Classic Myths

Page: 47

The girls who were left gathering wild flowers had missed Proserpina almost the moment she was out of sight, but no one knew what had happened.

"Come back! come back!" the girls called, but no answer came up from the great opening or from the forest near them. Only Echo marked their cry of "Proserpina, oh, Proserpina, come back!" "She has vanished," the girls whispered. "I always felt as though she had wings beneath that plain brown dress she wore," said one.

"But who can tell Queen Ceres, her mother?" they asked one another.

No one could go alone, so they all went together to Queen Ceres and told her what had happened.

CERES. From a painting in Pompeii.

The good queen wept bitterly. That day she laid aside her regal robes and began her search for Proserpina. Up and down the world went this royal mother seeking for her lost daughter. At last she came to the land of King Celeus. When Ceres reached his land she was so ragged and poor that she was glad to earn money by taking care of the king's baby son. As nurse to the little prince, Queen Ceres was almost comforted.

Because she was the goddess of the wheat and the fruits, the crops upon the land of King Celeus, while she was there, were very wonderful. In the land near Mount Aetna, where Proserpina had been lost, no rain fell and no corn nor apples grew.

Juno sent Iris down to earth to beg of Ceres to give rain to the suffering people of her own home. Ceres said no rain should fall till Proserpina came back to her mother. One day as Ceres was weeping by a fountain her tears fell into the springing water, and, as they did so, she heard a silvery voice:

"Why do you grieve, Queen Ceres?" said the water sprite or nymph.

"Proserpina, my beautiful daughter, is gone from me," said Ceres. "I have sought everywhere on the earth for her. I cannot find my daughter."

"Listen to me," said the voice from the fountain. "I have seen her. She is not on the earth; she is in the earth. She is in the palace of King Pluto, who rules below. I saw her as I ran with a river through Pluto's kingdom. She longs to come back to you."

Queen Ceres was like a stone for a time after she heard the story told by the murmuring waters of the fountain.

Proserpina alive and longing for her! It did not seem true, but she would know soon. Taking back the little prince to his mother, she hid herself in a forest, called for her chariot, and, when it came, drove straight to the top of Mount Olympus, where Jupiter sat on his shining throne.

She begged of him to command his brother Pluto to return her daughter to her.

"It is granted on one condition; that is, that Proserpina has never tasted food nor drink since she has been beneath the earth."