Web Theoi
PSYKHE
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Ψυχη Psykhê Psyche Soul (psykhê)
Psyche, goddess of the soul | Roman mosaic From Samandağı C3rd A.D. | Antakya Museum

Psyche & the sleeping Eros, Roman
mosaic C3rd A.D., Antakya Museum

PSYKHE (or Psyche) was the goddess of the soul, wife of Eros god of love.

She was once a mortal princess whose astounding beauty earned the ire of Aphrodite when men turned their worship from goddess to girl. Aphrodite commanded Eros make Psykhe fall in love with the most hideous of men, but the god himself fell in love with her and carried her away to his secret palace. However Eros hid his true identity, and commanded her never to look upon his face. Psykhe was eventually tricked by her jealous sisters into gazing upon the face of god, and he abandoned her. In her despair, she searched throughout the world for her lost love, and eventually came into the service of Aphrodite. The goddess commanded her perform a series of difficult labours which culminated in a journey to the Underworld. In the end Psykhe was reunited with Eros and the couple wed in a ceremony attended by the gods.

Psykhe was depicted in ancient mosaics as a butterfly winged goddess in the company of her husband Eros. Sometimes a pair of Pyskhai are portrayed, the second perhaps being their daughter Hedone (Pleasure).

PARENTS
Mortal parents (Apuleius 4.28)
OFFSPRING
HEDONE (by Eros) (Apuleius 6.24)

ENCYCLOPEDIA

PSYCHE (Psuchê), that is, "breath" or "the soul," occurs in the later times of antiquity, as a personification of the human soul, and Apuleius (Met. iv. 28, &c.) relates about her the following beautiful allegoric story. Psyche was the youngest of the three daughters of some king, and excited by her beauty the jealousy and envy of Venus. In order to avenge herself, the goddess ordered Amor to inspire Psyche with a love for the most contemptible of all men : but Amor was so stricken with her beauty that he himself fell in love with her. He accordingly conveyed her to some charming place, where he, unseen and unknown, visited her every night, and left her as soon as the day began to dawn. Psyche might have continued to have enjoyed without interruption this state of happiness, if she had attended to the advice of her beloved, never to give way to her curiosity, or to inquire who he was. But her jealous sisters made her believe that in the darkness of night she was embracing some hideous monster, and accordingly once, while Amor was asleep, she approached him with a lamp, and, to her amazement, she beheld the most handsome and lovely of the gods. In her excitement of joy and fear, a drop of hot oil fell from her lamp upon his shoulder. This awoke Amor, who censured her for her mistrust, and escaped. Psyche's peace was now gone all at once, and after having attempted in vain to throw herself into a river, she wandered about from temple to temple, inquiring after her beloved, and at length came to the palace of Venus. There her real sufferings began, for Venus retained her, treated her as a slave, and inmposed upon her the hardest and most humiliating labours. Psyche would have perished under the weight of her sufferings, had not Amor, who still loved her in secret, invisibly comforted and assisted her in her labours. With his aid she at last succeeded in overcoming the jealousy and hatred of Venus; she became immortal, and was united with him for ever. It is not difficult to recognise in this lovely story the idea of which it is merely the mythical embodiment, for Psyche is evidently the human soul, which is purified by passions and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness. In works of art Psyche is represented as a maiden with the wings of a butterfly, along with Amor in the different situations described in the allegoric story.

Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.


Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4. 28 - 6. 24 (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"In a certain city there lived a king and with three notably beautiful daughters. The two elder ones were very attractive, yet praise appropriate to humans was thought sufficient for their fame. But the beauty of the youngest girl [Psyche, Psykhe] was so special and distinguished that our poverty of human language could not describe or even adequately praise it. In consequence, many of her fellow-citizens and hordes of foreigners, on hearing the report of this matchless prodigy, gathered in ecstatic crowds. They were dumbstruck with admiration at her peerless beauty. They would press their hands to their lips with the forefinger resting on the upright thumb, and revere her with devoted worship as if she were none other than Venus [Aphrodite] herself. Rumour had already spread through the nearest cities and bordering territories that the goddess who was sprung from the dark-blue depths of the sea and was nurtured by the foam from the frothing waves was now bestowing the favour of her divinity among random gatherings of common folk; or at any rate, that the earth rather than the sea was newly impregnated by heavenly seed, and had sprouted forth a second Venus [Aphrodite] invested with the bloom of virginity.
This belief grew every day beyond measure. The story now became widespread; it swept through the neighbouring islands, through tracts of the mainland and numerous provinces. Many made long overland journeys and travelled over the deepest courses of the sea as they flocked to set eyes on this famed cynosure of their age. No one took ship for Paphos, Cnidos, or even Cythera to catch sight of the goddess Venus. Sacrifices in those places were postponed, shrines grew unsightly, couches become threadbare, rites went unperformed; the statues were not garlanded, and the altars were bare and grimy with cold ashes. It was the girl who was entreated in prayer. People gazed on that girl's human countenance when appeasing the divine will of the mighty goddess. When the maiden emerged in the mornings, they sought from her the favour of the absent Venus with sacrificial victims and sacred feasts. The people crowded round her with wreaths and flowers to address their prayers, as she made her way through the streets. Since divine honours were being diverted in this excessive way to the worship of a mortal girl, the anger of the true Venus [Aphrodite] was fiercely kindled. She could not control her irritation. She tossed her head, let out a deep growl, and spoke in soliloquy:
‘Here am I, the ancient mother of the universe, the founding creator of the elements, the Venus that tends the entire world, compelled to share the glory of my majesty with a mortal maiden, so that my name which has its niche in heaven is degraded by the foulness of the earth below! Am I then to share with another the supplications to my divine power, am I to endure vague adoration by proxy, allowing a mortal girl to strut around posing as my double? What a waste of effort it was for the shepherd [Paris] whose justice and honesty won the approval of great Jupiter [Zeus] to reckon my matchless beauty superior to that of those great goddesses! But this girl, whoever she is, is not going to enjoy appropriating the honours that are mine; I shall soon ensure that she rues the beauty which is not hers by rights!’
She at once summoned her son [Eros], that winged, most indiscreet youth, whose own bad habits show his disregard for public morality. He goes rampaging through people's houses at night armed with his torch and arrows, undermining the marriages of all. He gets away scot-free with this disgraceful behaviour, and nothing that he does is worthwhile. His own nature made him excessively wanton, but he was further roused by his mother's words. She took him along to that city, and showed him Psyche in the flesh (that was the girl's name). She told him the whole story of their rivalry in beauty, and grumbling and growling with displeasure added: ‘I beg you by the bond of a mother's affection, by the sweet wounds which your darts inflict and the honeyed blisters left by this torch of yours: ensure that your mother gets her full revenge, and punish harshly this girl's arrogant beauty. Be willing to perform this single service which will compensate for all that has gone before. See that the girl is seized with consuming passion for the lowest possible specimen of humanity, for one who as the victim of Fortuna (Fortune) [Tykhe] has lost status, inheritance and security, a man so disreputable that nowhere in the world can he find an equal in wretchedness.’
With these words she kissed her son long and hungrily with parted lips. Then she made for the nearest shore lapped by the waves . . . Meanwhile, Psyche for all her striking beauty gained no reward for her ravishing looks. She was the object of all eyes, and her praise was on everyone's lips, but no king or prince or even commoner courted her to seek her hand. All admired her godlike appearance, but the admiration was such as is accorded to an exquisitely carved statue. For some time now her two elder sisters had been betrothed to royal suitors and had contracted splendid marriages, though their more modest beauty had won no widespread acclaim. But Psyche remained at home unattended, lamenting her isolated loneliness. Sick in body and wounded at heart, she loathed her beauty which the whole world admired. For this reason the father of that ill-starred girl was a picture of misery, for he suspected that the gods were hostile, and he feared their anger. He sought the advice of the most ancient oracle of the Milesian god [Apollon], and with prayers and sacrificial victims begged from that mighty deity a marriage and a husband for that slighted maiden. Apollo, an Ionian Greek, framed his response in Latin to accommodate the author of this Milesian tale: ‘Adorn this girl, O king, for wedlock dread, and set her on a lofty mountain-rock. Renounce all hope that one of mortal stock can be your son-in-law, for she shall wed a fierce, barbaric, snake-like monster. He, flitting on wings aloft, makes all things smart, plaguing each moving thing with torch and dart. Why, Jupiter [Zeus] himself must fearful be. The other gods for him their terror show, and rivers shudder, and the dark realms below.’
