A son of Celeus and Metanira or Polymnia, or according to others, a son of king Eleusis by Cothonea (or Cyntinea or Hyona1). Others again describe him as a son of Oceanus and Gaea, as a younger brother or relation of Celeus, as a son of Trochilus by an Eleusinian woman, as a son of Rharus by a daughter of Amphictyon, or lastly, as a son of Dysaules.2 Triptolemus was the favorite of Demeter, and the inventor of the plow and agriculture, and of civilization, which is the result of it. He was the great hero in the Eleusinian mysteries.3
According to Apollodorus, who makes Triptolemus a son of Celeus and Metanira, Demeter, on her arrival at Eleusis in Attica, undertook as nurse the care of Demophon, a brother of Triptolemus. who had just been born. In order to make the child immortal, Demeter at night put him into a fire, but as Metanira on discovering the proceeding, screamed out, the child was consumed by the flames. As a compensation for this bereavement, the goddess gave to Triptolemus a chariot with winged dragons and seeds of wheat. According to others Triptolemus first sowed barley in the Rharian plain, and thence spread the cultivation of grain all over the earth; and in later times an altar and threshing floor of Triptolemus were shown there.4 In the Homeric hymn on Demeter, Triptolemus is described as one of the chief men of the country, who like other nobles is instructed by Demeter in her sacred worship;5 but no mention is made of any relationship between him and Celeus.
In the tradition related by Hyginus, who makes Triptolemus a son of Eleusis, Triptolemus himself was the boy whom the goddess wished to make immortal. Eleusis, who was watching her, was discovered by her and punished with instant death.6 Triptolemus, after having received the dragon-chariot, rode in it all over the earth, making man acquainted with the blessings of agriculture.7 On his return to Attica, king Celeus wanted to kill him, but by the command of Demeter he was obliged to give up his country to Triptolemus, which he now called after his father Eleusis. He now established the worship of Demeter, and instituted the Thesmophoria.8
He had temples and statues both at Eleusis and Athens.9
On older black-figure Greek vases he is depicted as an elderly ruler, wearing a long robe and holding a scepter in one hand and ears of corn in the other. Triptolemus is represented in later works of art as a youthful hero, sometimes with the petasus, on a chariot drawn by dragons, and holding in his hand a scepter and corn ears. On a relief at Eleusis (ca. 450 BCE) he appears in the company of Demeter and Kore (Persephone).
- Servius on Virgil's Georgics i, 19; Scholiast on Statius' Thebaid ii, 382.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 147; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 5.2, Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 14.2; Homer. Hymn to Demeter, 153.
- Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia vii, 56; Callimachus. Hymn to Demeter, 22; Virgil. Georgics, i, 19.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 38.6.
- Hymn to Demeter, 123, 474 ff.
- Ovid. Tristia iii, 8. 2.
- Comp. Pausanias. Description of Greece vii, 18.2; viii, 4.1; Ovid. Metamorphoses v, 646 ff.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 147; comp. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, i, 12; Ovid. Fasti iv, 507 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 14.1. 38.6.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.