by Tracy Boyd

© 2004

The Homeric poet calls her Iambe.  By others, she is known as Baubo.  We know her only slightly from the few lines in the 7th century B.C.E. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, (2) and in other scant ancient sources that fleetingly sing her praises.  Her history is somewhat obscured by the strictest of prohibitions against revealing the ancient mysteries of Demeter, of which she is an integral, albeit outside, part.  As a result of this secrecy, much of what we do know of her has been invented by narrow-visioned theologians whose irate anti-Pagan diatribes rail against the “shameless” ritual of the pagan religions.  These wrong assumptions, in turn, have been amplified by more contemporary scholars to fill in the gaps that have been purposely left bare by the silence surrounding the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis.  The Hymn provides the background story of the greatest Mysteries of the ancient world whose celebrations began at Eleusis in very primitive times, in about 1450 B.C.E., (3) and continued for some two-thousand years until the sanctuary was finally and completely obliterated by the 5th century Christians of the Common Era. (4)    


It is through the iconographically dense images of this elusive character that we come to know her, and to make an intimate acquaintance of her rich and humble self. (5)  Iambe/Baubo stands before us, open-robed, echoing the sacred gesture of the numerous goddesses of great antiquity who have revealed their mysteries only to the initiated.  The gesture reveals her purpose in the deepest sense of the word, that of quite literally ‘drawing back the veil’ so as ‘to make known something hidden or kept secret’. (6)  In true iambic style, the emphasis has been placed on her belly region, which is where she wears her face.  This hilarious juxtaposition of mouth and belly is an overt reference to her rule over the food supply, a function which has been entirely eclipsed by the puerile scholarly musings that have focused only on her inferred sexually lewd behavior.  The fact of the matter is, that due to the extreme sanctity of Demeter’s rites, there is no record whatsoever of the actual remarks or gestures of this priestess who unveils herself to us.  Such a transgression would have been punishable by death.  This momentary lifting of the veil is a reminder to those who know.  The rest of us have been in the dark for thirty-five centuries.

Lost in the excitement of their titillation, the most respected scholars in the world have been diverted from another overt clue.  Iambe’s crown, which loudly proclaims her role in the mythology of the two goddesses, has never received so much as a passing mention.  What she dons, for all the world to see, is a very prominent headdress of oversized double acorns.  If, as is the case with all other crowns, it announces the function of the wearer, then we can say with absolute confidence that she is none other than the archaic idol of a pre-agricultural culture.  We find more than a trace of that culture in the region of Eleusis, some fourteen miles to the north and west of Athens, where this acorn mother of the woodpecker clan of Keleai is introduced to us in the Homeric Hymn as a member of the household of the queen.  As we shall see, at the moment when Demeter crosses the threshold of this royal house, there is a transfer of power from Acorn Mother to Goddess of the Grain.  It as at this very moment that wise Iambe becomes Demeter’s Fool. 

For countless millennia before the knowledge of planting and harvesting introduced a more plentiful and palatable food source, acorns were a primary food source. (7)  The fruits of the field, however, were not entirely substituted for those of the oak.  That font of oak wisdom, James G. Frazer, tells us that long after the development of agriculture, acorns continued to play a major role in the lives of the inhabitants of the early lake dwelling settlements in Central Europe, the northern Scandinavian countries, and the British Isles.


        That the inhabitants of these villages subsisted partly on the produce of the

        oak, even after they had adopted agriculture, is proved by the acorns which

        have been found in their dwellings along with wheat, barley, and millet, as

        well as beech-nuts, hazel-nuts, and the remains of chestnuts and cherries. (8)


In the Mediterranean region, acorns continued to be eaten as a fall-back in hard times by some, and as a delicacy by others.  Although the writers of the Classical period openly attest to the continuation of the acorn as a primary food source long after the introduction of agriculture, (9) their writings reflect an implicit level of snobbery against their consumption.  Because the acorn provided the main sustenance of pigs, the fruit of the oak was viewed as food suitable only for those who remained low to the ground in their daily habits.  The tree itself had roots so deep that they were thought to pierce the earth all the way into the dark underworld realm.  A dark and primordial connection was therefore established between the acorns that littered the forest floor and the earth-bound creatures who loitered there in the autumn, gorging themselves on the mast which fell to the ground. (10)  

Instead of availing themselves of the still plentiful supply of acorns, the agrarian populations of Greece and Italy now feasted on the ubiquitous herds of nicely fattened swine.  The Italian pigs roamed the vast oak forests in such numbers that


        in order to sort out the different droves when they mingled with each other    

        in the woods, each swineherd carried a horn, and when he wound a blast on

        it all his own pigs came trooping to him with such vehemence that nothing

        could stop them; for all the herds knew the note of their own horn. (11)

For obvious reasons, the esteem in which the acorn was held in more primitive times is not so readily apparent in the emphatically agrarian rites of Eleusis, whose business it is to conceal their former glory.  However, the clues are everywhere to be seen in the blatantly transparent names of those whose story is told in the mythic literature that describes how the rites themselves came to be.  A comprehension of the language and its multi-layered subtleties is of great advantage to a full and spiritually rich understanding of the implications of such myth.  We know this to be true, also, as far as the Mysteries themselves were concerned.  “Those who could not understand Greek were . . . excluded . . . because they could not hope to understand and appreciate the

. . . sacred formulas pronounced in the course of initiation.” (12)

One of the most beautiful recitations detailing the events of Persephone’s violent abduction into the underworld, and the untiring search by a mother whose heart is filled with immeasurable sorrow at her loss, is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.  We shall begin at the point in the story when


        . . . grief yet more terrible and savage came into the heart of Demeter

        . . . so . . . that she avoided the gathering of the gods and high Olympus,

        and went to the towns and rich fields of men, disfiguring her form for

        a long while. And no one . . . knew her, until she came to the house of

        wise Celeus who then was lord of fragrant Eleusis. (13)

A Greek-speaking audience would know that Celeus, or Keleos, is the name for the green woodpecker (Picus viridis). (14)  The barbarian must defer to the Latin poet, Ovid, who offers a hilarious description of the true identity of this aboriginal king that conveys a sense of the primitive scene of the woodpecker’s court for those who do not get the Greek joke.  He tells us that the aged ruler “carried home acorns and black-berries, knocked from bramble bushes, and dry wood to feed the blazing hearth.” (15)  And it is in this version of the story that the woodpecker-king “halted, despite the load he bore,” (16) to greet the grieving “ancient woman” (17) at the well.  We are told that for many days, she had sat on what has come to be known as the “Sorrowful Stone” by the Well of the Maidens, “motionless under the open sky, patiently enduring the moonlight and the rain.” (18)

The arboreal green woodpecker is best known as a “weather prophet,” (19) and a “rain-bird,” (20) because its loud cry is said to warn of rain.  This sound of fore-warning has been described as a “ringing laugh,” hence the bird’s echoic English name of Yaffle; (21) or Nicker, which denotes “a suppressed laugh . . . also used of horses’ neighing.” (22)  The Greek name Celeus, or Keleos, literally means ‘to cry’, or ‘call’, sometimes with specific reference to one who calls out orders, or commands, such as a god. (23) 

