RAPE OF PROSERPINA
THE RAPE OF PROSERPINA was the Roman version of the tale of the abduction of the springtime goddess Proserpina by Pluto, king of the underworld.
This page includes several Latin versions of the story beginning with the famous account from Ovid's Metamorphoses, followed by several other minor passages.
Another significant Latin version by the Roman poet Claudian can be found in the Theoi Texts Library.
Most of the Roman tales locate the story on the island of Sicily, following the tradition established by the Greek colonies of southern Italy.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
RAPE OF PROSERPINA (OVID'S METAMORPHOSES)
I. PLUTO ABDUCTS PROSPERINA
Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 462 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The land [of Sicily] quakes [as Typhoeus the Giant buried beneath the island heaves] and even Rex Silentum (the king who rules the land of silence) [Pluto-Haides] shudders lest the ground in gaping seams should open and the day stream down and terrify the trembling Umpire (Shades). Tyrannus [Haides] had left his dark domains to and fro, drawn in his chariot and sable steeds, inspected the foundations of the isle. His survey done, and no point found to fail, he put his fears aside; when, as he roamed, Erycina [Venus-Aphrodite], from her mountain throne, saw him and clasped her swift-winged son, and said : ‘Cupido [Eros], my child, my warrior, my power, take those sure shafts with which you conquer all, and shoot your speedy arrows to the heart of the great god to whom the last lot fell when the three realms were drawn. Your majesty subdues the gods of heaven [and sea] . . . Why should Tartara (Hell) lag behind? Why not there too extend your mother's empire and your own? The third part of the world's at stake, while we in heaven (so long-suffering!) are despised--my power grows less, and less the power of Amor [Eros]. Do you not see how Pallas [Athene] and Diana [Artemis], queen of the chase, have both deserted me? And Ceres' daughter [Proserpina-Persephone], if we suffer it, will stay a virgin too--her hope's the same. So for the sake of our joint sovereignty, if that can touch your pride, unite in love that goddess and her uncle [Haides].’
So she spoke. Then Cupido [Eros]guided by his mother, opened his quiver and of all his thousand arrows selected one, the sharpest and the surest, the arrow most obedient to the bow, and bent the pliant horn against his knee and shot the barbed shaft deep in Dis' [Haides'] heart. Not far from Henna's walls there is a lake, Pergus by name, its waters deep and still; it hears the music of the choiring swans as sweet as on Caystros' gliding stream. Woods crown the waters, ringing every side, their leaves like awnings barring the sun's beams. The boughs give cooling shade, the watered grass is gay with spangled flowers of every hue, and always it is spring. Here Proserpina [Persephone] was playing in a glade and picking flowers, pansies and lilies, with a child's delight, filling her basket and her lap to gather more than the other girls, when, in a trice, Dis [Haides] saw her, loved her, carried her away--love leapt in such a hurry! Terrified, in tears, the goddess called her mother, called her comrades too, but oftenest her mother; and, as she'd torn the shoulder of her dress, the folds slipped down and out the flowers fell, and she, in innocent simplicity, grieved in her girlish heart for their loss too. Away the chariot sped; her captor urged each horse by name and shook the dark-dyed reins on mane and neck. On through deep lakes he drove, on through Palici's sulphurous pools that boil in reeking chasms, on past Bacchiadae [Syracuse], where settlers once from Corinthus' isthmus built between two harbours their great battlements.
A bay confined by narrow points of land lies between Arethusa Pisaea and Cyane. And there lived Cyane, the most renowned of all the Nymphae Sicelidae (Sicilian Nymphs), who gave her pool its name. Out of her waters' midst she rose waist-high and recognised the goddess. ‘Stop, stop!’ she cried, ‘You cannot take this girl to wife against Queen Ceres' will! She ought to have been wooed, not whirled away. I too, if humble things may be compared with great, was loved; Anapus married me; but I was wooed and won, not, like this girl, frightened and forced.’ She held out her arms outstretched to bar his way. But Saturnius [Hades] restrained his wrath no longer. Urging on his steeds, his terrible steeds, and brandishing aloft his royal sceptre in his strong right arm, he hurled it to the bottom of the pool. The smitten earth opened a way to Hell and down the deep abyss the chariot plunged. But Cyane, heartbroken at the rape of Proserpine and at her pool's outrage, in silence carried in her heart a wound beyond consoling, and in endless tears she wasted away. Into the pool--her pool and she but now its deity--she spread dissolved.
II. CERES SEARCHES FOR PROSERPINA
"Ceres [Demeter] meanwhile in terror sought her child vainly in every land, o'er every sea. Never Aurora (the Dawn) [Eos] rising with dewy hair, nor ever Hesperus (the Evening Star) saw her at rest. She lit pine-torches, one in either hand, at Aetna's fires, and through the frosty dark bore them unsleeping. When the friendly day had dimmed the stars, she sought her daughter still from sunrise until sunset hour by hour . . .
