The myth of Prometheus is commonly understood to account for how humanity first came to possess fire. Likewise the mythic content of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is commonly understood to account for how the cycle of the seasons first arose. And the ending of that same hymn, where Demeter teaches her rites to Triptolemos, is at least sometimes interpreted as accounting for how humanity first began to cultivate cereals—though the institution of the Eleusinian mystery cult might easily be the whole of that teaching.
Archaic-period sources oddly undercut these interpretations. In Works and Days, Hesiod sings that Zeus hid fire because Prometheus had deceived him. (How Prometheus deceived Zeus is not here specified, though in Theogony he tries and fails to deceive him concerning division of the flesh of sacrifice, between gods and mortals.) Zeus’s act of concealment is expressed by the verb κρύψε, at line 50, aorist in tense and indicative in mood, so it is clearly a specific one-time act—before which fire would have been unconcealed and thus presumably available. And in that same line Prometheus is said not merely to steal it but to steal it back.
The Theogony version is ambiguous regarding the previous availability of fire.
In the Demeter hymn, Demeter is addressed by Hecate as ὡρηφόρε, bringer of seasons (line 54). This occurs just after the abduction and well before the whole business of the mulberry or pomegranate seed, which accounts for Persephone’s annual migration between sunlit and underworld, which in turn is supposed to account for the alternation of the seasons. Granted that that is a formulaic epithet (cf. ll. 192 & 492), still it seems a thoroughly calculated formula for use in this myth. When Demeter resumes her divine form and tells Metaneira off (ll. 256–74), still before the pomegranate thing, she speaks of the circling seasons or years (ὥρῃσιν)—though of course that could be just divine foresight.
The hymn more directly undermines any implication that the story accounts for the very beginning of cereal cultivation; for when Demeter withdraws from both the society of gods and her divine duty, causing famine—and still before the pomegranate thing—cereal cultivation was clearly already an established practice:
Then she caused a most dreadful and cruel year for [hu]mankind over the all-nourishing earth: the ground would not make the seed sprout, for rich-crowned Demeter kept it hid. In the fields the oxen drew many a curved plough in vain, and much white barley was cast upon the land without avail. (ll. 305–09 trans. Evelyn-White)
My question is why this poetry is thus undercutting the myths’ etiological potential—that is, the potential for these myths to be answers to questions of how this or that state of affairs came about in the first place—like Kipling’s Just So Stories. Could this be in service to a worldview in which nothing can be new under the sun but all moves in cycles?