1882 depiction of Proserpina by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Proserpina (sometimes spelled Proserpine, Prosperine or Prosperina) is an ancient Roman goddess whose story is the basis of a myth of Springtime. Her Greek goddess' equivalent is Persephone.[1] The probable origin of her name comes from the Latin, "proserpere" or "to emerge," in respect to the growing of grain. Proserpina was subsumed by the cult of Libera,[2] an ancient fertility goddess, wife of Liber and is also considered a life–death–rebirth deity.

She was the daughter of Ceres, goddess of agriculture and crops[3] and Jupiter, the god of sky and thunder.


Myth of Springtime

Pluto and Proserpina - Amsterdam 1703

Pluto abducts Proserpina. Illustration from an edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses printed in Amsterdam in 1703.

Venus, in order to bring love to Pluto, sent her son Cupid to hit Pluto with one of his arrows. Proserpina was in Sicily, at the Pergusa Lake, where she was playing with some nymphs and collecting flowers, when Pluto came out from the volcano Etna with four black horses named Orphnaeus, Aethon, Nycteus and Alastor.[4] He abducted her in order to marry her and live with her in the underworld of which he was the ruler.

Her mother Ceres, the goddess of agriculture or of the Earth, went looking for her in vain to every corner of the earth, but was not able to find anything but a small belt that was floating upon a little lake (made with the tears of the nymphs). In her desperation Ceres angrily stopped the growth of fruits and vegetabl]s, bestowing a curse on Sicily. Ceres refused to go back to Mount Olympus and started walking on the Earth, making a desert at every step.

Worried, Jupiter sent Mercury to order Pluto (Jupiter's brother) to free Proserpina. Pluto obeyed, but before letting her go he made her eat six pomegranate seeds, because those who have eaten the food of the dead could not return to the world of the living. This meant that she would have to live six months of each year with him, and stay the rest with her mother. This story was undoubtedly meant to illustrate the changing of the seasons: when Ceres welcomes her daughter back in the spring the earth blossoms, and when Proserpina must be returned to her husband it withers.

In another version of the story Proserpina ate only four pomegranate seeds, and she did so of her own accord. When Jupiter ordered her return, Pluto struck a deal, saying that since she had stolen his pomegranate seeds, she must stay with him four months of the year in return. For this reason, in spring when Ceres receives her daughter back, the crops blossom, and in summer they flourish. In the autumn Ceres changes the leaves to shades of brown and orange (her favorite colors) as a gift to Proserpina before she has to return to the underworld. During the time that Proserpina resides with Pluto, the world goes through winter, a time when the earth is barren.

Orpheus and Eurydice

The myth of Proserpina, the most extensive Latin version of which is by Claudian (4th century CE), is closely connected with that of Orpheus and Eurydice &mdash. In Virgil's writings; it is Proserpina, as Queen of Hades, who allows Orpheus to enter and bring back to life his wife Eurydice, after she is killed by a poisonous snake.[5] Proserpina played her cetra to quiet Cerberus, but Orpheus did not respect her order never to look back, and Eurydice was lost.

Art featuring Proserpina

Proserpina's figure inspired many artistic compositions, eminently in sculpture (Bernini[6]) in painting (D.G.Rossetti, Pomarancio, J.Heintz,[7] P.P. Rubens,[8] A.Durer,[9] Dell'Abbate,[10] M.Parrish[11]) and in literature (Goethe's[12] Proserpina and Swinburne's Hymn to Proserpine and The Garden of Proserpine) The statue of the Rape of Prosepina by Pluto that stands in the Great Garden of Dresden, Germany is also referred to as "Time Ravages Beauty".

Kate McGarrigle's song about the legend was one of the last things she wrote prior to her death, and received its only performance at her last concert at Royal Albert Hall in December 2009.

Proserpina in astronomy

Proserpina is a Main belt asteroid 95.1 km in diameter, which was discovered by Karl Theodor Robert Luther in 1853.


Further reading

  • John Ruskin (1886). Proserpina: Studies of Wayside Flowers while the Air was Yet Pure among the Alps and in the Scotland and England Which My Father Knew.

External links

  • Commons-logo.svg Media related to Persephone at Wikimedia Commons
  • Claudian, De raptu Proserpinae ("The Rape of Proserpine"), three books, in Latin and English, Bill Thayer's edition of the Loeb Classical Library text at LacusCurtius
  • The Pomegranate Seeds adapted as a children's tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in Tanglewood Tales
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Proserpina. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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