The erudite Robert Graves has described this aged king as a “sorcerer”; (24) a de-scription much in keeping with


        . . . an earlier stratum of thought in which birds were regarded not merely

        as portending the weather but as potencies who actually make it, not, that is,

        as messengers but as magicians. This early way of thinking comes out most

        clearly in the case of a bird who never became the ‘attribute’ of any Olympian,

        the homely woodpecker. (25)

This indigenous woodpecker-king, then, is “predeistic”; (26) never to become a god, only to be subsumed under an all-powerful invading god of thunder and lightning, the patriarchal sky-god, Zeus. (27)

It is this same invasive god who adopts the sacred oak as his tree, thus obliterating  Demeter’s role as the goddess of the oak, queen of the ancient woodlands. Demeter’s arboreal past is purposefully overshadowed, also, by her more sophisticated and very powerful agrarian functions.  The memory of her earlier role is preserved in Ovid’s very moving telling of “The Sacrilege of Erysichthon” in his Metamorphoses. (28)  The sacrilege, which causes the most ancient oak in Ceres’s (29) sacred grove to tremble and groan, its leaves and acorns to turn white, and its long branches to lose their color, exemplifies the “might is right” behavior typical, also, of the ever-encroaching Zeus.  Long before our own Eleusinian story begins, he has already raped Demeter, and it is their child who is the subject of this mother’s “sorrowful wanderings.” (30)

In the Homeric Hymn, he has secretly arranged for their daughter, Persephone, to become the unwitting bride of her Uncle Hades, or Pluton, the ruler of the under-

world.  This succession of incestuous relationships points to the rule of matrilineal descent, which requires marriage into the female line in order to secure the male god’s power.  The taking by force is a serious affront to the matriarchal status-quo, and Demeter is furious.  The world as she has known it for countless aeons has just been changed forever, and the storyteller allows us to bear witness to her sorrow, her rage, and her mourning. 

Throughout the numerous variants of this mother-daughter myth, the old ways are contrasted with the new at the very moment of their change-over.  In our Hymn to Demeter, all of the more primitive archaic characters exhibit a numinous relationship to the acorn and the mother oak, and are generally represented as aged or earthy, and therefore of the old order.  Demeter’s mournful disguise allows us to feel her dark and ancient roots.


        . . . she was like an ancient woman who is cut off from childbearing

        and the gifts of garland-loving Aphrodite, like the nurses of king’s

        children who deal justice, or like the housekeepers in their echoing

        halls. (31)

She is addressed with the utmost deference and respect as “old mother” (32) by the four young daughters of the king, the fruit of the ancient rain-bird, who in stark contrast, were “like goddesses in the flower of their girlhood.” (33)  They are enthusiastically welcoming to one whom they know not, but who they instantly recognize as one of their own, acknowledging her as an illustrious ancestor of their stock.  They “spoke winged words” (34) to the stranger at the well, the “old mother” oak who, since time immemorial, had provided nourishment to their acorn-eating totemistic clan.  These flowers of youth have given their own old mother, Metaneira, ‘she who lives among maidens’, her name. (35) 

The place-name of the daughters of Keleai has been translated variously as both ‘woodpecker-town’ (36) and in the context of a cult site, as the place of ‘the crying women’. (37)  The youthful maidens, whose bird ancestry is emphasized by their “winged words,” have come to the well “for easy-drawn water, to carry it in pitchers of bronze to their dear father’s house.” (38)  We know that the indigenous magician-kings made “thunder and lightning with . . . rain-birds and water-pails and torches.” (39)  This would have been the archaic method by which Keleos, the “old man,” (40) supplied the plentiful amounts of rain needed to produce bumper acorn crops.  The presence of the ancient woman at the water source hints that this primitive practice is about to come to an end.  She, too, will be transformed.

“With her head veiled and wearing a dark cloak,” (41) she entered the “humble hut” (42) of “heaven-nurtured Celeus” (43) and his aged Queen, Metaneira, who “sat by a pillar of the close-fitted roof, holding her son . . . in her bosom.” (44)  At the very moment that Demeter reached the threshold, that liminal place of transformation, her light shone out of the darkness, illuminating all in her presence.  But she, herself, remained wrapped in her silence until “a certain old crone, Iambe, joked the goddess and made her smile.” (45)

        . . . the goddess walked to the threshold: and her head reached the roof

        and she filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance. Then awe and

        reverence and pale fear took hold of Metaneira, and she rose up from

        her couch before Demeter, and bade her be seated. But Demeter,

        bringer of seasons and giver of perfect gifts, would not sit upon the

        bright couch, but stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down until

        careful Iambe placed a jointed seat for her and threw over it a

        silvery fleece. Then she sat down and held her veil in her hands be-

        fore her face. A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking

        because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but

        rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drink, because she

        pined with longing for her deep-bosomed daughter,until careful Iambe–

        who pleased her moods in aftertime also–moved the holy lady with

        many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart. (46) 

Much has been written, but little of substance said, about the words and actions of the old crone, Iambe, who makes her all too brief appearance in these lines of the Homeric Hymn.  From these sparse lines we know nothing whatsoever as to the content of her performance before the goddess.  We know only that “it was a big hit.” (47)  The Homeric poet has named her Iambe, thus articulating her function as court jester at Keleai, and “aftertime” as Demeter’s personal fool in the Mysteries at Eleusis.  She is, in fact, the first female fool in literature, and perhaps as old in oral tradition as “the first court jester on record,” Danga, (2325-2150 B.C.E.) the Egyptian fool of Pepi II, “a pygmy . . . who could ‘dance the God, divert the court and rejoice the heart of the King’.” (48)  

Scholarly writers seem to have gone out of their way to deny the connection between Iambe’s name and the iambic meter, which was used to the exclusion of all other rhythms in the lambastic comic poetry of the Greek poets.  Even those sympathetic to Iambe have wavered, as for example, Winifred Lobell, who allows an unsubstantiated comment of another scholar to interfere with the truth.  She tells us that


        Because of the suggestive nature of Iambe’s remarks to the goddess, implying

        coarse or lewd humor, and because other sources from Orphic literature and

        later commentaries describe Iambe as lame and halting in her gait, scholars

        once thought [italics mine] that the comical character Iambe was the original

        source of inspiration for the iambic meter of Attic Greek poetry, used for

        satiric invective in halting verses. (49)

The most recent and reliable scholarship confirms that Iambe was, and is, the progenitor of “satiric invective in halting verses.” (50)  N. J. Richardson, one of the world’s most highly regarded experts in these matters, states without reservation that Iambe is the “eponym of the iambic rhythm,” (51) which is to say, that it derives its name from her.  We would argue that it is the Homeric poet’s explicit intent to show that very connection and, by so doing, to raise the lowly status of the comedic form by immortalizing the accomplishments of the fool who made a goddess smile.  Theirs is a relationship not unlike that of king and fool, in which the insulting and abusive ex-temporaneous pronouncements of the Fool act as a mirror for the King.  After all, the term iambos refers, also, to ‘the person who is lampooned’. (52)

