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Reflections of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter
The identities, experiences, and symbolism represented in the The Homeric Hymn to Demeter not only reflect ancient realities but have also inspired re-imaginings in myriad places and times, from antiquity through Christianity, into contemporary media (and social media).The bond between mother and child, the ripe symbolism of the pomegranate seed, the marriage of Persephone and Hades — some elements of this story seem to permeate art and imagination across time and space. Boticelli’s Madonna della Melagrana, Rita Dove’s Motherlove, “The Fertile Goddess” place setting in Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party,Equinox by Alison Saar at the Pomona College Benton Museum of Art, are only a few examples. Other aspects of the Hymn, including the nurturing of the baby by fire and the hilarity of Iambe also have resonances (ancient and modern), but are, perhaps, more obscure and less well-understood. Working individually or collaboratively, please reflect on the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.You may focus on the ancient context of the hymn within the important Eleusinian Mysteries or on a moment of the poem’s afterlife.You may also opt to contribute to the poem’s afterlife by creating your own creative reflection of some elements of the poem.Your reflection may take the form of a counter-narrative, but alternate approaches are also welcome.
From Solomon Salim Moore via email to the Pomona community:
As the newest staff member at the Benton Museum of Art, I’m enjoying the process of exploring the collection—getting to know it, making connections, committing artworks to memory. For my first “Installment” I chose a work that’s not only part of the permanent collection but also featured in an exhibition currently on our walls and, from what I have heard, is straight fire. Since we’re unable to open our doors right now, I thought I’d use this space to talk about the work of Alison Saar.
Alison Saar (born 1956) is a Los Angeles–based artist who works across a range of media from installation and sculpture to printmaking and painting. Her work touches upon themes such as gender, mysticism, and the African Diaspora, to name a few. In her work Equinox, Saar evokes the Greco-Roman myth of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, and the goddess of vegetation and grain. According to the myth, Hades, god of the underworld, abducts Persephone and carries her off to his kingdom. Demeter searches the earth in vain for her lost daughter and in her anguish causes a great drought. To relieve this drought, the gods broker a deal with Hades that allows Persephone to leave the underworld and reunite with Demeter; Hades ensures her return every year—at the fall equinox—with the tantalizing taste of a single pomegranate seed. This myth symbolizes the cycle of the changing seasons: the bountifulness of summer, when mother and daughter are reunited, and death in winter, while they
Saar highlights the everlasting bond between mother and daughter in her version of this ancient tale. She used bright red thread in a running stitch pattern to join the two sheets of paper and demarcate the ground line, drawing a border between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In this composition, Demeter stands upright, above ground, while her daughter Persephone, mirrors her mother from below. Milk flows from Demeter’s breasts and mixes with red pomegranate juice that travels upwards from Persephone. This confluence of milk and pomegranate juice moves over the borders of the pages – between worlds—and signifies the inseparable bond between mother and daughter across space and time.
This myth has inspired artists for centuries, and they have drawn countless connections among the themes in this story. If you have a favorite “Persephone” story or would like to schedule an appointment to come see Equinox for yourself, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.