| Gods and Heroes|
|by Robert Edward Francillon|
|One of the best introductions to Greek mythology for children. Includes the stories of all the prominent gods and heroes, woven together into a continuous narrative, ending with a full treatment of the twelve labors of Hercules. Ages 8-12 |
THE KING AND QUEEN OF THE DEAD
"Not far from Enna's walls there lies a lake,
Pergus by name: than which not Cayster's stream
Is fuller of the songs of gliding swans.
A woodland girds it with a veil of leaves
To shelter from the heat; where the fresh soil
Bears purple flowers, and keeps perpetual spring."
O the poet Ovid describes the pleasant place where
the nymph Proserpine, the beautiful daughter of
Ceres, goddess of the fruits of the earth, was one day
with her companions, gathering violets and lilies. All
were trying who should gather the most, and were very
happy and merry. In her search for flowers, Proserpine
wandered out of sight of her companions, who went on
gathering and singing and laughing: till suddenly
their merriment was stopped by a piercing scream for
help; and then by another and another; till the cries
grew fainter and fainter, and were at last heard no more.
 Where was Proserpine? They were sure it was her
cries they had heard: and, though they searched
through the whole wood, they could not find her anywhere.
All they could do was to go to Ceres, and tell
her that her daughter had disappeared, and could not
be found for all their seeking.
Ceres, who is the best and kindest of all the goddesses,
loved her daughter dearly, and was disconsolate
at the news. Though always so busy with seed-time
and harvest, fields and orchards, she set out to seek for
her lost Proserpine; or at least to find out what had
become of her. "Mother!" had been Proserpine's last
cry. Ceres wandered, in her search, over the whole
world,—nay, she explored the very depths of the
sea,—but all in vain. She questioned gods, goddesses,
nymphs, fauns, and satyrs, men and women; but none
could give her any news of Proserpine. She never
slept, but set fire to the pine-trees on the top of Mount
Ætna to serve as torches, so that she might see to
search by night as well as by day. She forgot to eat
and drink, and, though the goddess of Corn and Plenty,
she would have perished of hunger and thirst had not
an old woman named Baubo, though ignorant who she
was, taken pity on her, and given her some hot porridge,
which Ceres drank eagerly—so eagerly that a boy who
saw her drinking jeered at her for a glutton. This was
too much for the goddess, in her despair, to bear. She
 for once lost her temper, and threw the rest of the hot
porridge over the grinning boy, whom it turned into a
spotted lizard for laughing at a stranger's needs and an
old woman's charity.
At length, worn out and desperate, the poor mother
wandered back to Sicily, so changed that nobody knew
her. Nor could she say who she was, for grief had
made her dumb. In this state she arrived at a place
called Cyăne, near to where Proserpine had been lost.
And here one day, while looking at a pool (for she
never ceased to look everywhere) she saw her daughter's
girdle lying at the bottom of the water. Then, giving
up her last spark of hope, she found her voice again,
and mourned aloud. Her grief was terrible to hear
and see. She cursed the earth, so that it no longer
brought forth corn: she broke the ploughs: the seeds
perished in the fields, and the cattle in their stalls.
But one day Ceres, roaming along the banks of the
river Alpheus, plainly heard its waters say:—
"We have seen Proserpine! She is unhappy; but
she is a great queen: she is the wife of Pluto, the King
of the Underworld."
Then Ceres knew that Proserpine had been carried
off by the great and dreadful god Pluto, to whom, when
Jupiter divided the world, had been given Hades—the
underground kingdom of ghosts and of the souls
of the dead: the greatest kingdom of all. It was
true:  —Pluto had seen Proserpine while she was gathering
flowers in the wood, had snatched her up into his
chariot with black horses, and, in spite of her struggles
and cries for help, had driven off with her to his underground
palace through a cavern which he opened with
a touch of his two-pronged scepter: the cavern then
filled up with water, and became the lake of Cyane, at
the bottom of which Ceres had found the girdle. As
soon as she could recover her senses, Ceres flew up to
heaven, threw herself before Jupiter, and passionately
demanded that her daughter should be given back to
It was a difficult question for Jupiter to settle. He
pitied Ceres with all his heart, and wished to help her.