The king had formerly enjoyed a happy life, but on hearing this venerable prophecy he returned him reluctant and mournful. He unfolded to his wife the injunctions of that ominous oracle, and grief, tears and lamentation prevailed for several days. But now the grim fulfilment of the dread oracle loomed over them. Now they laid out the trapping for the marriage of that ill-starred girl with death; now the flames of the nuptial torch flickered dimly beneath the sooty ashes, the high note of the wedding-lute sank into the plaintive Lydian mode, and the joyous marriage-hymn tailed away into mournful wailing. That bride-to-be dried her tears on her very bridal-veil. Lamentation for the harsh fate of that anguished household spread throughout the city, and a cessation of business was announced which reflected the public grief.
But the warnings of heaven were to be obeyed, and unhappy Psyche's presence was demanded for her appointed punishment. So amidst intense grief the ritual of that marriage with death was solemnized, and the entire populace escorted her living corpse as Psyche tearfully attended not her marriage but her funeral. But when her sad parents, prostrated by their monstrous misfortune, drew back from the performance of their monstrous task, their daughter herself admonished them with these words : ‘Why do you rack you sad old age with protracted weeping? Or why do you weary your life's breath, which is dearer to me than to yourselves, with repeated lamentations? Why do you disfigure those features, which I adore, with ineffectual tears? Why do you grieve my eyes by torturing your own? Why do you tear at your grey locks? Why do you beat those breasts so sacred to me? What fine rewards my peerless beauty will bring you! All too late you experience the mortal wounds inflicted by impious envy. That grief, those tears, that lamentations for me as one already lost should have been awakened when nations and communities brought me fame with divine honours, when with one voice they greeted me as the new Venus [Aphrodite]. Only now do I realize and see that my one undoing has been the title of Venus bestowed on me. Escort me and set me on the rock to which fate has consigned me. I hasten to behold this noble husband of mine. Why should I postpone or shrink from the arrival of the person born for the destruction of the whole world?’
After this utterance the maiden fell silent, and with resolute step she now attached herself to the escorting procession of citizens. They made their way to the appointed rock set on a lofty mountain, and when they had installed the girl on its peak, they all abandoned her there. They left behind the marriage-torches which had lighted their way but were now doused with their tears, and with bent heads made their way homeward. The girl's unhappy parents, worn out by this signal calamity, enclosed themselves in the gloom of their shuttered house, and surrendered themselves to a life of perpetual darkness.
