Ovid was a Roman poet and writer (Birth date: 20 March 43 BCE – 17 or 18 CE).
Ovid's influence on Western art and literature cannot be exaggerated.The Metamorphoses is our best classical source of 250 myths.-
"The poem is the most comprehensive, creative mythological work that has come down to us from antiquity" Galinsky).Based on its influence.
"European literature and art would be poorer for the loss of the Metamorphoses than for the loss of Homer"(Hadas).Ovid was a major inspiration for Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton . If Virgil is Rome's greatest poet, Ovid is the most popular (even in his own time; Ovidian graffiti has been found on the walls of Pompeii).
Ovid calls Persephone, Proserpine.
The origin of the name Ovid uses is equally complex.
Wiki explains it as deriving from a Latin word: "proserpere" which means "to emerge," in respect to the growing of grain.
But I'm not convinced.
Pro means towards, 'in favor of'.
Serper is very close to Latin serpent
Ine means similar to, or having the nature of.
Latter, Proserpina was subsumed by the cult of Libera.
Libera was an ancient fertility goddess, wife of Liber and is also considered a life–death–rebirth deity.
Liber is a Roman name for Dionysus.
The Orphic versions of the Persephone myth also link her with Dionysus.
Ovid sets his story in Sicily, a volcanic island.
Pluto is the name of the Lord of the Dead, and means 'Wealth'.
He is brother (in Greek) to Posidon and Zeus (the sea and sky)
To Neptune and Jupiter (Roman)
His Underworld kingdom is called Hades.
Walter Berkert suggests that the word may come from Greek and mean the invisible.
Following on from ancient myths as recorded by Hesiod, about 'The old ones' -The Titans (Typhons)- terrible monsters defeated by their children, the gods...
Zeus had trapped the Titans underground.
The worst of them was below Mount Etna.
It would be a terrible thing if the invisibility of Hades was breached.
And the horrors of decay exposed...
The shaking of Typhoeus in his prison below ground may have damaged the earth above Hades.
Typhoeus was the largest of the Typhons- his torso was in human form and so tall it almost touched the stars; and hands reaching east and west were augmented with a hundred dragon heads on each.
His bottom half was serpentine, gigantic viper coils that could reach the top of his head when stretched out.
Typhoeus hissed like lava..
His whole body was covered in wings, and fire flashed from his eyes.
Pluto was checking the earth for cracks in the foundations, out of fear that the ground would crack apart and light fall upon the Underworld to reveal that which should not be seen.
Next Ovid mentions 'The Lady of Eryx' as the cause of Proserpina's abduction.
The Romans knew of Venus Erycina ("Venus from Eryx", also called Venus Erucina). She was said to have originated on Mount Eryx in western Sicily. Temples were erected to her on the Capitoline Hill and outside the Porta Collina.
She embodied "impure" love, and was the patron goddess of prostitutes.
When The Lady of Eryx sees Pluto she calls on her son Cupid to shoot an arrow of love into Pluto's heart.
It is said that Venus desired to extend her rule to the Underworld by this act.
Venus commands her son,
"Bring about a union between the Goddess and Her uncle"Cupid fires the magic arrow straight and true.
Pluto is compelled to steal the girl away.
Ovid sets the scene for the abduction:
"Not far from Henna's walls, there is a deep lake called Pergus..." writes Ovid.Unfortunately the deep lake and the perfect field of flowers have changed considerably since Persephone's day, once it was called the belly button of Sicily now it is dedicated to the cult of Ferrari [LINK].
Ovid describes lush meadows, swans, trees, shade. Here is it always spring, and the grass is strewn with bright flowers: violets and shining lilies.
Into this beautiful scene, intrudes shock and dismay.
The ground seethes apart.
Pluto snatches the girl and carries her away on his grim chariot, pulled by horses that seem to be made of night,
Persephone's terrified screams echo as the flowers drop from her lap.
No one seems to hear or see.
They pass over the deep lakes and sulphurous pools of Palici, onwards past the place where the Bacchiadae had built their city walls.
Half way between Cyane and Pisaean Arethusa there is a narrowing stretch of sea, shut in by jutting headlands. Cyane and Arethusa were both pools, and the names of nymphs [LINK]. The pools were located in Syrakousa (SE Sicily).
The nymph, Cyane tries to stop Pluto but instead of listening to her pleas, he hurls his Royal scepter into the pool where it opens up a passageway into the underground. Cyane weeps with sorrow, and dissolves into the water.
Meanwhile Proserpine's mother Ceres, with an increasing sense of deep foreboding and trying to stifle the panic she feels, searches land and sea for her missing child.
