1902 Encyclopedia > Proserpine


PROSERPINE (Proserpina) is the Latin form of PERSEPHONE, a Greek goddess, daughter of Zeus and the earth-goddess Demeter. In Greek mythology Demeter and Proserpine were closely associated, being known to-gether as the two goddesses, the venerable or august god-desses, sometimes as the great goddesses. Proscrpine herself was commonly known as the daughter (Core), sometimes as the first-born. As she was gathering flowers with her playmates in a meadow, the earth opened and Pluto, god of the dead, appeared and carried her off to be his queen in the world below. This legend was localized in various places, as at Eleusis, Lerna, and " that fair field of Enna" in Sicily. Torch in hand, her sorrowing mother sought her through the wide world, and finding her not she forbade the earth to put forth its increase. So all that year not a blade of corn grew on the earth, and men would have died of hunger if Zeus had not persuaded Pluto to let Proserpine go. But before he let her go Pluto made her eat the seed of a pomegranate, and thus she could not stay away from him for ever.' So it was arranged that she should spend two-thirds (according to later authors, one-half) of every year with her mother and the heavenly gods, and should pass the rest of the year with Pluto beneath the earth. There can be little doubt that this is a my-thological expression for the growth of vegetation in spring and its disappearance in autumn. According to Theopompus there was a Western people who actually called the spring Proserpine. As wife of Pluto, she sent spectres, ruled the ghosts, and carried into effect the curses of men. The lake of Avernus, a,s an entrance to the infernal regions, was sacred to her. From the head of a dying person Proserpine was supposed to cut a lock of hair which had been kept sacred and unshorn through life.' She was sometimes identified with Hecate.

On the other hand in her character of goddess of the spring she was honoured with flower-festivals in Sicily and at Hipponium in Italy. Sicily was a favourite haunt of the two goddesses, and ancient tradition affirmed that the whole island was sacred to them. The Sicilians claimed to be the first on whom Demeter had bestowed the gift of corn, and hence they honoured the two goddesses with many festivals. They celebrated the festival of Demeter wheu the corn began to shoot, and the descent of Proser-pine when it was ripe. At Cyare, a fountain near Syra-cuse which Pluto made to spring up when he carried off his bride, the Syracusians held au annual festival in the course of which bulls were sacrificed by being drowned in the water. At Cyzicus also, in Asia Minor, bulls were sacrificed to Proserpine. Demeter and Proserpine were worshipped together by the Athenians at the greater and less Eleusinian festivals, held in autumn and spring respectively. In the Eleusinian mysteries Proserpine no doubt played an important part (see ELEUSINIA and MYSTERIES). One Greek writer, Achemachus, identified Proserpine with the Egy-ptian Isis. At Rome Proserpinu was associated with Ceres (the Roman representative of Demeter) in the festival of the Cerealia (April 12 to 19), she was represented as the wife of Dis Pater (the Roman Pluto), and was sometimes identified with the native Latin goddess Libera. The pomegranate was Proserpine's. symbol, and the pigeon and cock were sacred to her. Her votaries abstained from the flesh of domestic fowls, fish, beans, pomegranates, and apples. In works of art she appears with a cornucopia or with ears of corn and a cock. The regular form of her name in Greek was Per-sephone, but various other forms occur. Pliersephone, Persephassa, Phersephassa, Pherrephatta, &c., to explain which different etymologies were invented. Corresponding to Proserpine as goddess of the dead is the old Norse goddess Het (Gothic Halja), whom Saxo Grammaticus calls Proserpine. (J. G. FR.)

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