Not another mountain valley anywhere was
quite like this one. It was never visited by
any of the winds except Zephyrus, who was
always mild and gentle. The grass was always
green and the flowers were always in bloom.
There were shady groves on every side, and
numberless fountains of sparkling water. It
would have been hard to find a pleasanter
This valley of Enna was the home of Ceres,
the Earth-mother, one of the wisest of the
goddesses. In fact, the valley owed its
beauty to the presence of Ceres, and the
wonderful vegetation which covered the whole
island of Sicily was due to her influence;
for she was the goddess of all that grows
out of the earth, and knew the secret of the
spring ing wheat and the ripening fruits.
She watched over the flowers, the lambs in
the fields, and the young children. The
springs of water, too, which came from
hidden places of the earth, were hers.
One day Proserpine, the little daughter of
Ceres, was playing in the meadows of Enna.
Her hair was as yellow as gold, and her
cheeks had the delicate pink of an apple
blossom. She seemed like a flower among the
other flowers of the valley.
She, and the daughters of the valley-nymphs,
who were children of about her own age, had
taken off their sandals and were running
about on the soft grass in their bare feet.
They were as light-hearted as the little
lambs and kids. Soon they began to gather
the flowers that grew so thick on every
side - violets, hyacinths, lilies, and big
purple irises. They filled their baskets,
and then their dresses, and twisted long
sprays of wild roses around their shoulders.
Suddenly, Proserpine saw a flower which made
her forget everything else. This flower
seemed to be a strange, new kind of
narcissus. It was of gigantic size, and its
one flower-stalk held at least a hundred
blossoms. Its fragrance was so powerful that
it filled the entire island, and might be
noticed even out at sea.
Proserpine called to her playmates to come
and see this wonderful flower, and then she
noticed, for the first time, that she was
alone; for she had wandered from one flower
to another till she had left the other
children far behind. Running quickly forward
to pick this strange blossom, she saw that
its stalk was spotted like a snake, and
feared that it might be poisonous. Still, it
was far too beautiful a flower to be left by
itself in the meadow, and she therefore
tried to pluck it. When she found that she
could not break the stalk, she made a great
effort to pull the whole plant up by the
All at once, the black soil around the plant
loosened, and Proserpine heard a rumbling
underneath the ground. Then the earth
suddenly opened, a great black cavern
appeared, and out from its depths sprang
four magnificent black horses, drawing a
golden chariot. In the chariot sat a king
with a crown on his head, but under the
crown was the gloomiest face ever seen.
When this strange king saw Proserpine
standing there by the flower, too frightened
to run away, he checked his horses for an
instant and, bending forward, snatched the
poor child from the ground and placed her on
the seat by his side. Then he whipped up his
horses and drove away at a furious rate.
Proserpine, still holding fast to her
flowers, screamed for her mother.
Helios, the sun-god, saw how the
gloomy-faced king had stolen Proserpine
Hecate, who sat near by in her
cave, heard the scream and the sound of
wheels. No one else had any suspicion of
what had happened.
Ceres was far away across the seas in
another country, overlooking the gathering
in of the harvests. She heard Proserpine's
scream, and like a sea-bird when it hears
the distressed cry of its young, came
rushing home across the water.
She filled the valley with the sound of her
calling, but no one answered to the name of
Proserpine. The strange flower had
disappeared. A few roses lay scattered on
the grass, and near them were a child's
footprints. Ceres felt sure that these were
the traces of Proserpine's little bare feet,
but she could not follow them far, because a
herd of swine had wandered that way and left
a confusion of hoofprints behind them.
Ceres could learn nothing about her daughter
from the nymphs. She sent out her own
messenger, the big white crane that brings
the rain; but although he could fly very
swiftly and very far on his strong wings, he
brought back no news of Proserpine.
