Although Demeter appeared to be doing something good in the way she brought up Demophon, not all the gods’ gifts are freely given.  The Titan Prometheus was one of the sons of Iapetus.  These brothers led the second generation Titans in the war against the Olympians called the Titanomachy.  He ended up switching side, becoming the benefactor of mankind and the cause of Thetis’ marriage to Peleus.   In “Hesiod's Cosmos  Jenny Strauss-Clay suggests that Prometheus gifts to us of fire and the best cuts of the sacrifice were not altruistic, but rather "presupposes a reciprocal counter-gift on the part of men, presumably their support of Prometheus in the contest between the Titan and Zeus" (p107)

The poets give no ulterior motive into Demophon’s baptism into ambrosia and fire.  But, what future did this terrible goddess, savagely starving mankind to death, angry with Zeus, standing apart from the gods intend when her foster son, the god Demophon, reached maturity?





  1. It is interesting that only days ago, I met the same idea in a book by Richard Holway, "Becoming Achilles: Child-sacrifice, War, and Misrule in the lliad and Beyond" - I read pages of it in the Google Books preview. The author is a bit too deep in psychology for my taste, but I like that he does not buy the predominant view that Thetis was truly a good and loving mother, and that Demeter was doing good to Demophon with the best of intentions.

  2. Maya,

    Thanks for the reference. It looks good, I will put it on the reading list!