But as Psyche wept in fear and trembling on that rocky eminence, Zephyrus' (the West Wind's) kindly breeze with its soft stirring wafted the hem of her dress this way and that, and made its folds billow out. He gradually drew her aloft, and with tranquil breath bore her slowly downward. She glided down in the bosom of the flower-decked turf in the valley below. In that soft and grassy arbour Psyche reclined gratefully on the couch of the dew-laden turf. The great upheaval oppressing her mind had subsided, and she enjoyed pleasant repose. After sleeping long enough to feel refreshed, she got up with carefree heart. Before her eyes was a grove planed with towering, spreading trees, and a rill glistening with glassy waters. At the centre of the grove and close to the gliding stream was a royal palace, the work not of human hands but of divine craftsmanship. You would know as soon as you entered that you were viewing the birth and attractive retreat of some god. The high ceiling, artistically panelled with citron-wood and ivory, was supported on golden columns. The entire walls were worked in silver in relief; beasts and wild cattle met the gaze of those who entered there. The one who shaped all this silver into animal-forms was certainly a genius, or rather he must have been a demigod or even a god. The floors too extended with different pictures formed by mosaics of precious stones; twice blessed indeed, and more than twice blessed are those whose feet walk on gems and jewels! The other areas of the dwelling too, in all its length and breadth, were incalculably costly. All the walls shimmered with their native gleam of solid gold, so that if the sun refused to shine, the house created its own daylight. The rooms, the colonnade, the very doors also shone brilliantly. The other riches likewise reflected the splendour of the mansion. You would be justified in thinking that this was a heavenly palace fashioned for mighty Jupiter [Zeus] when he was engaged in dealings with men.
Psyche, enticed by the charming appearance of these surroundings, drew nearer, and as her assurance grew she crossed the threshold. Delight at the surpassing beauty of the scene encouraged her to examine every detail. Her eyes lit upon store-rooms built high on the other side of the house; they were crammed with abundance of treasures. Nothing imaginable was missing, and what was especially startling, apart from the breath-taking abundance of such riches, was the fact that this treasure-house had no protection whatever by way of chain or bar or guard.
As she gazed on all this with the greatest rapture, a disembodied voice addressed her: ‘Why, may lady, do you gaze open-mouthed at this parade of wealth? All these things are yours. So retire to your room, relieve your weariness on your bed, and take a bath at your leisure. The voices you hear are those of your handmaidens, and we will diligently attend to your needs. Once you have completed your toilet a royal feast will at once be laid before you.’
Psyche felt a blessed assurance being bestowed upon herby heaven's provision. She heeded the suggestions of the disembodied voice, and after taking a nap and then a bath to dispel her fatigue, she at once noted a semicircular couch and table close at hand. The dishes laid for dinner gave her to understand that all was set for her refreshment, so she gladly reclined there. Immediately wine was delicious as nectar and various plates of food were placed before her, brought not by human hands but unsupported on a gust of wind. She could see no living soul, and merely heard words emerging from thin air: her serving-maids were merely voices. When she had enjoyed the rich feast, a singer entered and performed unseen, while another musician strummed a lyre which was likewise invisible. Then the harmonious voices of a tuneful choir struck her ears, so that it was clear that a choral group was in attendance, though no person could be seen.
The pleasant entertainment came to an end, and the advent of darkness induced Psyche to retire to bed. When the night was well advanced, a genial sound met her ears. Since the was utterly alone, she trembled and shuddered in her fear for her virginity, and she dreaded the unknown presence more than any other menace. But now her unknown bridegroom arrived and climbed into the bed. He made Psyche his wife, and swiftly departed before dawn broke. At once the voices in attendance at her bed-chamber tended the new bride's violated virginity. These visits continued over a long period and this new life in the course of nature became delightful to Psyche as she grew accustomed to it. Hearing that unidentified voice consoled her loneliness.
Meanwhile her parents were aging in unceasing grief and melancholy. As the news spread wider, her elder sisters learnt the whole story. In their sadness and grief they vied with each other in hastily leaving home and making straight for their parents, to see them and discuss the matter with them.
That night Psyche's husband (he was invisible to her, but she could touch and hear him) said to her: ‘Sweetest Psyche, fond wife that you are, Fortuna [Tykhe, Fortune] grows more savage, and threatens you with mortal danger. I charge you: show greater circumspection. Your sisters are worried at the rumour that you are dead, and presently they will come to this rock to search for traces of you. Should you chance to hear their cries of grief, you are not to respond, or even to set eyes on them. Otherwise you will cause me the most painful affliction, and bring utter destruction on yourself.’
