Social Contract in Hymn to Demeter: Analytical Essay

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Society has always been influenced by social standards and it results in a certain portrayal of women. Not many of these social norms have changed since the ancient world. Then, and even today, women have been told to act a certain way because society will only accept them if they conform to what is believed to be acceptable. Greek society was male dominated, both within the mortals and the gods and goddesses. Today's society has roots that stem from the Ancient Greeks, and although feminism is more popular and normal today, there are still many people who believe that women are not of as much worth or use as men. Homer's Hymn to Demeter reinforces social norms of the ancient world through the use of arranged marriage, lack of female authority, and limitation of Demeter's actions.

Hymn to Demeter portrays this arranged marriage as a social contract. The text states that 'He caught her up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away... she cried out... calling upon her father... But no one... heard her voice' (1). As Hades took Persephone, she cried out for her help and her own father refused to listen because he knew what was actually happening and was prepared for it, he was not worried for her safety. Persephone was given to Hades to be his bride, she had no say in this transaction and was not even aware of it until it was too late for her. Zeus gave away his daughter to his brother, portraying her as if she were merely just a gift or a way for Zeus to gain the upper hand and have Hades indebted to him. This arranged marriage is proof that it is of no concern to the men what Persephone wants, she is just the commodity in which Hades is now obligated to Zeus. Just before Hades was going to take Persephone to see her mother, he 'on his part gave her sweet pomegranate seed to eat, taking care for himself that she might not remain continually with grave, dark-robed Demeter' (7). Pomegranate seeds were fed to Persephone, its intentions were not to provide any sort of sustenance to her or benefit her in any way, they were part of an ulterior motive set forward by Hades. Hades fed Persephone these seeds because its consumption is what binds her to him and the underworld, each seed that was eaten was a month that she must stay with him during the year, resulting in her living in the underworld one third of every year. These pomegranate seeds were a representation on how their marriage was indissoluble. Hades let Persephone see her mother, but not without making sure she will be coming back to him afterwards. This depiction of marriage as a social contract reinforces the ancient world's representation on their views on what marriage signifies.

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Demeter's lack of authority further reinforces the ancient world's view on how women have little influence and that the male authority is an increasing power . Once Demeter was told that Zeus had given away Persephone to Hades, 'she was so angered... that she avoided the gathering of the gods and high Olympus, and went to the towns and rich fields of men, disfiguring her form a long while' (2). Demeter was angry because Zeus did not confide in her or ask about how she would have felt in the giving away of Persephone. She had no say in the situation to begin with and now she couldn't save her daughter from the torment of the underworld. She became so enraged that she refused to go to Olympus and would rather hide as an elderly woman within the mortal world.

Demeter's actions are limited both in within the gods and the mortals. Demeter sensed that something wrong had happened to Persephone, she spent several days looking for her until she was finally able to get answers and then 'grief yet more terrible and savage came into the heart of Demeter' (2). She had no way to save or even contact Persephone, she couldn't go to the underworld and rescue her nor could any of the other gods and goddesses break the contract between Hades and Zeus. Due to the limitations brought upon her, all that Demeter could do was fill heart with anger. When Persephone and Demeter are reconnected and they discover the effects of the consumption of the pomegranate seeds, they agree to the terms that Persephone 'for a third part of the circling year... shall go down to the darkness and gloom' (8). For this one third of every year, Demeter is again filled with sadness and anger that she cannot help the mortals by providing fertile land for their crops. Demeter is overwhelmed with wrath and fury due to the lack of help from the gods in the search for Persephone and it results in the limitations of her help towards the mortals.

From the ancient world to today, society has been faced with a set of social standards regarding how people should act. Hymn to Demeter reinforces these social norms, some of which are still being upheld today. Ancient Greek was governed by men whereas today there is a much larger increase in female power and it is a more widely supported societal decision. Women of today are more commonly praised when they demonstrate the capability and potential within themselves because there are still many who try to suppress them like in the ancient world. Demeter was controlled by her emotions due to the overwhelming love for Persephone and betrayal from the gods. Her actions throughout the writing shows the lack of female power, authority, and actions that were normal of that time.

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