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A Baubo terracotta figurine of the Priene type, holding a lyre. From Priene, Anatolia.

Baubo (Ancient Greek: Βαυβώ) is a minor figure in Greek mythology who does not appear in surviving sources before the fourth century CE.[1] A fragment from Asclepiades of Tragilus states that she is the wife of Dysaules, who was said to be autochthonous, that they had two daughters - Protonoe and Nisa - and that the couple welcomed Demeter into their house.[2][3]

The fifth century CE Greek grammarian Hesychius, records the name Baubo in his lexicon, stating only that she was the nurse of Demeter, and that the word means 'hollow' or 'stomach' (κοιλίαν), citing the fifth century BCE philosopher Empedocles as a source for this meaning.[4][5]

Eleusinian Mysteries[edit]

Baubo is mentioned in an Orphic fragment relating to the Elusinian mysteries.[6] Whilst the goddess Demeter is at Eleusis, mourning the loss of her daughter Persephone who had been abducted by Hades, Baubo makes her laugh through an act of Anasyrma. In other sources such as the Homeric Hymn to Demeter the role of cheering Demeter up is filled by a slave named Iambe who does so by making jokes.[7]

In a different Orphic fragment (Fr. 49) of a hymn relating the abduction of Persephone, Baubo is the name of the mother of Demophon — a mortal child whom Demeter unsuccessfully attempts to turn immortal by anointing him with ambrosia and placing him nightly in the fire. In other sources Demophon is the son of the King of Eleusis, Celeus, and his queen, Metanira. This suggests that in fragment 49 Baubo is the queen of Eleusis.[8] In this fragment, when Baubo sees what Demeter is doing, she cries out in fear. In response Demeter burns the child to death[9]

Baubo was worshipped along with Demeter and Persephone on Paros[10] Evidence from inscriptions indicates that she had cult status at Naxos and in Dion (Macedonia) as well as in Paros in connection with Demeter and Kore.[11]

Orphic fragment 52[edit]

The fragment which mentions Baubo's anasyrma is from an Orphic hymn and is five hexameters in length.[12] It is preserved in the Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria, written in the second century CE:[13]

This said, she drew aside her robes, and showed
A sight of shame; child Iacchus was there,
And laughing, plunged her hand below her breasts.
Then smiled the goddess, in her heart she smiled,
And drank the draught from out that glancing cup.[14]

Clement presents the fragment as proof of the depravity of the Eleusinian Mysteries and Greek religion more generally. The context he provides for the quote is that Demeter has rested at Eleusis during her search for her daughter, and Baubo, treating her as a guest, has offered her food and wine. Demeter refuses these due to her mourning; the rejection of hospitality is perceived as a slight by Baubo who responds by showing her genitals.[15]

M. Marcovich interprets Iacchus' role in these verses as simply that of an innocent child who happens to have appeared at the same moment as Baubo is attempting to amuse Demeter, and who is reaching below her breast because he is hungry and she is his nurse (Marcovich assumes the verses belong to a tradition in which Iacchus is the son of Demeter and Baubo his nurse).[16] Baubo's actions are usually interpreted as an attempt to cheer Demeter up, rather than a response to a slight, based on the fact that this is the what happens in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Ralph Rosen sees the act as an attempt to cheer Demeter up specifically by mocking her, as is also the case with Iambe.[17] Ralph Rosen notes, however, that no one would have understood this as serious, or contemptuous mockery of the goddess.[18]

Around a hundred years later Arnobius, in his Adversus Nationes (5.25–29), used Clement as a source for his material on Greek and Roman religion. He also includes the Orphic quote, but the text contains substantial differences: his reporting of the lines suggests that Baubo drew a face on her abdomen and shaved her pubic hair. These differences in Arnobius have been attributed by Marcovich to an unknown editor who misunderstood and redacted the text that Arnobius used, rather than to Arnobius himself:[19]

The Christian historian and polemicist Eusebius also recorded the fragment in his Praeparatio evangelica (2.3.30–5), written the early fourth century CE. The entirety of book two chapter three is a quote from Clement's Protrepticus. His quote does not contain the deviations found in Arnobius.

