Proserpine and Ceres Summary


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 760 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Agha-Jaffar, Tamara. Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002. Agha-Jaffar recounts the myth of Proserpine and Ceres, interpreting it from the perspectives of both mother and daughter. She analyzes the symbolism, subject of rape, the meaning of the underworld, and other aspects of the story to demonstrate its relevance to modern society.

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Viking Press, 1964. Campbell discusses the images and symbolism of the myth of Proserpine and Ceres.

Donovan, Josephine. After the Fall: The Demeter-Persephone Myth in Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989. Analyzes the fictional symbols of Proserpine and Ceres in works by three American women writers. Donovan examines the image of the mother-daughter relationship as it is revealed in these modern treatments.

Downing, Christine, ed. The Long Journey Home: Re-visioning the Myth of Demeter and Persephone for Our Time. Boston: Shambhala, 1994. A collection of essays, prose, and poetry interpreting the myth from numerous perspectives, including twentieth century women’s retellings of the story.

Frazer, James. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1922. Analyzes the Eleusinian mysteries associated with Ceres and Proserpine. Shows their similarities to the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Osiris, the Syrian Ishtar, and other ancient deities. Includes some mention of human sacrifice associated with Proserpine’s death.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Places Proserpine and Ceres in the context of their symbolic meaning: life-giving and fertility. Ceres is seen as the earth mother and appears as a pregnant woman in pottery and burial sites.

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. New York: Penguin Books, 1960. Reprint. Combined ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1992. A thorough retelling of the story of Ceres and Proserpine as corn goddesses. Proserpine is also connected with images of Aphrodite and Adonis. Graves claims that Proserpine is involved with the Eleusinian mysteries.