Ceres, the Goddess of Agriculture

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Ceres was a goddess of agriculture, grain harvests, fertility, and maternal bonds in the religion of the ancient Romans.

She served as the focal point of the so-called Plebeian or Aventine Triad in ancient Rome before being joined by her daughter Proserpina in what the Romans referred to as “the Greek rituals of Ceres.” The well-known Ludi Ceriales (Ceres’ games) were part of her seven-day April celebration of Cerealia. Additionally, she was venerated during the May lustratio of the fields, the Ambarvalia celebration, harvest, and Roman wedding and burial customs. She is typically portrayed as an experienced lady. Ceres was the mother of Proserpina/Libera and Bacchus/Liber.

Related articles: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome, Indigitamenta: Ceres’ helper gods & other Agrarian Deities

Rome had several agricultural goddesses, but only Ceres is included in the Dii Consentes, Rome’s version of the Twelve Olympians of Greek mythology. The Greek goddess Demeter’s legend was recreated for Ceres in Roman art and literature, and the Romans viewed her as Demeter’s counterpart.

The discovery of spelt wheat (also known as far in Latin), the yoking of oxen for plowing, the seeding, guarding, and feeding of the young seed, and the gift of agriculture to humanity are all attributed to Ceres. All phases of the agricultural cycle were safeguarded by her rules and ceremonies, and she possessed the ability to fertilize, increase, and fructify plant and animal seeds.

Paolo Farinati, Ceres, c. 1590, fresco, Villa Nichesola-Conforti, Ponton di Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella (Verona)
Paolo Farinati, Ceres, c. 1590, fresco, Villa Nichesola-Conforti, Ponton di Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella (Verona)

Cerealia, Ceres’ biggest celebration, took place in mid- to late-April. There were circus games planned by her plebeian aediles (ludi circenses). It began with a horse race in the Circus Maximus, with the starting line just beneath and across from her Aventine Temple; the turning post at the opposite end of the Circus was dedicated to Consus, a grain-storage deity. Foxes were let loose into the circus after the race, their tails blazing with lit torches, possibly to clean the crops as they grew and keep them free of pests and illness, or perhaps to provide warmth and vigour to their development. At each step of the grain cycle, commencing just before the Feriae Sementivae, a priest, most likely the Flamen Cerialis, called Ceres (and most likely Tellus) together with twelve specialized, lesser aid gods to obtain heavenly assistance and protection.

Ovid compares Ceres’ love for her own children to a cow’s loyalty to its calf; nonetheless, Ceres is also the instigator of brutal animal sacrifice, which is necessary for the rebirth of life. She particularly dislikes the pig, which she uses as her sacrifice animal. Pigs annoy her by damaging the crops she protects in the fields, and in the tale of Proserpina’s kidnapping in the plains of Henna (Enna), their trampling covered her footsteps. Without them, Ceres may not have had to endure the hardships of her protracted search and separation, and humans might not have had to endure the ensuing hunger. The tale serves as a reminder that agriculture is a gift with conditions that must be met. It provides happiness but also death. Enna, in Sicily, was the location of Ceres’ oldest shrine and shared close mythical ties with Proserpina. On its “miraculous plain,” flowers were reported to blossom throughout the year.

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