Eventually Ceres comes to a cottage, she knocks on the door and an old woman answers. Taking pity on the Goddess, the old woman gives Ceres a sweet drink into which she has sprinkled roasted barley.
While Ceres drinks, a little boy laughs and calls her greedy...The Goddess throws her drink in his face and he transform slowly into a spotted lizard.
When Ceres gets to Cyane's pool, Cyane has already dissolved but Proserpine's girdle remains floating on the surface of the pool.
Ceres knows what has happened, but not why.
She blames the whole world, especially Sicily, for the loss of Proserpine.
As punishment Ceres prevents the growth of corn through out the world. But she saves the worst for Sicily, here 'she broke the plough' and condemned the animals and farmers to die of plague.
But another nymph, Arethusa of Elis pleads with Ceres, telling her that it was not the earth's desire to open up a way for Pluto. Arethusa tells Ceres that she has seen Proserpine in the world of shadows, now sitting on the throne as queen, the consort of the tyrant of the Underworld.
Ceres demands that Jupiter force Pluto to return Proserpine; but whilst in the Underworld Perserpine has eatten some pomegranate seeds.
In Ovid's story Ascalaphus has seen Proserpine eat the pomegranate seeds and by telling, prevents her escape.
Prosepine (recalling the description of the Underworld from Sumerian mythology) sprinkles Ascalaphus with water from Phlegethon to turn him into 'a bird of ill omen' -a screech owl..
Here is a translation of the original story:
The Rape of Proserpine.
Near Enna's walls a spacious lake is spread,
Fam'd for the sweetly-singing swans it bred;
Pergusa is its name: and never more
Were heard, or sweeter on Cayster's shore.
Woods crown the lake; and Phoebus ne'er invades
The tufted fences, or offends the shades:
Fresh fragrant breezes fan the verdant bow'rs,
And the moist ground smiles with enamel'd flow'rs
The chearful birds their airy carols sing,
And the whole year is one eternal spring.
Here, while young Proserpine, among the maids,
Diverts herself in these delicious shades;
While like a child with busy speed and care
She gathers lillies here, and vi'lets there;
While first to fill her little lap she strives,
Hell's grizly monarch at the shade arrives;
Sees her thus sporting on the flow'ry green,
And loves the blooming maid, as soon as seen.
His urgent flame impatient of delay,
Swift as his thought he seiz'd the beauteous prey,
And bore her in his sooty carr away.
The frighted Goddess to her mother cries,
But all in vain, for now far off she flies;
Far she behind her leaves her virgin train;
To them too cries, and cries to them in vain,
And, while with passion she repeats her call,
The vi'lets from her lap, and lillies fall:
She misses 'em, poor heart! and makes new moan;
Her lillies, ah! are lost, her vi'lets gone.
O'er hills, the ravisher, and vallies speeds,
By name encouraging his foamy steeds;
He rattles o'er their necks the rusty reins,
And ruffles with the stroke their shaggy manes.
O'er lakes he whirls his flying wheels, and comes
To the Palici breathing sulph'rous fumes.
And thence to where the Bacchiads of renown
Between unequal havens built their town;
Where Arethusa, round th' imprison'd sea,
Extends her crooked coast to Cyane;
The nymph who gave the neighb'ring lake a name,
Of all Sicilian nymphs the first in fame,
She from the waves advanc'd her beauteous head,
The Goddess knew, and thus to Pluto said:
Farther thou shalt not with the virgin run;
Ceres unwilling, canst thou be her son?
The maid shou'd be by sweet perswasion won.
Force suits not with the softness of the fair;
For, if great things with small I may compare,
Me Anapis once lov'd; a milder course
He took, and won me by his words, not force.
Then, stretching out her arms, she stopt his way;
But he, impatient of the shortest stay,
Throws to his dreadful steeds the slacken'd rein,
And strikes his iron sceptre thro' the main;
The depths profound thro' yielding waves he cleaves,
And to Hell's center a free passage leaves;
Down sinks his chariot, and his realms of night
The God soon reaches with a rapid flight.
Cyane dissolves to a Fountain
But still does Cyane the rape bemoan,
And with the Goddess' wrongs laments her own;
For the stoln maid, and for her injur'd spring,
Time to her trouble no relief can bring.
In her sad heart a heavy load she bears,
'Till the dumb sorrow turns her all to tears.
Her mingling waters with that fountain pass,
Of which she late immortal Goddess was;
Her varied members to a fluid melt,
A pliant softness in her bones is felt;
Her wavy locks first drop away in dew,
And liquid next her slender fingers grew.
