Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 38

When Ceres heard this, she stood for a while like one stupefied; then turned her chariot towards heaven, and hastened to present herself before the throne of Jove. She told the story of her bereavement, and implored Jupiter to interfere to procure the restitution of her daughter. Jupiter consented on one condition, namely, that Proserpine should not during her stay in the lower world have taken any food; otherwise, the Fates forbade her release. Accordingly, Mercury was sent, accompanied by Spring, to demand Proserpine of Pluto. The wily monarch consented; but alas! the maiden had taken a pomegranate which Pluto offered her, and had sucked the sweet pulp from a few of the seeds. This was enough to prevent her complete release; but a compromise was made, by which she was to pass half the time with her mother, and the rest with her husband Pluto.

Ceres allowed herself to be pacified with this arrangement, and restored the earth to her favor. Now she remembered Celeus and his family, and her promise to his infant son Triptolemus. When the boy grew up, she taught him the use of the plough, and how to sow the seed. She took him in her chariot, drawn by winged dragons, through all the countries of the earth, imparting to mankind valuable grains, and the knowledge of agriculture. After his return, Triptolemus build a magnificent temple to Ceres in Eleusis, and established the worship of the goddess, under the name of the Eleusinian mysteries, which, in the splendor and solemnity of their observance, surpassed all other religious celebrations among the Greeks.

There can be little doubt but that this story of Ceres and Proserpine is an allegory. Proserpine signifies the seed-corn, which, when cast into the ground, lies there concealed, that is, she is carried off by the god of the underworld; it reappears, that is, Proserpine is restored to her mother. Spring leads her back to the light of day.

Milton alludes to the story of Proserpine in Paradise lost, Book

  "Not that fair field
  Of Enna where Proserpine gathering flowers,
  Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis (a name for Pluto)
  Was gathered, which cost Ceres all that pain
  To seek her through the world,
  . . . . might with this Paradise
  Of Eden strive."

Hood, in his Ode to Melancholy, uses the same allusion very beautifully:

  "Forgive, if somewhile I forget,
  In woe to come the present bliss;
  As frightened Proserpine let fall
  Her flowers at the sight of Dis."

The River Alpheus does in fact disappear under ground, in part of its course, finding its way through subterranean channels, till it again appears on the surface. It was said that the Sicilian fountain Arethusa was the same stream, which, after passing under the sea, came up again in Sicily. Hence the story ran that a cup thrown into the Alpheus appeared again in Arethusa. It is this fable of the underground course of Alpheus that Coleridge alludes to in his poem of Kubla Khan: