From Metamorphasis by Ovid (Selections from Book V)
Ceres was the first to turn the glebe with the hooked plowshare; she first gave corn and kindly sustenance to the world; she first gave laws. All things are the gift of Ceres; she must be the subject of my song. Would that I could worthily sing of her; surely the goddess is worthy of my song.
The huge island of Sicily had been heaped upon the body of the giant, and with its vast weight was resting on Typhoeus, who had dared to aspire to the heights of heaven. He struggles indeed, and strives often to rise again; but his right hand is held down by Ausonian Pelorus and his left by you, Pachynus. Lilybaeum rests on his legs, and Aetna's weight is on his head. Flung on his back beneath this mountain, the fierce Typhoeus spouts forth ashes and vomits flames from his mouth. Often he puts forth all his strength to push off the weight of earth and to roll the cities and great mountains from his body: then the earth quakes, and even the king of the silent land is afraid lest the crust of the earth split open in wide seams and lest the light of day be let in and affright the trembling shades. Fearing this disaster, the king of the lower world has left his gloomy realm and, drawn in his chariot with its sable steeds, was traversing the land of Sicily, carefully examining its foundations. After he had examined all to his satisfaction, and found that no points were giving way, he put aside his fears. Then Venus Erycina saw him wandering to and fro, as she was seated on her sacred mountain, and embracing her winged son, she exclaimed: "O son, both arms and hands to me, and source of all my power, take now those shafts, Cupid, with which you conquer all, and shoot your swift arrows into the heart of that god to whom the final lot of the triple kingdom fell. You rule the gods, and Jove himself; you conquer and control the deities of the sea, and the very king that rules the deities of the sea. Why does Tartarus hold back? Why do you not extend your mother's empire and your own? The third part of the world is at stake. And yet in heaven, such is our long-suffering, we are despised, and with my own, the power of love is weakening. Do you not see that Pallas and huntress Diana have revolted against me? And Ceres' daughter, too, will remain a virgin if we suffer it; for she aspires to be like them. But do you, in behalf of our joint sovereignty, if you take any pride in that, join the goddess to her uncle in the bonds of love." So Venus spoke. The god of love loosed his quiver at his mother's bidding and selected from his thousand arrows one, the sharpest and the surest and the most obedient to the bow. Then he bent the pliant bow across his knee and with his barbed arrow smote Dis through the heart.
Not far from Henna's walls there is a deep pool of water, Pergus by name. Not Cayster on its gliding waters hears more songs of swans than does this pool. A wood crowns the heights around its waters on every side, and with its foliage as with an awning keeps off the sun's hot rays. The branches afford a pleasing coolness, and the well-watered ground bears bright coloured flowers. There spring is everlasting. Within this grove Proserpina was playing, and gathering violets or white lilies. And while with her girlish eagerness she was filling her basket and her bosom, and striving to surpass her mates in gathering, almost in one act did Pluto see and love and carry her away: so precipitate was his love. The terrified girl called plaintively on her mother and her companions, but more often upon her mother. And since she had torn her garment at its upper edge, the flowers which she had gathered fell out of her loosened tunic; and such was the innocence of her girlish years, the loss of her flowers even at such a time aroused new grief. Her captor spend his chariot and urged on his horses, calling each by name, and shaking the dark-dyed reins on their necks and manes. Through deep lakes he galloped, through the pools of the Palici, reeking with sulphur and boiling up from a crevice of the earth, and where the Bacchiadae, a race sprung from Corinth between two seas, had built a city between the two harbors of unequal size.
There is between Cyane and Pisaean Arethusa a bay of the sea, its waters confined by narrowing points of land. Here was Cyane, the most famous of the Sicilian nymphs, from whose name the pool itself was called. She stood forth from the midst of her pool as far as her waist, and recognizing the goddess cried to Dis: "No further shall you go! Thou canst not be the son-in-law of Ceres against her will. The maiden should have been wooed, not ravished. But, if it is proper for me to compare small things with great, I also have been wooed, by Anapis, and I wedded him, too, yielding to prayer, however, not to fear, like this maiden." She spoke and, stretching her arms on either side, blocked his way. No longer could the son of Saturn hold his wrath, and urging on his terrible steeds, he whirled his royal scepter with strong right arm and smote the pool to its bottom. The smitten earth opened up a road to Tartarus and received the down-plunging chariot in her cavernous depths.
But Cyane, grieving for the rape of the goddess and for her fountain's rights thus set at naught, nursed an incurable wound in her silent heart, and dissolved all away in tears; and into those very waters was she melted whose great divinity she had been but now. You might see her limbs softening, her bones becoming flexible, her nails losing their hardness. And first of all melt the slenderest parts: her dark hair, her fingers, legs and feet; for it is no great change from slender limbs to cool water. Next after these, her shoulders, back, and sides and breasts vanish into thin watery streams. And finally, in place of living blood, clear water flows through her weakened veins and nothing is left that you can touch.
Meanwhile all in vain the affrighted mother seeks her daughter in every land, on every deep. Not Aurora, rising with dewy tresses, not Hesperus sees her pausing in the search. She kindles two pine torches in the fires of Aetna, and wanders without rest through the frosty shades of night; again, when the genial day had dimmed the stars, she was still seeking her daughter from the setting to the rising of the sun. Faint with toil and athirst, she had moistened her lips in no fountain, when she changed to see a hut thatched with straw, and knocked at its lowly door. Then out came an old woman and beheld the goddess, and when she asked for water gave her a sweet drink with parched barley floating upon it. While she drank, a coarse, saucy boy stood watching her, and mocked her and called her greedy. She was offended, and threw what she had not yet drunk, with the barley grains, full in his face. Straightway his face was spotted, his arms were changed to legs, and a tail was added to his transformed limbs; he shrank to tiny size, that he might have no great power to harm, and became in form a lizard, though yet smaller in size. The old woman wondered and wept, and reached out to touch the marvelous thing, but he fled from her and sought a hiding-place. He has a name suited to his offence, since his body is starred with bright-colored spots.
