in celibate Hell, resentful Dis threatens civil war & abducts girl

With the rise of smartphone-based intimate solicitation, many societies are experiencing dramatically increasing sexual inequality. The biggest losers are ordinary men. They receive almost no solicitations and nearly an unbounded number of rejections. As Claudian’s fourth-century epic The Abduction of Proserpina {De raptu Proserpinae} makes clear, societies that fail to provide ordinary men with adequate sexual welfare are heading toward horrible violence.

Dis abducting Proserpina

Living in Hell, Dis deeply resented disrespect for his sexuality. He was experiencing involuntary celibacy. Like many ignorant men, he idealized marriage and yearned to be married. The more he thought about his godly sexual potential, the angrier he became:

Dis blazed forth into swelling anger,
intending to stir up war against the gods above because he alone
was unmarried and had long been wasting away barren years,
unable to bear his ignorance of the marriage-bed and knowing not
a bridegroom’s allurements nor the sweet name of father.

{ tumidas exarsit in iras
proelia moturus superis quod solus egeret
conubiis sterilesque diu consumeret annos
inpatiens nescire torum nullasque mariti
inlecebras nec dulce patris cognoscere nomen. } [1]

Lachesis, a woman subordinate to Dis according to the org chart of Hell, implored:

Do not seek to dissolve the established laws of peace
which we have given and our distaff has spun, nor overturn the bonds of brothers
with the trumpet-blast of civil war. …
Ask Jupiter;  a wife will be given to you.

{ ne pete firmatas pacis dissolvere leges
quas dedimus nevitque colus, neu foedera fratrum
civili converte tuba …
posce Iovem; dabitur coniunx. }

Dis reluctantly “desisted and blushed at her entreaties {pepercit erubuitque preces}.” He typically confronted men fiercely. In fact, Lachesis’s instruction was questionable. Jupiter, nominally the head-god-in-charge of the cosmos, usually acted with his wife Juno’s approval or behind her back (Dis was obviously that sort of character as well). According to Martianus Capella, Mercury asked Juno if he could marry Philology. Dis might well have been better off asking Juno for a wife.[2]

In any case, following Lachesis’s instruction, Dis summoned Mercury to ask Jupiter for a wife. Dis formulated this request with heated, threatening words:

Are you, most savage of brothers,
to have so much control over me? Thus has injurious fortune taken from me my strength
along with the light of heaven? Surely I have not lost my power and arms,
if day has been stolen from me?  …
you even prevent me from marrying? Amphitrite, daughter of Nereus,
encircles Neptune in her grey-green embrace;
when you are tired from hurling thunderbolts, your sister
Juno receives you in her bosom. Not to mention your secret love for Latona,
or Ceres, and great Themis. You have opportunity of becoming a father
in abundance; a happy crowd of children encircles you.
But I, mourning ingloriously in my deserted palace —
shall I not solace my harsh cares with a pledge of love?
Such inactivity cannot be borne. The primeval night
I call to witness, and the inviolate pools of the dreaded marsh:
if you refuse to obey my words, I will lay open and stir up
Tartarus, I will unfasten the ancient chains of Saturn,
I will obscure the sun with darkness, the world’s joints will be loosened
and the shining heavens will be mingled with shadowy Avernus.

{ tantumne tibi, saevissime fratrum,
in me iuris erit? sic nobis noxia vires
cum caelo fortuna tulit? num robur et arma
perdidimus, si rapta dies? …
sed thalamis etiam prohibes? Nereia glauco
Neptunum gremio conplectitur Amphitrite;
te consanguineo recipit post fulmina fessum
Iuno sinu. quid enim narrem Latonia furta,
quid Cererem magnamque Themin? tibi tanta creandi
copia; te felix natorum turba coronat.
ast ego deserta maerens inglorius aula
inplacidas nullo solabor pignore curas?
non adeo toleranda quies. primordia testor
noctis et horrendae stagna intemerata paludis:
si dictis parere negas, patefacta ciebo
Tartara, Saturni veteres laxabo catenas,
obducam tenebris solem, conpage soluta
lucidus umbroso miscebitur axis Averno. }

