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Cupid and Psyche
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Cupid and Psyche

The tale of Cupid and Psyche first appeared as a digressionary story told by an old woman in Lucius Apuleius' novel, The Golden Ass, written in the second century CE. Apuleius probably used an earlier folk-tale as the basis for his story, modifying it to suit the thematic needs of his novel. Read on its own, it is for the most part a mixture of straightforward fairy tale and parody.

Warning: Plot details follow.

Table of contents
1 Apuleius' tale of Cupid and Psyche
2 Relations and Origin
3 Later Adaptations
4 External links

Apuleius' tale of Cupid and Psyche

Divine names have Latin forms rather than Greek forms because Apuleius wrote in Latin.

The goddess Venus, jealous of the outstandingly beautiful mortal Psyche, asked her son Cupid to cause Psyche to fall in love with the vilest wretch alive. Cupid agreed.

When all continued to admire and praise Psyche's beauty but none desired her as a wife, Psyche's parents consulted an oracle which told them to set Psyche in mourning garments on top of a nearby peak as Psyche was destined for no mortal lover but for a monster who held even gods in thrall. So it was done. But then Zephyrus, the west wind, carried Psyche away to a fair valley and a magnificent palace where she was attended by invisible servants until night fell and in the darkness of night the promised bridegroom arrived and the marriage was consummated. The bridegroom visited her only by night and refused to let himself be seen.

The mysterious bridegroom even allowed Zephyrus to take Psyche back to her sisters and bring all three down to the palace during the day, only warning that Psyche should not listen to any argument that she should try to discover his true form. The two sisters, jealous of Psyche, returned, jumping down from that peak so that Zephyrus had to bear them up gently or let them die. The sisters told Psyche, then pregnant, that rumor was that she had married a great serpent who would devour her and her unborn child when her time came. They urged Psyche to conceal a knife and oil lamp in the bedchamber, to wait till her husband was asleep, and then to light the lamp and slay him at once if it turned as they had said. Psyche followed their advice. In the light of the lamp Psyche recognized the fair form on the bed as the god Cupid himself, but a drop of oil fell from Psyche's lamp and scalded Cupid. Cupid awoke and flew off with Psyche clinging to him until she could hold on no longer and fell to the earth, whereupon Cupid chastised Psyche for disobeying his charge though he himself had ignored his own mother's command, had descended from heaven to love her, had wounded himself with his own arrow.

The god Pan, who was nearby, advised Psyche to seek to regain Cupid's love through service.

Psyche returned to her old home and told her two, jealous, elder sisters what had happened; they rejoiced secretly and each separately attempted to return to the valley hoping for the love of the god, but this time Zephyrus did not bear them and they fell to their deaths.

Psyche searched far and wide for her lover, finally stumbling into a temple to Ceres where all was in slovenly disarray. As Psyche was sorting and clearing, Ceres appeared, but refused any help but advice, saying Psyche must call directly on Venus. Psyche next called on Juno in her temple, but Juno said the same. So Psyche found a temple to Venus and entered it. Venus damned Psyche as a whore but did accept her service and ordered Psyche to separate all the grains in a large basket of mixed kinds before nightfall. An ant took pity on Psyche and with its ant companions separated the grains for her. Venus was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. A voice from a reed in a river told Psyche that the sheep were vicious and strong and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Venus next asked for water from the Styx and Cocytus flowing from a cleft that was impossible for a mortal to attain and was also guarded by great serpents. This time an eagle performed the task for Psyche. Venus, outraged at Psyche's survival, claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Proserpina, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a box that Venus gave to Psyche. Psyche decided that the quickest way to the underworld would be to throw herself off some high place and die and so she climbed to the top of a tower. But the tower itself spoke to her and told her the route through Tanaerum that would allow her to enter the underworld alive and return again, as well as telling her how to get by Cerberus by throwing him a sop and Charon by paying him an obol and how to avoid other dangers on the way there and back. Psyche followed the orders explicitly and ate nothing while beneath the earth.

But when Psyche had got out of the underworld, she decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside she could see no beauty, rather an infernal sleep arose from the box and overcame her. Cupid, who had forgiven Psyche, flew to her, wiped the sleep from her face, put it back in the box, and sent her back on her way. Then Cupid flew to heaven and begged Jupiter to aid them. Jupiter called a full and formal Council of the gods (which parodies a meeting of the Roman senate), declared it was his will that Cupid might marry Psyche, told Venus that it would be respectable matrimony, had Psyche fetched to heaven, and gave her a drink of immortality.

The offspring of the marriage was Voluptas, that is, 'Pleasure'.

External links

Relations and Origin

Apuleius' Cupid and Psyche, though concerning gods and goddesses, is in form what is called in English fairy-tale and in German Märchen, a common oral genre found world wide but generally not represented in raw form in classical literature. Indeed only with Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales and following popularity of other such collections in 17th century did tales of that kind become recognized in Europe as a legitimate written genre.