Over what lands and what seas the goddess wandered it would take long to tell. When there was no more a place to search in, she came back to Sicily, and in the course of her wanderings here she came to Cyane. If the nymph had not been changed to water, she would have told her all. But, though she wished to tell, she had neither lips nor tongue, nor aught wherewith to speak. But still she gave clear evidence, and showed upon the surface of her pool what the mother knew well, Persephone's girdle, which had chanced to fall upon the sacred waters. As soon as she knew this, just as if she had then for the first time learned that her daughter had been stole, the goddess tore her unkempt locks and smote her breast again and again with her hands. She did not know as yet where her child was; still she reproached all lands, calling them ungrateful and unworthy of the gift of corn; but Sicily above all other lands, where she had found no traces of her loss. So there with angry hand she broke in pieces the plows that turn the glebe, and in her rage she gave to destruction farms and cattle alike, and bade the plowed fields to betray their trust, and blighted the seed. The fertility of this land, famous throughout the world, lay false to its good name: the crops died in early blade, now too much heat, now too much rain destroying them. Stars and winds were baleful, and greedy birds ate up the seed as soon as it was sown; tares and thorns and stubborn grasses choked the wheat.
Then did Arethusa, Alpheus' daughter, lift her head from her Elean pool and, brushing her dripping locks back from her brows, thus addressed the goddess:
"O thou mother of the maiden sought through all the earth, thou mother of fruits, cease now thy boundless toils and do not be so grievously wroth with the land which has been true to thee. The land is innocent; against its will it opened to the robbery. It is not for my own country that I pray for, for I cam e a stranger hither. Pisa is my native land, and from Elis have I sprung; I dwell in Sicily a foreigner. But I love this country more than all; this is now my home, here is my dwelling-place. And now, I pray thee, save it, O most merciful. Why I moved from my place and why I cam to Sicily, through such wastes of sea, a fitting time will come to tell thee, when thou shalt be free from care and of a more cheerful countenance. The solid earth opened a way before me, and passing through the lowest depths, I here lifted my head again and beheld the stars that had grown unfamiliar. therefore, while I was gliding beneath the earth in my Stygian stream, I saw Proserpina there with these very eyes. She seemed sad indeed, and her face was still perturbed with fear; but yet she was a queen, the great queen of that world of darkness, the mighty consort of the tyrant of the underworld." The mother upon hearing these words stood as if turned to stone, and was for a long time like one bereft of reason. But when her overwhelming frenzy had given way to overwhelming pain, she set forth in her chariot to the realms of heaven. There, with clouded countenance, with disheveled hair, and full of indignation, she appeared before Jove and said: "I have come, O Jupiter, as suppliant in behalf of my child and your own. If you have no regard for the mother, at least let the daughter touch her father's heart. And let not your care for her be less because I am her mother. See, my daughter, sought so long, has at last been found, if you call it finding more certainly to loose her, or if you call it finding merely to know where she is. That she has been stolen, I will bear, if only he will bring her back; for your daughter does not deserve to have a robber for a husband -- if she now is not mine." And Jove replied: "She is, indeed, our daughter, yours and mine, our common pledge and care. but this is no harm that has been done, but only love. Nor will he shame us for a son-in-law -- do you but consent, goddess. Though all else be lacking, how great a thing it is to be Jove's brother! But what that other things are not lacking, and that he does not yield place to me -- save only by the lot? But if you so greatly desire to separate them, Proserpina shall return to heaven, but on one condition only: if in the lower-world no food has as yet touched her lips. For so have the fates decreed." He spoke; but Ceres was resolved to have her daughter back. Not so the fates; for the girl had already broken her fast, and while, simple child that she was, she wandered in the trim gardens, she had plucked a purple pomegranate hanging from a pending bough, and peeling off the yellowish rind, she had eaten seven of the seeds. The only one who saw the act was Ascalaphus, whom Orphne, not the least famous of the Avernal nymphs, is sad to have borne to her own Acheron within the dark groves of the lower-world. The boy saw, and by his cruel tattling thwarted the girl's return to earth. Then was the queen of Erebus enraged, and changed the informer into an ill-omened bird; throwing in his face a handful of water from the Phlegethon, she gave him a beak and feathers and big eyes. Robbed of himself, he was now clothed in yellow wings; he grows into a head and long, hooked claws; but he scarce moves the feathers that sprout all over his sluggish arms. He has become a loathsome bird, prophet of woe, the slothful screech-owl, a bird of evil omen to men.
He indeed can seem to have merited his punishment because of his tattling tongue. But, daughters of Achelous, why have you the feathers and feet of birds, though you still have maiden's features? Is it because, when Proserpina was gathering the spring flowers, you were among the number of her companions, ye Sirens, skilled in song? After you had sought in vain for her through all the lands, that the sea also might know your search, you prayed that you might float on beating wings above the waves: you found the gods ready, and suddenly you saw your limbs covered with golden plumage. But, that you might not loose your tuneful voices, so soothing to the ear, and that rich dower of song, maiden features and human voice remained.
But now Jove, holding the balance between his brother and his grieving sister, divides the revolving year into two equal parts. Now the goddess, the common divinity of two realms, spends half the months with her mother and half with her husband, half. Straightway the bearing of her heart and face is changed. For she who but lately even to Dis seemed sad, now wears a joyful countenance; like the sun which, long concealed behind dark and misty clouds, disperses the clouds and reveals his face.
For more on this theme see Underworldly Stories
House of Hades
The Ivory Tower: My Main Page