Home  »  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients  »  XXIX. Proserpina Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

XXIX. Proserpina

XXIX. Proserpina Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  Of the Wisdom of the Ancients.  1857.

THEY say that when Pluto upon that memorable partition of the kingdoms received for his portion the infernal regions, he despaired of gaining any of the goddesses above in marriage by addresses and gentle methods, and so was driven to take measures for carrying one of them off by force. Seizing his opportunity therefore, while Proserpina, daughter of Ceres, a fair virgin, was gathering flowers of Narcissus in the Sicilian meadows, he rushed suddenly upon her and carried her off in his chariot to the subterranean regions. Great reverence was paid her there: so much that she was even called the Mistress or Queen of Dis. Meanwhile her mother Ceres, filled with grief and anxiety by the disappearance of her dearly beloved daughter, took a lighted torch in her hand, and wandered with it all round the world in quest of her. Finding the search fruitless, and hearing by chance that she had been carried down to the infernal regions, she wearied Jupiter with tears and lamentations, praying to have her restored; till at last she won a promise from him that if her daughter had not eaten of anything belonging to the under world, then she might bring her back. This condition was unfortunate for the mother; for Proserpina had eaten (it was found) three grains of a pomegranate. But this did not prevent Ceres from renewing her prayers and lamentations; and it was agreed at last that Proserpina should divide the year between the two, and live by turns six months with her husband and the other six with her mother.  1
  Afterwards a very daring attempt to carry away the same Proserpina from the chamber of Dis was made by Theseus and Pirithous. But having sate down to rest by the way on a stone in the infernal regions, they were unable to rise again, and continued sitting there for ever. So Proserpina remained Queen of the under world: where a great and new privilege was granted in honour of her; for whereas they who went down to the under world were not permitted to go back, a singular exception was made in favour of any who should bring a certain golden branch as a present to Proserpina; such present entitling the bearer to go and return. It was a single branch growing by itself in a vast and dark wood; neither had it a stock of its own, but grew like misseltoe upon a tree of different kind; and as soon as it was plucked off, another came in its place.  2
  The fable relates, as I take it, to Nature, and explains the source of that rich and fruitful supply of active power subsisting in the under world, from which all the growths of our upper world spring, and into which they again return and are resolved. By Proserpina the ancients signified that ethereal spirit which, having been separated by violence from the upper globe, is enclosed and imprisoned beneath the earth (which earth is represented by Pluto); as was well expressed in those lines,—
        Whether that the Earth yet fresh, and from the deeps
Of heaven new-sundered, did some seeds retain,
Some sparks and motions of its kindred sky.