Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Despoina

In Greek mythology, Despoina, Despoena or Despoine, was the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon and sister of Arion. She was the goddess of mysteries of Arcadian cults worshipped under the title Despoina,"the mistress" alongside with her mother Demeter,one of the goddesses of the Eleusinian mysteries. Her real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated to her mysteries. This name is consequently unknown. She was later conflated with Kore (Persephone) the queen of the underworld in the Eleusinian mysteries who was probably originally daughter of Demeter and Poseidon rather than of Demeter and Zeus as it appears in ancient literature. The cult of Despoina is very important for the study of ancient mystery religions.

In the primitive myth, Poseidon saw Demeter, the Earth mother and desired her. To avoid him, she took her archaic form of a mare, but he took the form of a stallion and mated with her. From this union Demeter bore a daughter Despoina and a fabulous horse Arion (Ἀρείων). Due to her anger at this turn of events, Demeter took on the epithet Erinys, or raging

Sanctuary at Lycosura
Perspective reconstruction of the temple of Despoina:The acrolithic statues of Demeter (L) and Despoina (R) are visible at the scale in the cella

Despoina became worshipped in a sanctuary at Lycosura west to the town of Megalopolis. This is a very important site for the study of ancient mystery religions, although this cult remained regional than panhellenic. Despoina was later conflated with Persephone. First in that place there was a temple of Artemis Hegemone (the leader) with a bronze image (apparently Hecate). From this place there was an entrance to the sacred enclosure of Despoine. In the portico there was a tablet with the inscriptions of the mysteries. In front of the temple there was an altar to Demeter and another to Despoine, after which was one of the Great Mother. Demeter carried a torch in her right hand and her other hand was laid upon Despoine. By the side of Demeter stood Artemis (probably also identified with Hecate). By the image of Despoine stood Anytos, one of the Titans. The Arcadians believed that Despoine was brought up by Anytos and Artemis was not the daughter of Leto but of Demeter. Besides the temple there was the hall where the Arcadians celebrated the mysteries and beyond it a grove sacred to Despoine and altars of Poseidon Hippios (horse) and other gods too.
Lady of Auxerre Louvre-An Archaic (640 BC) image from Crete, probably a version of the Minoan Goddess identified with Kore.

Despoine was her surname among the many, just as they surnamed Demeter's daughter by Zeus Kore (the maiden).

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