Ceres’ Grief or Selfishness over Proserpina In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the reader is faced with a wide array of transformation of humans to objects, plants and animals and also the seasonal transformation due to the emotions of the Gods’. Too most of us today, the changing of the seasons is due to the rotation of the earth around the sun. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the changing of the season are shown to be due to the emotions of Ceres, and this changing of the season is one such transformation due to the emotion of a God.
Ceres is angry over the loss of her daughter, Proserpina, to Dis, (also know as Pluto or Hades, King of the Dead), her anger causes devastation to the land by droughts, floods and other natural disasters. Ceres anger can be explained as a mother’s grief over the loss of her child but it also shows selfishness in her at having to share what is hers.
Dis’ kidnapping of Proserpina causes a chain of events that affects the whole earth. Ceres searches the world over for Proserpina but she is unable to find her. When she comes upon a pool of water, she notices Proserpina’s ‘girdle floating on the surface’ (Rolfe, pg. 21: line 469). Ceres, in her current state of mind, blames the earth, especially Sicily, for the theft of her daughter. “Sicily is to blame for there she found the evidence of her loss” (Rolfe, 122: 476-477). She prevents the earth from nurturing the seeds and plants, allowing them to die. In her anger and grief, Ceres takes out her frustrations on an innocent land and its’ inhabitants. Ceres’ begins her destruction by “shattering the earth-turning plows, causing both farmers and cattle to perish alike” (Norton, Ovid, 1044: 649-650). Ceres goes and kills the men and cattle of Sicily because she is angry.
Ceres takes her anger out especially in Sicily more than anywhere else. “The Sicilian fertility, which had been everywhere famous, was given the lie when the crops died as they sprouted, now ruined by too much heat, and now by too heavy a rainfall; stars and winds harmed them, and the greedy birds devoured the seed as it was sown; the harvest of wheat was defeated by thorns and darnels and unappeasable grasses” (Norton, Ovid, 1044: 652-657). She allows birds to eat the seeds of the crops and she allows the most extreme weather conditions to carry on and destroy all else.
She does not allow anything to survive long enough to sustain anyone. Ceres points her anger at Sicily the most because this is where Proserpina was taken and she blames Sicily for this betrayal. She is showing a side of herself that she has not shown before, she is letting her own selfish need to have her daughter with her to out-weigh everything else. Upon finding out who took her daughter, Ceres seeks out Proserpina father and Jupiter agrees on the condition: “Proserpina can see the sky again—on one condition: that in the world below, she has not taken food to her lips.
This is the Fates’ edict” (Mandelbaum, 167-168). Ceres believes that her daughter has not eaten, so she will be able to come home with her. “Even though Ceres was sure she would get her daughter back, the Fates were not, for Proserpina had already placated her hunger while guilelessly roaming death’s formal gardens, where, from a low-hanging branch, she had plucked without thinking a pomegranate, and peeling its pale bark off, devoured seven of its seeds” (Norton, Ovid, 1045: 707-712). Ceres hopes are lost when she can’t have her daughter with her at all times.
She continues to take out her anger and grief out on the world. Jupiter decides to allow Proserpina to spend half of each year with her mother and the other half of the year she must spend with Hades, her husband, in the underworld. During the year that Proserpina is with her mother Ceres; the earth is bountiful with the seasons of spring, summer and early fall. Crops are planted and harvested, farmers and animals thrive and nature is in harmony. Everyone flourishes under the happiness of Ceres gifts during this time.
This time of the year Ceres is happy, she has what she wants most, her daughter with her. Everyone reaps the benefits of Ceres happiness, they are able to provide for themselves and live happily. During the time that Proserpina is in the Underworld with her husband, Hades, the earth is gripped by winter’s cold. No crops are planted and harvested; the farmers and animals are forced to survive in bitter conditions. The winter months show that even though Ceres is grieving for her daughter, she takes her anger out on the land because she does not have her daughter with her.
Her anger and wrath show that she is a selfish person, she does not want to share what she considers hers and in turn she takes out her anger on the world. Even though the changing of the seasons is natural, it seems selfish of Ceres to punish the world for her loss. Ceres shows that she is by nature a selfish creature, wanting to keep Proserpina, what she considers as hers. She does not want to share her daughter with Hades; she wants to keep her with her at all times. At the same time though, Ceres also shows s that a mother’s love for a child that is lost to her can manifest itself into a terrible force of destruction. She takes out her anger on the world by letting it go to waste and not letting it prosper. When Proserpina must return to her husband, Ceres grief causes the world to feel her pain and suffering through the winter months of the seasonal change but when Proserpina is with Ceres, Ceres happiness at having what is her is back causes the earth to prosper with fertility.
The changing of the season shows how Ceres’ happiness grief and selfishness play an important role in the world. Work Cited: Ovid. The Metamorphoses. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, Eighth Edition, Volume 1. Editor Sarah Lawall, et al. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. 1039-1049. Print. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Trans. First Edition, Editor Allen Mandelbaum, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993. 160-174. Print. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Editor Rolfe Humphries, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1955. 117-128. Print.
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