1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Triptolemus

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TRIPTOLEMUS, in Greek mythology, the inventor of agriculture, first priest of Demeter, and founder of the Eleusinian mysteries. His name is probably connected with the “triple ploughing” (-rpis, 1ro)e'Zv), recommended in Hesiod's Works and Days and celebrated at an annual festival. It may be noted that in some traditions he is called the son of Dysaules (possibly identical with diaulos, the “ double furrow ” traced by the ox), and that, according to the Latin poets (e.g. Virgil, Georgics, i. 19), he is the inventor of the plough.[1] Later, as the god of ploughing, he is confounded with Osiris, and on a vase-painting at St Petersburg he is represented leaving Egypt in his dragon-drawn chariot on his journey round the world. According to the best known Attic legend (Apollodorus, i. 5, 2) Triptolemus was the son of Celeus, king of Eleusis, and Metaneira. Demeter, during her search for her daughter Persephone, arrived at Eleusis in the form of an old woman. Here she was hospitably received by Celeus, and out of gratitude would have.made his son Demophon immortal by anointing him with ambrosia and destroying his mortal parts by fire; but Metaneira, happening to see what was going on, screamed out and disturbed the goddess. Demophon was burnt to death, and Demeter, to console his parents, took upon herself the care of Triptolemus, instructed him in everything connected with agriculture, and presented him with a wonderful chariot, in which he travelled all over the world, spreading the knowledge of the precious art and the blessings of civilization. In another account (Hyginus, Fab. 147) Triptolemus is the son of Eleusinus, and takes the place of Demophon in the above narrative. Celeus endeavoured to kill him on his return, but Demeter intervened and forced him to surrender his country to Triptolemus, who named it Eleusis after his father and instituted the festival of Demeter called Thesmophoria. In the Homeric hymn to Demeter, Triptolemusis simply one of the nobles of Eleusis, who was instructed by the goddess in her rites and ceremonies. The Attic legend of Eleusis also represented him as one of the judges of the underworld. His adventures on his world-wide m§ sion formed the subject of a play of the same name by Sophocles. In works of art Triptolemus appears mounted on a chariot (winged or drawn by dragons, symbols of the fruitfulness of the earth), with Demeter and Persephone handing him the implements of agriculture. His attributes were a sceptre of ears of corn, sometimes a drinking-cup, which is being filled by Demeter, His altar and threshing-floor were shown on the Rarian plain near Eleusis; hence he is sometimes called the son of Rarus.

See the Homeric hymn to Demeter, X53, 474; Ovid, Melam. v. 642-661; Virgil, Georgirs i. 19, and Servius ad loc.; Hyginus, Astnmom. ii. 14; Dion Halic. i. I2; Preller, Griechische Mythologie (4th ed., 1894).

  1. Other suggested derivations are from τρίβω, αύλαί (όλαί), the “grain crusher," or from πόλεμος (= “triple fighter," see Demeter).