Psyche consented and promised to follow her husband's guidance. But when he had vanished in company with the darkness, the poor girl spent the whole day crying and beating her breast. She kept repeating that now all was up with her, for here she was confined and enclosed in that blessed prison, bereft of conversation with human beings for company, unable even to offer consoling relief to her sisters as they grieved for her, and not allowed even to catch a glimpse of them. No ablutions, food, or other relaxation made her feel better, and she retired to sleep in floods of tears.
At that moment her husband came to bed somewhat earlier than usual. She was still weeping, and as he embraced her, he remonstrated with her: ‘Is this how the promise you made me has turned out, Psyche, my dear? What is your husband to expect or to hope from you? You never stop torturing your self night and day, even when we embrace each other as husband and wife. Very well, have it your own way, follow your own hell-bound inclination. But when you begin to repent at leisure, remember the sober warning which I gave you.’
Then Psyche with prayers and threats of her impending death forced her husband to yield to her longing to see her sisters, to relieve their grief, and he also allowed her to present them with whatever pieces of gold or jewellery she chose. But he kept deterring her with repeated warnings from being ever induced by the baleful prompting of her sisters to discover her husband's appearance. She must not through sacrilegious curiosity tumble headlong from the lofty height of her happy fortune, and forfeit thereafter his embrace.
She thanked her husband, and with spirits soaring she said: ‘But I would rather die a hundred times than forgo the supreme joy of my marriage with you. For I love and cherish you passionately, whoever you are, as much as my own life, and I value you higher than Cupidos [Eros] himself. But one further concession I beg for my prayers: bid your servant Zephyrus (the West Wind) spirit my sisters down to me, as he earlier wafted me down.’
She pressed seductive kisses on him, whispered honeyed words, and snuggled close to soften him. She added endearments to her charms: ‘O my honey-sweet, darling husband, light of your Psyche's life!’
Her husband unwillingly gave way before the forceful pressure of these impassioned whispers, and promised to do all she asked. Then, as dawn drew near, he vanished from his wife's embrace.


Eros & Psyche | Roman mosaic
Z31.1 PSYCHE,
EROS
Eros & Psyche | Roman mosaic
Z31.2 PSYCHE,
EROS
Eros & Psychae | Roman mosaic
Z31.3 PSYCHAE,
EROS
Psyche, Prometheus, Hermes | Roman mosaic
Z16.4 PSYCHE,
HERMES, PROMETHEUS

"Psyche's sisters enquired about the location of the rock on which she had been abandoned, and they quickly made their way to it. There they cried their eyes out and beat their breasts until the rocks and crags echoed equally loudly with their repeating lamentations. Then they sought to conjure up their sister by summoning her by name, until the piercing notes of their wailing voices permeated down the mountainside, and Psyche rushed frantically and fearfully from the house. ‘Why,’ she asked, ‘do you torture yourselves to no purpose with your unhappy cries of grief? Here I am, the object of your mourning. So cease your doleful cries, and now at last dry those cheeks which are wet with prolonged tears, for you can now hug close the sister for whom you grieved.’
She then summoned Zephyrus, and reminded him of her husband's instruction. He speedily obeyed the command, and at once whisked them down safely on the gentlest of breezes. The sisters embraced each other, and delightedly exchanged eager kisses. The tears which had been dried welled forth again, prompted by their joy. ‘Now that you are in good spirits’, said Psyche, ‘you must enter my hearth and home, and let the company of your Psyche gladden your hearts that were troubled.’
Following these words, she showed them the magnificent riches of the golden house, and let them hear the voices of her large retinue. She then allowed them the rich pleasure of a luxurious bath and an elegant meal served by her ghostly maids. But when they had had their fill of the copious abundance of riches clearly bestowed by heaven, they began to harbour deep-seated envy in their hearts. So one of them kept asking with nagging curiosity about the owner of those divine possessions, about the identity and status of her husband. Psyche in her heart's depths did not in any way disobey or disregard her husband's instructions. She invented an impromptu story that he was a handsome young man whose cheeks were just darkening with a soft beard, and who spent most of his day hunting in the hills of the countryside. But she was anxious not to betray through a slip of the tongue her silent resolve by continuing the conversation, so she weighed her sisters down with gold artefacts and precious jewels, hastily summoned Zephyrus, and entrusted them to him for the return journey.
