AskDefine | Define proserpina

Dictionary Definition

Proserpina n : goddess of the underworld; counterpart of Greek Persephone [syn: Proserpine]

Extensive Definition

Proserpina is an ancient goddess whose story is the basis of a myth of Springtime. She is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Persephone. Proserpina was subsumed by the cult of Libera, an ancient fertility goddess, wife of Liber. Her name comes from proserpere meaning "to emerge." She is a life–death–rebirth deity.
She was the daughter of Ceres and Jupiter, and was described as a very enchanting young girl.
Venus, in order to bring love to Pluto, sent his son Amor also known as Cupid to hit Pluto with one of his arrows. Proserpina was in Sicily (an island outside of Italy), at the fountain of Arethusa near Enna, where she was playing with some nymphs and collecting flowers, when Pluto came out from the volcano Etna with four black horses. He abducted her in order to marry her and live with her in Hades, the Greco-Roman Underworld, of which he was the ruler. Notably, Pluto was also her uncle, being Jupiter's (and Ceres's) brother. She is therefore Queen of the Underworld.
Her mother Ceres, the goddess of cereals or of the Earth, vainly went looking for her in any corner of the Earth, but wasn't able to find anything but a small belt that was floating upon a little lake (made with the tears of the nymphs). In her desperation Ceres angrily stopped the growth of fruits and vegetables, bestowing a malediction on Sicily. Ceres refused to go back to Mount Olympus and started walking on the Earth, making a desert at every step.
Worried, Jupiter sent Mercury to order Pluto (Jupiter's brother) to free Proserpina. Pluto obeyed, but before letting her go he made her eat six pomegranate seeds, because those who have eaten the food of the dead could not return to the world of the living. This meant that she would have to live six months of each year with him, and stay the rest with her mother. This story was undoubtedly meant to illustrate the changing of the seasons; When Ceres welcomes her daughter back in the spring the earth blossoms, and when Proserpina must be returned to her husband it withers.
In another version of the story, some people believe that upon her abduction, Proserpina ate only four pomegranate seeds, and she did so of her own accord. When Jupiter ordered her return, Pluto struck a deal with Jupiter, saying that since she had stolen his pomegranate seeds, she must stay with him four months of the year in return. For this reason, in spring when Ceres received her daughter back, the crops blossomed, and in summer they flourished. In the autumn Ceres changed the leaves to shades of brown and orange (her favorite colors) as a gift to Proserpina before she had to return to the underworld. During the time that Proserpina resided with Pluto, the world went through winter, a time when the earth was barren.
The myth of Proserpina, mainly described by the Roman Claudian (4th century AD) is closely connected with that of Orpheus and Eurydice — it is Proserpina, as Queen of Hades, who allows Orpheus to enter and bring back to life his wife Eurydice who is dead by snake poison. Proserpina played her cetra to quiet Cerberus, but Orpheus did not respect her order never to look back, and Eurydice was lost.
For reasons that may be obvious, a variety of pomegranate is called Proserpina.
Proserpina is the title of a book by John Ruskin in which he describes and discusses the form, structure and function of wayside flowers.
Proserpina is sometimes spelled Prosperine or Prosperina.

Proserpina in astronomy

Proserpina is a Main belt asteroid 95.1km in diameter, which was discovered by R. Luther in1853. As well as stealing the pomegranate seeds, some say the Pluto tricked her into eating a pmegranate, knowing that once she had done so, she was boiund to the Underworld and would not be able to leave.

Further reading


John Ruskin (1886). Proserpina: Studies of Wayside Flowers while the Air was Yet Pure among the Alps and in the Scotland and England Which My Father Knew.

External links

proserpina in Bosnian: Prozerpina
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proserpina in Modern Greek (1453-): Προσερπίνα
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proserpina in Ukrainian: Прозерпіна
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