Origins of California Place Names — Ceres

Ceres is a 43,000-population city located 80 miles south of Sacramento in Stanislaus County.

Its name is that of the Roman goddess of fertility, fecundity and, not surprisingly, agriculture.

Ceres, the sister of Jupiter – the Roman Zeus —  is the Romanized version of the Greek Demeter, goddess of harvests and seasons. Harvests and seasons are also under the purview of Ceres.

Demeter had a daughter Persephone. Ceres had a daughter named Proserpine.

While the names are different the same story in both cultures explains the seasons:

One day Proserpine is kidnapped by Pluto, god of the underworld. He, like the Greek Hades who nabs Persephone, wants her to be his bride.

A distraught Ceres chases after her daughter and her kidnapper. But she’s too late; Pluto has gone to ground, as it were.

Ceres becomes even angrier when she learns Jupiter has given Pluto permission to marry Proserpine.

Disguised as a crone, Ceres ventures into the world of mankind and stops plants and crops from growing.

Famine ensues.

The other gods, including her brother, try to reason with her. To no avail.

Jupiter/Zeus realizes he’s got to bring Proserpine/Persephone back but Pluto/Hades has given her something to eat and once somebody eats in the underworld they can’t leave permanently.

As a result, for eight months of the year Proserpine lives above ground with Ceres but returns to the underworld for four months.

She emerges in the spring and returns in the autumn. While she’s gone, Ceres continues to cause plants to lose their leaves and crops to lie dormant.

As one of the few Roman gods who interacted with the human race, Ceres was also in charge of pleabian laws.

She had a week long festival centered around April 19. It was called the Cerealia.

As the name suggests, the word “cereal” comes from Ceres.



Filed under: California History

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