Aristotle had scant praise for this satiric form; the iamb being “considered by the ancient Greeks to approximate the natural rhythm of speech.” (53)  In the Poetics he states that “the iambic is, of all measures, the most colloquial”; (54) comedy being reserved for “an imitation of characters of a lower type.” (55)  Francis M. Cornford, in his detailed analysis of the ritual patterns and origins of Attic comedy, adds that Aristotle was of the opinion that “the more frivolous and worthless [poets] represented the actions of the ignoble, and composed invectives.” (56)  He goes on to say that “the natural metre for invective is the iambic–a term, indeed, the use of which to describe this metre is derived from these primitive invectives, for to ‘iambize’ a person means to make him the object of abuse, satire, lampoon . . . .” (57)

To cheer the sorrowing Demeter’s heart, the Homeric text tells us only that Iambe employed “many a quip and jest”; a “quip” being but ‘a smart, neatly turned jest’; a “jest” being ‘a mocking or bantering remark, a jibe, or taunt’.  It is her name, and all that it implies, which conveys the full sense of the scene, complete with “invective”, or ‘violent verbal attack’.  The “object of abuse” becomes so in the truest sense of being beaten until broken.  The words “lambast”, and “lame,” similarly rooted in the word lam, which means ‘to thrash, beat, flog; literally, to lame, to break’, are explicit in this regard.  But, while “lame” means simply ‘to break’, “lambast” expands the intent, which is ‘to beat soundly, thrash’; ‘to scold or denounce severely’.  The physical violence is amplified by the verbal with the addition of baste to lam, which in the first sense, means ‘to strike, or beat’, and in the second, ‘to attack with words; abuse’.

The rhythm of iambic verse itself, with its pattern of a short, followed by a long stressed syllable, imitates the halting gait of the lame: taking a firm step with the first foot forward, and then dragging the second foot to meet the first – again and again – into a limping rhythm of iambic “feet,” or measured arrangement of syllabic pattern-ing.  We should not, then, wonder why such a wise poet as Robert Graves has interpreted Iambe’s name as ‘limping’ to remind us of her former fame. (58)  The Homeric bard has written unspoken volumes in his choice of the appellation Iambe

Most others call her Baubo, a name that has been the subject of much rancorous debate among scholars.  Apollodorus calls her both “old crone” and “Iambe” (59) and, although we have no indication as to Baubo’s age anywhere in the Homeric text, we know her, or intuit her, as a wise old crone.  This, in fact, is the meaning of Baubo.  The name itself is long-lived.  A source attesting to the survival of Baubo’s name into the early twentieth century is found in the Thracian mummers’ plays, where “Babo (‘a word in general local use meaning an old woman’) is the name of the old woman who carries about a child in a basket-shaped cradle . . . . ” (60)  This same spelling of her name occurs also on ancient inscriptions from Galatia in Asia Minor, (61) where some have sought Baubo’s origin; (62) and from the Cycladic island of Paros, (63) where others argue for her beginnings. (64)

Whether or not a linguistic connection exists, the Russian word babushka, which in general usage refers to the scarf, or shawl worn on the head by females of many ages, literally means ‘grandmother’, or by inference, ‘old woman’.  Another coincidence of similarity that should not be overlooked is found in the name of Baba-Yaga, the famous witch of Russian folk-tale.  Her motto in the tale of The Beautiful Wassilissa is, “To know too much makes one old!” (65) 

Deferring to the always illuminating lectures of Marie-Louise von Franz, we find in her analysis of the archetypal elements of this tale that “one can see clearly that the Baba-Yaga is the great Mother Nature.” (66)  She presents compelling evidence, equating the opposing attributes of darkness and light that are exhibited in this fascinating old witch with those same aspects of Demeter.


        So she is a Goddess of day and night, of life and death, and the great prin-

        ciple of nature. Also she is a witch, which is why she has a broom . . . . She

        goes around in a mortar with a pestle, which makes her resemble a great

        pagan corn Goddess such as Demeter in Greece, who is the Goddess of corn

        and also of the mystery of death. The dead in antiquity were called demetreioi,

        those who had fallen into the possession of Demeter, like the corn falling into

        the earth. (67)

Baubo’s crone aspect is underlined by her belated association with “the dread Hekate,” (68) a witch figure who is depicted as “the leader of the women initiates” at the Eleusinian Mysteries on an early 5th century B.C.E. tablet. (69)  Of course, Hekate’s place is unquestioned in the rites of mother and daughter, for all three are goddesses of the underworld, together representing the Maiden, Mother, Crone aspects of the moon.  We have a clear sense of who she is from Sophocles’s vision of her: “the moonlight was her spear, and her brows were bound with oak-leaves and serpents.” (70) 

Hekate, whose name signifies the ‘far-off one’, (71) a meaning encompassing both the dark phase of the moon and the underworld all at once, is the helpful old crone whom Demeter, “the bright goddess,” (72) encounters “on the tenth enlightening dawn” (73) of her search.  It is unspoken, but understood, that their place of meeting is at the cross-roads.  This is Hekate’s usual place of residence, where offerings are made to her on the last day of the lunar month, and the place where the women gather to cry to the invisible moon for its return. (74)  The lunar aspects, themselves, tell the story of the eternally returning cycle of nature, which is the subject of the Demetrian rites at Eleusis.  Through a strange confluence of twists and turns, the old crone of our study has not a little to do with the announcement of this archetypal theme.

Ignoring the ‘old woman’ except as a pejorative, the general consensus finds ‘belly’ to be the most proximate translation of Baubo, which, while being strictly intended as a euphemism for her sexual organs, unknowingly points to her role as acorn mother.  Prudish Christian influences seem to have won out in favor of this meaning, which, from their narrow point of view, is designed to denigrate her sacred function by reducing her to a crippled old crone possessed of a repertory of foul jokes and lewd gestures.  The untiring efforts of her detractors have shifted the focus below her belly to produce translations of Baubo such as “that which the woman exhibited to Demeter, that is, the female pudenda,” a pronouncement made in 1893 that has become the prevailing mantra of modern scholars. (75) 

Regardless of the accurate statements of other scholars to the effect that their evidence is entirely lacking, the phallocentrically-inspired obsession persists.  Some of this “thinking” has been fostered by Freudian psychoanalytic theory, which is extreme in its views of sexuality to begin with.  We offer two such examples that would be considered extreme by any standards.


        All of our testimony having to do with cult practices in Greece mentions    

        ritual jesting rather than exposure. . . . The Baubo figurines from Priene in

        Asia Minor (fifth century B.C.E.) provide further evidence of the explicitly

        sexual content of the humor associated with Baubo. The figurines are

        “personifications” of the female genital organs: arms, facial features, and

        hair molded to look like clothes drawn up, are added to the lower abdomen

        and legs. (76)

A footnote to this statement cites another scholar’s even more egregious interpretation, one that Karen Horney would describe as a clear case of “womb envy,” for we are expected to consider that the terra-cotta images of Baubo “could be interpreted as phalloi which have been decorated as females by the addition of a face and genitalia beneath the glans.” (77) 

This warped perspective brings us to a brief mention of the linguistic associations of the word acorn with the glans penis.  Citing the connection in numerous languages, the Jungian maverick, James Hillman, informs us that many languages use the same word for both. (78)  The influence of Zeus, and other thunderous Indo-European gods who laid claim to the mother’s sacred oak, is recognizable in this linked etymology “because the acorn was called the juglans, or glans penis of Jupiter.” (79)  There is a remarkable similarity between the Greek word balanos, which serves this dual purpose, and words in the very oak-identified ancient Celtic languages, whose meanings are suggestive only of the acorn.  “In Irish and Scottish Gaelic . . . for example, there is the word BaLlan, which means a natural cup-like hole in a stone.