When it grew dark, the goddess lighted two
torches at the flaming summit of Mount aetna,
and continued her search. She wandered up
and down for nine days and nine nights. On
the tenth night, when it was nearly morning,
she met Hecate, who was carrying a light in
her hand, as if she, too, were looking for
something. Hecate told Ceres how she had
heard Proserpine scream, and had heard the
sound of wheels, but had seen nothing. Then
she went with the goddess to ask Helios, the
sun-god, whether he had not seen what
happened that day, for the sun-god travels
around the whole world, and must see
Ceres found Helios sitting in his chariot,
ready to drive his horses across the sky. He
held the fiery creatures in for a moment,
while he told Ceres that
Pluto, the king of
Underworld, had stolen her daughter and
had carried her away to live with him in his
When Ceres heard this, she knew that
Proserpine was lost to her, and she kept
away from the other gods and hid herself in
the dark places of the earth. She liked to
keep away from the earth's people as well as
from the gods, for wherever she went, she
was sure to see some happy mother with her
children around her, and the sight made her
feel very lonely. She sometimes envied the
poorest peasants, or even the little
bird-mothers in the trees.
One day she sat down by the side of the
road, near a well, in the shade of an olive
tree. While she was sitting there, the four
daughters of Celeus, carrying golden
pitchers on their shoulders, came down from
their father's palace to draw water. Seeing
a sad old woman sitting by the well, they
spoke to her in a kindly way. Not wishing
them to know that she was a goddess, Ceres
told the four young princesses that she had
been carried away from her home by pirates,
and had escaped from being sold for a slave
by running away the instant that the
pirate's ship reached the shore.
"I am old, and a stranger to every one
here," she said, "but I am not too old to
work for my bread. I could keep house, or
take care of a young child."
Hearing this, the four sisters ran eagerly
back to the palace, and asked permission to
bring the strange woman home with them.
Their mother told them that they might
engage her as nurse for their little
Therefore Ceres became an inmate of the
house of Celeus, and the little Demophoon
flourished wonderfully under her care.
Ceres soon learned to love the human baby
who was her charge, and she wished to make
him immortal. She knew only one way of doing
this, and that was to bathe him with
ambrosia, and then, one night after another,
place him in the fire until his mortal parts
should be burned away. Every night she did
this, without saying a word to any one.
Under this treatment Demophoon was growing
wonderfully godlike; but one night, his
mother being awake very late, and hearing
some one moving about, drew the curtains
aside a very little, and peeped out. There,
before the fire-place, where a great fire
was burning, stood the strange nurse, with
Demophoon in her arms. The mother watched in
silence until she saw Ceres place the child
in the fire, then she gave a shriek of
The shriek broke the spell. Ceres took
Demophoon from the fire and laid him on the
floor. Then she told the trembling mother
that she had meant to make her child
immortal, but that now this could not be. He
would have to grow old and die like other
mortals. Then, throwing off her blue hood,
she suddenly lost her aged appearance, and
all at once looked very grand and beautiful.
Her hair, which fell down over her
shoulders, was yellow, like the ripe grain
in the fields. Demophoon's mother knew by
these signs that her child's nurse must be
the great Ceres, but she saw her no more,
for the goddess went out into the dark
After this Ceres continued her lonely
wandering, not caring where she went. One
day, as she stooped to drink from a spring,
Abas, a freckled boy who stood near, mocked
her because she looked sad and old. Suddenly
he saw Ceres stand up very straight, with a
look that frightened him. Then he felt
himself growing smaller and smaller, until
he shrunk into a little speckled water-newt,
when he made haste to hide himself away
under a stone.
Unlike Abas, most of the people whom Ceres
met with felt sorry for her. One day, while
she was sitting on a stone by the side of a
mountain road in Greece, feeling very
sorrowful, she heard a childish voice say,
"Mother, are you not afraid to stay all
alone here on the mountain?"
Ceres looked up, pleased to hear the word
"mother," and saw a little peasant girl,
standing near two goats that she had driven
down from the mountain-pastures.
"No, my child," said she, "I am not afraid."
Just then, out from among the trees came the
little girl's father, carrying a bundle of
firewood on his shoulder. He invited Ceres
to come to his cottage for the night. Ceres
at first refused, but finally accepted the
"You are happier than I," said Ceres, as the
three walked toward the cottage. "You have
your little daughter with you, but I have
"Alas! I have sorrow enough," said the
peasant. "I fear that my only son, little
Triptolemus, lies dying at home."
"Let us hope that he may yet be cured," said
Ceres, and stooping, she gathered a handful
Soon they came into the little cottage,
where they found the mother beside herself
with grief for her boy.
