Doso and Metaneira

Greek Myths
A curriculum for upper elementary grades
Compiled and edited by by Dan Harper and Tessa Swartz
Copyright (c) 2014 Dan Harper and Tessa Swartz
Lesson plan and leader resources copyright (c) 2015 Dan Harper

Back to the Table of Contents | On to Session Three


Demeter’s wanderings led her to the house of wise Celeus, who then was lord of fragrant Eleusis. Sad and vexed, she sat down to rest on the wayside by the road, next to the Maiden Well. There the women of the place came to draw water. She found a shady place to sit, beneath an olive shrub. She looked like a woman who is too old to bear children, the kind of old woman who cared for the children of a king.

The four daughters of Celeus — Callidice, Cleisidice, Demo, and Callithoe — came to Maiden Well with their bronze pitchers, to draw water and carry it to their father’s house. They looked like goddesses in the flower of their girlhood. They saw Demeter sitting there in the shade of the olive shrub, but did not realize that she was a goddess. They thought she was an old woman.

“Old mother,” they said, “where do you come from, and what people do you come from? Why do you sit here so far from our city? In many of the shady rooms of the houses there, you would find women of your own age, and others younger, who would welcome you.”

Demeter, seeing that the girls were polite, answered them politely. “Hail, dear children,” Demeter said to them, “I will tell you my story; for it is not unseemly that I should answer your questions.


“My name is Doso. I have come from the island of Crete, sailing over the wide back of the sea. But I did not come willingly.

“Pirates took me from Crete by force. After they had stolen me away, they took me in their swift ship to the city of Thoricus. There the pirates, both the men and the women, went on shore and began to prepare a meal next to the ropes that tied the stern of the ship to the shore. But I did not want their food. I escaped the ship, and fled across the dark countryside, so that the pirates could not take me somewhere across the sea and sell me as a slave.

“Since my escape, I have wandered, and at last came here. I do not know what land this is, or what people are in it. But may the gods and goddesses who dwell on Mount Olympus give you your wishes, dear maidens. Take pity on me, dear children, and show me to a house where I may go to work cheerfully at such tasks belong to a woman of my age. I could take care of a newborn child, holding the child in my arms. Or I could keep house, or teach the other women their work.”


Above: An ancient Greek bireme, a kind of ship propelled by two rows of oars on each side. Pirates in ancient Greece might have had a ship like this. Adapted from an illustration in Ancient and Modern Ships, Part I: Wooden Sailing Ships, by Sir George Holmes (London: Wyman & Sons, 1906), public domain image


When she had finished, Callidice said: “Dear Doso! The gods and goddesses are stronger than us, and we must bear whatever they send us — even being stolen away by pirates. But why don’t you stay with us? We will go to our house and tell Metaneira, our mother, all about you, so she will have you come to our home. You see, our mother has an only son, late-born, who is being nursed in our well-built house, a child we have all welcomed with many prayers. If you could bring him up until he reached the full measure of youth, our mother would give you gifts that any woman would envy.”

Doso bowed her head in agreement. The four girls filled their bronze pitchers with water, and joyfully ran back to the house. They ran to their mother and told her Doso’s story. Metaneira told the girls to go back with all speed and invite the stranger to come. The girls ran back to Doso, running like young deer bounding across a meadow in springtime, their hair streaming around their shoulders.

Doso returned with them, walking behind them, still sad at heart, with her head veiled and her long dark cloak waving about her slender feet. The girls led her through the portico to where Metaneira sat next to a pillar, holding her baby son to her breast. When Doso crossed the threshold, Metaneira turned to look at her. For just a moment, Doso’s head reach the roof and she filled the doorway with a heavenly radiance. Awe and reverence and pale fear took hold of Metaneira. She rose up from her couch before her, and bade her be seated.

But Doso stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down until careful Iambe placed a low stool for her, and threw over it a silvery fleece. Only then did Doso sit down, for disguised as she was as an old woman, she should sit in a more humble place than Metaneira.

Doso held her veil in her hands before her face, and sat without speaking for a long time, still pining for her daughter Persephone. But after a time, gentle Iambe touched Doso with her funny sayings and jests. At last, Doso smiled and laughed, and her heart was cheered.

