rhyton in the shape of a bull’s head, 16th C. BC, Mycenae

National Archaeological Museum, Athens

A rhyton was a ritual vessel from which liquid was drunk or poured in libation. They were used in a number of ancient cultures, and could range from simple pottery vessels to more ornate examples. This Mycenaean example is fashioned from bronze, gold, and silver.


Ancient Worlds - BBC Two

Episode 1 “Come Together”

Assyrian animal shaped vessels -Rhytons- from the archaeological site of Kültepe, ancient city of Kanesh, Anatolia, Turkey (21st - 18th centuries BC).

Kültepe became a key centre of culture and commerce between Anatolia, Syria, and Mesopotamia during the first quarter of the 2nd millennium BC. Assur, the capital of the Old Assyrian Kingdom, established one of the largest trade network the world had ever seen at Kanesh (Karum Kanesh). A huge assortment of artefacts from the Assyrian colony period have been recovered in the excavations at the site.

The word rhyton comes from the Greek rhyta, meaning “to run through.” Rhytons featured a filler hole at the top and a hole at the bottom so that the liquid could flow through them. They were used in religious ceremonies such as libations. Rhytons in the form of animal heads or horns are believed to have originated in Persia. Their spread to other civilisations was by the ancient Silk Roads of Central Asia and by Persian military campaigns. Rhytons were also used by the Minoans and Mycenaens in the Bronze Age.

“The Assyrian exhibit”, Anatolian Civilizations Museum, Ankara, Turkey

phoebes  asked:

is this true? i hope so! "Long before the mythical Hades was ever conceived, in more ancient, pre-patriarchal times, Persephone was Queen of the Underworld. The pomegranate was an ancient symbol of female fertility; the souls of the underworld ate pomegranates so that they could be reborn. As the patriarchy gained power, the story was changed. Persephone, instead of going of her own free will into the underworld, was abducted by the (now male) God of Death and became his captive bride."

I really, really wish that this were true, but unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of evidence for this. I searched the quoted section and found this as the source you’re referring to, so I’ll respond to the source more fully than the above quote - if anything I say seems unrelated to your ask, it’s because I’m referring to other parts of the source, if that makes sense!

Firstly, the idea of a pre-patriarchal society is absolutely an established one, and it’s generally agreed that the patriarchy has not always been the prevalent model of society. Excavations in some of the most ancient cities so far discovered, in places such as Çatalhöyük in historic Anatolia, have suggested that neolithic societies were not patriarchal. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that they were matriarchal either. All evidence so far points to them being entirely egalitarian, with no division upon lines of gender, nor indeed upon lines of any hierarchy whatsoever. The belief that these societies were matriarchal stems from the discovery of artifacts such as the Seated Woman, a representation of a female deity dating from around 6,000 BC. The discovery of several similar artifacts, such as the Venus of Willendorff, dating from the paleolithic period, would seem to suggest that female deities were at least as important, if not more so, than male deities. Whereas the majority of female deities worshipped in more recent cultures are generally associated with typically female attributes, such as fertility, motherhood or the domestic space, the discovery of figurines such as this offer proof that women have not always been relegated to these roles. However, we shouldn’t assume that this proves that women used to hold a place in society above men - not being inferior to someone is not the same thing as being superior to them. We have no real idea what these female figurines really represented. The best guess, based on their emphasised features, is that they’re linked to fertility somehow, but this is just a guess. We don’t know enough about their contemporary cultures to speculate beyond that. 

The idea of an ancient (read: neolithic or chalcolithic) matriarchy is really rooted in the modern New Age movement, which focuses on the idea of an all-powerful Mother goddess. As mentioned above, we literally do not know that this is accurate. All we have are some statuettes of buxom women, and from that, we’ve decided that society was inherently matriarchal and worshipped a Mother goddess. This is an extremely tenuous assumption, and the New Age idea of a pre-patriarchal matriarchy defined by the existence and worship of a Great Goddess is rooted more in (entirely understandable) modern desires to challenge the patriarchy, rather than concrete historical evidence. 

So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s go on to the part about Persephone! 

