As the first early snows of winter covered parts of Britain this week, the US Eastern seaboard was lashed by Hurricane Sandy and the late summer streets we so recently walked in Lower Manhattan were submerged, it would seem Proserpina has departed for the Underworld.
Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, and the love a mother bears for her child. Ceres was the sister of Jupiter, and Proserpina their daughter.
With the connivance and approval of Jupiter, Pluto abducted Proserpina to the Underworld to be his wife. Ceres was distraught at her loss and in a rage created famine, decimating every crop and plant across the land:
I shall punish the Earth, I shall turn down the heat
I shall take away every morsel to eat
I shall turn every field into stone
It was Jupiter who eventually demanded Proserpina’s return but not before she had become fatally addicted to the food of the Underworld, such that every year as Autumn ends, she must return beneath the earth to sate her craving. As she tears herself from Ceres, the leaves fall from the trees, plants wither, crops die and seeds lie dormant until her return.
Proserpina was the last song written by Kate McGarrigle before her death in January 2010. As a parting gift to her children and the world it takes some beating. On this vaguely disturbing film, Martha Wainwright sounds ever more like the voice of her mother and as she has said “As we (Martha and Rufus) sing her songs, I think her voice can be heard in ours, literally through our pipes”. It is reassuring that Kate’s plaintive sound has been passed down the generations.
Afterthought: The unmanned Dawn spacecraft, launched on 27 September 2007 by NASA, is expected to be the first to explore the planet Ceres after its scheduled arrival there in 2015 – how will she react to this invasion of privacy. Thanks to Leon de ste. Croix f.r.a.s. and his astronomy presentations aboard Arcadia, for inspiring an interest in the night sky.