This was carried out at once, and those splendid sisters then made their way home. They were now gnawed with the bile of growing envy, and repeatedly exchanged loud-voiced complaints. One of them began: ‘Fortuna [Tykhe, Fortune], how blind and harsh and unjust you are! Was it your pleasure that we, daughters of the same parents, should endure so different a fate? Here we are, her elder sisters, nothing better than maidservants to foreign husbands, banished form home and even from our native land, living like exiles far from our parents, while Psyche, the youngest and last offspring of our mother's weary womb, has obtained all this wealth, and a god for a husband! She has not even a notion of how to enjoy such abundant blessings. Did you notice, sister, the quantity and quality of the precious stones lying in the house, the gleaming garments, the sparkling jewels, the gold lying beneath our feet and all over the house? If she has as handsome a husband as she claims, no woman living in the whole world is more blessed. Perhaps as their intimacy continues and their love grows stronger, her god-husband will make her divine as well. That's how things are, mark my words; she was putting on such airs and graces! She's now so high and mighty, behaving like a goddess, with those voices serving her needs, and Winds obeying her commands! Whereas my life's a hell; to begin with, I have a husband older than my father. He's balder than an onion as well, and he hasn't the virility of an infant. And he keeps our house barricaded with bards and chains.’
The other took up the grumbling. ‘I have to put up with a husband crippled and bent with rheumatism, so that he can succumb to my charms only once in a blue moon. I spent almost all my day rubbing his fingers, which are twisted and hard as flint, and burning these soft hands of mine on reeking poultices, filthy bandages, and smelly plasters. I'm a slaving nursing attendant, not a dutiful wife. You must decide for yourself, sister, how patiently or--let me express myself frankly--how menially you intent to bear the situation; I can't brook any longer the thought of this undeserving girl falling on her feet like this. Just recall how disdainfully and haughtily she treated us, how swollen-headed she'd become with her boasting and her immodest vulgar display, how she reluctantly threw at us a few trinkets from that mass of riches, and then at once ordered us to be thrown out, whisked away, sent off with the Wind because she found our presence tedious! As sure as I'm a woman, as sure as I'm standing here, I'm going to propel her headlong off that heap of riches! If the insulting way she's treated us has needled you as well, as it certainly should have, we must work out an effective plan together. We must not show the gifts in our possession to our parents or anyone else. We must not even betray the slightest awareness that she's alive. It's bad enough that we've witnessed the sorry situation ourselves, without our having to spread the glad news to our parents and the whole world at large. People aren't really fortunate if no one knows of their riches. She'll realize that she's got elder sisters, not maid-servants. So let us now go back to our husbands and homes, which may be poor but are honest. Then, when we have given the matter deeper thought, we must go back more determined to punish her arrogance.’
The two wicked sisters approved this wicked plan. So they hid away all those most valuable gifts. They tore their hair, gave their cheeks the scratching they deserved, and feigned renewed grief. Their hastily summoned tears depressed their parents, reawakening their sorrow to match that of their daughters, and then swollen with lunatic rage they rushed of to their homes, planning their wicked wiles--or rather the assassination of their innocent sister.
Meanwhile Psyche's unknown husband in their nightly conversation again counselled her with these words: ‘Are you aware what immense danger overhangs you? Fortuna is aiming her darts at you from long range and, unless you take the most stringent precautions, she will soon engage with you hand to hand. Those traitorous bitches are straining every nerve to lay wicked traps for you. Above al, they are seeking to persuade you to pry into my appearance, and as I have often warned you, a single glimpse of it will be your last. So if those depraved witches turn up later, ready with their destructive designs, and I am sure they will, you must not exchange a single word with them, or at any rate if your native innocence and soft-heartedness cannot bear that, you are not to listen to or utter a single word about your husband. Soon we shall be starting a family, for this as yet tiny womb of yours is carrying for us another child like yourself. If you conceal our secret in silence, that child will be a god; but if you disclose it, he will be mortal.’