Metaneira filled a cup with sweet wine and offered it to Doso. But she refused it, for she said it was not lawful for her to drink red wine, and she asked them to mix meal and water with soft mint and give her to drink. Metaneira mixed the drink and gave it to the goddess as she bade. And the great queen Demeter, still in her guise as Doso, took the drink — and this simple act later became one of the most important rituals in the temple to Demeter that was built in Eleusis.

“Hail, lady!” said Metaneira. “I greet you as lady, for even though you come to us looking like a woman who is old and poor, I think you are nobly born. Yet you were stolen away by pirates. We mortals must bear whatever the gods send us, even sadness and grief. But now, since you are come here, you shall have what I can bestow. Will you nurse this child whom the gods gave me in my old age? I can promise you a great reward if you nurse him to manhood.”

“And to you, lady, all hail!” replied Doso. “Gladly will I take the boy, be his nurse. I shall protect him from evil witchcraft, and I know a strong charm to keep away the pain of teething.”

So Metaneira was glad to find a nurse to care for her child. But it was not long before she thought Doso was trying to kill her baby boy….


Taken from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Our version of this story was adapted by Dan from a public domain translation of the Hymn from Hesiod: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914), pp. 288-325. We also referred to a more recent translation, The Homeric Hymns: A Translation with Introduction and Notes by Diane J. Rayor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-34.


Session Two

I/ Opening

Take attendance.

Light chalice with these words and the associated hand motions: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism: the church of the open mind, the helping hands, and the loving heart.”

Check-in: Go around circle. Each child and adult says his or her name, and then may say one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week (anyone may pass).

II/ Read the story “Doso and Metaneira.”

Briefly review the story from last week: Zeus, ruler of the gods and goddesses, decided to marry off Persephone. Without telling Persephone’s mother, Demeter, Zeus got his brother Hades, god of the underworld, to carry her off to the underworld. Demeter searched everywhere for her daughter, and at last learned from Helios, god of the sun, that Hades had taken Persephone to the underworld. Upon learning this, Demeter put on a disguise, and went to wander the towns and fields where humans lived.

Now read the story above.

III/ Act out the story.

Many of the children will have become familiar with the idea of acting out a story in previous Sunday school classes. This story it is not as dramatic as last week’s story, but it can be satisfying to act out because it is more concerned with Demeter’s feelings and inner thoughts.

Ask the children who are the characters in the story, and perhaps have someone (you or one of the children) write them down. Ask who wants to act out the different parts (and note that you don’t have to be the same gender as the part you’d like to act out).

Now act out the story. Determine where the stage area will be. If there are any children who really don’t want to act, they can be part of the audience with you; you will sit facing the stage.

III/ Think-pair-share: discussing the story

Get everyone back into a circle, and point out that this story spends a great deal of time talking about Demeter’s thoughts and feelings. So here’s a first question to get everyone thinking more about the story:

(1) We know that Demeter was sad because she couldn’t find her daughter Persephone — but why did she decide to disguise the fact that she was a goddess and go to live among humans?

Ask the children to THINK for a few moments (maybe ten seconds at most) about how they would answer this question.

Now quickly PAIR up the children with the person next to them (if you have an odd number, there will be a group of three). Tell them to talk about their answers with their partners for a few moments (maybe fifteen to thirty seconds).

Now ask everyone to SHARE their own answer with the whole group. Repeat the question, and go around the circle, asking each child to give their answer.

Think-pair-share is a great technique for prompting reflection and discussion. Instead of the more extroverted and articulate children immediately calling out their answers to a question, think-pair-share provides a structure for all children to participate more equally, and perhaps to reflect a little more carefully before answering. A good summary of think-pair-share can be found at the following Web site — “ReadingQuest Strategies for Reading Comprehension: Think-Pair-Share.”

If you have time, here’s another question to ask:

(2) When Demeter told the story about being captured by pirates, she was lying to the humans. Why do you think Demeter told this lie, and is it OK for a goddess to lie to humans

Again: Ask the children to THINK for a few moments (maybe ten seconds at most) about how they would answer this question.

Now quickly PAIR up the children with the person next to them (if you have an odd number, there will be a group of three). Tell them to talk about their answers with their partners for a few moments (maybe fifteen to thirty seconds).

Now ask everyone to SHARE their own answer with the whole group. Repeat the question, and go around the circle, asking each child to give their answer.

IV/ Optional lecturette and conversation

If you and the children are curious, you can tell them what little we know about the Eleusinian Mysteries — read “Eleusinian Mysteries” from “Leader Resources” below.

