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The Hymn is distinctive, Foley suggests, for depicting not only a sharp separation between gods and mortals but also, in the episode at Eleusis, a "prolonged and intimate encounter between divinity and humankind," which results in the inauguration of the Mysteries.The parallels between divine and human experiences (traced in the essays by Arthur [Katz] and Felson-Rubin and Deal) suggest that just as Persephone's cyclic return from Hades mitigates Demeter's loss and sorrow, the Mysteries perform a parallel function among mortals.
Forging this coherence is one of the accomplishments of Foley's "Interpretive Essay," which (without slighting the work of the other contributors) can fairly be called the core of the book.
Foley synthesizes important insights of the articles she reprints and of much other scholarship besides, and builds on them to construct a comprehensive and persuasive reading of her own.
Although the Hymn and its myth have attracted the attention of feminist writers both within and outside of Classics, this book now makes it possible for a wide audience to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by this text to gain some understanding of Greek social and religious practices and the subjective experience of them on the part of a group heavily disadvantaged by the structure of society, and thereby to gain some perspective on our own culture as well.
At the same time, the book also suggests how the Hymn implicitly locates this experience within the broader context of Greek culture and belief.
Other themes that run through it include the poem's depiction of a patriarchal cosmic order that has not yet reached its final form, the relation of this version of the myth and of the Eleusinian Mysteries to the evolving and fully developed polis (specifically, Athens), and the Panhellenic character of the Hymn and the appeal of the Mysteries to initiates from all over Greece and of all classes, male as well as female. Richardson's Greek text of the Hymn is accompanied, on facing pages, by a fairly literal and quite readable English translation.
There is much here to interest and instruct various kinds of readers, from specialists in ancient literature and culture to anyone, classicist or not, concerned with gender issues and the poetic representation of social processes and the tensions arising from them. A commentary follows that succinctly gives just the amount of help that a first-time reader might need on questions of text and diction, evident allusions in the narrative to the preliminary rites in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and significant literary effects in various passages.
One addition to Foley's interpretation might be suggested, that the Hymn also suggests an adjustment in the formation of heterosexual relations in marriage on the part of males whereby force is replaced by persuasion.
Whatever exactly he does with the pomegranate seed, Hades tries to persuade Persephone of the advantages of their marriage when told that he must return her to her mother, and Zeus is compelled to resort to persuasion and the promise of timai in the final resolution. In Greek society, girls did not actually return to their mothers for significant periods of time after marriage but were separated from them.
They may also be explained by the poem's Panhellenic character, although, Foley argues, they have nothing to do with the date or circumstances of its composition that others have suggested.
In her anger over the rape of Persephone with Zeus's connivance, Demeter challenges patriarchal authority, and her partial success simultaneously brings about an adjustment in cosmic order (since, as Rudhardt shows, Persephone's marriage to Hades links the Underworld with Earth and Olympos) and reaffirms the importance of bonds between women.