Proserpina in Myth

The myth of Proserpina and Pluto, as detailed in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, is a non-consensual union of the god of the Underworld to the daughter of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. This union was brought on when Cupid shot Pluto with a golden arrow of immediate attraction at the behest of the Goddess of love, Venus. She claimed that her powers of inducing mad love had guided the hearts of Jove and Neptune, rulers of the sky and sea. In an attempt to bring love to the Underworld, she united the land of the living with the domain of the dead.

While this tableau took place, Proserpina was picking flowers by a fountain, enjoying the bounty of spring and the beauty of youth. In less than a split second, Pluto had stolen her from her peace and carried her off in his chariot pulled by dark horses who led the cart into the Underworld. It is unclear whether or not Pluto had committed rape in that moment but regardless, he tore her clothes off in his “rush of love” and was called a ravager by Ovid. This violent attack and seizure of Proserpina from the tranquility of her home and the comfort of her mother brought her immense distress and discomfort.

Meanwhile, Ceres had been searching globally for Proserpina’s whereabouts but had no such luck in locating her. She eventually returned to the grove where her daughter had been picking flowers and saw the garments Pluto removed from Proserpina in his flight. It wasn’t until then that she realized exactly what had occurred. In her anger and frustration, she sent a blight along with oppressive sunbeams and torrential storms that wiped out all of the crops and sterilizing the once fecund plots of land. As she continued to obliterate the natural life, a nymph named Arethusa came to her and said that she has seen Proserpina in the Underworld not as a prisoner but as a queen. Arethusa also noted that while she looked noble, her sorrow was palpable. At this, Ceres returned to the heavens to speak with her brother, Jove, who is also Proserpina’s father. She told Jove that the two of them must go to Hades to demand the return of Proserpina. He thought about it for a moment and told her that Pluto stole their daughter out of love and had no intent to be malicious. This did not please Ceres so Jove offered a compromise. If their daughter has eaten nothing in the Underworld, then she will be able to return to the earth.

Upon arrival in the Underworld, her parents found that Proserpina had, unfortunately,  eaten seven pomegranate seeds during her stay. This consumption is symbolic as pomegranate is the fruit of the dead. Ceres and Pluto argued over the custody of Proserpina, with Jove reluctantly adjudicating. After realizing neither would be satisfied with the absence of Proserpina in their respective domains, Jove dictated that Proserpina would remain with Ceres for half of the year and Pluto for the remainder. These periods became known as the seasons. When the daughter was annually fated to return to her husband, Ceres wept for her loss and the crops began to wither as autumn took hold, making way for winter. When Prosperina returned, however, life sprung back to the fields and spring and summer reigned until the cycle repeated itself again the next year.