The body's change soon seizes its extreme,
Her legs dissolve, and feet flow off in stream.
Her arms, her back, her shoulders, and her side,
Her swelling breasts in little currents glide,
A silver liquor only now remains
Within the channel of her purple veins;
Nothing to fill love's grasp; her husband chaste
Bathes in that bosom he before embrac'd.
A Boy transform'd to an Eft
Thus, while thro' all the Earth, and all the main,
Her daughter mournful Ceres sought in vain;
Aurora, when with dewy looks she rose,
Nor burnish'd Vesper found her in repose,
At Aetna's flaming mouth two pitchy pines
To light her in her search at length she tines.
Restless, with these, thro' frosty night she goes,
Nor fears the cutting winds, nor heeds the snows;
And, when the morning-star the day renews,
From east to west her absent child pursues.
Thirsty at last by long fatigue she grows,
But meets no spring, no riv'let near her flows.
Then looking round, a lowly cottage spies,
Smoaking among the trees, and thither hies.
The Goddess knocking at the little door,
'Twas open'd by a woman old and poor,
Who, when she begg'd for water, gave her ale
Brew'd long, but well preserv'd from being stale.
The Goddess drank; a chuffy lad was by,
Who saw the liquor with a grutching eye,
And grinning cries, She's greedy more than dry.
Ceres, offended at his foul grimace,
Flung what she had not drunk into his face,
The sprinklings speckle where they hit the skin,
And a long tail does from his body spin;
His arms are turn'd to legs, and lest his size
Shou'd make him mischievous, and he might rise
Against mankind, diminutives his frame,
Less than a lizzard, but in shape the same.
Amaz'd the dame the wondrous sight beheld,
And weeps, and fain wou'd touch her quondam child.
Yet her approach th' affrighted vermin shuns,
And fast into the greatest crevice runs.
A name they gave him, which the spots exprest,
That rose like stars, and varied all his breast.
What lands, what seas the Goddess wander'd o'er,
Were long to tell; for there remain'd no more.
Searching all round, her fruitless toil she mourns,
And with regret to Sicily returns.
At length, where Cyane now flows, she came,
Who cou'd have told her, were she still the same
As when she saw her daughter sink to Hell;
But what she knows she wants a tongue to tell.
Yet this plain signal manifestly gave,
The virgin's girdle floating on a wave,
As late she dropt it from her slender waste,
When with her uncle thro' the deep she past.
Ceres the token by her grief confest,
And tore her golden hair, and beat her breast.
She knows not on what land her curse shou'd fall,
But, as ingrate, alike upbraids them all,
Unworthy of her gifts; Trinacria most,
Where the last steps she found of what she lost.
The plough for this the vengeful Goddess broke,
And with one death the ox, and owner struck,
In vain the fallow fields the peasant tills,
The seed, corrupted ere 'tis sown, she kills.
The fruitful soil, that once such harvests bore,
Now mocks the farmer's care, and teems no more.
And the rich grain which fills the furrow'd glade,
Rots in the seed, or shrivels in the blade;
Or too much sun burns up, or too much rain
Drowns, or black blights destroy the blasted plain;
Or greedy birds the new-sown seed devour,
Or darnel, thistles, and a crop impure
Of knotted grass along the acres stand,
And spread their thriving roots thro' all the land.
Then from the waves soft Arethusa rears
Her head, and back she flings her dropping hairs.
O mother of the maid, whom thou so far
Hast sought, of whom thou canst no tidings hear;
O thou, she cry'd, who art to life a friend,
Cease here thy search, and let thy labour end.
Thy faithful Sicily's a guiltless clime,
And shou'd not suffer for another's crime;
She neither knew, nor cou'd prevent the deed;
Nor think that for my country thus I plead;
My country's Pisa, I'm an alien here,
Yet these abodes to Elis I prefer,
No clime to me so sweet, no place so dear.
These springs I Arethusa now possess,
And this my seat, o gracious Goddess, bless:
This island why I love, and why I crost
Such spacious seas to reach Ortygia's coast,
To you I shall impart, when, void of care,
Your heart's at ease, and you're more fit to hear;
When on your brow no pressing sorrow sits,
For gay content alone such tales admits.
When thro' Earth's caverns I a-while have roul'd
My waves, I rise, and here again behold
The long-lost stars; and, as I late did glide
Near Styx, Proserpina there I espy'd.
Fear still with grief might in her face be seen;
She still her rape laments; yet, made a queen,
Beneath those gloomy shades her sceptre sways,
And ev'n th' infernal king her will obeys.
This heard, the Goddess like a statue stood,
Stupid with grief; and in that musing mood
Continu'd long; new cares a-while supprest
The reigning of her immortal breast.
At last to Jove her daughter's sire she flies,
And with her chariot cuts the chrystal skies;
She comes in clouds, and with dishevel'd hair,
Standing before his throne, prefers her pray'r.
King of the Gods, defend my blood and thine,
And use it not the worse for being mine.
If I no more am gracious in thy sight,
Be just, o Jove, and do thy daughter right.
In vain I sought her the wide world around,
And, when I most despair'd to find her, found.
But how can I the fatal finding boast,
By which I know she is for ever lost?
Without her father's aid, what other Pow'r
Can to my arms the ravish'd maid restore?
Let him restore her, I'll the crime forgive;
My child, tho' ravish'd, I'd with joy receive.
Pity, your daughter with a thief shou'd wed,
Tho' mine, you think, deserves no better bed.
Jove thus replies: It equally belongs
To both, to guard our common pledge from wrongs.
But if to things we proper names apply,
This hardly can be call'd an injury.
The theft is love; nor need we blush to own
The thief, if I can judge, to be our son.
Had you of his desert no other proof,
To be Jove's brother is methinks enough.
Nor was my throne by worth superior got,
Heav'n fell to me, as Hell to him, by lot:
If you are still resolv'd her loss to mourn,
And nothing less will serve than her return;
Upon these terms she may again be yours
(Th' irrevocable terms of fate, not ours),
Of Stygian food if she did never taste,
Hell's bounds may then, and only then, be past.
The Transformation of Ascalaphus into an Owl
The Goddess now, resolving to succeed,
Down to the gloomy shades descends with speed;
But adverse fate had otherwise decreed.
For, long before, her giddy thoughtless child
Had broke her fast, and all her projects spoil'd.
As in the garden's shady walk she stray'd,
A fair pomegranate charm'd the simple maid,
Hung in her way, and tempting her to taste,
She pluck'd the fruit, and took a short repast.
Seven times, a seed at once, she eat the food;
The fact Ascalaphus had only view'd;
Whom Acheron begot in Stygian shades
On Orphne, fam'd among Avernal maids;
He saw what past, and by discov'ring all,
Detain'd the ravish'd nymph in cruel thrall.
But now a queen, she with resentment heard,
And chang'd the vile informer to a bird.
In Phlegeton's black stream her hand she dips,
Sprinkles his head, and wets his babling lips.
Soon on his face, bedropt with magick dew,
A change appear'd, and gawdy feathers grew.
A crooked beak the place of nose supplies,
Rounder his head, and larger are his eyes.
His arms and body waste, but are supply'd
With yellow pinions flagging on each side.
His nails grow crooked, and are turn'd to claws,
And lazily along his heavy wings he draws.
Ill-omen'd in his form, the unlucky fowl,
Abhorr'd by men, and call'd a scrieching owl.
The Daughters of Achelous transform'd to Sirens
Justly this punishment was due to him,
And less had been too little for his crime;
But, o ye nymphs that from the flood descend,
What fault of yours the Gods cou'd so offend,
With wings and claws your beauteous forms to spoil,
Yet save your maiden face, and winning smile?
Were you not with her in Pergusa's bow'rs,
When Proserpine went forth to gather flow'rs?
Since Pluto in his carr the Goddess caught,
Have you not for her in each climate sought?
And when on land you long had search'd in vain,
You wish'd for wings to cross the pathless main;
That Earth and Sea might witness to your care:
The Gods were easy, and return'd your pray'r;
With golden wing o'er foamy waves you fled,
And to the sun your plumy glories spread.
But, lest the soft enchantment of your songs,
And the sweet musick of your flat'ring tongues
Shou'd quite be lost (as courteous fates ordain),
Your voice and virgin beauty still remain.
Jove some amends for Ceres lost to make,
Yet willing Pluto shou'd the joy partake,
Gives 'em of Proserpine an equal share,
Who, claim'd by both, with both divides the year.
The Goddess now in either empire sways,
Six moons in Hell, and six with Ceres stays.
Her peevish temper's chang'd; that sullen mind,
Which made ev'n Hell uneasy, now is kind,
Her voice refines, her mein more sweet appears,
Her forehead free from frowns, her eyes from tears,
As when, with golden light, the conqu'ring day
Thro' dusky exhalations clears a way.
Ceres her daughter's rape no longer mourn'd,
But back to Arethusa's spring return'd;
And sitting on the margin, bid her tell
From whence she came, and why a sacred well.