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In Greek mythology, Despoina, Despoena or Despoine, was the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon and sister of Arion.[1] She was the goddess of mysteries of Arcadian cults worshipped under the title Despoina, "the mistress" alongside with her mother Demeter, one of the goddesses of the Eleusinian mysteries. Her real name could not be revealed to anyone except those initiated to her mysteries.[2] Pausanias spoke of Demeter as having two daughters; Kore being born first, then later Despoina. With Zeus being the father of Kore, and Poseidon as the father of Despoina. Pausanias made it clear that Kore is Persephone, though he wouldn't reveal Despoina's proper name.

In the primitive myth, Poseidon saw Demeter, the Earth mother and desired her. To avoid him, she took her archaic form of a mare, but he took the form of a stallion and mated with her. From this union Demeter bore a daughter Despoina and a fabulous horse Arion (Ἀρείων). Due to her anger at this turn of events, Demeter took on the epithet Erinys, or raging.[3]


The word Despoina, "mistress" (Δέσποινα), is derived from the *des-potnia, "lady or mistress of the house", from PIE *dóm(ha)os, "house(hold)" [*dem(ha)-, "build"] and *potniha-, "lady, mistress"; cf. Greek domos and potnia. The masculine form is Despotes, "master of the house" (Δεσπότης); cf. posis.[4] Related attested forms are the, written in the Linear B syllabary, Mycenaean Greek 𐀡𐀴𐀛𐀊, po-ti-ni-ja, (potnia) and perhaps 𐀡𐀮𐀆𐀃, po-se-da-o, and 𐀡𐀮𐀆𐀺𐀚, po-se-da-wo-ne (Poseidon), which were inherited into classical Greece with identical or related meanings.[n 1] Demeter is possibly a relative word, interpreted by some, as "mother of the house" (from PIE *dems-mater).[5]

Cult of Despoina[edit]

Sanctuary at Lycosura[edit]

Perspective reconstruction of the temple of Despoina: The acrolithic statues of Demeter (L) and Despoina (R) are visible at the scale in the cella

Despoina became worshipped in a sanctuary at Lycosura west to the town of Megalopolis. This is a very important site for the study of ancient mystery religions, although this cult remained regional than panhellenic. Despoina was later conflated with Persephone. First in that place there was a temple of Artemis Hegemone (the leader) with a bronze image (apparently Hecate). From this place there was an entrance to the sacred enclosure of Despoine. In the portico there was a tablet with the inscriptions of the mysteries. In front of the temple there was an altar to Demeter and another to Despoine, after which was one of the Great Mother. Demeter carried a torch in her right hand and her other hand was laid upon Despoine. By the side of Demeter stood Artemis (probably also identified with Hecate). By the image of Despoine stood Anytos, one of the Titans. The Arcadians believed that Despoine was brought up by Anytos and Artemis was not the daughter of Leto, but of Demeter. Besides the temple there was the hall where the Arcadians celebrated the mysteries and beyond it a grove sacred to Despoine and altars of Poseidon Hippios (horse) and other gods too.

Lady of Auxerre Louvre-An Archaic (640 BC) image from Crete, probably a version of the Minoan Goddess identified with Kore.

Despoine was her surname among the many, just as they surnamed Demeter's daughter by Zeus, Kore (the maiden).[6][7]


In the mysteries Demeter was a second goddess under her daughter, the unnameable "Despoina".[8] It seems that the myths in isolated Arcadia were connected with the first Greek-speaking people who came from the north during the bronze age. The two goddesses had close connections with the rivers and the springs. They were related with the god of the rivers and the springs Poseidon and especially with Artemis, who was the first nymph. Her epithet "the mistress" has its analogue in Mycenean Greek inscriptions found at Pylos in southern Greece and Knossos in Crete. Despoina was later conflated with Kore (Persephone), the goddess of the Eleusinian mysteries in a life-death-rebirth cycle. Karl Kerenyi asserted that the cult was a continuation of a Minoan Goddess worship.


Despoina was also used as an epithet for several goddesses, especially Aphrodite, Persephone, Demeter and Hecate.[9][10] Persephone and Demeter are the goddesses of the Eleusinian mysteries; they could perhaps be the what the Two Queens in various Linear B inscriptions refer to.[11] At Olympia they were called Despoinae (Δέσποιναι).[12] The epithet may recall the Minoan-Mycenaean goddess 𐀅𐁆𐀪𐀵𐀍𐄀𐀡𐀴𐀛𐀊, da-pu2-ri-to-jo,po-ti-ni-ja, i.e. the "Mistress of the Labyrinth" at Knossos.[13][14]


At the time of Pausanias visit in the 2nd century BE, the sculptures would have been three hundred or more years old. In the 2nd century CE, a statue of the emperor Hadrian was dedicated in the temple. Coins from Megalopolis, from the Severan period in the early 3rd century appear to depict the cult statue group.[15] There is a small museum at the archaeological site, housing small finds as well as part of the cult group,while the remains of the cult statues of Despoina and Demeter are displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The most significant is the veil of Despoina with a complex decorative program, probably representative of the types of embroidered woven materials able to be created by contemporary artists. The heads of Artemis, Demeter and Anytus and a Tritoness from the throne are also displayed.

Elements of the cult sculptural group in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens
From L-R: Artemis, Demeter, Veil of Despoina, Anytus, Tritoness from the throne.

Other uses[edit]

  • In Byzantine Greek 'despoina' was a feminine court title meaning "lady", while the masculine 'despotes' meant "lord".
  • In Modern Greek the title "despoinis" means "Miss" and can be used to address young ladies and waitresses amongst others.
  • Despina, a satellite of Neptune, was named after the goddess Despoina.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the Mass Effect 3 video game, 2181 Despoina is the planet occupied by a powerful ancient mind-controlling species.
  • In the 1963 science fiction novel "Sign of the Labrys" by Margaret St. Clair, one of the main characters is a witch named Despoina.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ A more directly related to despoina Mycenaean word would be the possible theonym 𐀈𐀡𐀲, do-po-ta, provided that the latter is indeed to be read as a form of despotes.
  1. ^ Pausanias, 8.25.7, 8.42.1.
  2. ^ Pausanias, 8.37.9
  3. ^ Pausanias, 8.25.5–6
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "despot". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  5. ^ Frisk.Griechisches Etymological Woerterbuch. Entry 1271
  6. ^ Pausanias 8.37.1,8.38.2
  7. ^ Reconstruction of interior of Sanctuary of Despoina
  8. ^ Karl Kerenyi (1967). Eleusis. Archetypal image of mother and daughter. Princeton University Press. p 31f
  9. ^ Hathorn, p. 13.
  10. ^ H.Robin, H.J. Rose. The rootledge handbook of greek mythology. p 102
  11. ^ Chadwick.J. The Mycenean world. 1976. UP Cambridge ISBN 0-521-08558-6
  12. ^ Pausanias (1903). "Pausaniae Graeciae Descriptio" (in Greek). In 3 volumes. Leipzig: Teubner.  |chapter= ignored (help) At the Perseus Project.
  13. ^ Found on the Kn Gg 702 tablet.
  14. ^ Karl Kerenyi: Dionysos. The archetypal image of indestructible life. Part I iii The Cretan core of Dionysos myth. Priceton University Press. 1976 p 89, 90
  15. ^ Jost (1985). Sanctuaries et cults d'Arcadie. Paris

See also[edit]


External links[edit]