Jupiter was furious at Dis’s belligerent request. Having experienced marital life with Juno, Jupiter knew how best to punish Dis. He thought, “Why should the lowest kingdom be at peace {cur ultima regna quiescunt}?” He thus arranged to provide Dis with a wife.[3]

Jupiter gave his daughter Proserpina in marriage to Dis. But rather than having Cupid shoot her with a dart of love for Dis, he required Dis to abduct her while she was picking flowers in a meadow. That was a violent action. Venus, Pallas Athena, and Diana — three goddesses with history of causing men considerable pain — arranged the circumstances for the abduction. Yet when Dis came through to perform his appointed criminal role, the goddesses switched sides in maidenly solidarity: “commonly valued virginity urges them to arms {stimulat communis in arma virginitas}.” They fought in opposition to the “demonic” man Dis. Pallas Athena taunted and disrespected Dis:

Why have you left your abode
and dare to defile heaven with your Tartarean chariot?
You have the ugly Dirae, the other spirits of Lethe,
and grim Furies worthy to have you as husband.

{ cur sede relicta
audes Tartareis caelum incestare quadrigis?
sunt tibi deformes Dirae, sunt altera Lethes
numina, sunt tristes Furiae te coniuge dignae. }

Most men don’t regard an ugly harpy as a worthy wife. Men who want wives deserve ones whom they regard as beautiful and who don’t always act furiously toward them. All men are entitled to satisfying, intimate love.

Men will not be liberated to have fully human lives until they free themselves from yes dearism. That means firmly rejecting repulsive Dirae. But saying no to yes dearism has a more difficult and more important aspect: men must not, in ignorance of the fundamental empirical laws of seduction, grovel, cater, or pander to beautiful women. Dis, however, lacked self-respect and seductive skill. When he was carrying off Proserpina, she began to cry, lament, and call out to her mother:

O how fortunate were all the girls carried off
by other abductors! At least they enjoy the common light of day.
But to me is denied both my virginity and the heavens,
my chastity is stolen along with the light. Leaving the earth behind me,
I am led as a captive to serve the tyrant of Styx.
O flowers loved to my cost and my mother’s scorned
advice! O the arts of Venus which I detected too late!
Mother, help!

{ o fortunatas alii quascumque tulere
raptores! saltem communi sole fruuntur.
sed mihi virginitas pariter caelumque negatur,
eripitur cum luce pudor, terrisque relictis
servitum Stygio ducor captiva tyranno.
o male dilecti flores despectaque matris
consilia! o Veneris deprensae serius artes!
mater, io! }

Dis immediately sought to comfort the crying woman with promises of extraordinary privilege:

Fierce Dis himself by these words and her becoming sobs
was overpowered and felt the sighs of first love.
Then he wiped away her tears with his dusky cloak
and consoled her sorrowful grief with gentle speech:
“Stop troubling your heart, Proserpina, with mournful cares
and empty fear. A greater scepter will be granted to you,
and you will not endure marriage with an unworthy husband.
I am that child of Saturn whom the framework of nature
serves, and my power extends through the limitless void.
Do not believe that you have lost the daylight. We have other
stars and other worlds, and you will see a light
more pure and marvel instead at the sun of Elysium
and its righteous inhabitants. There dwells an age of greater worth,
a golden generation. We possess for always
what those above have obtained but once. Nor without soft meadows
shall you be. There ever-blooming flowers breathe
to kindlier Zephyr breezes, flowers such as not even your Aetna has produced.
In the shady groves there is also a most precious tree,
whose curving branches gleam with verdant metal.
This is appointed as sacred to you — you will possess
the blessed harvest and will ever be enriched with its tawny-gold fruit.
But I speak of small details. Whatever the clear air embraces,
whatever the earth feeds, whatever the sea plains swirl round,
what the rivers sweep along, what the marshes have nourished —
all living things alike shall yield to your sovereignty,
all that lies beneath the sphere of the moon.”

