Myths about the Roman Goddess Ceres

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Myths about the Roman Goddess Ceres
Ceres was daughter of Saturn and Ops, or Vesta. Sicily, Attica, Crete, and Egypt, claim the honor of her birth, each country producing the ground of its claims, though general suffrage favors the first. In her youth, being extremely beautiful, Jupiter fell in love with her, and by him she had Perephata, called afterwards Proserpine. For some time she took up her residence in Corcyra, so called in later times, from a daughter of Asopus, there buried, but anciently Drepanum, from the sickle used by the goddess in reaping, which had been presented her by Vulcan.

Thence she removed to Sicily, where the violence of Pluto deprived her of Proserpine. Disconsolate at her loss, she importuned Jupiter for redress; but obtaining little satisfaction, she lighted torches at the volcano of Mount Aetna, and mounting her car, drawn by winged dragons, set out in search of her beloved daughter. This transaction the Sicilians annually commemorated by running about in the night with lighted torches and loud exclamations.

It is disputed, by several nations, who first informed Ceres where her daughter was, and thence acquired the reward, which was the art of sowing corn. Some ascribe the intelligence to Triptolemus, and his brother Eubuleus; but the generality of writers agree in conferring the honor on the nymph Arethūsa, daughter of Nereus and Doris, and companion of Diana, who, flying from the pursuit of the river Alpheus, saw Proserpine in the infernal regions.

It must be owned that Ceres was not undeserving the highest titles bestowed upon her, being considered as the deity who had blessed men with the art of cultivating the earth, having not only taught them to plough and sow, but also to reap, harvest, and thresh out their grain; to make flour and bread, and fix limits or boundaries to ascertain their possessions. The garlands used in her sacrifices were of myrtle, or rape-weed; but flowers were prohibited, Proserpine being carried off as she gathered them. The poppy alone was sacred to her, not only because it grows amongst corn, but because, in her distress, Jupiter gave it her to eat, that she might sleep and forget her troubles. Cicero mentions an ancient temple dedicated to her at Catania, in Sicily in which the offices were performed by matrons and virgins only, no man being admitted.

Ceres was usually represented of a tall majestic stature, fair complexion, languishing eyes, and yellow or flaxen hair; her head crowned with a garland of poppies, or ears of corn; holding in her right hand a bunch of the same materials with her garland, and in her left a lighted torch. When in a car or chariot, she is drawn by lions, or winged dragons.

If to explain the fable of Ceres, we have recourse to Egypt; it will be found, that the goddess of Sicily and Eleusis, or of Rome and Greece, is no other than the Egyptian Isis, brought by the Phoenicians into those countries. The very name of mystery, from mistor, a veil or covering, given to the Eleusinian rites, performed in honor of Ceres, shows them to have been of Egyptian origin. The Isis, or the emblematical figure exhibited at the feast appointed for the commemoration of the state of mankind after the flood, bore the name of Ceres, from Cerets, dissolution or overthrow. She was represented in mourning, and with torches, to denote the grief she felt for the loss of her favorite daughter Persephone (which word, translated, signifies corn lost) and the pains she was at to recover her. The poppies with which this Isis was crowned, signified the joy men received at their first abundant crop, the word which signifies a double crop, being also a name for the poppy. Persephone or Proserpine found again, was a lively symbol of the recovery of corn, and its cultivation, almost lost in the deluge. Thus, emblems of the most important events which ever happened in the world, simple in themselves, became when transplanted to Greece and Rome, sources of fable and idolatry.

Ceres the Earth Goddess
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