Cupid and Psyche is classified by folklorists as a version of Aarne-Thompson type AT-425, the Monster Bridgroom, specifically as subtype AT-425A. Another example of AT-425A is the Norwegian folktale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon".

The subtype AT-425C is better known. The Brothers Grimm story Beauty and the Beast belongs to this subtype in which the enchantment is broken when the heroine declares her love for the apparent monster or beast. In AT-425A the heroine breaks a prohibition, her lover is taken away, and she must search for him.

External link

Later Adaptations

William Adlington's English translation of 1566 is excellent reading and for some is still the definitive English translation.

At the conclusion of Comus (1634), the poet John Milton alluded to the story of Cupid and Psyche.

"Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced,
Holds his dear Psyche sweet entranced,
After her wandering labours long,
Till free consent the gods among
Make her his eternal bride;
And from her fair unspotted side
Two blissful twins are to be born,
Youth and Joy; so Jove hath sworn."

The poet T. K. Harvey wrote:

"They wove bright fables in the days of old,
When reason borrowed fancy's painted wings;
When truth's clear river flowed o'er sands of gold,
And told in song its high and mystic things!
And such the sweet and solemn tale of her
The pilgrim heart, to whom a dream was given,
That led her through the world,– Love's worshipper,–
To seek on earth for him whose home was heaven!
"In the full city,– by the haunted fount,–
Through the dim grotto's tracery of spars,–
'Mid the pine temples, on the moonlit mount,
Where silence sits to listen to the stars;
In the deep glade where dwells the brooding dove,
The painted valley, and the scented air,
She heard far echoes of the voice of Love,
And found his footsteps' traces everywhere.
"But nevermore they met! since doubts and fears,
Those phantom shapes that haunt and blight the earth,
Had come 'twixt her, a child of sin and tears,
And that bright spirit of immortal birth;
Until her pining soul and weeping eyes
Had learned to seek him only in the skies;
Till wings unto the weary heart were given,
And she became Love's angel bride in heaven!"

Shakerley Marmion wrote a verse version of the Apuleius story called Cupid and Psyche which was published in 1637.

Mary Tighe in her poem Cupid and Psyche first published in 1805 explains the origin of Cupid's love for Psyche. She adds two springs in Venus' garden, one with sweet water and one with bitter. When Cupid starts to obey his mother's command, he brings some of both to a sleeping Psyche but places only some of the bitter water on Psyche's lips and prepares also to pierce her with an arrow:

Nor yet content, he from his quiver drew,
Sharpened with skill divine, a shining dart:
No need had he for bow, since thus too true
His hand might wound her all-exposed heart;
Yet her fair side he touched with gentlest art,
And half relenting on her beauties gazed;
Just then awaking with a sudden start
Her opening eye in humid lustre blazed,
Unseen he still remained, enchanted and amazed.

The dart which in his hand now trembling stood,
As o'er the couch he bent with ravished eye,
Drew with its daring point celestial blood
From his smooth neck's unblemished ivory:
Heedless of this, but with a pitying sigh
The evil done now anxious to repair,
He shed in haste the balmy drops of joy
O'er all the silky ringlets of her hair;
Then stretched his plumes divine, and breathed celestial air.

In the later part of her tale, Tighe's Venus only asks one task of Psyche, to bring her the forbidden water, but in performing this task Tighe's Psyche wanders into a country bordering on Spenser's Fairie Queene as Psyche is aided by a mysterious visored knight and his squire Constance and must escape various traps set by Vanity, Flattery, Ambition, Credulity, Disfida (who lives in a "Gothic castle"), Varia and Geloso. Spenser's Blatant Beast also makes an appearance.

Tighe's work was appreciated by Wordsworth and also an early influence on John Keats whose short Ode to Psyche appeared in 1820.

William Morris retold the story in verse in The Earthly Paradise (1868–70). Robert Bridges wrote Eros and Psyche: A Narrative Poem in Twelve Measures (1885; 1894). A full prose adaptation was included as part of Walter Pater's novel Marius the Epicurean in 1885. Josephine Preston Peabody wrote a version for children in her Old Greek Folk Stories Told Anew (1897). Thomas Bulfinch wrote a short adaptation for his Age of Fable which borrowed Tighe's account of Cupid's self-wounding.

The English scholar and novelist C. S. Lewis wrote a fantasy novel based on the story of Cupid and Psyche called Till We Have Faces (1954).

Beginning in 2000 Cupid and Psyche a musical adaptation by Sean Hartley with music by Jihwan Kim has appeared in various productions in various theaters.

Andrew Wilson has created a retelling spiced up with photographs on the Classic Pages website. See External links below.

In art Psyche is sometimes portrayed as a beautiful woman with the wings of a butterfly.

External links