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In Greek mythology, Demeter — along with Hades, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon, and Zeus — is one of the children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She is considered patroness of vegetation, fertility, and the harvest, and her counterpart in Roman mythology is Ceres, from whose name we get the word cereal. Demeter is connected with the Eleusinian mysteries, religious rites that were celebrated at Eleusis in Demeter’s honor.
Demeter’s children are Persephone with Zeus, called Proserpine in Roman mythology, and Arion with Poseidon. The best-known story about Demeter concerns the kidnapping of her daughter Persephone — also called Kore — by Hades. Helios, the sun god, saw Persephone carried off, and told Demeter. In grief, she left Olympus to search for her daughter, and lost her interest in the growth of living things, and the world grew cold and barren.
Demeter finally convinced Zeus to intervene, because he saw that Demeter needed to return to Olympus for the Earth to regain its fruitfulness. But his judgment was that Hades had to give up Persephone unless she had in some way consented to her presence in the underworld.
It turned out that Hades tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate and because she ate four seeds — the amount varies in different tellings — even when she was returned to her mother, she has to remain in the underworld for four months of every year. So each year, her mother’s heart is broken and she withdraws her attention again, and this explains the cycle of planting, harvest, and then the season of desolation before spring and new growth returns.
This myth is recounted in the melodrama Perséphone by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky with a text by French author André Gide. Stravinsky looked upon it as a symphonic ballet. There are several paintings of the myth, including “The Return of Persephone” by Lord Frederic Leighton.
Ceres is the name of the largest main-belt asteroid, the first asteroid to be discovered, as well as an ovoid feature on the surface of Venus called Ceres Corona. The asteroid Ceres was discovered on New Year’s Day of 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi. Demeter is the name of an earthquake-prediction satellite, and there is also a Demeter Corona on Venus.
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