Through what far lands and seas the goddess roved were long to tell; the whole world failed her search. She turned again to Sicania [Sicily] and there, in wanderings that led her everywhere, she too reached Cyane; who would have told all, had she not been changed. She longed to tell but had no mouth, no tongue, nor any means of speaking. Even so she gave a clue, clear beyond doubt, and floating on her pool she showed the well-known sash which Persephone had chanced to drop there in the sacred spring.
How well the goddess knew it! Then at last she seemed to understand her child was stolen, and tore her ruffed hair and beat her breast. Where the girl was she knew not, but reproached the whole wide world--ungrateful, not deserving her gift of grain--and Trinacria [Sicily] in chief where she had found the traces of her loss. So there with angry hands she broke the ploughs that turned the soil and sent to death alike the farmer and his labouring ox, and bade the fields betray their trust, and spoilt the seeds . . .
Then that fair Nymphe Alpheias [Arethusa] . . . rose from her pool and brushed back from he brow her dripping hair, and said : ‘O thou, divine Mother, who through the world hast sought thy child . . . The land is innocent; against its will it opened for that rape. While beneath the earth I glided in my Stygian stream, I saw, myself with my own eyes, your Proserpina. Her looks were sad, and fear still in her eyes; and yet a queen, and yet of that dark land Empress, and yet with power and majesty the consort of the Tyrannus Infernus (Sovereign lord of Hell) [Pluto-Haides].’ The mother heard in horror, thunderstruck it seemed and turned to stone.
III. THE RETURN OF PROSERPINA
"Then as her shock so great gave way to grief as great, she soared borne in her chariot, to the sky's bright realms and stood, with clouded face and hair let loose, indignant before Jove [Zeus] and said : ‘I come to plead for my own flesh and blood, yours too; and if the mother finds no favour, let at least the daughter move her father's heart; love her not less because I gave her birth. Behold the daughter I have sought so long is found, if found is surer loss, or if but to know where she is finding her. Her theft I'll bear if he'll but bring her back; a thief, a kidnapper's no proper husband for child of yours, even if she's mine no more.’
And Juppiter [Zeus] replied : ‘The child is yours and mine, our common care and love, If we allow things proper names, here is no harm, no crime, but love and passion. Such a son-in-law, if you, Ma'am, but consent, will not disgrace us. To be Jove's brother, what a splendid thing!--if that were all! What then, when that's not all, when he yields place to me only because the lots so fell? But if your heart's so set to part them, Proserpina shall reach the sky again on one condition, that in Hell her lips have touched no food; such is the rule forestablished by the three Parcae [Moirai].’
So Jove [Zeus] replied; but Ceres was resolved to win her daughter back. Not so fate permitted, for the girl had broken her fast and wandering, childlike, through the orchard trees from a low branch had picked a pomegranate and peeled the yellow rind and found the seeds and nibbled seven. The only one who saw was Orphne's son, Ascalaphus, whom she, no the least famous of the Nymphae Avernales (Infernal Nymphs), bore once to Acheron in her dusky bower. He saw and told, in spite, and by his tale stole her return away. The Queen of Hell (Regina Erebi) [Persephone] groaned in distress and changed the tale-bearer into a bird. She threw into his face water from Phlegethon, and lo! a beak and feathers and enormous eyes! Reshaped, he wears great tawny wings, his head swells huge . . . a loathsome bird, ill omen for mankind, a skulking screech-owl, sorrow's harbinger.
That tell-tale tongue of his no doubt deserved the punishment. But the Acheloides [Sirens], why should it be that they have feathers now and feet of birds, though still a girl's fair face, the sweet-voiced Sirenes? Was it not because, when Proserpine [Persephone] was picking those spring flowers, they were her comrades there, and, when in vain they'd sought for her through all the lands, they prayed for wings to carry them across the waves, so that the seas should know their search, and found the gods gracious, and then suddenly saw golden plumage clothing all their limbs? Yet to reserve that dower of glorious song, their melodies' enchantment, they retained their fair girls' features and their human voice. Then Juppiter [Zeus], to hold the balance fair between his brother and his sister in her grief, portioned the rolling years in equal parts. Now Proserpine, of two empires alike great deity, spends with her mother half the year's twelve months and with her husband half. Straightway her heart and features are transformed; that face which even Dis [Haides] must have found unhappy beams with joy, as when the sun, long lost and hidden in the clouds and rain, rides forth in triumph from the clouds again. So Ceres [Demeter] had regained her Proserpine."
