View Full Version : Demeter - Goddess of... Corn???
07-25-05, 04:02 AM
I'm reading the Golden Bough by James Frazer and I keep coming across references to ancient Greeks and Romans worshipping goddesses of corn. And magic rituals aimed to bring about a large corn harvest.
Corn? Maize? What? I thought that corn was an import from the new world? What is this ancient Greek stuff?
At first, I was thinking that this kinda shows that Frazer was off his rocker and if he was wrong about such a simple thing as this, what else is he wrong about.
Well. I just spent some google time and what do you know? Demeter is Goddess of Corn? As is Roman Ceres.
I'm totally confused right now. I was like 100% certain that corn was a North American crop that was introduced to the Old World after Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.
What the hell is going on with corn?
I just did a wikipedia search on corn and found this:
* In England, corn means wheat, although the word often retains its generic meaning there.
* In Scotland, corn may refer to oats.
So. Is it that simple? When corn is mentioned in regards to Demeter and Ceres and ancient Europeans they actually mean wheat or oats?
So. Why use the word corn? How many people today actually use the word corn for wheat or oats? Corn is maize, isn't it?
07-25-05, 05:15 AM
Corn used to refer to anything small and hard. Anything in a kernal, nuts, etc. Probably includes any grain.
Anyway, its almost certainly a mistranslation. What was the word in the original Greek?
07-25-05, 01:52 PM
The Golden Bough is not that old a book. It was written in the early 20th century (or perhaps the late 19th. I know that the earliest editions were the early 1900's. Like 1905 or something like that. And it grew over time.) I'm reading the 1922 abridged version which is the only version available on the net. (I'd really love to see the unabridged version. It sounds like a monster.)
However, I'm sure the original description of Demeter was derived from Greek... of course. Heh.
And Ceres was from Latin.
I don't know what the original words were. But, mention of corn seems pretty common in her description. At least from my brief googling last night. I don't seem to recall corn from my earlier mythology phase in life, but that was a while ago and the significance of corn might not have affected me at that time.
However, I suspect that the issue is that wheat is called corn in England. Is it still that way? They really call wheat corn? Weird.
The Golden Bough, by the way, is a very interesting book. It deals with the oddity of the ascension of the Priest of Diana at her temple at the lake of Nelim, Diana's Mirror.
It seems that by tradition, the only way to become priest is to remove a branch from a certain tree which then means that you can fight the priest and if you kill him then you become the new priest and must spend your days in vigilance lest someone else cut a bough from the tree and end your reign as King of the Wood. It delves into the topic of sacrifice throughout various world cultures. The role of king as sacrifice victim.
I understand that much of the anthropology is outdated and not altogether accurate, but is nonetheless an interesting read.
07-25-05, 02:13 PM
Early 1900s is old enough. I read a book where "conneXion" and "shEw" were used all over the place.
07-25-05, 05:23 PM
The Golden Bough was originally published in 1890, when if you spoke of corn in England you meant wheat. I would say that was still generally true sixty years later. In more recent decades, the word hs dropped out of usage because of confusion with the American meaning of the word. I would regard it as unusual in England for anyone to refer either to wheat OR to maize as corn these days.
Since the word "Cereal" is derived from "Ceres", it may be that the goddesses of the ancient world were responsible for wheat, barley, oats, rye and millet. Maize and sorghum were surely beyond their realm.
07-25-05, 10:20 PM
and Demeter wasn't just the goddess of Corn. being the goddess of Earth in particular "the various grains"...
I'm following the crowd in saying that corn has had various meanings, but its all learning off the wall facts, so...
and in german you have 'korn' wheat in english. that used to confuse me, years ago
07-30-05, 12:29 PM
My understanding is that corn is maize only in American english. For all other english speakers corn is grain. (wheat, barley etc.)
07-30-05, 12:47 PM
And from that form of crop comes vodka. End.
07-31-05, 12:46 AM
I don't know what the original words were. But, mention of corn seems pretty common in her description. At least from my brief googling last night.
google the "columbian exchange", look here:
The Columbian Biological Exchange
"corn" seems to have been an early generic term for grain. not sure what Brits call maize now, but there was no way they knew what maize was until after 1492
08-07-05, 04:48 PM
Brits call "maize" corn, and nothing else. When it became a major export from the colonies, they probably began calling maize by that name, more exclusively.