From the source your quote is from (your quote is bolded for context): 

Demeter is the Goddess of the harvest, the fertile ploughed earth, the Corn Mother; Persephone, the Corn Maiden, is the seed planted underground. Around the 15th century BCE, the Mycenaens brought Demeter from Crete to Eleusis, the place where she found her daughter and where the initiation of women into the Great Mysteries was performed. Classical Greek myth tells of Persephone having been abducted by Hades to become Queen of the Underworld. Her mother, Demeter, implored the deities to let her daughter return to earth. They consented but, in the meantime, Persephone had eaten a seed from a pomegranate, forcing her to remain in the underworld. As a compromise, it was agreed that she would inhabit the earth for part of the year and the underworld during the other part, a metaphor for the growing season and non-growing season. However, long before the mythical Hades was ever conceived, in more ancient, pre-patriarchal times, Persephone was Queen of the Underworld and was another form of Hecate. Originally, the Triple Goddess was represented by Kore, the virgin; Demeter, the mother preserver; and Hecate or Persephone, the destroyer. In later years, Kore and Persephone became the same Goddess. The pomegranate was an ancient symbol of female fertility; the souls of the underworld ate pomegranates so that they could be reborn.

There are a couple of issues with this, too. Firstly, the Eleusinian Mysteries, as mentioned above, were Mycenean. That much is right. They also revolved around Persephone and Demeter. That’s also correct. However, the source then goes on to claim that the rape of Persephone by Hades is a Classical invention, and that her original role in the Eleusinian Mysteries was entirely discrete and separate from Hades, who didn’t exist yet. That’s just incorrect. The Eleusinian Mysteries include a series of rituals based around the myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades - the abduction of Persephone is central to the Mysteries. The origin of these mysteries, and the oldest literary version we have of this myth, is recounted in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter - and yes, Hades is a main character. Therefore, I’m a bit confused as to why this source seems to be so convinced that Hades was conceived later than Persephone and Demeter in relation to their particular myth, unless it’s referring to their potential Near Eastern origins (eg the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris), in which case Demeter and Persephone are still just as recent as Hades. Demeter herself is probably a much older deity (edit: as loomlings added, she wasn’t Cretan) but her links with the Underworld through Persephone are not explicit without the presence of Hades.

Secondly, the claim that Hecate and Persephone were once interchangeable is again tenuous. The idea of Demeter and Persephone as forming part of the Triple Goddess is actually one of Robert Graves’, and is part of his own personal mythology - despite being a highly reputable mythographer, much of his established lore is actually his own invention and embellishment (which is part of the process of mythography, and is not a negative reflection of his work!). The idea of Kore, Persephone and Hecate combining to form Demeter as a Triple Goddess is theorised in his work ‘The White Queen’ and has since become popular in Wiccan and New Age theories, but is not prevalent throughout antiquity and is the result of a modern narrative tripling (maiden / mother / crone), not a Classical or ancient tradition, although the idea of a triple deity is sometimes considered an archetype of historical religion (see the works of Carl Jung for more on that). Also, Hecate and Persephone do have quite distinct roles from one another, often appearing in the same myth (including the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in which Hecate is Persephone’s companion) so to claim that they were once the same deity doesn’t seem wholly accurate. Hecate was often represented as a triple goddess, but her representation was not linked to Kore / Persephone or Demeter. Instead, she was often affiliated with Artemis, and her triple form, pictured below the cut, was a later attribute.

I can also find literally 0 evidence to suggest that the pomegranate has ever represented female fertility in a pre-patriarchal society. Wikipedia says that it was a symbol of prosperity in Ancient Egypt, and that it represents fertility in certain modern societies, but that’s about it. (edit: loomlings also added that pomegranates used to represent the control of fertility rather than fertility itself)

To summarise, sadly there doesn’t appear to be an original basis for that version of the myth, but that doesn’t mean that this version of the myth is inaccurate. The very purpose of myth itself means that each subsequent generation tends to read it and apply their own cultural context. Whereas the myth of Persephone and Hades was historically relevant to a culture where female consent and sexual agency was not a prevalent idea, thus meaning that her abduction was not as abhorrent as we now perceive it, we now read the myth as a rape. It’s entirely possible to write a whole essay on this subject, but essentially, a myth has the meaning given to it by the culture which receives it, and now that we live in a society which values - at least comparatively - the idea of consent, it’s completely understandable that we seek to reject the idea that it might have been intended to support anything but female empowerment. 

However, the fact that it used to be a myth used to support and implement patriarchal ideas of consent and marriage does not mean that we can’t now use it to underpin ideas of female sexuality and empowerment. Let’s just do it by reinterpretation, rather than misinterpretation, which I think are two very different things here - ie we shouldn’t need to argue that society used to be matriarchal, despite the lack of evidence for this claim, in order to react to the myth of Persephone from a modern perspective. Our own society and culture is relevant enough to our reading, without having to falsify the original context in order to justify our interpretation. It’s already valid.

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