{ talibus ille ferox dictis fletuque decoro
vincitur et primi suspiria sentit amoris.
tum ferrugineo lacrimas detergit amictu
et placida maestum solatur voce dolorem:
“desine funestis animum, Proserpina, curis
et vano vexare metu. maiora dabuntur
sceptra nec indigni taedas patiere mariti.
ille ego Saturni proles cui machina rerum
servit et inmensum tendit per inane potestas.
amissum ne crede diem: sunt altera nobis
sidera, sunt orbes alii, lumenque videbis
purius Elysiumque magis mirabere solem
cultoresque pios; illic pretiosior aetas,
aurea progenies habitat, semperque tenemus
quod superi meruere semel. nec mollia derunt
prata tibi; Zephyris illic melioribus halant
perpetui flores, quos nec tua protulit Aetna.
est etiam lucis arbor praedives opacis
fulgentes viridi ramos curvata metallo:
haec tibi sacra datur fortunatumque tenebis
autumnum et fulvis semper ditabere pomis.
parva loquor: quidquid liquidus conplectitur aer,
quidquid alit tellus, quidquid maris aequora vertunt,
quod fluvii volvunt, quod nutrivere paludes,
cuncta tuis pariter cedent animalia regnis
lunari subiecta globo }

Proserpina would become even more powerful than Empress Theodora or Anne of France. Moreover, under arrangements she subsequently established with her husband, she spent only four months a year with him and spent the rest of the year with her mother. Proserpina and Dis may have had a sexless marriage. No surviving ancient source directly indicates that Proserpina had children.

In De raptu Proserpinae, Claudian is centrally concerned with absence. Modern scholarly study of the poem has emphasized, not Dis in celibate Hell, but Proserpina’s separation from her mother Ceres and her mother’s bitter sense of absence.[4] That emphasis reflects dominant gynocentric ideology. Claudian, like any modern writer, could distance himself from gynocentrism only with great difficulty and risk.[5]

With considerable literary sophistication, Claudian embedded a subtle allegory of castration culture within his account of Ceres’s anguish. Ceres left her daughter to celebrate rites with the goddess Cybele. So strongly was Cybele associated with castration that later literature depicted her as having castrated Ovid. Ceres expressed her fears for her daughter with simultaneous allegories of defiling a virgin and castrating a man:

There stood a bay-tree, dearer than all the grove,
which once used to overshadow with its chaste leaves her maiden daughter’s
chamber. She saw this cut down to the bottom of the stump and
its unkempt branches defiled with dust.
When she asked about this abomination, the wailing Dryads said
that the Furies had conquered it with an axe of the underworld.

{ stabat praeterea luco dilectior omni
laurus virgineos quondam quae fronde pudica
umbrabat thalamos: hanc imo stipite caesam
vidit et incomptos foedari pulvere ramos,
quaerentique nefas Dryades dixere gementes
Tartarea Furias debellavisse bipenni. }

The allegorical violence inflicted upon men’s genitals becomes even more horrific when the raging Ceres turned two beautiful cypresses into torches:

Two cypresses raised their inviolate heads
on the grass nearby; finer trees than any Simois admired
on the crags of Ida, finer trees than any washed by the rich waters
of Orontes, who feeds Apollo’s grove. …
These won her approval as torches. Briskly she assailed each one,
the folds of her robe girt up, her arms bared and equipped with a double-edged axe, striking them in turn. With all her strength pushing against them as they trembled, she toppled them. Together they trailed destruction,
and together laid down their foliage and sank upon the plain,
a grief to fauns and Dryads. She clasped them both
just as they were and lifted them on high and,
with her loose hair streaming behind her, she climbed the ridge
of the panting mountain, surmounted the boiling heat and rocks accessible to no one, and
trampled the sand that scorned footsteps.

After she arrived at the mouth of the blazing crag,
turning aside her face, she at once thrust the cypresses
that were to burn into the middle of its jaws, on all sides covering
the crater and blocking off the chasm that brimmed with flames.
The mountain thundered with suppressed fire, and against his confinement
Vulcan struggled. The smothered steam could not escape.
The cone-bearing tree-tops flared up and
Aetna grew with fresh ashes. The branches crackled with applied sulfur.