. . . The word BeaLan means ‘little mouth’ or ‘mouthful’ . . . There is also an Old Irish word, BiLe (plural BiLeN), meaning ‘sacred tree’, which clearly connects with tree Ogham,” (80) the secret Druidic Beith Luis Nion tree alphabet upon which the modern Irish alphabet is based. (81)

The fact of the matter is, that the excesses of vulgar, lewd, behavior are the very essence of the old comedic form which, in Aristotle’s view, finds its basis in the highly sacred ancient fertility rites. (82)  This is his view, also, of the Phallika, or Phallic Songs, that “ ‘iambic’ element” (83) of aischrologia, or ritualized ‘foul language and abuse’, (84) later called “shameful language” by the moralizers, which provides the sole basis and origin for the comedy of the Attic stage. (85)  The impro-vised ridicule of the “extempore speeches” (86) performed “at the expense of individuals by name,” (87) became known as Iambi, a label “given both to the performers and to their compositions.” (88)

We see Baubo, or her stand-in, in this exact role on the bridge to Eleusis where she plays the role of Demeter’s Fool.  Like all fools, Baubo is an outsider.  The crucial significance of her inclusion in the mysteries of the mother-daughter pair, albeit outside the Sacred Gate, has never been realized from the perspective of a transfer of power from Acorn Mother to Goddess of the Grain.  But that is exactly what these mysteries purport to be about, at least on the exoteric level.  To make sure that this point is not lost on the initiates, as it has been lost on us, she is referred to by the name of Baubo, or ‘Belly’.  By her position outside the gates, we are meant to understand, as Mylonas has so categorically stated, that “the Eleusinian tradition has no place for Baubo at the site of Demeter.” (89)  We find Baubo, therefore, on the outskirts of the sacred ground of Eleusis, where, as the mother of the older order she ceremoniously lambasts those arriving to receive the Demetrian rites of the new. 

As the initiates wended their way along the Sacred Road from Athens to Eleusis, they arrived at a bridge where the procession halted for a rest.


        If not for the rule of secrecy, we should surely have explicit descriptions

        of what happened when the river Kephisos in Athens was crossed. . . . On

        the bridge the procession was awaited by mockery and strange games, the

        gephyrismoi, or “bridge jests.” According to one report, they were per-

        formed by a woman, a hetaira; according to another, by a man masked as

        a woman. In Aristophanes a comic old woman boasts of having figured at

        the bridge, in a cart.  She was playing the role of Iambe, or rather of Baubo,

        who with her jokes and obscene gestures moved Demeter to laughter. This

        episode served also to relieve the mourning of the mystai. It was the moment

        to drink the kykeon which the women had brought along . . . . (90)

The ‘Jesting at the Bridge’, as it became known in the comedy of the Athenian stage, (91) “seems to have been apotropaic; piling insult on exalted persons so that they would be humbled and would not be visited with the jealous reactions of the evil spirits.” (92)  Of course, as we would expect, the vague and unspecified jokes and inferred obscene jestures originally addressed to Demeter by her Fool are re-enacted here in an equally vague and unspecified way, paraphrased and enlarged for a wider audience. 

The clitoral claim, which insists on the specifics of her actions, must, then, have its origin in a transference to Baubo of the later experience of the phallophoric antics of the Attic stage – performances which, in turn, derive from the sacred abuses that are so integral to the agricultural ritual of all times.  Sexually-charged words and actions have always been central to these ritual enactments in the field, and to the closely-held secret goings-on of women’s rites.  When, in time, the phallocentric fool became the double of the virile king, he became the ringleader of the merry bands who roamed the countryside hurling insults at everyone they met. (93)  Our Iambe, or Baubo, is the first female fool to perform this sacred function – and in front of God and everyone.

Such ludicrous behavior as that exhibited at the bridge was not to be tolerated by Christian proselytizers who, seeking to undermine such ancient and holy practices, deemed them “shameless.”  A millennium-and-a-half later, the bishops of Medieval France were still issuing edict upon edict banning such popular agrarian celebrations, whilst simultaneously re-naming and adopting bland versions of the same festivals into the Christian calendar year. (94)  The excesses continued, regardless.  It is not for nothing that in the game of chess, the Bishop is called, in French, Fou, or ‘Fool’. (95)  

It is through fools’ eyes that much of what we know about these “obscene gestures” of Baubo have been revealed.  To begin with, the Orphic texts, from which much of the material was gleaned, are fairly misogynistic.  Reading them through the overlay-

ment of the prejudicial judgements and purposeful misstatements of the anti-Pagan fathers of the early church compounds the problem. (96)  As Eleusinian archaeologist and scholar George Mylonas has warned us, “we shall find that their testimony cannot be trusted, that their statements do not correspond to the facts.” (97) 

Most unfortunately, influential scholars have relied for nearly twenty centuries on the words of Clement of Alexandria (150 to ca. 211 C.E.) as gospel.  His purposeful mis-interpretations and misrepresentations of the Orphic mysteries, which incorporate a particular reverence for Baubo, take on a fever pitch when he gets to what he perceives as the “sexy parts.”  Mylonas, who is quoting Clement directly, calls it an “extraordinary performance.” (98)  In his usual scathing and arrogant style, Clement says, “I will quote you the very lines of Orpheus, in order that you may have the originator of the mysteries as witness of their shamelessness”:


        This said, she drew aside her robes, and showed

        A sight of shame; child Iacchos was there,

        And laughing, plunged his hand below her breasts

        Then smiled the Goddess, in her heart she smiled,

        And drank the draught from out the glancing cup. (99)

And this is the hard evidence in the literature of Baubo upon which all later scholarly claims are based.  Well, the rites of fertility are a very nasty business, and as T. S. Eliot has observed, We had the experience but missed the meaning.” (100)  Thus is the sacred Fool of Demeter transformed in the written record, causing us to lose sight of her original calling and status.  Like all fools, Baubo is the butt of many a nasty joke.  That is the fate of fools.  But fools have a way of coming back at you.  And “wise” Iambe, as Andrew Lang rightly calls her in his translation of the Hymn to Demeter, (101) has done just that, not only in the few images of her that have survived, but in the Orphic Fragments, which when read without prejudice, reveal another side of her.