But high reasons of state made him unwilling to offend
Pluto: and then, who had ever heard of anybody coming
back from Hades? That would be against all the
laws of gods and men.
But there were three mysterious beings, of whom I
have not yet told you, call the Fates—three sisters
who rule over life and death, and whose will even the
gods of heaven, even Jupiter himself, must obey. Somewhere
or other they sit and spin with their distaffs the
histories of nations and the lives and deaths of men.
Nothing can happen without their leave; and nobody
can prevent them from coming to pass whatever the Fates
decree. So Jupiter inquired of the Fates if it was their
 will that Proserpine should return from the kingdom
of the grave.
"She may return," they said. "But not if she has
eaten or drunk in the kingdom of Pluto. If she has
tasted the food of death, then she may not return."
When Pluto received this message he was greatly
troubled; for, though he had carried off Proserpine in
that cruel way, he very deeply loved her, and hoped
that, if he could keep her with him, he should at last
conquer her sorrow and get her to love him in return.
He had made her his wife and queen, and could not
bear the thought of losing her. He anxiously inquired
of every ghost and spirit in Hades if Queen Proserpine
had tasted food, if ever so little; but not one had seen
her touch even bread or water since she had been
brought below. It was Pluto's turn to lose Proserpine.
Ceres was already rejoicing in the thought of seeing
her long-lost daughter. Proserpine was just about to
return to earth, when there stepped forth one of Pluto's
courtiers, named Asculaphus, and accused Proserpine
of having tasted the juice of seven pomegranate seeds.
And the Fates knew that it was true.
And Proserpine also knew it, and cried aloud for
sorrow that she should never see her mother again;
and her cry turned the treacherous, tale-bearing Asculaphus
into a hooting owl. But this did not undo the
 work of those seven fatal pomegranate seeds. Even
the Fates were filled with pity; even the heart of
Pluto was touched by the mother's and the daughter's
despair. The Fates could not change their decree.
But it was settled that, though Proserpine must continue
to be the wife of Pluto and the Queen of Hades,
she should be allowed to spend six months out of every
year on earth with Ceres. And that is the reason of
summer and winter. It is summer when Ceres is happy
with her daughter, and makes the earth rejoice with
flowers and fruit and corn. It is winter when she is
left alone, and Proserpine goes back to Pluto until
next spring. Proserpine is the beauty and joy of the
earth, which seems to die in winter, but only to come
to life again. And she is the beauty of death besides.
You will remember what you read in the story of
Psyche about the beauty of Proserpine.
It was Ceres who taught men to plow, harrow, sow,
and reap; and they were very grateful to her everywhere.
The worship of Ceres, under many names, was
the chief part of the religion of ancient times. You
will know her, from pictures and statues, as a noble
and stately goddess, crowned with a garland of corn,
holding a lighted torch, sometimes standing in a chariot
drawn by flying dragons. I have said she had many
names, one of the most famous being Dēmētēr, which
 means "Mother Earth"; and "Bona Dea," that is to
say "the Good Goddess," was another.
Proserpine, as Queen of Hades, became a very strange
and mysterious goddess indeed. One of her names is
and under that name she rules over magic.
She often wears a veil, and a crown of stars; and, like
Pluto, carries the scepter with two prongs, differing
from Neptune's trident, which has three.
Pluto was a dark and gloomy god. No temples were
ever built to him, and only black animals were sacrificed
upon his altars. But he was just, although pitiless
and stern. He sits upon a throne of sulphur in
his underground palace, from which flow the four rivers
of Hades—Cocytus, the river of Lamentation;
the river of Sorrow; Lēthē, the river of Forgetfulness;
and Phlegĕthon, the river of Fire. On his left hand
sits Proserpine, near to whom stand the Furies, three
fiends with snakes instead of hair; on his right stand
the Fates spinning; at his feet lies the three-headed
dog, Cerberus; and the Harpies hover over him, waiting for orders.
On the whole, it is not strange that Proserpine should
be glad when the time for her six months' visit to her
mother comes round.
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