The Homeric "Hymn to Demeter", composed in the late seventh or early sixth century BCE, is a key to understanding the psychological and religious world of ancient Greek women. The poem tells how Hades, lord of the underworld, abducted the goddess Persephone and how her grieving mother, Demeter, the goddess of grain, forced the gods to allow Persephone to return to her for part of each year. Helene Foley presents the Greek text and an annotated translation of this poem, together with selected essays on its historical context and its religious, literary, social, and psychological meaning. The "Hymn" reflects both the crisis precipitated when marriage separates mother and daughter as well as the bonds that allow them to survive this transition. Demeter and Persephone, who suffered the pains of mortality, found the Eleusinian Mysteries that offered their male and female initiates a "different lot once dead in the dreary darkness." A version of the same myth formed the basis of exlusively female religious cults. The essays, contributed by Helene Foley, Mary Louise Lord, Jean Rudhardt and Nancy Felson-Rubin, Harriet M.
Deal, Marilyn Arthur Katz, and Nancy Chodorow, give the reader a rich understanding of the "Hymn's" structure and artistry, its role in the religious life of the ancient world, and its meaning for the modern world. The essays study the "Hymn" in the context of early Greek epic and cosmology, examine its critical attitude to the institution of marriage, and analyze the dynamics of mother-daughter relations in the poem.