In one of the Orphic versions of our acorn fool’s mythology, pieces of which date from the 6th century B.C.E., (102) we are introduced to a very earthy Baubo who is married to a swineherd named Dysaules.  His rather unfortunate name means ‘he who is poorly housed’.  Theirs is not a pretty picture.  We are meant to feel the raw and primitive life of the uncivilized barbarian.  One is reminded of King Lear’s aside to his Fool as they enter the hovel on the rain-drenched heath.  With a well-placed verbal kick at the mirrored image of himself, he says, You houseless poverty ,– Nay, get thee in.” (103)  A visceral reaction is anticipated by Clement’s paraphrased and augmented version of the Fragments, in which he denigrates the “primitive” origin of the Eleusinian Mysteries.  He tells us the following:


        At that time Eleusis was inhabited by aborigines, whose names were Baubo,

        Dysaules, Triptolemos, and also Eumolpos and Eubouleus. Triptolemos was

        a herdsman [cowherd], Eumolpos a shepherd, and Eubouleus a swineherd.

        These were the progenitors of the Eumolpids and of the Kerykes, who form

        the priestly class at Athens [Eleusis]. (104)  

We do not rise to his occasion, however, because the lowly status here envisioned is unremarkable in the history of fools, both historical and mythological, – and some-times they are the same.  The fool as former swineherd, shepherd, and cowherd is the norm rather than the exception. (105)  What we find here that is so extra-ordinary, is the definitive proof that the tradition is of such great longevity. 


The varying “historical” traditions and local variants of the story of the founding of the Eleusinian Mysteries present a cornucopia of genealogies that are impossible, and pointless to disentangle.  In the end it hardly matters whether, as some claim, Dysaules was the brother of Keleos, and not the husband of Baubo, (106) or whether Baubo was the daughter of Keleos and Metaneira, and not merely a respected woman of their household.  What is of far greater relevance to our interests in exposing the truth about the mysterious Baubo lies in the unravelling of their names, for in the Greek language, one’s name tells the whole story in one word.  It should be apparent from the start how appropriate it is for a swineherd to be the son of the acorn mother. 

In this telling, the fortunate Eubouleus, whose name means ‘good counsel’, witnesses Persephone’s abduction by the god who rules below the earth.  The story goes that “Eubouleus was guarding his pigs when the earth was cleft asunder and the path to the underworld opened.  The pigs disappeared into the chasm together with the goddess.” (107)  As Kerenyi warns us, however, “there is something more of Eubouleus in the tale than his mere name: he had to do with the path leading to the underworld.” (108)  His involvement with this path is so all-encompassing, so layered under different guises, that it is the stuff of a conspiracy theorist’s dream.  His collusion with the underworld god, Hades, or Pluto, is revealed by Hesychios of Alexandria in his highly regarded 5th century Lexicon, where “it is expressly stated that Pluton is Eubouleus”; (109) “the god of the Underworld himself.” (110)  This keeper of pigs is a “mysterious divinity” among the chief gods worshipped in the Mysteries at Eleusis. (111)  He represents an aspect of Zeus which is not ouranian, or heavenly, but subterranean and chthonic. (112)

We should not be surprised that there are so many chthonic elements in all of the stories of the mother-daughter pair, after all, the myth is about the tragic disappear-ance and happy return of Persephone from the underworld realm.  But an accounting of the dramatis personae produces an overwhelmingly subterranean cast of characters.  Persephone, the ‘Bringer of Destruction’, and her mother have a very dark past.  They are already deities who are both feared and loved long before their story begins.  “Whenever she is mentioned in the Iliad, she receives the title of . . . ‘awful’, which implies praise and fear of her in equal measure.” (113)  The “She” here referenced is Persephone, but Demeter is the “awful goddess” of whom the opening line of the Homeric Hymn speaks, and to whom it is most reverently addressed. (114)  They are the same, this pair.  So, it is for her other half that Demeter mourns and rages; and as Christine Downing has so elegantly phrased it in her poignant essay on “Persephone in Hades,” “only a goddess could mourn so extravagantly.” (115) 

And there is Hekate, too, of whom it has been said, “she seems to be the double of Demeter herself.” (116)  They are, all three, looked upon with absolute fear and reverence, but it is fragrant, flower-like Persephone who, as the officially installed Queen of the Dead, becomes most visible “as the secret, hidden, ineffable goddess, related to things beyond, not even to be named except as Thea.  She is, as Freud called her, the silent goddess of death.” (117)  It is this Persephone whom the initiate meets in the underworld, and who reveals the darkest and the most illuminating aspects of life.  This is, after all, a story about initiation.

Elsewhere, we have shown numerous instances in which the initiate is directly associated with the pig in the underworld. (118)  The sow was the preferential sacrifice in all of the ancient rites of Demeter, but the presentation of pigs as a sacrificial offering was nowhere more in evidence than at the Eleusinian mysteries of this “awful goddess” (119) whose brilliance had “filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance” (120) as she crossed the threshold at Keleai.


        . . . the pig was something more than Demeter’s favorite animal; even the

        poorest mystai had to sacrifice pigs to her before they could be initiated.

        The slaughtering of the ‘mystical pigs’ was a true expiatory sacrifice. The

        animals died in place of the initiand. (121)

Each of the initiates, as they trod the sacred path to Eleusis, carried with them a little pig destined for sacrifice to the mother of the grain and her underworld daughter; the Two Goddesses, as they were called, who were but two halves of the same whole.  The initiates bathed in the sea with the piglets in their arms, together purified by the cleansing waters.  This was followed closely by the slaughtering of the little animal by the initiate herself, a ritual act through which “the identification of the sacrificer with the sacrifice is clearly expressed,” (122) and which assured a further purification of the initiand.  “The blood of the pig was considered a very potent agent of purifi-

cation with the power to absorb the impure spirit inhabiting human beings.  Each initiate, therefore, had to sacrifice his [sic] pig for himself [sic].” (123)  When this had been accomplished the pig itself was again purified, this time by fire.  The mystical union of mystae and sacrificial victim thus created an especially potent communion between the goddesses to whom the sacrificial meal was proffered and the initiate who shared the meal.

There is, in these most moving rites, a further unspoken issue of blood, and that is the sacrosanct connection between the pig and the blood rites of women.  This is a secret that the patriarchy did its best to keep silent, for the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis were originally women’s mysteries, rites of passage that reflected upon the phases of the moon in the life of the woman as Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  The nine days of initiatory rites at Eleusis began in the last third of the month, lasting, it may be presumed, until the new moon showed its crescent in the sky.  From the moment of Persephone’s disappearance, when Demeter – echoing her on earth – began her mournful wanderings, was aided by dark Hekate of the crossroads, and arrived at Keleai – the place of ‘the crying women’ – , (124) this has been a story about the disappearing and wandering moon in thinly veiled gynomorphic disguise. (125) 

It is hard to imagine how men could have been included in these lunar blood rites of women.  That they became something other than that which women had shared among themselves and between themselves and their goddess, is everywhere apparent in the very public mixed-gender rites.  These later celebrations purport to exclaim the glories of the grain.  But the elements of blood, and pigs, and moon, and wanderings in the underworld, and a miraculous return therefrom, except for the later with respect to dying and reviving vegetation in general, seem rather extraneous to such agrarian concerns. 

After the invention of agriculture by women, who had been the gatherers of edible plants, herbs, nuts, and fruits, it was their goddess, Demeter, who revealed the secrets of planting and harvesting, which she shared with all of the people.  Baubo’s first-mentioned cowherding son, Triptolemos, “the threefold warrior,” (126) is the one chosen for the task of spreading the word, but he is specifically excluded from the inner esoteric mysteries. (127)  There is an explicit separation between “the gift of the telete (of the Mysteries) and the gift of the fruits––of the produce of the earth.”  (128)  If the latter is Triptolemos’s sole concern, then the Mysteries of Mother and Kore are about something else.

The Christians, who turned “the ‘temenos of the world’ into a wasteland” at the end of the 5th century C.E., (129) knew exactly what these Mysteries were about.  After all, they relied on the authority of the likes of Clement of Alexandria, whose false testimony spewed nothing but hatred, hysteria, and fear.  They buried the evidence so well that it took archaeologists one hundred and fifty years to unearth the scattered remains. (130)  These Demetrian Mysteries were, after all, the greatest religion that the world had ever known; mysteries that offered “a hope of immortality and a belief in the eternity of life.” (131)  The inspirations of the awesome rites, whose celebrations mark not only the change from a harsh pre-agricultural past, but which hold out the hope, also, of a “happy arrival” (132) in the underworld with Persephone leading the way, are anything but lost.  The secret of the Mysteries is in the sky for all the world to see.

And it is to the moon, or at least, to the singing that called the moon out of her darkness that we now turn our attention.  In the Orphic Fragments, we meet another of Baubo’s sons, Eumolpos, “‘the sweet singer’, [in whom] one can recognise the officiating priest of the Eleusinian Mysteries.” (133)  From the very beginning of the established cult, all of the High Priests, or Hierophants, as they were called, the ‘revealers of the holy things’, were of the Eumolpidai, (134) ‘they who sang beautifully’ with “voices resounding in the rights of the holy nights.” (135)  For over two thousand years, the sacred mystery of the Mysteries “was transmitted orally from Hierophant to Hierophant over so many generations.” (136) 

The extraordinarily high regard in which this priesthood was held, this holy order which claimed descent from Baubo, is detailed by George Mylonas, the archaeologist who devoted the better part of his life to the excavations and documentation of Eleusis.


        The Hierophant was the High Priest of the Cult of Demeter at Eleusis. He        

        was from the family of the Eumolpids and held office for life. He alone, at

        the most solemn moment of the celebration, could show to the worshippers

        the Hiera [‘Holy Things’], the revelation that completed the initiation. . . . He

        alone could enter the Anaktoron [‘Holy of Holies’]. In Roman times especially

        his personal name could not be spoken; he was a hieronymos, and his sanctity

        was paramount. His name headed the list of . . . those maintained at public

        expense in the Prytaneion of Athens. It was he who proclaimed the holy truce

        and sent messengers . . . to the Hellenic world inviting all Greeks to participate

        in the celebration and to send tithes due to the Goddess. . . . He was an impres-

        sive figure, wearing elaborate vestments, and his sudden appearance, bathed in

        brilliant light, in front of the opened doors of the Anaktoron, filled the initiates

        with wonder and awe. (137) 

Similar honors were accorded the two Hierophantides, the Priestesses of Demeter and Kore, who also claimed descent from Baubo’s illustrious line of Eumolpidai.  Other claims say that it was “the daughters of Keleus [who originally] performed the holy rites of the two goddesses” with Eumolpos. (138)  As an example of their power and privilege, we are told that at the time when the Romans were flocking to the Eleusinian initiations, one of these sacrosanct women “had set the crown on the heads of Marcus Aurelius and of Commodus.” (139)  We are informed, also, that the office of the Priestess of Demeter “was so exalted that occasionally she disputed with the Hierophant the privilege and right of celebrating certain sacrifices.” (140) 

In addition to the exalted Hierophantides, there was an ever-watchful all female presence in permanent residence at the site.  These were the famous Melissai, or ‘honey bees’ of Demeter, the Priestesses Panageis,” or ‘all-holy ones’, “min-istrants of the cult” (141) who, like the female worker bees for whom they were named, “had no communion with men.” (142)  Although we are uncertain as to whether their selection for service was “drawn exclusively” on the basis of their ancestral Eumolpidaic line, (143) their title describes exactly who they were.

The honors and privileges, such as those bestowed upon the family of Baubo, tell us one thing – that she was once a goddess in her own right before she entertained a goddess greater than she.  But it is as Demeter’s Acorn Fool that she earns her fame.  Iambe anticipates, by many generations, the wisdom tradition of the Celtic oak priests, the Druidic magicians whose verbal skills were so finely honed that they were said to be able to kill with words. (144)  In spite of all the bad-mouthing, Iambe’s consummate way with words remains unchallenged.  The enormous seven-stringed harp that she so proudly displays in her images alludes to her role as a singer of song.  It is Iambe, or Baubo of Keleai, who sings the goddess out of her darkness and causes her to shine again.



1. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, IV.1.89.
2. Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, The Loeb Classical Library, 1914-1954), Intro., p. xxxvi regarding establishment of dating.
3. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 14.
4. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
5. The statues are from Demeter’s 5th century B.C.E. Temple at Priene, on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor.  Three of these figures are reproduced in Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLVII, 1955), Plate 48.
6. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. College Edition. (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Co., 1959) is used throughout this article.
7. See: Tracy Boyd, “Diana of Willendorf: The Acorn Mother” at <>
8. Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Part I, The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings. Two Volumes. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1922), Vol. II., p. 353. 
9. Ibid., Vol. II, pp. 354-56 cites numerous Classical authors’ references to acorn eating.
10. Ibid., Vol. II, p. 354, citing historian Pylorus, xii.4.
11. Ibid. 
12. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 248.
13. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Trans., op. cit., 90-97., p. 295.
14. A Greek-English Lexicon, Compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. (Oxford: Oxford university Press, 9th ed., 1983), “Keleos”, p. 936.
15. Ovid, Fasti. Sir James George Frazer, Trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, The Loeb Classical Library, 1976), Book IV, 509-10., p. 227.
16. Ibid., Book IV, 515-16., p. 227.
17. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 101., p. 297.
18. Ovid, Fasti, op. cit., Book IV, 505-06., p. 227.
19. W. B. Lockwood, The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), “Woodpecker”, p. 170.
20. Jane Ellen Harrison, Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. (New Hide Park: University Books, 1962), Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, p. 101.
21. John Pollard, Birds in Greek Life and Myth. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), p. 48; referencing Aristotle, History and Animals, VIII, 593 A 8.
22. W. B. Lockwood, The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names, op. cit., “Nicker”, p. 107.
23. A Greek-English Lexicon, op, cit., “Keleos”, p. 936; and related words, p. 937.
24. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths. Two Volumes. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1955, 1960), Index, “Celeus”, Vol. II, p. 385.
25. Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, op. cit., p. 100.
26. Ibid., pp. 108-09, Note 3.
27. Ibid., passim, pp. 100-117.  
28. Portions of “The Sacrilege of Erysichthon”, along with my commentary, appear in the Appendix at the end of the Notes to this article.
29. Ceres is Demeter’s Latin name.
30. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 290, quot. Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos, II, p. 12.
31. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 101-105., p. 297.
32. Ibid., 113., p. 297.
33. Ibid., 107-08., p. 297.
34. Ibid., 112., p. 297.
35. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, op. cit., Vol. II, Index, p. 400.
36. Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, op. cit., p. 101.
37. George Thomson, Studies in Ancient Greek Society: The Prehistoric Aegean. (NY: The Citadel Press, 1965), p. 129.
38. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 106-07., p. 297.
39. Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, op. cit., p. 109.
40. Ovid, Fasti, op. cit., Book IV, 515; 523., p. 227.
41. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 181-83., p. 301.
42. Ovid, Fasti, op. cit., Book IV, 526., p. 227.
43. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 184., p. 301.
44. Ibid., 186-87., p. 303.
45. Apollodorus, The Library. Sir James George Frazer, Trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, The Loeb Classical Library, 1921-1976), I.v.1., p. 37.
46. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 188-205., p. 303.
47. Mel Brooks, “The 2000 Year Old Man”, in which Mel Brooks explains to Carl Reiner some of the occupations that he has had through the years.  This hilarious comment is about his very lucrative switch from being a manufacturer of Stars of David to becoming a manufacturer of crosses.
48. Beatrice K. Otto, Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001), Appendix: Table of Named Jesters, p. 277.
49. Winifred Milius Lubell, The Metamorphosis of Baubo: Myths of Woman’s Sexual  Energy.  (Nashville & London: Vanderbilt University Press, 1994), p. 15. Italics mine.
50. Ibid.
51. N. J. Richardson, “Iambe” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 741.
52. A Greek-English Lexicon, op. cit., “iambos”, p. 815.
53. Encyclopedia, “iamb”, article 7/0,5716,42807,00.html#article.
54. Aristotle, Poetics IV.14., in Aristotle’s Poetics. S. H. Butcher, Trans. With an Introductory Essay by Francis Fergusson. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1961), p. 57.
55. Ibid., V.1., p. 59.
56. Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy. Theodore H. Gaster, Ed. (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books/ Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1961), p. 101.
57. Ibid., pp. 101-02.
58. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, op. cit., Index, “Iambe”, Vol. II, p. 396.
59. Apollodorus, The Library, op. cit., I.v.1., p. 37. 
60. W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and the Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, First Paperback printing, 1993), p. 135, citing R. M. Dawkins, in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 26.,1906. 
61. Ibid., citing CIG 4142.
62. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 293.
63. W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and the Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement, op. cit., p. 135.
64. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 293.
65. Marie-Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairytales. (Zurich: Spring Publications, 1974), p. 160.
66. Ibid., p. 161.
67. Ibid., pp. 161-62.
68. W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and the Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement, op. cit., citing Hymn. Mag., Abel, Orphica, p. 289, cp. O. F. 53.
69. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter. Ralph Manheim, Trans. (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), p. 79.
70. Lewis Richard Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States. Five Volumes. (Chicago: Aegaean Press Inc., 1971), Vol. 2, p. 512, quot. Sophocles’s ‘root-gatherers’.
71. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 501.
72. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 63., pp. 292-93.
73. Ibid., 51., pp. 292-93.
74. See: Tracy Boyd, “Singing the Moon” at <>  This is an article based on “The Queen of the Underworld”, a chapter from the author’s unpublished manuscript, The Death of Matriarchy, 1978-88.  To be posted at a future time.
75. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 293 and note 11; pp. 293-299 passim.
76. Marilyn Arthur, “Politics and Pomegranates: An Interpretation of The Homeric Hymn To Demeter”, in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays. Helene P. Foley, Editor. (Princeton: Princeton University Press Mythos Series, 1999), p. 229. For Arthur’s explanation of the Freudian background of her analysis of the Hymn, see also pp. 216-17, and 216, note 6.
77. Ibid., p. 229, note 26, citing C. Ruck, “On the Sacred Names of Iamos and Ion”, in Classical Journal 71:235-52.
78. James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. (New York: Random House, 1996), pp. 276-281.
79. Ibid., p. 279.
80. Steve Blamires, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham. (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1997), p. 39.
81. Tracy Boyd, “The Tarot Fool’s Hand” at <> This is a revised and expanded edition of a chapter from the author’s unpublished manuscript, The Tarot Fool, 1990-95.
82. Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, op. cit., “The Phallic Songs”, p.102. For Cornford’s entire discussion, see: Para. 41-47, pp. 101-114.
83. Ibid., p. 106.
84. Liddell and Scott, A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), “aischrologia”, p. 22.
85. Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, op cit., p. 102.
86. Ibid., p. 107.
87. Ibid., p. 106.
88. Ibid., p. 107.
89. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op cit., p. 293. Italics mine.
90. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, op cit., p. 65, and note 68, citing Hesychios of Alexandria, Lexicon, “gephuris”; and note 69, citing Aristophanes, Plutus 1014.  See also: George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, p. 256, who notes that the bridge is that which crossed the Eleusinian Kephisos, not the Athenian. 
91. Francis Macdonald Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy, op. cit., pp. 105-06.
92. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 256.
93. see: Tracy Boyd, “The Daunce of Nine-Men’s-Morris and the Boundaries Between Worlds” under the headings: “The Fool’s Dauncers” and “Fire Rites” at <>
94. See: E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage. Two Volumes as One unabridged republication of the 1903 edition. (Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996), Vol. I, pp. 89-390.
95. E. Cobham Brewer, The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions and Words that Have a Tale to Tell. (New York: Avenel Books, Classic Edition Facsimile of 1894 Revised Edition, 1978), “Fool”, p. 477.
96. George Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., pp. 288-305.
97. Ibid., p. 228.
98. Ibid., p. 292.
99. Ibid., quot. Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos II, pp. 16-18.
100. T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages” II.93.
101. Andrew Lang, The Homeric Hymns: A New Prose Translation and Essays, Literary and Mythological. (New York: Longman, Green and Co., 1915), p. 194, ‘wise’, from the Greek ‘kedn’ eiduia’.
102. Fritz Graf, “Orphic literature”, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Third Edition. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, Editors. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 1078.
103. William Shakespeare, King Lear, III.iv.26-27.
104. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., pp. 291-92.
105. Beatrice K. Otto, Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World, op. cit., p. 4.
106. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 41.
107. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, op. cit., p. 171.
108. Ibid.
109. Ibid., p. 170; p. 213, note 167.
110. C. Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks. Norman Cameron, Trans. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), p. 243.
111. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 238.
112. See: Ibid., p. 309; and C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, op. cit., p. 170.
113. C. Kerenyi, “Kore”, in C. G. Jung and C. Kerenyi, Essays On a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis. R. F. C. Hull, Trans. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XXII, 1973), p. 125.
114. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 1., p. 289.
115. Christine Downing, “Persephone in Hades” in The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine. (New York: The Crossroads Publishing Co., 1981), p. 39.
116. C. Kerenyi, “Kore”, in C. G. Jung and C. Kerenyi, Essays On a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, op. cit., p. 110.
117. Christine Downing, “Persephone in Hades” in The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine, op. cit., p. 44.
118. Tracy Boyd, “Circe’s Circle of Oaks At the Edge of the World” at <>
119. Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, op. cit., 1., p. 289.
120. Ibid., 188., p. 303.
121. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, op. cit., p. 55.  Kerenyi is here referring to the expiation of blood-guilt for the likes of Hercules, and Jason and Medea, but it equally applies to all initiates.
122. Ibid., p. 56.
123. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., pp. 249-50.
124. George Thomson, Studies in Ancient Greek Society: The Prehistoric Aegean, op. cit., p. 129.
A full discussion of these subjects is explored in Tracy Boyd, “Singing the Moon” to be posted to this website at some future time. 
126. C. Kerenyi, The gods of the Greeks, op. cit.,  p. 242.
127. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 21.
128. Ibid., pp. 269-70, quot. Isokrates, Paneg. 28.
129. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 8.
130. Ibid., p. 13.
131. Ibid., p. 283, quot. M. P. Nilsson, Greek Popular Religion, p. 63.
132. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, op. cit., p. 23; and pp. 92-93 re: Demetreioi as “the folk of Demeter.”
133. C. Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, op. cit., pp. 242-43.
134. C. Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks. H. J. Rose, Trans. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974), p. 289.
135. C. Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter, op. cit., p. 23.
136. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit.,p. 226.
137. Ibid., pp. 229-30.
138. Pausanias, Guide To Greece. Peter Levi, Trans. Two Volumes. (Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1979), Vol. I., Central Greece, I.38.3, p. 107.
139. George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries, op. cit., p. 231.
140. Ibid.
141. Ibid.
142. Ibid., p. 232.
143. Ibid.
Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974: 7th printing of Amended and Enlarged Edition of 1966), p. 22.



