What Doso Did with the Baby

Some years ago, I started working on a version of the story of Demeter and Persephone. For part one, click here. For part two, click here.

Doso immediately began her duties as a nurse, taking care of Demophoon, the infant son of Metaneira and Celeus. With Doso as his nurse, the child grew like some immortal being. This was because during the day, when no one was watching, Doso secretly anointed him with ambrosia, one of the foods of the gods. And as she held him at her breast, she breathed sweetly on him, and that too helped him to grow like an immortal.

At night, when Metaneria and Celeus were fast asleep, Doso did something that required even more secrecy. She went to the hearth, where the fire burned all night, and placed Demophoon in the fire. Because she was a goddess, the fire did not hurt the baby. Instead, the fire worked a great wonder in the child, and he grew beyond his age, and his face looked like the face of one of the gods.

Not only that, but if a goddess can hold a mortal child in the fire night after night, eventually that child can become immortal, too. Doso loved the little boy, and hoped to hide Demophoon in the fire night after night, until he became deathless and unaging, just like her.

Demeter and Demophoon, by Willy Pogany

Demeter holding Demophoon in the fire, as imagined by artist Willy Pogany (public domain)

But Metaneira suspected that Doso was doing something to the boy in secret. So one night, she kept watch on Doso from the door of her bed chamber. When she saw Doso put Demophoon into the fire, she feared for her son’s life, and cried aloud in her fear.

“Demophoon, my son,” she cried, “why is this strange woman burying you deep in the fire?”

Doso heard her cry out, and grew terrible angry. With her divine hands, she snatched the child from the fire, and cast him from her to the ground.

“You mortals are witless!” she said to Metaneira. “You are utterly unable to understand whether good or evil comes upon you. For now in your heedlessness you have been foolish past healing. I swear by the relentless water of Styx, which is the most sacred oath of the gods, that I would have made your dear son so that he would never age all his days. I would have made him so that he would never die. I would have bestowed on him everlasting honor. This is why I put him in the fire. Now, because of what you have done, he can never escape death and age.

“Yet even so I have made sure unfailing honor will always be his, for he lay upon my knees and slept in my arms. Lo! I am that Demeter who is the greatest help and cause of joy to the undying gods and mortal humans.”

As she spoke, the goddess changed her appearance, thrusting old age away from her. Beauty spread round about her and a lovely fragrance was wafted from her sweet-smelling robes. Rich golden hair spread down over her shoulders. A light shone from her, so that the house was filled with brightness as with lightning. Metaneira knew that a goddess stood before her.

“Now let all the people build me a great temple,” said the goddess. “Let there be an altar below it, and beneath the city and its sheer wall upon a rising hillock above Callichorus. And I, Demeter, myself will teach my rites, that hereafter you may reverently perform them and so win the favor of my heart.”

And with that, Demeter went out from that palace, never to return.

Metaneira’s knees gave way, and she remained speechless for a long time. She did not even think to pick up her son from the ground.

But her daughters heard the baby boy’s pitiful wailing and sprang down from their well-spread beds. One of them took up the child in her arms, while another revived the fire, and a third rushed with soft feet to care for their mother. And they gathered about the struggling child and washed him, embracing him lovingly.

But Demophoon cried and would not be comforted. The nurses and handmaids who were holding him now were much less skillful than the goddess Demeter!

As soon as dawn began to show, Metaneira and her daughters told their father Celeus the whole story. They told him that the lovely-crowned goddess Demeter had charged them to build her a temple. So Celeus called the countless people to an assembly and bade them make a goodly temple for rich-haired Demeter and an altar upon the rising hillock. Before long, the temple was built, and it is said that Demeter herself was pleased with it.

As for the child, Demophoon grew like an immortal being.

And as for Demeter, she remained in her temple at Eleusis, still angry with Zeus.


Part one: click here.
Part two: click here.
Part three: click here.
Part four: click here.
Epilogue: click here.

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