Hymn to Prosperine is a very heavy read that has many layers that one must peel back before finding the core of the story. Too be honest as a Christian at first I read this Hymn as a very strong revolt against Christianity. It wasn’t until I took my blinders off and dug into the reading that I truly began to understand Swineburg’s message.
To start I think it’s best to understand why Prosperine? Why sing her praises? Prosperine, or in Greek mythology Persephone which I will use for the background, was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She was the maiden of the spring. At one time Demeter lost her, and because of that was filled with grief and being the God who brought spring and the beauty of flowers blooming and growing the earth turned to bitter ice. The lord of the underworld was fascinated by the blooms up above of Persephone and drugs her down into the underworld with him. With that Demeter continued her rage and kept the earth desolate, until she was able to see her daughter. Now according to Greek mythology every spring Persephone rising to bring life back to the Earth, and each year must die again as she returns to the underworld. (Hamilton pgs 50-55). Prosperine was the only God who understood death as the Olympians were immortal, so men sought out Prosperine in their times of sorrow.
So why the hymn? Written through the lens of a pagan during Roman time when Christianity was spreading, and the ancient Gods were dying Swineburg dismayed that society would follow this religion that would bound and regulate life compared to the God’s who could live and love freely. Under the ancient God’s sexualities of many kinds were more freely accepted and in many times worshipped. The reference to Apollo “with hair and harp string of gold, A bitter God to follow, a beautiful God to behold” as the guide to the men on earth, (Hamilton, pg 31) seems to be have a sense of desire of look at his brilliance, but not too much as it will be a bitter taste in the end. Remember in the Victorian times homosexuality was a crime punishable by death. Even in 1952 famous mathematician Alan Turing who is credited with quite possibly single handedly winning the world war with the breaking of Enigma was prosecuted for homosexual acts. (Wikipedia)
Swineburg through his plea to Prosperine wanted freedom to choose who and how to love. His use of “Thou hast conquered O’ pale Galilean” signifies the overtaking of the church and setting very distinct and set roles for the sexes. (Greenblatt, pg 573). There was no more freedom of sexuality as the church took its reigns and seeped into society. By the use of the word pale it lends to graying or washing away the color of life. Reminds me of the movie ‘The Giver’ where the movie starts out in black and white and slowly as the movie progresses different colors begin to be seen… only in this case it’s the opposite. The pagan in the Hymn is seeing all the colors of desire and sensuality being washed away for very refined, dull, and meek rules of life. In this way Swineburg condemns the church for it’s dulling of societies minds and spirits, and by saying “I kneel not, neither adore you, but standing, look to the end.” Refuses to sub come to the views that have overtaken. (Greenblatt, pg. 574) The pagan in the hymn however understands that while Christianity has put to death the ancient powerful gods, the cycle of Prosperine of renewing and dying will also be inevitable and “yet the kingdom shall pass, Galilean, thy dead shall go down to thee dead” Jesus and Christianity will die out as well. (Greenblatt, pg 574).
While I do not agree with Swineburg’s desires and do quite favor my God and His desires for my life I appreciate how he while sneakily doing so wrote about sensualities that would have I’m sure caused controversy at the time. I mean you could be put to death for being homosexual, so I’m sure there were serious consequences for writing about it. The only way mankind can grow is if we continue to challenge the standards and views in our time.
Hamilton, Edith, and Steele Savage. Mythology. New York: New American Library, 1969. Print.
"Alan Turing." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 12 Nov. 2001, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing. Accessed 20 May 2019.
Greenblatt, S. and Robson, C. (n.d.). The Norton anthology of English literature.