October 20, 2022

#08-248: Ceres, Proserpine, and Pluto; or "Why do We Have Winter?"

Pluto carries away Proserpine

Note: Ancient peoples often created stories to "explain" various aspects of nature. here's one that explains how we got agriculture, and why we have winter.

Get Ready: Do you know what causes the seasons? Why do we have summer? and winter?

This is how Thomas Bulfinch tells the Roman story of Ceres, Proserpine, and Pluto.

One day the goddess Proserpine (Greek: Persephone) was gathering flowers and playing with her companions in a place where Springtime never faded. But Pluto, God of the Underworld fell in love with her, and carried her to his domain, Tartarus.

Her mother Ceres (from whose name we get the word "cereal") searched for her the world over from morning to night. At last, in despair, she sat down on a stone.

Along came an old man, out gathering acorns and blackberries and sticks for his fire. When his little girl saw the goddess--who appeared as an old woman--she said, "Mother, why do you sit here alone on the rocks?" Her father also stopped, and invited the "old woman" to their humble cottage. She declined his offer, but the old man insisted until she said, "Be happy with your daughter; I have lost mine."

As she began to weep, the old man and his child wept with her. Again the old man asked her to come, and she finally agreed. As they walked, he told her that his only son was very ill; and indeed, as they entered the cottage, the boy was dying. But the goddess stooped and kissed his lips, and he immediately recovered.

That night, while the family slept, Ceres took the boy and, after some preparation, placed him in the ashes of the family's fire. The child 's mother, who had been watching, rushed forward and snatched him from the fireplace. Ceres then told her, "Because of your kindness, I was going to make your son immortal, but you have prevented me. Still, he shall grow up to teach people to cultivate crops and bring forth food from the soil."

The goddess continued her search for her daughter, till finally, after a hint from a local river nymph, she realized it was Pluto who had kidnapped her daughter, and he had taken her below. Ceres appealed to Jupiter, King of the Gods, who agreed to force Pluto to release Proserpine on the condition that she had not eaten anything in Tartarus.

But alas, she had sucked the pulp out of a few pomegranate seeds! So little was the food, though, that Pluto allowed her to spend half the year above ground with her mother, the time when the crops grow.

The half-year when she is below ground includes winter.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. cultivate
  2. despair
  3. humble
  4. immortal
  5. nymph
  6. pomegranate
  7. pulp
  8. snatched
  9. stooped
  10. the Underworld

  1. bent over
  2. hopelessness
  3. a nature spirit
  4. lowly; modest
  5. the place of the dead
  6. able to live forever
  7. a red fruit with many seeds
  8. grabbed
  9. grow
  10. the soft part for eating

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 20, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. b; 3. d; 4. f; 5. c; 6. g; 7. j; 8. h; 9. a; 10. e