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May 1, 2010

Proserpina


persephone-being-carried-off-to-the-underworld
In Roman mythology, Proserpina (Greek equivalent: Persephone, also Kore: “the maiden”) is the goddess of the dead (queen of the underworld) and the fertility of the earth. She was the daughter of Jupiter (also Jove; Greek equivalent: Zeus), the king of the gods, and Ceres (Greek equivalent: Demeter; she is also Jupiter’s sister), the goddess of grain and harvest. Proserpina was a very innocent and charming young maiden. She was the jewel of her mother’s heart. Ceres’ intense love for her daughter led her to keep Proserpina away from the company of the malignant forces of nature. So Proserpina was able to live a very peaceful and carefree life on the very lap of nature, far from evils as well as the Olympian gods. But this peace was instantly destroyed after Pluto (also Dis; Greek equivalent: Hades; he is also Jupiter’s brother), the god of the dead (king of the underworld), abducted Proserpina (she is also his niece) and carried her off to the underworld (the underworld itself was often called the Hades). The incident took place in Sicily, at the fountain of Arethusa near Enna (formerly known as Castrogiovanni), where she was picking flowers with the nymphs (also Oceanids, the daughters of Oceanus and his wife Tethys). Greatly frustrated by the incident, Ceres searched for her daughter in every corner of the earth but could not find her anywhere. Ultimately Ceres was able to learn about Proserpina’s fate from Sol (Greek equivalent: Helios), the god of the sun.

prosprine-by-dante-gabriel-rossetti
Even though it was Pluto who was responsible for her daughter’s abduction, Ceres blamed Jupiter alone for the offense. Out of anguish she stopped the growth of all sorts of vegetation. She decided not to go back to the Olympus until she finds her daughter back. She kept wandering on the earth, making it a sterile land at every step. All the vegetation died and famine devastated the earth. The hungry mortals as well the gods found no other alternative than pleading before Jupiter to tackle that grievous situation.

Being concerned of the existence of the earthlings, Jupiter sent Mercury (Greek equivalent: Hermes), the messenger of the gods, to bring Proserpina back to her mother. But Pluto conspired to make Proserpina the queen of the underworld, so before letting her go, he asked her to eat a pomegranate seed, the food of the dead. Due to this reason Proserpina was unable to return from the underworld. Eventually, Jupiter made a rule that she would have to live eight months of each year with her mother and the rest four months with her husband as the queen of the underworld. Her return to the earth symbolised the arrival of the spring, a period when nature revives its lost colour and splendour. Contrariwise, her going back to the underworld symbolised the advent of the winter, a phase when nature loses its colour and splendour. From this point of view she is often called a life-death-rebirth deity.

Abduction_of Proserpina_by_Bernini_a_Roman_Statue
Rape_of_Proserpina_by_Joseph_the_Elder_Heintz
Hades_and_Persephone_in_the_Underworld
Scene_of_Hell_by_Francois_de_Nome

In ancient Greece Proserpina was primarily worshiped on two grounds. During her eight months’ staying with her mother on earth she was worshiped as “the maiden”, and for the remaining four months with her husband in the underworld as the goddess of the dead.

Proserpina’s abduction inspired many woks of art. She has been the model for numerous sculptures, paintings, and literary works.
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