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6433: Copy of Eleusinian relief, ca. 440 BC, depicting Demeter, Triptolemus and Persephone. Original in marble at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Archaeological Museum of Eleusis.

"Are we to believe, then, that vines, not previously existing, appeared at a certain stage; and olives, likewise, and the gifts of Demeter and Core? And that some Triptolemus was the minister of such fruits?" (Plato, Laws 782b).

Triptolemus received from Demeter seeds and a chariot of winged dragons, with which he, flying through the sky, sowed the whole inhabited earth. This is the story of Triptolemus in a nutshell; and whereas some have believed it, others have analysed it, none of them going farther than the other. And since the story is about something else, still others have done neither.

Demeter's darkest day

Persephone, the sweet girl who loved to gather flowers, was abducted by Hades, lord of the dead, and taken by him to the Underworld, where she became his wife. This was the darkest moment of Demeter, the girl's mother; and since not even the gods could help her, she, unable to find consolation, quitted Heaven and went about seeking her daughter all over the earth, carrying torches by night and by day.

Demeter in Eleusis

In her wanderings, Demeter came to Eleusis, where King Celeus 1 ruled. Having become the nurse of Queen Metanira's babe Demophon 2, the goddess attempted to make him immortal by setting the child on the fire during the night. But a servant, having discovered her manipulations, spoiled Demeter's work with a shriek of terror, and the babe was consumed by the fire. Others say that the king of Eleusis was Eleusinus, and that Demeter, pretending to be a nurse, took care of Triptolemus (instead of Demophon 2). They assert that the goddess fed Triptolemus by day with divine milk, hiding him by night in the fire. As time went by, Triptolemus grew more than mortals usually do; so the master of the house started to watch Demeter, and when Eleusinus finally discovered terrified that Demeter was about to put the child in the fire, the goddess, being caught in the act, struck Eleusinus dead.

Triptolemus' mission

Until then no one knew that the nurse was a goddess, but when one of these things happened, Demeter revealed herself, and having made a one-wheeled chariot drawn by winged dragons, she gave Triptolemus wheat to be sowed from the air throughout the earth. According to some, this is how the goddess rewarded the information about her daughter that she had received from Triptolemus.But Triptolemus is remembered mainly for the goddess' gift, and for having accomplished his agricultural mission, spreading the cultivation of grain.

Mythical symbols

A scholar has thought that the wheel "represents the sun", and that Triptolemus represents the "mythical embodiment of the first sower", apparently meaning by the expression "mythical embodiment" that, whereas the sowing reflects the true part of the story, the "mythical" (whatever that is) conveys its falsehood. Others would probably support this view by affirming that many sowers are known who walk on earth, and yet no one among them has been seen flying around in a one-wheeled chariot. Satisfied with such an evidence, they may then go on to say that wheat was not really given by a goddess, but that it came out of other seeds from plants resembling it, which in turn originated in the course of a long chain of events that began with a distant explosion, which occurred, not "once upon a time", but so and so many billions of years ago, which is before any other time, since not even Time existed at the time. And they would be pleased with this story, and find it more credible.

What Triptolemus learned

Now, if Demeter had taught Triptolemus just agriculture, making him the first sower, then there would not have been any hush-hush. For what a sower does and how he does it, although it may require training, is not that difficult to discover, and Triptolemus was supposed to divulge that art of sowing anyway. But what Demeter taught Triptolemus was mainly "the conduct of her rites" and "all her mysteries"; and of them it has been said that they were:

"... awful mysteries which no one may in any way transgress or pry into or utter, for deep awe of the gods checks the voice." (Homeric Hymn to Demeter 475ff.).

Accordingly Pausanias writes:

"After I had intended to go further into this story, and to describe the contents of the sanctuary at Athens, called the Eleusinium, I was stayed by a vision in a dream. I shall therefore turn to those things it is lawful to write of to all men." (Description of Greece, 1.14.3).

And what is further added about the mysteries learned by Triptolemus does not appear to refer to any mythical embodiment of a first sower, unless one deems it likely that a man, once he is dead, cares much about agriculture:

"Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries; but he who is uninitiate and who has no part in them, never has lot of like good things once he is dead, down in the darkness and gloom." (Homeric Hymn to Demeter 480).

Triptolemus about to depart on his mission. Behind him is Persephone with torches. 6516: Votive relief depicting Triptolemus being sent on his mission. Early 4C BC. Archaeological Museum of Eleusis.

Agreement in Heaven

When Rhea 1 told Demeter that it had been agreed in heaven that Persephone should go to the Underworld for a third part of the year and then return to be with her mother for the two remaining parts, the goddess, recovering her joy, made fruit spring up from the lands, covering the earth with leaves and flowers, and imparted her secret teaching to Triptolemus, Polyxinus, and others.

