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Despoina

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee Ph.D.
Despoina

According to the ancient authors Despoina was the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon, worshipped at Arcadia in the Peloponnesus. Pausanias gave us a mythical story, which was known by the people of Thelpousa and Figalea. They said, that the event happened, when Demeter came to Arcadia, looking for her lost daughter Persephone. When Poseidon pursued her, the goddess turned herself into a mare and hid herself between the herds, but unfortunately Poseidon discovered her trick. He changed himself into the form of a stallion and begot upon her a daughter and later on even a famous mythical steed sprouted of her body.

Demeter was very angry, but later on when her hate passed, she bathed and purified herself in the river Ladon. For this reason she was worshipped at Thelpousa in Arcadia as Demeter Erinys (in Greek éríxo, "to quarrel"; in Arcadian erinyein, "to hate") and as Demeter Louisia (in Greek loúo, "to bathe", "to purify"). After Demeter gave birth to her daughter, no one was permitted to pronounce her name if he was not initiated. The Arcadians called her Despoina (Lady), while her mother was named by them familiarly as Deo. Her father Poseidon took the surname Hippias ("of the Horses").

Despoina became worshipped in an important sanctuary at Lykosoura on the foot of the mountain Lykaion, west to the town Megalopolis. Pausanias let us a description of this sacred place at Lykosoura, which now contains only the remains of the temple built in 180 BCE. The entrance of the sacred place was built in the ancient times as a Stoa, ornamented with reliefs from white marble. There was also a small desk with an inscription of local rites. The Altars of both of the goddesses - Despoina and Demeter - were placed in front of the dorian temple of Despoina. In the middle of the temple-cella there was a big sculptural group created by the sculptor Damophon from Messene, the remains of it are today in the collection of the Archeological Museum of Athens. Despoina and Demeter sitting on their throne, Artemis and the Titan Anytos, who educated Despoina, were represented here. Below the gods were depicted some Kourites and Korybantes, allegedlly the first people of the land.

A so-called Megaron existed beside the temple of Despoina, where the religious ceremonies were practiced and where the votive-gifts were collected. At the back of the Megaron was situated Despoina’s Sacred Grove with different kinds of trees. Farther on, there were the altars of the gods, including the Altar of Poseidon Hippias.

So my conclusion is that Despoina was the most intensively worshipped goddess in the region of Arcadia and her role was even more important than the role of Demeter. She was a chthonian deity and her character resembled Persephone’s one. In her sanctuary she was receiving many gifts and everybody was bringing to her what ever they had. Between the offerings the fruits of all the trees, except the granate apple, appeared and animals were sacrificed to her honour. In this context it is interesting to note, that the Arcadians were not cutting the throat when they were sacrificing the animals, but a part of a limb, which they choosed by luck. Finally the sacred animal of Despoina was a hind.


Article details:

  • Also known as:
    Despoena
    Despina
  • Etymology:
    Lady

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