102 Workshop Eight: How to be a Mother Goddess in a Patriarchal Society

General Instructions & Checking-In (10 minutes)

Today, we are scheduled for 95 minutes in small groups followed by ca. 60 min. large-group discussion

Possible tools for collaborative work today: Google Docs, Ziteboard, Miro, (or other of your choosing).


For this workshop, you’ll be invited to join a Zoom Breakout Room with a group of approximately four students. The tentative room assignments for this week will be:

  1. Rinny, Lauren, Juliana, and Kate F.
  2. Sarah, Val, Angie, and Kate S.
  3. Peeper, Adi, Miranda, and Camille
  4. Connie, Philip, Cyn, and Jayda

Once you have made your way into your Breakout Room, please begin by reading over the workshop and checking-in with one another.  Please select a facilitator/time-keeper and a scribe, who will be especially prepared to report out the group’s findings.  Please take notes for yourself, even if you are not the official scribe, and call the faculty in for support or guidance as needed.

Note: I will be paging as many of you as time allows — one at a time — to pop back into the main room for a chat with me.  We will continue these check-ins through the next week or so, until I have a chance to meet with each of you.  These are just informal conversations about how things are going for you in the class (and in-general).  Normally, I would schedule out-of-class-time for these conversations, but this semester that hasn’t been possible.  So, this is my solution!

Part One : Poetry and Ritual (45 minutes)

  1. Using a Google Doc, Ziteboard, or have the scribe share their screen, whatever approach you would like — please work together to draw up an outline of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.  List the key characters and events in the poem.  Briefly discuss their significance, both within the poem and symbolically.   Pro tip: Use the commentary for assistance.
  2. Next, use the interpretive essay “Background: The Eleusinian Mysteries and Women’s Rites for Demeter” by Helena Foley to outline what Foley describes taking place during the performance of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Briefly discuss and note what you see as the significance of each of the elements of the Mysteries.
  3. Comparing your two lists, do you note parallels between the poem and the rites performed during the Eleusinian Mysteries? What do these parallels suggest about the relationship of the poem to the ritual?


Please take a 10-minute break now


Part Two : Goddesses, Poetry, and Ritual in a Patriarchal Society (15 minutes)

In “Politics and Pomegranates,” Marilyn Katz writes:

There are some … works of Greek literature and art that, upon analysis, reveal a particularly feminine sensibility.  One of these … is the Homeric Hymn to Demeter which … treats the transition from “matriarchy” to “patriarchy” from the female point of view and therefore takes the form of a series of attempts to resist male domination rather than to impose it.  The hymn, as I see it, could be subtitled “How to be a Mother Goddess in a Patriarchal Society,” because the central problematic of the poem is Demeter’s search for recognition and identity in a male-dominated cosmos.  On one level Demeter’s plight is therefore that of all women, who must struggle to achieve self-definition in a social and psychic world that values male attributes more highly and depreciates females.  (1999, 215-216)


To support Katz’s claim, note how Persephone is given in marriage by her father to the pleasure of her husband, but against the will of her mother.  This practice, known by anthropologists as “patriarchal virilocal endogamy” (the father arranges the marriage [patriarchal] and the bride resides with the husband [virilocal] after she has been selected from within the family or social unit [endogamy]) mirrors the norm in Greek archaic and classical society except that the Greeks practiced “exogamy” (wives were selected from outside the family and even from outside the social unit).  If we accept Katz’s interpretation of the poem as presenting a “female” sensibility, and we see certain important parallels between the poem and the rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries, then did the Mysteries involve both men and women in the performance of acts that would cause them to empathize with female-gendered persons through experiencing travails and rewards associated with their lives and perspectives?  On the other hand, Katz notes that the poem “culminate(s) in a validation of the patriarchal order” (1999, 212).  Does the poem, ultimately, demean the female by forcing the goddesses to comply with the will of the gods?


Part Three: Preparation for Discussion (15 minutes)

  1. Take five minutes to free-write or think to yourself about the HHD and/or your discussion in Workshop Group today. Develop a question of your own for discussion.
  2. Reconvene with your group and discuss the questions you developed individually. Select one or two and further develop these so that you can ask (and lead a discussion) of them when we transition into student-led seminar. (10 minutes).


Part Four: Reconvene in the main Zoom Room for a 10-minute break followed by discussion.





Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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