Ceres bent over the child and kissed him
softly on both cheeks. As she did so, the
poppies in her hands brushed lightly against
his face. Then his groans ceased, and the
child fell into a quiet sleep.
In the morning Triptolemus woke strong and
well; and when Ceres called her winged
dragons and drove away through the clouds,
she left a happy and grateful family behind
The Return of Proserpine
All this time, while Ceres had been mourning
for her lost Proserpine, she had neglected
to look after the little seeds that lay in
the brown earth. The consequence was that
these little seeds could not sprout and
grow; therefore there was no grain to be
ground into flour for bread. Not only the
seeds, but all growing things missed the
care of Mother Ceres. The grass turned brown
and withered away, the trees in the olive
orchards dropped their leaves, and the
little birds all flew away to a distant
country. Even the sheep that fed among the
water-springs in the valley of Enna grew so
thin that it was pitiful to see them.
saw that without Ceres, the Great
Mother, there could be no life on the earth.
In time, all men and animals would die for
lack of food. He therefore told Iris to set
up her rainbow-bridge in the sky, and to go
quickly down to the dark cave where Ceres
mourned for Proserpine, that she might
persuade the goddess to forget her sorrow,
and go back to the fields, where she was so
Iris found Ceres sitting in a corner of her
cave, among the shadows, wrapped in dark
blue draperies that made her almost
invisible. The coming of Iris lighted up
every part of the cave and set beautiful
colors dancing everywhere, but it did not
make Ceres smile.
After this, Jupiter sent the gods, one after
another, down to the cave; but none of them
could comfort the Earth-mother. She still
Then Jupiter sent
down into Pluto's
kingdom, to see whether he could not
persuade that grim king to let Proserpine
return to her mother.
When Mercury told his errand to King Pluto,
Proserpine jumped up from her throne, all
eagerness to see her mother again, and
Pluto, seeing how glad she was, could not
withhold his consent. So he ordered the
black horses and the golden chariot brought
out to take her back; but before she sprang
to the chariot's seat, he craftily asked her
if she would not eat one of the pomegranates
that grew in his garden.
Proserpine tasted the fruit, taking just
four seeds. Then the black horses swiftly
carried Mercury and herself into the upper
world, and straight to the cave where Ceres
What a change! How quickly Ceres ran out of
the cave, when she heard her daughter's
voice! No more mourning in shadowy places
for her, now!
Proserpine told her mother everything - how
she had found the wonderful narcissus, how
the earth had opened, allowing King Pluto's
horses to spring out, and how the dark king
had snatched her and carried her away.
"But, my dear child," Ceres anxiously
inquired, "have you eaten anything since you
have been in the underworld?"
Proserpine confessed that she had eaten the
four pomegranate seeds. At that, Ceres beat
her breast in despair, and then once more
appealed to Jupiter. He said that Proserpine
should spend eight months of every year with
her mother, but would have to pass the other
four - one for each pomegranate seed - in the
underworld with Pluto.
So Ceres went back to her beautiful valley
of Enna, and to her work in the fields. The
little brown seeds that had lain asleep so
long sprouted up and grew; the fountains
sent up their waters; the brown grass on the
hills became green; the olive trees and the
grape-vines put out new leaves; the lambs
and the kids throve, and skipped about more
gayly than ever; and all the hosts of little
birds came back with the crane of Ceres to
During the eight months that Proserpine was
with her, Ceres went about again among her
peasants, standing near the men while they
were threshing the grain, helping the women
to bake their bread, and having a care over
everything that went on. She did not forget
the peasant family of Greece, in whose
cottage she had been invited to pass the
night, and where she had cured little
Triptolemus. She visited this family again
and taught the young Triptolemus how to
plough, to sow, and to reap, like the
peasants of her own Sicily.
The time came when Proserpine was obliged to
go back to King Pluto. Then Ceres went and
sat among the shadows in the cave, as she
had done before.
All nature slept for a while; but the
peasants had no fear now, for they knew that
Proserpine would surely come back, and that
the great Earth-mother would then care for
her children again.
The Legend and Myth of Ceres and Proserpine
The Myth of Ceres and Proserpine
The story of Ceres and Proserpine is featured in the book
entitled Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian
Stoughton Hyde, published in 1904 by D. C.
Heath and Company.