{ tollebant geminae capita inviolata cupressus
caespite vicino, quales non rupibus Idae
miratur Simois, quales non divite ripa
lambit Apollinei nemoris nutritor Orontes. …
hae placuere faces; pernix invadit utramque
cincta sinus, exerta manus, armata bipenni,
alternasque ferit totisque obnixa trementes
viribus inpellit. pariter traxere ruinam
et pariter posuere comas campoque recumbunt,
Faunorum Dryadumque dolor. conplectitur ambas,
sicut erant, alteque levat retroque solutis
crinibus ascendit fastigia montis anheli
exuperatque aestus et nulli pervia saxa
atque indignantes vestigia calcat harenas

postquam perventum scopuli flagrantis in ora,
protinus arsuras aversa fronte cupressus
faucibus iniecit mediis lateque cavernas
texit et undantem flammarum obstruxit hiatum.
conpresso mons igne tonat claususque laborat
Mulciber: obducti nequeunt exire vapores.
coniferi micuere apices crevitque favillis
Aetna novis; stridunt admisso sulphure rami. }

The trees are both two erect penises and a man’s testicles. They are thrust into molten lava and scorched. That’s a Hellish transfiguration of heated, mutually satisfying heterosexual intercourse. Being viciously burned sexually, or even just experiencing women turning aside their faces as if in disgust, hurts men.

Justifying to herself her departure from her daughter, Ceres imagined having ensconced Proserpina in a golden-age land. In that mythic time and place, men’s sexuality is unnecessary for fertility:

To your care I commit the joy
of my blood and the dear labour of my womb.
Worthy rewards await you. You will suffer no mattocks
and be turned by no blow of the hard plowshare.
Your fields will flower of their own accord, and while the ox idles,
a richer farmer will wonder at the spontaneous harvest.

{ tibi gaudia nostri
sanguinis et caros uteri commendo labores.
praemia digna manent: nullos patiere ligones
et nullo rigidi versabere vomeris ictu;
sponte tuus florebit ager; cessante iuvenco
ditior oblatas mirabitur incola messes. }

For at least a billion years, a wide range of species have reproduced with the participation of male sexuality. Male primates, for good evolutionary reason, hardly ever harm female primates in seeking and having sexual relations with them. Men’s sexuality commonly provides life-affirming pleasure to women. Yet Ceres’s figured men’s sexuality as blows of a hard plow upon the earth. The gynocentric dream of men not being necessary has existed throughout written history. Compared to women’s sexuality, men’s sexuality has been much less socially supported in societies from ancient Greece through to present-day, high-income democracies.

Contempt for men’s sexuality and lack of concern about dramatically increasing sexual inequality portend terrible violence. Even if civil war is avoided, men in celibrate Hell will not be content to seek action with their own hands. These men will engage in despicable acts of violence along with ignorant, ineffectual practices of yes dearism and white knighting. All-out gender war is likely to erupt between the haves and the have-nots — between those who have all the vagina and those who have none. The resulting violence, chaos, and misery will be far greater than from any prior world war among men.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Claudian {Claudius Claudianus}, The Abduction of Proserpina {De raptu Proserpinae} 1.32-6, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Gruzelier (1993). All quotes from De raptu Proserpinae are similarly from id.

Proserpina is a Roman acculturation of the ancient Greek goddess Persephone (also known as Kore / Cora). Proserpina’s mother Ceres corresponds to Persephone’s mother Demeter in ancient Greek myth. Dis (called more fully Dis Pater) was the Roman god of the Underworld. He became conflated with Pluto and Hades.

The Latin word raptus most centrally means abduction. Proserpina clearly was abducted. Yet in traditional societies bridal capture is commonly a highly ritualized action socially imposed on men. See note [2] in my post on the Sabine women. The significance of the abduction in De raptu Proserpinae is a question that Claudian constructed with considerable literary sophistication:

So the poem continually brings to the fore the question of how events should and can be read. Has Proserpina undergone a forced abduction or entered into a marriage arranged by her father? Has she gained an eternal kingdom through the love of her husband or suffered a kind of death? Are we reading of love or violence?

