Proserpine and Ceres

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

One of the Titans, Typhoeus, long imprisoned for his part in the rebellion against Jupiter, lies in agony beneath Mount Aetna on the island of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. When Typhoeus groans and stirs, he shakes the sea and the island of Sicily so much that the god of the underworld, Hades, becomes frightened lest his kingdom be revealed to the light of day.

Rising to the upper world to make entrance to his kingdom, Hades is discovered by Venus, who orders her son Cupid to aim one of his love darts into the breast of Hades and so cause him to fall in love with Proserpine, daughter of Ceres, goddess of fertility. Proserpine went with her companions to gather flowers by the banks of a stream in the beautiful vale of Enna. There Hades, stricken by Cupid’s dart, sees Proserpine, seizes her, and lashes his fiery horses to greater speed as he carries her away. In her fright the girl drops her apron, full of flowers she gathered. At the River Cyane, Hades strikes the earth with his scepter, causing a passageway to appear through which he drives his chariot and takes his captive to the underworld.

Ceres searches for her daughter everywhere. At last, sad and tired, she sits down to rest. A peasant and his daughter find her in her disguise as an old woman; they take pity on her and urge her to go with them to their rude home. When the three arrive at the house, they find that the peasant’s only son, Triptolemus, is dying. Ceres first gathers some poppies. Then, kissing the child, she restores him to health. The happy family bids her to join them in their simple meal of honey, cream, apples, and curds. Ceres puts some of the poppy juice in the boy’s milk. That night when he is sleeping, she places the child in the fire. The mother, awakening, seizes her child from the flames. Ceres assumes her proper form and tells the parents that it was her plan to make the boy immortal. Since the mother hindered that plan, she will instead teach him the use of the plow.

Then the goddess mother continues her search for Proserpine until she returns to Sicily. There, at the very spot Hades entered the underworld, she asks the river nymph if she saw anything of her daughter. Fearful of punishment, the river nymph refuses to tell what she saw but gave to Ceres the belt of Proserpine, which the girl lost in her struggles.

Ceres decides to take revenge upon the land, to deny it further gift of her favors so that herbage and grain will not grow. In an effort to save the land that Ceres is intent upon cursing, the fountain Arethusa tells the following story to Ceres. Arethusa was hunting in the forest, where she was formerly a woodland nymph. Finding a stream, she decided to bathe. As she sported in the water, the river god Alpheus began to call her. Frightened, the nymph ran, the god pursuing.

The goddess Diana, seeing her plight, changed Arethusa into a fountain that ran through the underworld and emerged in Sicily. While passing through the underworld, Arethusa saw Proserpine, now queen of the dead, sad at the separation from her mother but at the same time bearing the dignity and power of the bride of Hades. Ceres immediately demanded help from Jupiter, ruler of the gods. The king of the gods said that Proserpine should be allowed to return to the valley of Enna from which she was abducted only...

(This entire section contains 760 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

if in the underworld she took no food.

Mercury was sent to demand Proserpine for her mother. Proserpine, however, had eaten of a pomegranate. She had eaten only part of the fruit, however, so a compromise was made. Half of the time she was to pass with her mother and the rest with Hades. Ceres, happy over the return of Proserpine during one half of each year, caused the earth to be fertile again during the time Proserpine lived with her.

Ceres remembers her promise to the peasant boy, Triptolemus. She teaches him to plow and to plant seed, and he gathers with her all the valuable seeds of the earth. In gratitude the peasant’s son builds a temple to Ceres in Eleusis where priests administer rites called the Eleusinian mysteries. Those rites surpass all other Greek religious celebrations. The mysteries involve, as does the story of Proserpine and Ceres, the cycle of death and growth.


Critical Essays