A face-in-body Baubo figurine

Function and role[edit]

It is very likely that, as with the myth of Iambe, the story of Baubo is an etiological myth explaining certain rites and rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries.[20]

Baubo figurines[edit]

The name Baubo is given to several different types of figurine, most of them terracotta.[21] The oldest type of figurine given this label is the Priene type, so named because of examples found at the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Priene. These date from the third to second century BCE and depict the naked lower part of a female body with a face where the abdomen should be, with the curve of the chin merging into the vulva. The arms are placed at ear level and carry attributes (torches, lyre, basket of fruit carried on the head).[22] These were probably votive offerings, and were made locally.[22]

The second type of Baubo figurine comes from Egypt, and is split into two groups. The first group depicts a woman seating frontally on a large pig, whilst holding a musical instrument. In some of these figurines her right hand is touching her genitalia. The second group depicts a woman crouching on the ground, holding her legs apart. The genitalia are always very apparent. Many of them were used as amulets[22]

Elements that appear on some of the figurines of this type, such as a lotus crown and sistrum, along with the fact that they were produced in Egypt, has led scholars to suggest that these are votive offerings to Isis from women asking for fertility or from pregnant women wanting to give birth soon.[22] Thus, despite the name, there is no reason to assume that these figures are supposed to depict the Baubo from Greek myth, though the connection cannot be ruled out.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Halliwell 2008: 165.
  2. ^ Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker 12 F4.
  3. ^ Karaghiorga-Stathacopoulou 1986: 87.
  4. ^ s.v. Βαυβώ 1.318
  5. ^ Rosen 2007:50 n16.
  6. ^ Fr. 52 Kern.
  7. ^ Homeric Hymn to Demeter 195-205.
  8. ^ O' Higgins 2003:52.
  9. ^ Richardson 1974: 80-1.
  10. ^ Richardson 1974: 82.
  11. ^ O' Higgins 2003:52.
  12. ^ Marcovich 1986: 294.
  13. ^ Protrepticus 20.1-21.1
  14. ^ Translated by Butterworth, G. W. (1919)
  15. ^ Exhortation to the Greeks Chapter 11.
  16. ^ Marcovich 1986: 296
  17. ^ Rosen 2007: 50.
  18. ^ Rosen 2007: 56.
  19. ^ Marcovich 1986: 295.
  20. ^ Rosen 2007: 56.
  21. ^ Karaghiorga-Stathacopoulou 1986: 88.
  22. ^ a b c d Karaghiorga-Stathacopoulou 1986: 89.
  23. ^ Karaghiorga-Stathacopoulou 1986: 90.


  • Clement of Alexandria (1919). The Exhortation to the Greeks. Translated by Butterworth, G. W. Harvard University Press.
  • Graf, Fritz (2011). "Baubo". Brill's New Pauly. Brill.
  • Halliwell, Stephen (2008). Greek Laughter: A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity. Cambridge University Press.
  • Hesychius (1867). Lexicon. Jena, Germany: Sumptibus Hermanni Dufftii.
  • Jacoby, Felix (1957). Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Brill.
  • Karaghiorga-Stathacopoulou, Théodora (1986). "Baubo". Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae III-1 Atherion-Eros. Artemis & Winkler Verlag.
  • Kern, Otto (1922). Orphicorum fragmenta. Weidmann.
  • Marcovich, M. (1 January 1986). "Demeter, Baubo, Iacchus, and a Redactor". Vigiliae Christianae. 40 (3): 294–301. doi:10.2307/1583904. JSTOR 1583904.
  • Richardson, Nicholas (1974). The Homeric Hymn to Demeter. Clarendon Press.
  • Rosen, Ralph (2007). Making Mockery: The Poetics of Ancient Satire. Oxford University Press.
  • O' Higgins, Laurie (2003). Women and Humor in Classical Greece. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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