Parkes (2015) p. 485. Scholars have commonly obliterated Claudian’s literary art underlying these questions and translated De raptu Proserpinae as The Rape of Proserpina. That translation of the title lacks both philological necessity and literary-critical merit. Moreover, “rape” is now mendaciously applied to criminalize a large share of men. In this context, the best translation of De raptu Proserpinae is The Abduction of Proserpina.

Subsequent quotes above from De raptu Proserpinae are (cited by book.Latin lines): 1.63-5, 67 (do not seek to dissolve); 1.67-8 (desisted and blushed at her entreaties); 1.93-6, 103-16 (Are you, most savage…); 1.224 (Why should the lowest kingdom…); 2.207 (commonly valued virginity…); 2.216-19 (Why have you left…); 2.260-7 (O how fortunate were…); 2.273-98 (Fierce Dis himself…); 3.74-9 (there stood a bay-tree…); 3.370-3, 376-85, 392-99 (Two cypresses raised…); 1.195-200 (To your care). I’ve lineated Gruzelier’s English translation to match the Latin lines so readers can more easily identify corresponding Latin text. In some instances I’ve also slightly modified the English translation to more closely track the Latin.

Latin text and the English translation of Maurice Platnauer (Loeb Classical Library, 1922) are available online through LacusCurtius. NoDictionaries offers a Latin text with linked English dictionary entries.

De raptu Proserpinae was one of the “six authors {sex auctores}” that were central to school teaching in thirteenth-century Europe. An eminent scholar of medieval Latin literature has characterized them as “elementary Latin texts.” Ziolkowski (2007) p. 114. The Latin of De raptu Proserpinae might fairly be characterized as elementary relative to the medieval Latin of Alan of Lille’s De planctu naturae. Yet Claudian’s late-classical Latin text engages in learned, complex literary figuration. Harrison (2017).

[2] Blushing associates Dis with the “the human role of a powerless male lover.” Tsai (2007) p. 44. Men’s lack of sexual power comes in part from lack of good education in seduction skills. Yet structural gender inequality also contributes considerably to ordinary men’s sexual disadvantage and the vast predominance of men among the most sexually disadvantaged persons.

Tai’s emphasizes “compulsory sexuality” in interpreting De raptu Proserpinae. Id. pp. 60, 61. That seems to me misleading. While rape of men is as prevalent as rape of women, most sexual intercourse is consensual within any reasonable understanding of consent. Compulsory sexuality is much less significant to men’s welfare than is the social devaluation of men’s sexuality. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pluto (Dis) is figured as an “emotionless instrument”:

the emphasis stays fixed on Proserpina, with Pluto a mere tool in an oblique case.

Id. p. 68, n. 45 (both quotes above). That’s commonly how men are socially figured in their sexuality.

[3] Wheeler (1995) appreciates the threat of civil war, but conflates rape and marriage as an alternative to civil war:

the marriage of Proserpina is a necessary sacrifice to prevent a war between brothers and a return to chaos

the rape of Proserpina has been arranged to avoid just such a civil war between heaven and hell.

rape and marriage can replace the violence of civil war

Id. pp. 116, 129, 132. Very few men rape their wives under any non-misandristic understanding of rape. Rape and marriage aren’t significantly related. The social alternatives that De raptu Proserpinae sets out are better understood as adequate sexual welfare for all, or civil war.

[4] Konstan (1997) reviews the reaction of Demeter / Ceres to the abduction of her daughter Persephone / Prosperpina across ancient Greek and Latin literature. He observed:

For a girl, separation from the mother and incorporation in the household of a husband are analogous to death, and Claudian is sensitive to mortal fear of mother and child alike.

Id. p. 88. While ancient literature of men’s sexed protest strongly opposed marriage, analogizing separation from mother and marriage to death seems extreme. Thecla and Hysmine in relation to their mothers probably more realistically depict the mother-daughter relationship in the context of the daughter’s love for a potential husband and her marriage. Mothers probably were in practice the dominant parent in the arrangement of ancient marriages.

Ceres relished the social status she associated with marrying her daughter. She lamented:

No such torches as these for you, Proserpina, I hoped to carry,
but my wishes were those common to all mothers:
marriage-bed, festal firebrands, and a wedding-song sung in heaven
before everyone’s eyes. …
How exalted was my recent state, by how many keen suitors
was I encircled! What mother of numerous children did not
yield to me on account of my one child?

