Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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Worship of Ceres.

[196] Many beautiful temples were dedicated to Ceres and Proserpina in Greece and Italy, where yearly festivals, the Thesmophoria and the Cerealia, were celebrated with great pomp.

“To Ceres chief her annual rites be paid,
On the green turf, beneath a fragrant shade,
When winter ends, and spring serenely shines,
Then fat the lambs, then mellow are the wines,
Then sweet are slumbers on the flowery ground,
Then with thick shades are lofty mountains crown’d.
Let all the hinds bend low at Ceres’ shrine;
Mix honey sweet, for her, with milk and mellow wine;
Thrice lead the victim the new fruits around,
And Ceres call, and choral hymns resound:
Presume not, swains, the ripen’d grain to reap,
Till crown’d with oak in antic dance ye leap,
Invoking Ceres, and in solemn lays,
Exalt your rural queen’s immortal praise.”
Virgil (C. Pitt’s tr.).

To commemorate her long search for her daughter, Ceres returned to Eleusis, taught her former nursling, Triptolemus, the various secrets of agriculture, and gave him her chariot, bidding him travel everywhere, and teach the people how to plow, sow, and reap; and then she instituted the Eleusinia, festivals held in honor of her daughter and herself at Eleusis.

Triptolemus did not fail to carry out the goddess’s instructions, and journeyed far and wide, until he finally reached the court of Lyncus, King of Scythia, where the false monarch would have treacherously slain him had not Ceres by timely interference prevented the execution of his base purpose by changing the traitor into a lynx, the emblem of perfidy.

Ceres was generally represented as a fair, matronly woman, clad in flowing draperies, sometimes crowned with wheat ears, and bearing a sheaf of grain and a sickle, or with a plow and a horn of plenty disgorging its wealth of fruit and flowers at her feet. Groves were frequently dedicated to her; and any mortal [197] rash enough to lay the ax on one of these sacred trees was sure to incur the goddess’s wrath, as is proved by the story of Erisichthon.

Story of Erisichthon.

This man was evidently a freethinker, and, to show his contempt for the superstitious veneration paid to Ceres’ trees, took his ax and cut down one of her sacred oaks. At his first blow, blood began to flow from the tree; but, undeterred by the phenomenon or the entreaties of the bystanders, Erisichthon continued. Finally, annoyed by the importunities of the spectators, he turned and slew one or two, and then completed his sacrilege.

Ceres, incensed by his insolence and cruelty, devised a terrible chastisement for the unfortunate man, and sent Famine to gnaw his vitals, and torment him night and day. The wretch, tortured by a hunger which no amount of food could allay, disposed of all his property to obtain the means of procuring nourishment; but his monstrous appetite continued, and, as he had but one daughter left, he sold her as a slave to obtain food.