Demeter 9

At nights she would conceal him within the blazing fire, as if he were a smoldering log,

and his dear parents were kept unaware. But they marveled

at how full in bloom he came to be, and to look at him was like looking at the gods.

Now Demeter would have made him ageless and immortal

if it had not been for the heedlessness of well-girded Metaneira,

who went spying one night, leaving her own fragrant bedchamber,

and caught sight of what Demeter was doing. She let out a shriek and struck her two thighs,

afraid for her child. She had made a big mistake.

Weeping, she spoke these winged words:

“My child! Demophon! The stranger, this woman, is making you disappear in a mass of flames!

This is making me weep in lamentation. This is giving me baneful anguish!”

So she spoke, weeping. And the resplendent goddess heard her.

Demeter, she of the beautiful garlands in the hair, became angry at her.

She took Metaneira’s dear little boy, who had been born to her mother in the palace, beyond her expectations,

—she took him in her immortal hands and put him down on the floor, away from her.

She had taken him out of the fire, very angry,

and straightaway she spoke to well-girded Metaneira:

“Ignorant humans! Heedless, unable to recognize in advance

the difference between future good fortune and future bad.

In your heedlessness, you have made a big mistake, a mistake without remedy.

I swear by the Styx, the witness of oaths that gods make, as I say this:

immortal and ageless for all days

would I have made your dear little boy, and I would have given him honor that is unwilting.

But now there is no way for him to avoid death and doom.

Still, he will have a honor that is unwilting, for all time, because he had once sat

on my knees and slept in my arms.

But in due time, every year,

the sons of the Eleusinians will have a war, a terrible battle

among each other. They will do so for all days to come.

I am Demeter, the honored. I am the greatest

boon and joy for immortals and mortals alike.

But come! Let a great temple, with a great altar at its base,

be built by the entire city. Make it at the foot of the acropolis and its steep walls.

Make it loom over the well of Kallikhoron, on a prominent hill.

And I will myself instruct you in the sacred rites so that, in the future,

you may perform the rituals in the proper way and appease my mind.”  [239-275]


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