Proserpine and Ceres Characters

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Typhoeus (ti-FEE-uhs), a Titan imprisoned under Mt. Aetna. His struggles cause Hades to fear lest the underworld be exposed to the light of day.


Hades (HAY-deez), ruler of the underworld. He comes out to inspect the entrance to his realm, sees Proserpine, and falls in love with her. He kidnaps Proserpine and makes her his queen, partly against her will.


Proserpine (proh-SUR-pih-nee), the daughter of Ceres. She is seized by the enamored Hades and carried off to be queen of the underworld. Ceres demands Jupiter’s help in recovering her daughter. Jupiter decrees that Proserpine may return to the earth provided she has eaten no food in the underworld. Unfortunately, she has eaten part of a pomegranate. She is allowed to spend but half the year with her mother; during the other half, she must stay with her husband in the underworld.


Ceres (SEE-reez), the goddess of fertility and the mother of Proserpine. When she cannot find her daughter, she prevents the earth from being fruitful. After her daughter is found and Jupiter decrees that she can spend half the year with her mother, Ceres permits the earth to be fruitful in spring and summer.


Triptolemus (trihp-TO-leh-muhs), a mortal child who is saved from death by Ceres. She then teaches him to use the plow. She would have made him immortal if his mother had not interceded. Triptolemus builds a temple to Ceres at Eleusis.


Arethusa (eh-reh-THEW-zuh), a woodland nymph changed into a fountain by Diana. She tells Ceres that Hades has taken Proserpine to the underworld.


Jupiter, the king of the gods. He decrees that Proserpine can return to her mother if the girl has eaten nothing in the underworld. Since the girl has eaten part of a pomegranate, a compromise is reached, and she is allowed to spend half her time on the earth with her mother.


Venus, the goddess of love.


Cupid (KYEW-pihd), her son.


Alpheus (al-FEE-uhs), a river god.


Diana, the goddess of the hunt.


Mercury, the messenger of the gods.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. New York: Viking Press, 1964. Discusses images and symbolism of Proserpine and her mother Ceres.

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

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 so on. Traces the movement of the beliefs to Northern Europe. Some mention of human sacrifice associated with Proserpine’s death.

Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Puts 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. A thorough retelling of the story of Ceres and Proserpine as corn goddesses. Proserpine is also connected with images of Aphrodite and Adonis. Claims Proserpine is involved with the Eleusinian mysteries.