{ non tales gestare tibi, Proserpina, taedas
sperabam, sed vota mihi communia matrum,
et thalami festaeque faces caeloque canendus
ante oculos hymenaeus erat. …
quam nuper sublimis eram quantisque procorum
cingebar studiis! quae non mihi pignus ob unum
cedebat numerosa parens? }

De raptu proserpinae 3.407-10, 412-4. Given her concern for appearances (“before everyone’s eyes”) and social status, Ceres probably would have sought to hire Martianus Capella’s Special Day Wedding Services for a lavish wedding banquet.

[5] The poetic work of De raptu proserpinae has recently been interpreted as attempted distancing from the traditional language of Latin poetry:

The language of the family in De raptu is literally ubiquitous; references to the familial constellation appear regularly. … The narration of the creation of a “new family” (Pluto and Proserpina) takes place within an older and pre-existent familial order. The family allegorizes a tradition which is impossible to escape and within which every new event cannot be anything else than a reproduction of the same order. … in Claudian’s poem as in the Mosella, the very concept of tradition, that is, the language of Latin poetry, is directly thematized and problematized through figures of displacement, disconnection, decentralization, and separation but also through the very impossibility of escaping precisely that language.

Formisano (2017) pp. 226-7. These abstract claims are better understood in relation to specific, relevant social reality. In the Achilleid, Statius allegorized the difficulty of creating an epic separate from the traditional epic devaluation of men’s lives. De raptu Proserpinae also sought to remake Homer. It used Homer’s hexameter line and adapted the Homeric Hymn to Demeter with high figurative sophistication. Harrison (2017) pp. 250-1. In De raptu Proserpinae, Claudian allegorized the difficulty of creating an alternative to the traditional devaluation of men’s sexuality.

The poetic problem that Claudian confronted in writing De raptu Proserpinae is analogous to attempting to express concern about reproductive choice for men within the long-standing, prominent public debate about abortion. That debate has refused to allow men’s real social position to figure and signify in considering abortion and reproductive rights. More general, the poetic problem of De raptu Proserpinae is like trying to get scholars to consider seriously the question, “What does a man want {Was will der Mann}?”

[image] The Abduction of Proserpina (detail). Oil on oak panel painting by Rembrandt, c. 1631. Preserved in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Via Wikimedia Commons. Peter Paul Rubens did a rather different painting of the abduction of Proserpina c. 1637.


Elsner, Jaś, and Jesús Hernández Lobato, eds. 2017. The poetics of late Latin literature. New York: Oxford University Press.

Formisano, Marco. 2017. “Displacing Tradition: A New-Allegorical Reading of Ausonius, Claudian, and Rutilius Namatianus.” Ch. 6 (pp. 207-235) in Elsner & Hernández Lobato (2017).

Gruzelier, Claire, ed. and trans. 1993. Claudian. De raptu Proserpinae. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Harrison, Stephen. 2017. “Metapoetics in the Prefaces of Claudian’s De raptu Proserpinae.” Ch. 7 (pp. 236-251) in Elsner & Hernández Lobato (2017).

Konstan, David. 1997. Afterword (pp. 79-98) in Slavitt, David R., trans. Broken columns: two Roman epic fragments: The Achilleid of Publius Papinius Statius and The Rape of Proserpine of Claudius Claudianus. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Parkes, Ruth. 2015. “Love or War? Erotic and Martial Poetics in Claudian’s De raptu Proserpinae.” Classical Journal. 110 (4): 471-492.

Tsai, S-C Kevin. 2007. “Hellish Love: Genre in Claudian’s De raptu Proserpinae.” Helios. 34 (1): 37-68.

Wheeler, Stephen M. 1995. “The Underworld Opening of Claudian’s De Raptu Proserpinae.” Transactions of the American Philological Association. 125: 113-134.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. “Mastering Authors and Authorizing Masters in the Long Twelfth Century.” Ch. 6 (pp. 93-188) in Verbaal, Wim, Yanick Maes, and Jan Papy, eds. Latinitas perennis. Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill.