Archaeology Odyssey 3:2, March/April 2000

Destinations: The Gateway to Hell

Eleusis, Greece was the site of the infamous Eleusinian Mysteries

Archaeology Odyssey

In Greek myth when the lovely maiden Persephone is abducted by Pluto, god of the underworld, her mother, the harvest goddess Demeter, punishes the earth with drought and famine. Not until Persephone is permitted to return from Hades—though for only part of the year—does Demeter relent and make the earth fertile again. Hence, winter and spring.

Searching for Persephone, Demeter wanders throughout Greece, eventually arriving at Eleusis, a modest hilltop village overlooking the Saronic Gulf. Here, she stops beside a well, to mourn for her lost child. When the local ruler, Celeus, takes pity on the goddess and offers her his hospitality, she reveals her divine nature and persuades him to build her a temple nearby.

According to tradition, the first temple to Demeter at Eleusis was the one built by the mythical Celeus. This is where the Eleusinian mysteries were first practiced—probably in celebration of the renewal of the seasons.

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