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THE QUEEN OF THE UNDER
one daughter, named Proserpina,
dragon-car, making the corn grow; sometimes she traveled about the earth by herself, tending the flowers, which were her special care; but what she liked best was to stray with her companions, the nymphs, on the slopes of Mount Ætna.
“I, a maiden, dwelt With loved Demeter on the sunny plains Of our own Sicily. There, day by day, I sported with my playmate goddesses In virgin freedom. Budding age made gay Our lightsome feet, and on the flowery slopes We wandered daily, gathering flowers to weave In careless garlands for our locks, and passed The days in innocent gladness.”
All the year round the maidens enjoyed these pleasures, for never yet had the change of seasons
1. The Greeks and Romans, while they believed in many of the same gods, had different names for them. The Latin names are the ones most commonly used. Thus the goddess whom the Romans called Ceres, the Greeks knew as Demeter, while her daughter, Proserpina, was by the Greeks called Persephone. The poetic quotations used in this story are from the Epic of Hades, by Lewis Morris.
appeared upon the earth; never had the cold, sun-
“There was then
One day while they played and laughed and sang, vying with each other as to which could make the most beautiful garlands, they were startled by a strange rumbling sound. Nearer it came, louder it grew; and suddenly to the frightened eyes of the maidens there appeared a great chariot, drawn by four wild-looking, foam-flecked black steeds. Not long did the girls gaze at the horses or the chariotall eyes were drawn in fascination to the driver of the car. He was handsome as only a god could be, and yet so gloomy that all knew instantly he could be none other than Pluto, king of the underworld.
Suddenly, while his horses were almost at full speed, he jerked them to a standstill. Then he sprang to the ground, seized Proserpina in his arms, mounted his chariot, and was off before the frightened nymphs could catch their breath to cry out. Poor Prosperina screamed and wept, but no one was near to help her or even to hear her. On they flew, Pluto doing his best to console the weeping girl, but refusing, with a stern shake of the head and a black frown, her plea that she might be allowed to return to her own home, or at least to bid farewell to her mother.
“Never!” he exclaimed. “I have as much right as the other gods to a beautiful wife; and since I knew that you, whom I had seen and loved, would not go with me willingly, I took this way to compel
redoubled her cries, but still no one heard. Pluto, fuming and fretting and calling down curses on the River Cyane, which thus opposed his passage, seized his great two-pronged fork and struck the earth a terrific blow. To Proserpina's horror a great cavern opened before them, into which they were rapidly whirled. Then, with a crash, the chasm closed behind them, and they moved on in utter darkness. The horses seemed to find their way as easily as in the light, however, and Pluto heaved a sigh of relief as the last of the daylight disappeared.
"Do not tremble so, my fair Proserpina,” he said, in a voice far from unkind. “When your eyes become accustomed to the gloom, you will find it much more restful than the glare we have left behind us.”
Proserpina's only reply was “My mother! O, my poor mother!" And truly Ceres deserved pity. She had hastened at evening back to her home in Sicily, happy in the thought of seeing her daughter, only to find that daughter gone. The nymphs had retreated, long before, to their beds of seaweed in the green ocean, and no one else could give the poor distracted mother any news. When black night had really settled over the earth, Ceres closed the door of her home, vowing never to open it until she returned with Proserpina. Then, lighting a torch, she set forth, alone and on foot, to seek her daughter.
From country to country she roamed, all over the earth, neither eating nor sleeping, but spending day and night in her search. Of every one she met she demanded, “Have you seen my daughter?”
No one recognized her; and small wonder, for her grief had changed her in appearance from a radiant goddess to a haggard, sad-eyed old woman. “Mad,” whispered people as they passed her; for her clothes were ragged and flapping about her, and always, even in the brightest sunlight, she bore in her hand the lighted torch.
One day, weary and hopeless, she sank upon a stone by the roadside, and sat there with her head in her hands, wondering to what land she could next turn her footsteps.
A soft, pitying voice broke in upon her grief, and she raised her head to see two young girls standing before her.
“Poor old woman,” said one, “why are you so
“Ah,” cried Ceres, “when I look upon you I am sadder still, for I have lost my only child.”
Impulsively the older girl held out her hand. “Come with us,” she urged. “We are the daughters of the king of this country, and were but now seeking through the city for a nurse for our baby brother, Triptolemus. You, who have lost the child you loved—will you not take charge of our brother and bestow on him some of your love?”
Touched by their kindness, Ceres followed them; and indeed, she felt the first joy she had known since the disappearance of her daughter when the little prince was put into her arms. But such a weak, puny, wailing princelet as he was! Ceres smiled down at him, and bent her head and kissed him; when, to the utter amazement of those gathered about, he ceased the crying which he had kept up for days, smiled, and clapped his little hands.