After you’ve read “Eleusinian Mysteries” (assuming you decide to read it), ask the children what they think about the ancient Greek notions of death. What about the idea that after you die, you go to Hades where you become a disembodied shade flitting around? What about the idea that if you participate in the Greater Mysteries, maybe you could hope for something better after death?

UU children (and adults) can be very skeptical and hyper-critical, and they may be dismissive of the Eleusinian Mysteries. If so, remind them that there must have been something worthwhile in the Eleusinian Mysteries, since they lasted for over a thousand years — and they would have lasted longer, except that the Roman emperor Theodosius I stamped out the Mysteries in the year 392. Additionally, it is worth remembering that the Eleusinina Mysteries were less sexist than some aspects of contemporary American life (e.g., it was easier for women to participate as equals in the Eleusinian Mysteries than to have a career as a computer programmer today). Like any form of cultural production, the Eleusinian Mysteries had good parts (equality), and bad parts (animal sacrifice). Rather than being hyper-critical, we are trying to get children to have a more balanced view of the world.

V/ Free play

If you need to fill more time, you could play a game of some kind. Just make sure you have everyone come together for a closing circle before you’re done.

VI/ Closing circle

Before leaving, have the children stand in a circle. Rather than hold hands, try having the children gently touch toes with their neighbors on either side.

When the children are in a circle, ask them what they did today, and prompt them with questions and answers, e.g.: “What was today’s story about? ” You’re not trying to put any one child on the spot, but rather drawing on the wisdom of the group as a whole. If any parents have come to pick up their children, invite them to join the circle (so they can know what it is their children learned about this week).

End by saying together some closing words. At the UU Church of Palo Alto, we like to say the same closing words each week (we post these words in the classroom so everyone can see them):

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

Then before you all go, tell the children how you enjoyed seeing them (assuming that’s true), and that you look forward to seeing them again next week.



The Eleusinian Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries were a religious ritual that were open to anyone who spoke Greek. They were divided into two parts, the Greater Mysteries, and the Lesser Mysteries. Not much is know about the Lesser Mysteries, except that you you had to go through them before you could go through the Greater Mysteries. All the Mysteries were open equally to men and women, enslaved persons and free persons — unusual for ancient Greek religious rituals, which usually only allowed certain people to participate.

The entire ritual of the Greater Mysteries lasted for about seven days. No one knows the details of the rituals — they kept the details secret for more than a thousand years! — but here’s probably what happened:

First day: The people who were going to be initiated into the Mysteries gathered in the city of Athens. Each one was assigned a “mystagogus,” a mentor who had already been initiated into the Mysteries.

Second day: The initiates each had to take a piglet down to the ocean, go swimming with the piglet, then sacrifice it and bathe in the blood.

Third and fourth day: The initiates stayed in Athens. Perhaps they prayed to or meditated on Persephone and Demeter, but we don’t really know.

Fifth day: The initiates walked about 10 miles to Eleusis. They carried with them certain “holy things” that had been brought to Athens from Eleusis just before the Mysteries began. When they arrived, a large amount of grain was offered to Demeter and Persephone — but the initiates themselves didn’t eat anything because they were fasting.

Sixth day: The initiates went into the Telesterion, the temple at Eleusis. There they sat in darkness, and experienced “things said, things done, and things revealed.” They finally got to see the “holy things” that they carried from Eleusis.

Seventh day: Each initiate did a ritual in which they took special vessels filled with water, emptied them out towards the east then towards the west, while saying an incantation.

One point of the Eleusinian Mysteries was apparently the belief that you could hope for something good after you died. Mostly, ancient Greek religion believed that once you died, you continued on forever as a being without a body, flitting about in Hades, with no purpose — so death was not a very pleasant prospect. BUT — if you participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, you could hope for something better than that after you died. As it says in ancient Hymn to Demeter:

“Happy are the humans upon the earth who have seen the Eleusinian Mysteries; but those who have not been initiated and have seen no part of them, they will never have good things once they are dead and down in the darkness and gloom.”


The summary of the Elusinain Mysteries above is from Dr. David Frederick, professor of classics at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Frederick’s summary may be found online here [accessed 7 August 2014].)

The quote at the end is paraphrased from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, in Hesiod: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914], p. 323.