RAPE OF PROSERPINA (OVID'S FASTI)
Ovid, Fasti 4. 417 ff (trans.Boyle) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"I present The Virgin's [Proserpina-Persephone's] Rape. You will learn some things and recognise more. Jutting into the vast ocean with its three cliffs is Trinacris [Sicily], named after its shape. It is Ceres' [Demeter's] dear home. Its many cities include fertile Henna with its well-ploughed soil. Cool-fresh Arethusa had called divine matrons to a sacred feast; the blonde goddess came. Her daughter [Persephone] and usual entourage of girls rambled barefoot across their meadows. There is a place deep in a shady valley drenched with spray from a tower of falling water. All the colours owned by nature were in that spot; the pied earth beamed with different flowers. The daughter spied this and shouted : ‘Over here, friends. Let us return with lapfuls of lowers.’ The worthless booty entices their girlish minds, their absorption makes the labour unfelt. One girl fills baskets woven of pliant wicker, another loads her lap or loosened robe. One picks marigolds, or spots the violet-beds; or clips the tops of poppies with her nail. Some linger with you, hyacinth, and you, amaranth; some love thyme, corn poppy or clover. They pile up roses and nameless flowers; their mistress gathers fragile saffron and white lilies. Her passion for plucking gradually leads her away; no attendant happened to follow her. Her uncle [Hades] sees her and swiftly abducts what he sees her and swiftly abducts what he sees, and bears her to his realm on black horses. She screamed, ‘Oh, dearest mother, I'm being taken!’ And had ripped her frock apart at her breasts. Meanwhile a path gapes open for Dis; his horses barely endure the foreign daylight. Her band of servant friends, piled with flowers, call out, ‘Persephone, come and see your presents.’ When the shout meets silence, their howling fills the hills; they hammer naked breasts with grieving hands. Their lament stunned Ceres [Demeter] (she had just reached Henna). No delay : ‘Ah! My daughter, where are you?’ She is swept away mindless, like a Thracian Maenad with streaming hair. As a cow bellows for the calf ripped from her udder and ransacks every grove for her brood, so the goddess roars out her pain and rushes pell-mell. She begins with you fields, Henna.
There she found the footprints of a girl and observed the familiar tracks in the soil. That day would have terminated her wandering, if pigs had not disturbed the marks she found . . . [Ceres-Demeter searches throughout Sicily] She fills everywhere she goes with pitiful wailing, like the bird grieving lost Itys. And she shouts by turns, ‘Persephone!’ and ‘Daughter!,’ she shouts and screams each name in its turn. And whether she saw shepherd or ploughman, the one question was, ‘Did any girl pass this way?’ . . . She [Ceres-Demeter] roams the heaven, too [in search of Persephone], and accosts the Stars free of limpid Oceanus near the chilly pole : ‘Parrhasian Stars (you can know everything, since you never sink beneath Oceanus' stream), show this wretched parent her daughter, Persephone.’ She spoke. Helice replies this to her : ‘Night is guiltless. Consult Sol (the Sun) [Helios] on the virgin's rape. He gazes far and wide on the day's deeds.’ Sol is approached. ‘Don't waste time,’ he says, ‘You seek the bride of Jove's brother [Pluto-Haides], the third realm's queen.’
She moaned long within herself. Then she addressed the Thunderer [Jupiter-Zeus] (deep sorrow engraved her face) : ‘If you remember who fathered Proserpina [Persephone], half this anxiety should be yours. My scouring of the world simply made the outrage known: the rapist keeps the rewards of sin. Persephone did not deserve a bandit husband; no son-in-law is acquired this way . . . Let him go unpunished, I'll endure it unavenged, if he returns her and repairs the past.’ Jove [Zeus] calms her and uses love to excuse the act, and says, ‘He's not a shameful son-in-law. My rank is no greater. I hold court in the sky; another rules the sea, and one the void. But if your heart will not alter and you resolve to burst the bonds of contracted marriage, let us also test whether she maintained her fast. If not, she is her husband's wife in hell.’ The winged Herald [Hermes] visits Tartarus as ordered, returns quicker than hope, tells what he witnessed. ‘The ravished girl,’ he said, ‘broke her fast with three seeds buried in a pomegranate's tough rind.’
The grieving mother wept, as if the loss were new. At length she recovered, but not easily. She said : ‘Heaven is not my home either; order the Taenarian dell to admit me, too.’ And she would have done this, if Jove [Zeus] had not arranged that the daughter spend six months in heaven. Then at last Ceres revived her own look and spirit, and crowned her hair with chaplets of corn. A bounteous harvest burst upon idle fields; the bards barely held the heaps of wealth."