Various parentages

It has also been pointed out that the accounts given of the parentage of Triptolemus are "very various", a circumstance we are advised not to wonder at, since he was "probably a purely mythical personage". This friendly advice, however, is given as if myth could fail to cause wonder if the parentages were not very various, or as if a rule existed, establishing that a larger number of parentages is more mythical than a lesser number. Not such rule exists, although it is true that several parentages are attributed to Triptolemus (see below).

Stories about what is not unknown

His distribution of the grain is naturally the most remembered of his deeds. Not because this was his only or more important deed, but rather because this gift of the goddess was known by all, whereas her other gifts were kept secret. Therefore, several stories refer to the distribution of the grain, and none to the rest.

Some who received the grain

For example, it is told that among those who received the cultivated corn from Triptolemus, was Eumelus 4, the first man to settle in the land of Patrae in Achaea. While Triptolemus was there, Eumelus 4's son Antheias yoked the dragons to the car, when its owner was asleep, and tried to sow the seed himself. However, he fell off the chariot and died, wherefore Triptolemus and Eumelus 4, in memory of the latter's son, founded the city Antheia near Pylos. Also Arcas 1, the son of Zeus and Callisto who civilized Arcadia, teaching men to make bread, to weave clothes, and other things, learned the cultivation of crops from Triptolemus. Some upset chronology by asserting that the first strangers to whom Triptolemus revealed the rites of Demeter and Persephone were Heracles 1 and the DIOSCURI, but perhaps they just mean that it was upon the Peloponnesus that Triptolemus first bestowed Demeter's seed, saying "Heracles 1" and "DIOSCURI" as a way of calling the region by the name of its dearest children.

Triptolemus ambushed

Triptolemus, while distributing his grain, came to Thrace, where King Carnabon of the Getae, received him, at first hospitably. But soon, at the king's order, Triptolemus was ambushed, and one of the dragons was killed, so as to make it impossible for him to escape in his chariot. But as they say, Demeter substituted another dragon, and punished Carnabon by picturing him among the stars holding a dragon in his hands, which he is for ever about to kill. The story shows that becoming one of the CONSTELLATIONS not necessarily is a blessing.


Fighting to become a benefactor

In similar manner, when Triptolemus came to Scythia to spread the knowledge of Demeter's grain, King Lyncus 1, after offering him hospitality, attacked him with a sword when Triptolemus was asleep. It has been guessed that the king tried to murder Triptolemus, so that he himself would appear as the giver of corn to mankind, which is not a wild guess, since fights and mutual destruction are not uncommon among benefactors, who seldom refrain themselves in their ambition to appear as great men. In any case, when Lyncus 1 was about to kill his guest, Demeter saved Triptolemus by turning the king into a lynx.

Triptolemus hated at home

It has also been told that Celeus 1 wished to kill Triptolemus on the latter's return, but when his intentions came to Demeter's knowledge, she handed over the kingdom to Triptolemus, who called the city Eleusis after his father, and established those sacred rites in honor of Demeter, which are called Thesmophoria.

No reason for amazing behavior

Now, some may wonder why Triptolemus, a beneficent visitor, was, in several places, received with treachery, being on his return to Eleusis threatened to death by King Celeus 1 because of his benefactions. But to search for sound judgement in the behavior of mortals is a vain enterprise, since their nature compels them, with or without a reason, to ceaselessly wage war against each other. And so, either in the hope of attaining pleasures that do not satisfy them, or in order to obtain useless things, they impose upon each other limitless sufferings, thereby securing the loss of the happiness they so eagerly seek.

Judge of the dead

Triptolemus was taken to heaven, and some believe that he is among the stars. But others count him among those who judge the dead, since they say:

"For if a man when he reaches the other world, after leaving behind these who claim to be judges, shall find those who are really judges who are said to sit in judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthys, and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and all the other demigods who were just men in their lives, would the change of habitation be undesirable?" (Socrates. Plato, Apology 41a).


Parentage (six versions)


Celeus 1 & Metanira


Eleusis & Cothonea


Trochilus & Woman 6 Eleusinian



Dysaules & unknown


Rarus & Amphictyon's Daughter


Celeus 1 was King of the Eleusis. He was son of Eleusis (Eleusinus).
Eleusis (Eleusinus) was son either of Hermes and Daira, or of Ogygus. The city Eleusis is named after him.
According to the Argives, Trochilus was a priest of Demeter, who fled from Argos and, having come to Attica, married an Eleusinian woman, by whom he had Triptolemus and Eubuleus.
Dysaules could be the brother of Celeus 1. Having been expelled from Eleusis by Ion 1 (son of Apollo), he brought the Eleusinians rites to the Phliasians (near Sicyon). Dysaules has been called father of Triptolemus and Eubuleus.
Rarus married a daughter of Amphictyon, son of Deucalion 1, the man who survived the Flood.

Related sections

Demeter, Eleusis


Apd.1.5.2; Hyg.Ast.2.14, 2.22; Hyg.Fab.147; Nonn.13.190; Ov.Fast.4.508ff., Ov.Met.650ff.; Pau.1.14.2-3.