Procris

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The Death of Procris, by Piero di Cosimo (c. 1486–1510).

In Greek mythology, Procris (Ancient Greek: Πρόκρις, gen.: Πρόκριδος) was the daughter of Erechtheus, king of Athens and his wife, Praxithea. She married Cephalus, the son of Deioneus. Procris had at least two sisters, Creusa and Orithyia. Sophocles wrote a tragedy called Procris which has been lost, as has a version contained in the Greek Cycle, but at least six different accounts of her story still exist.

Pherecydes[edit]

The earliest version of Procris' story comes from Pherecydes. Cephalus remains away from home for eight years, because he wanted to test Procris. When he returns, he succeeds in seducing her while disguised. Although they are reconciled, Procris suspects that her husband has a lover, because he is often away hunting. A servant tells her that Cephalus called to Nephele (cloud) to come to him. Procris follows him the next time he goes hunting, and leaps out of the thicket where she is hiding when she hears him call out to Nephele again. He is startled and shoots her with an arrow, thinking that she is a wild animal, and kills her.

Ovid[edit]

Early version[edit]

Ovid tells the end of the story a bit differently in the third of his books on The Art of Love.[1][2] No goddesses are mentioned in this earlier published work, and the tale is related as a caution against credulity. Cephalus quite innocently beseeches a cool breeze (Zephyr[1] or Aura[2]) to come to his overheated breast when he lies in the shade after hunting.

A busybody related the overheard comment to Procris, who grew pale with terror that her husband loved another, and hastened in fury to the valley, then crept silently to the forest where Cephalus hunted. When she saw him flop on the grass to cool himself and call, as was his wont, to Zephyri to come relieve him, Procris realized that what she had taken to be the name of a lover was merely a name for the air and nothing more. Joyfully she rose to fling herself into his arms, but hearing a rustling of foliage, Cephalus shot an arrow at what he thought would be a wild beast in the brush. Dying, the woman laments that the breeze by whose name she was deceived would now carry away her spirit, and her husband weeps, holding her in his arms.

Late version[edit]

In Ovid's later account, the goddess of the dawn, Eos (Aurora to the Romans) seizes Cephalus while he is hunting, but Cephalus begins to pine for Procris. A disgruntled Eos returns Cephalus to his wife, but offers to show Cephalus how easily Procris would be seduced by another stranger. He therefore goes home in disguise. He pushes Procris to "hesitate" by promising her money before claiming that she is unfaithful. Procris flees to take up the pursuits of Diana, and is later persuaded to return to her husband, bringing him a magical spear and hunting dog as a gift. The transformation scene centers on the dog, which always catches its quarry, and the uncatchable fox; Jupiter turns them into stone.

The tale resumes with a similar ending to that of Pherecydes, as Procris is informed of her husband's calling out to "Aura", the Latin word for breeze. Cephalus kills her by accident when she stirs in the bushes nearby, upset at his beeseching of "beloved Aura" to "come into his lap and give relief to his heat". Procris dies in his arms after begging him not to let Aura take her place as his wife. He explains to her that it was 'only the breeze' and she seems to die at ease.[3]

Apollodorus, Hyginus, and Antoninus[edit]

The Bibliotheca gives an entirely different characterization of Procris. He states that Procris was bribed with a golden crown to sleep with Pteleon, but was discovered in his bed by her husband. After fleeing to Minos, she helped cure the king of Minos of his genital sickness, and was given a dog whom no quarry could escape and an infallible javelin. The Bibliotheca writes that she gave the dog and javelin to her husband, and they were reconciled.

Hyginus (who states that the dog and javelin are gifts from the goddess Artemis) and Antoninus Liberalis,[4] however, write that she disguised herself as a boy and seduced her husband, so that he too was guilty, and they were reconciled.

The dog and the fox[edit]

The name of the dog is Laelaps. The story of the hunting of the Teumessian fox, which could never be caught, and which Zeus turned to stone along with Procris' dog when the dog hunted it, and the death of Procris were told in one of the lost early Greek epics of the Cycle, most probably the Epigoni.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ovid. Transl. J. Lewis May. The Art of Love, sacred-texts.com
  2. ^ a b Ovid. Transl. A. S. Kline. The Art of Love, The Gutenberg Museum Mainz
  3. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses vii.690-862
  4. ^ Antoninus Liberalis (1992) [translation; original work between 100 and 300]. Celoria, Francis, ed. The Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis: A Translation with Commentary. Psychology Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 9780415068963. Retrieved 23 February 2014.