01-02-06, 12:04 PM
I've been reading a book called "The Closing of the Western Mind"-- by Charles Freeman-- fairly exhaustive history of the Christianity. It claims that Constantine's sudden conversion killed off the Greek tradition of empiricism-- replacing it with a complete trust in the Bible and the Church. Of course, this led to 1000 years of benighted dark ages. It's a pretty big claim, and I've been keeping my eyes open for sloppy scholarship-- and thought I had caught him on this Demeter as goddess of corn. From what I've gathered, most of the information says she is goddess of wheat, barley, and corn-- seems some basic facts are generally falling away
in Danish the word "korn" is used as an overall word for all the various grain types.
01-02-06, 06:32 PM
Yes, corn actually means wheat or grain. Ceres lent her name to cereals. Demetriaka means grainy, wheaty, corny type food in Greek, or again, cereals.
01-20-06, 12:18 AM
I've been reading a book called "The Closing of the Western Mind"-- by Charles Freeman-- fairly exhaustive history of the Christianity. It claims that Constantine's sudden conversion killed off the Greek tradition of empiricism-- replacing it with a complete trust in the Bible and the Church. that is one theory, here's more:
Were the Dark Ages Triggered by Volcano-Related Climate Changes in the 6th Century?
(If so, was Krakatau volcano the culprit?)
by Ken Wohletz
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Copyright © 2000 UC
Modern history has its origins in the tumultuous 6th and 7th centuries. During this period agricultural failures and the emergence of the plague contributed to: (1) the demise of ancient super cities, old Persia, Indonesian civilizations, the Nasca culture of South America, and southern Arabian civilizations; (2) the schism of the Roman Empire with the conception of many nation states and the re-birth of a united China; and (3) the origin and spread of Islam while Arian Christianity disappeared.
The phrase the Dark Ages (or Dark Age) is most commonly known in relation to the European Early Middle Ages (from about A.D. 476 to about 1000).
This concept of a "Dark Age" was first created by Italian humanists and was originally intended as a sweeping criticism of the character of Late Latin literature. Later historians expanded the term to include not only the lack of Latin literature, but a lack of contemporary written history and material cultural achievements in general. Popular culture has further expanded on the term as a vehicle to depict the Middle Ages as a time of backwardness, extending its pejorative use and expanding its scope.
Most modern historians dismiss the notion that the era was a "Dark Age" by pointing out that this idea was based on ignorance of the period combined with popular stereotypes: many previous authors would simply assume that the era was a dismal time of violence and stagnation and use this assumption to prove itself.
When the term "Dark Ages" is used by historians today, it is intended to be neutral, namely to express the idea that the events of the period often seem "dark" to us, due to the paucity of historical records compared with later times. The darkness is ours, not theirs.
However, from the mid-20th century onwards an increasing number of scholars began to critique even this non-judgmental use of the term. There are two main criticisms. Firstly, it is questionable whether it is possible to use the term "dark ages" effectively in a neutral way; scholars may intend it that way, but this does not mean that ordinary readers will understand it so. Secondly, the explosion of new knowledge and insight into the history and culture of the Early Middle Ages which 20th-century scholarship has achieved means that these centuries are no longer dark even in the sense of "unknown to us". Consequently, many academic writers prefer not to use the phrase at all.
Of course, this led to 1000 years of benighted dark ages. It's a pretty big claim, and I've been keeping my eyes open for sloppy scholarship-- that claim, in and of itself, is so biased & eurocentric, it negates the million little pieces that led to a European so-called "dark ages", but left most of the rest of the world in its golden ages; see T'ang China for one
and thought I had caught him on this Demeter as goddess of corn. From what I've gathered, most of the information says she is goddess of wheat, barley, and corn-- seems some basic facts are generally falling awayif you go to the source, you find that the word "corn" meant something diff prior to 1611, than what it meant in 1850 or now
"grain," O.E. corn, from P.Gmc. *kurnam "small seed," from PIE base *ger- "wear away" (O.Slav. zruno "grain," Skt. jr- "to wear down," L. granum). The sense of the O.E. word was "grain with the seed still in" rather than a particular plant. Locally understood to denote the leading crop of a district. Restricted to corn on the cob in America (originally Indian corn, but the adjective was dropped), usually wheat in England, oats in Scotland and Ireland, while korn means "rye" in parts of Germany. Introduced to China by 1550, it thrived where rice did not grow well and was a significant factor in the 18th century population boom there.