The Legend Of The Seed
A Greek Legend
Once upon a time the earth was so very young and the people upon it so pure and good that they could hear the morning stars as they sang together. It was during the Golden Age, as it is now called, that one morning in the early springtime a little group of girls were playing together and gathering wild flowers.
One of these girls was named Proserpina. She was the merriest of them all, though her dress was of the plainest brown. Her little feet danced everywhere and her little fingers seemed to touch the flowers as lightly as the butterfly that flitted by her.
Carelessly she danced close to a great opening in the ground. Looking down she saw a yellow daffodil growing on the edge. Leaning over to pick it, she felt herself caught by her dress, and the next minute found herself sailing far down into the earth through the great crevice. She was in a chariot drawn by black horses, which were driven by a driver who seemed to be both deaf and dumb. He neither answered when she pleaded with him to take her back, nor even seemed to hear her.
The girls who were left gathering wild flowers had missed Proserpina almost the moment she was out of sight, but no one knew what had happened.
"Come back! come back!" the girls called, but no answer came up from the great opening or from the forest near them. Only Echo marked their cry of "Proserpina, oh, Proserpina, come back!" "She has vanished," the girls whispered. "I always felt as though she had wings beneath that plain brown dress she wore," said one.
"But who can tell Queen Ceres, her mother?" they asked one another.
No one could go alone, so they all went together to Queen Ceres and told her what had happened.
The good queen wept bitterly. That day she laid aside her regal robes and began her search for Proserpina. Up and down the world went this royal mother seeking for her lost daughter. At last she came to the land of King Celeus. When Ceres reached his land she was so ragged and poor that she was glad to earn money by taking care of the king's baby son. As nurse to the little prince, Queen Ceres was almost comforted.
Because she was the goddess of the wheat and the fruits, the crops upon the land of King Celeus, while she was there, were very wonderful. In the land near Mount Aetna, where Proserpina had been lost, no rain fell and no corn nor apples grew.
Juno sent Iris down to earth to beg of Ceres to give rain to the suffering people of her own home. Ceres said no rain should fall till Proserpina came back to her mother. One day as Ceres was weeping by a fountain her tears fell into the springing water, and, as they did so, she heard a silvery voice:
"Why do you grieve, Queen Ceres?" said the water sprite or nymph.
"Proserpina, my beautiful daughter, is gone from me," said Ceres. "I have sought everywhere on the earth for her. I cannot find my daughter."
"Listen to me," said the voice from the fountain. "I have seen her. She is not on the earth; she is in the earth. She is in the palace of King Pluto, who rules below. I saw her as I ran with a river through Pluto's kingdom. She longs to come back to you."
Queen Ceres was like a stone for a time after she heard the story told by the murmuring waters of the fountain.
Proserpina alive and longing for her! It did not seem true, but she would know soon. Taking back the little prince to his mother, she hid herself in a forest, called for her chariot, and, when it came, drove straight to the top of Mount Olympus, where Jupiter sat on his shining throne.
She begged of him to command his brother Pluto to return her daughter to her.
"It is granted on one condition; that is, that Proserpina has never tasted food nor drink since she has been beneath the earth."
Mercury, the wing-footed messenger, and Flora, the goddess of Spring, sought the center of the earth to bring back Proserpina to Ceres.
Pluto loved his stolen prize as much as Queen Ceres did; and, being unhappy because she refused to eat, succeeded at last in making her taste one of the beautiful pomegranates that are both food and drink.
Even while she was tasting it Mercury and Flora stood at Pluto's gate with the command to return her to Ceres. What was to be done? Mercury, quick-witted as well as quick-footed, decided that if she dwelt with Ceres for half the year and with Pluto the other half, Jupiter's commands would be satisfied. This proved to be as Jupiter wished.
So, arrayed in shining green, Proserpina swiftly set out with Flora and Mercury to find Queen Ceres. Ceres saw her the minute her bright head appeared above the brown earth and knew her through her disguise. You remember when Proserpina was taken she wore a plain brown suit.
They lived together, the mother and daughter, through the bright spring days and the warm summer weather. When autumn came Proserpina donned her brown suit again and Pluto claimed her. There, in his underground realm, she reigns all the cold winter months. She is happy now because Queen Ceres is happy. The mother knows that when spring breathes over the earth again Proserpina will come back to her.
Can you guess who Proserpina is? You have seen her a thousand times. Yes, and when you see her next you will say how strange that the Greeks could tell such a story of only a little brown seed.
Sources And Further Reading
Project Gutenberg Classic Myths Retold by Mary Catherine Judd with drawings entirely from classic sources