RAPE OF PROSERPINA (HYGINUS)
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 145 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Pluto [Haides] asked from Jove [Zeus] that he give him in marriage Ceres' [Demeter's] daughter and his own. Jove said that Ceres would not permit her daughter to live in gloomy Tartarus, but bade him seize her as she was gathering flowers on Mount Etna, which is in Sicily. While Proserpina [Persephone] was gathering flowers with Venus [Aphrodite], Diana [Artemis], and Minerva [Athena], Pluto came in his four-horse chariot, and seized her. Afterwards Ceres [Demeter] obtained from Jove [Zeus] permission for her to stay half of the year with her, and half with Pluto [Haides]."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 25 :
"Those who, by permission of the Parcae [Moirai], returned from the lower world. Ceres [Demeter], seeking Porserpina [Persephone], her daughter."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 141 :
"The Sirenes, daughter of the River Achelous and the Muse Melpomene, wandering away after the rape of Proserpina [Persephone], came to the land of Apollo, and there were made flying creatures by the will of Ceres [Demeter] because they had not brought help to her daughter."
RAPE OF PROSERPINA (MISCELLANEOUS LATIN)
Virgil, Georgics 1. 36 ff (trans. Fairclough) (Roman bucolic C1st B.C.) :
"Tartarus hopes not for you [Caesar in the guise of Hades] as king, and may such monstrous lust of empire never seize you, though Greece is enchanted by the Elysian fields, and Proserpine [Persephone] reclaimed cares not to follow her mother."
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2. 26 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"The entire bulk and substance of the earth, was dedicated to father Dis [Haides] (that is, Dives, ‘the rich’, and so in Greek Plouton), because all things fall back into the earth and also arise from the earth. He is said to have married Proserpina (really a Greek name, for she is the same as the goddess called Persephone in Greek)--they think that she represents the seed of corn, and fable that she was hidden away, and sought for by her mother. The mother is Ceres [Demeter]."
Propertius, Elegies 3. 22 (trans. Goold) (Roman elegy C1st B.C.) :
"Where lies the isthmus [of Cyzicus in Mysia] which is washed by the waters of Propontis . . . [is] the road which bore the horses of ravisher Dis [Haides]."
Seneca, Hercules Furens 658 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"Thou [Pluto-Haides] who rulest the all-holding realm, and thou [Proserpina-Persephone] whom, stolen from Enna, thy mother [Ceres-Demeter] sought in vain."
Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5. 344 (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"Proserpine [Persephone] in spring-time led the dance over Hymettus' flowery ridges or beneath the cliffs of Sicily, on this side stepping close by Pallas [Athene], on that side hand in hand with her beloved Diana [Artemis], taller than they and surpassing her fellows, ere, she grew pale at the sight of Avernus [Pluto-Haides] and all her beauty fled."
Statius, Thebaid 8. 61 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"I [Pluto-Haides] have scarce ventured one stolen journey [to the upper world], nor was that to the stars on high, when I carried of my bride [Proserpina-Persephone] from the Sicilian mead : unlawfully, so they say, and forthwith comes an unjust decree from Jove [Zeus], and her mother [Ceres-Demeter] cheats me of half a year."
Statius, Thebaid 12. 270 ff :
"The bereaved Ceres [Demeter] lighted her torch and from Aetna's rocks cast the shifting glare of the mighty flame here over Sicily, there over Ausonia, as she followed the traces of the dark ravisher [Pluto-Haides] and the great wheel-furrows in the dust; Enceladus [the giant buried beneath Mount Aetna] himself re-echoes her wild wailings, and illumines her path with bursting fire; ‘Persephone’ cry woods and rivers, seas and clouds: only the palace of her Stygian lord calls not ‘Persephone.’"
Statius, Achilleid 1. 824 ff :
"Beneath the rocks of Aetna in Sicily Diana [Artemis] and bold Pallas [Athene] and the consort of the Elysian monarch [Proserpina-Persephone] shine forth among the Nymphae (Nymphs) of Enna."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 6. 2 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"By the silent mysteries of your [Ceres-Demeter's] baskets and the winged courses of your attendant Dracones (Dragon-Serpents), by the furrows in your Sicilian soil, by Proserpina's [Persephone's] descent to a lightless marriage, and by your daughter's return to rediscovered light, and by all else which the shrine of Attic Eleusis shrouds in silence."
- Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Ovid, Fasti - Latin Poetry C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Virgil, Georgics - Latin Bucolic C1st B.C.
- Propertius, Elegies - Latin Elegy C1st B.C.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.
- Seneca, Hercules Furens - Latin Tragedy C1st A.D.
- Valerius Flaccus, The Argonautica - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Thebaid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Achilleid - Latin Epic C1st A.D.
- Statius, Silvae - Latin Poetry C1st A.D.
A complete bibliography of the translations quoted on this page.