The memory of Demeter’s earlier role as the goddess of the oak, queen of the ancient woodlands, is preserved in Ovid’s very moving telling of “The Sacrilege of Erysichthon” in his Metamorphoses.  This story of the mutilation and killing of the most sacred oak in Ceres’s ancient grove, a tree that some have regarded as the “Tree of Life,” (1) provides an extraordinarily graphic instance of the reading of myth as history.  Even with the fields heavy laden in the foreground, the backdrop is a time of difficult transition from acorn-gathering to agricultural harvesting – a time when the world still imagined the oak tree as a goddess rather than a god. 

This is a tale of unspeakable violence with an equally violent message from the spirit of the trees.  In its telling is a dire warning for all time. 

        Among these trees there stood a huge oak, which had grown sturdy 
        and strong in the course of years, a forest in itself, hung round with 
        wreaths and garlands and votive tablets, tributes for prayers that had 
        been granted. Under this tree the dryads often held their festive dan-
        ces, often they joined hands in a circle and embraced its trunk, whose 
        circumference measured fifteen cubits. . . . (2) 

        Yet this did not deter Erysichthon from wielding his axe against it. He
        ordered his servants to cut down the sacred tree and, when he saw them
        hesitate to carry out his commands, the scoundrel snatched an axe from 
        one of the men, and shouted:“Should this tree be itself a goddess, and 
        not just a tree the goddess loves, still its leafy top will be brought down 
        to earth!” As he uttered these words, he held his weapon poised, ready 
        to strike the trunk obliquely.  

        The oak tree of Ceres trembled and groaned: at the same time, the 
        leaves and acorns began to turn white, and the long branches lost 
        their colour. Then, when his impious hand had made a gash in its 
        trunk, blood flowed out where the bark was split open . . . . Every-
        one stood still in horrified amazement: out of all the company, one 
        man dared to try to prevent the sacrilege, to stop the cruel axe. . . . 
        Erysichthon glared at him . . . and swung his axe against the man 
        instead of the tree, lopping off his head. Then he turned again to the 
        oak, and dealt it blow after blow.
        Meanwhile, from the heart of the tree, a voice was heard saying:“I 
        who dwell within this tree am a nymph, whom Ceres dearly loves. I 
        warn you with my dying breath, that punishment for your wickedness 
        is at hand: that thought comforts me in death.” But Erysichthon per-        
        sisted in his criminal action. When the tree had at length been weak-
        ened by innumerable blows, ropes were attached to the trunk, and it 
        was brought crashing down, creating havoc in the wood as it fell, by 
        reason of its great weight.  

        All her sister dryads, sorely distressed at the loss which the grove and 
        they themselves had suffered, dressed themselves in black garments, 
        and mournfully approached Ceres, begging that Erysichthon should be
        punished. That most beautiful goddess consented; nodding her head, 
        she made the fields, heavy with harvests, tremble, as she devised a pun-
        ishment. . . . She planned to torment him with deadly hunger. (3) 
But, as Ovid explains in his always charming metaphoric language, “Since destiny does not allow Ceres and Hunger to meet, (4)  Ceres conspires in a roundabout way with Hunger to starve to death the wielder of the axe.  The torturous punishment that she metes out to Erysichthon is divine justice in the truest sense, that in which the punishment quite justifiably fits the crime.  There can be no doubt among his fellow man as to the nature of his crime, for no matter how much food and drink he consumes, his appetite remains unsated. 

        . . . when in the violence of his malady he had consumed all that was 
        offered and had thus merely aggravated his grievous sickness, the 
        wretch began to bite and gnaw at his own limbs, and fed his body by 
        eating it away. (5) 

This tale of sacrilege provides a chilling example of how sacred power is removed from the feminine realm.  From an animistic point of reference, what is here destroyed is nothing less than Ceres, herself.  Virgil’s lines of 29 B.C.E., are a reminder to his fellow Romans to not forget her.  
        . . . see that no one puts
        The sickle to the ripened corn before,
        In Cere’s honour, crowned with a wreath of oak,
        He’s trod a lumbering measure and uttered her hymns. (6)

And as Virgil sings of the pleasures of the combined gifts of grain and nut, he asks the Dryads, the ‘oak nymphs’ who inhabit Ceres’s acorn-laden trees, to join in the dance.
                       You brightest lamps
        That lead the year’s procession across the sky;
        Liber and nurturing Ceres, since your grace
        Procured that earth should change Chaonia’s acorns
        For the rich ears of grain, and grapes be found
        For lacing cups of Achelous’ water;
        You too, the present help of farmers, Fauns
        (Come, Fauns and Dryad maidens, dance together:
        Yours are the gifts I sing) . . . . (7)

1. See: E. O. James, The Tree of Life: An Archaeological Study. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1966), p. 33.    
2. A Greek cubit = 18.3 inches, so the girth is about 22.875 feet.
3. Ovid, Metamorphoses, VIII, from The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated, with an Introduction by Mary M. Innes. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, Inc., 1955), pp. 199-200.
4. Ibid., VIII, 785., p. 200.
5. Ibid., VIII, 856-57., p. 202.
6. Virgil, The Georgics. Translated with Introduction and Notes by. L. P. Wilkinson. (Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1982), i. 347-50., p. 68.
7. Ibid.,  i. 5-11., p. 57.