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The Greek goddess Demeter

Demeter (Roman equivalent: Ceres) was the goddess of crops and particularly of grain. She was one of the children of Cronos and Rhea who were swallowed by their father. Demeter was released when Metis, on the instructions of Zeus, fed Cronos an emetic.

Demeter and Zeus had a daughter, Persephone, who was abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld. Demeter was bereft, and travelled the earth, looking for and grieving over her abducted daughter. She cared nothing for her appearance, and often disguised herself as an old woman. Where she was well-received she taught the arts of agricultural cultivation, though where she was treated badly her punishments were harsh. The earth was suffering famine, and Zeus realised mankind would die if Demeter and Persephone were not reunited. He brought this about, but Demeter had to accept that since Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds in Hades she would have to spend part of the year in the Underworld.

Many cities claimed Demeter had visited them during her wanderings, but most famously she went to Eleusis, near to Athens. Here she acted as nurse to the king's son and, to make him ageless, anointed him with ambrosia and put him to sleep in the embers of the fire. She was discovered doing this, and her motives were misunderstood, but after she had shown herself to be a goddess she was reconciled with the Eleusinians. She taught them the rites that would be celebrated as the Eleusinian mysteries.

In art Demeter appears as a solemn, matronly figure, heavily draped. She sometimes wears a tall cylindrical headdress (known as a polos), or may carry ears of corn.

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