One of my favorite characters in the myth of Demeter (Greek earth goddess particularly concerned with grains) and Persephone is Iambe, servant to King Celeus and Queen Metaneira of Eleusis. After Hades has abducted her daughter Persephone, Demeter wanders the world in search of her child. In her grief, disguised as an old woman, she sits down in the shade near the Virgin’s Well in Eleusis. When the daughters of the king find the goddess there, they invite her into their home. But, their hospitality cannot cheer her.
According to the “First Homeric Hymn to Demeter” (which I have been reading in this translation), the goddess did not smile, eat or drink until “the perceptive Iambe,/with jokes/and with much clowning around/forced/this sacred lady/to smile,/to laugh,/and to cheer up her spirits. It was she too/who later pleased her/in angry moments.”
Six weeks ago, I noted the power of Ruthless People, a “stupid,” but thoroughly entertaining, comedy. Even the Greeks recognized the great power of laughter. For only Iambe’s jokes and clowning around could cheer the grief-stricken goddess Demeter. So, here’s to Iambe–and the power of laughter.