Psyche was aglow with delight at the news. She gloried in the comforting prospect of a divine child, she exulted in the fame that such a dear one would bring her, she rejoiced at the thought of the respected status of mother. She eagerly counted the mounting days and departing months, and as a novice bearing an unknown burden, she marvelled that the pinprick of a moment could cause such a lovely swelling in her fecund womb.
But now those baneful, most abhorrent Furiae [Erinyes, Furies] were hastening on their impious way aborad ship, exhaling their snakelike poison. It was then that Psyche's husband on his brief visit again warned her: ‘This is the day of crisis, the moment of worst hazard. Those troublesome members of your sex, those hostile blood-relations of yours have now seized their arms, struck camp, drawn their battle-line, and sounded the trumpet-note. Your impious sisters have drawn their swords, and are aiming at your jugular. The calamities that oppress us are indeed direful, dearest Psyche. Take pity on yourself and on me; show dutiful self-control to deliver your house and your husband, your person and this tiny child of ours from the unhappy disaster that looms over us. Do not set eyes on, or open your ears to, these female criminals, whom you cannot call your sisters because of their deadly hatred, and because of the way in which they have trodden underfoot their own flesh and blood, when like Sireni they lean out over the crag, and make the rocks resound with the death-dealing cries!’
Psyche's response was muffled with tearful sobs. ‘Some time ago, I think, you had proof of my trustworthiness and discretion, and on this occasion too my resolution will likewise win your approval. Only tell our Zephyrus to provide his services again, and allow me at least a glimpse of my sisters as consolation for your unwillingness to let me gaze on your sacred face. I beg you by these locks of yours which with their scent of cinnamon dangle all round your head, by your cheeks as soft and smooth as my own, by your breast which diffuses its hidden heat, as I hope to observe your features as reflected at least in this our tiny child: accede to the devoted prayers of this careworn suppliant, and grant me the blessing of my sisters' embraces. Then you will give fresh life and joy to your Psyche, your own devoted and dedicated dear one. I no longer seek to see your face; the very darkness of the night is not oppressive to me, for you are my light to which I cling.’
Her husband was bewitched with these words and soft embraces. He wiped away her tears with his curls, promised to do her bidding, and at once departed before dawn broke.
The conspiratorial pair of sisters did not even call on their parents. At breakneck speed they made straight from the ships to the familiar rock, and without waiting for the presence of the wafting wind, launched themselves down with impudent rashness into the depths below. Zephyrus, somewhat unwillingly recalling his king's command, enfolded them in the bosom of his favouring breeze and set them down on solid earth. Without hesitation they at once marched with measured step into the house, and counterfeiting the name of sisters they embraced their prey. With joyful expressions they cloaked he deeply hidden deceit which they treasured within them, and flattered their sister with these words: ‘Psyche, you are no longer the little girl of old; you are now a mother. Just imagine what a blessing you bear in that purse of yours! What pleasures you will bring to our whole family! How lucky we are at the prospect of rearing this prince of infants! If he is as handsome as his parents--and why not?--he is sure to be a thorough Cupidos [Eros]!’
With this pretence of affection they gradually wormed their way into their sister's heart. As soon as they had rested their feet to recover from the weariness of the journey, and had steeped their bodies in a steaming bath, Psyche served them in the dining-room with a most handsome and delightful meal of meats and savouries. She ordered a lyre to play, and string-music came forth; she ordered pipes to start up, and their notes were heard; she bade choirs to sing, and they duly did. All this music soothed their spirits with the sweetest tunes as they listened, though no human person stood before them. But those baleful sisters were not softened or lulled even by that music so honey-sweet. They guided the conversation towards the deceitful snare which they had laid, and they began to enquire innocently about the status, family background, and walk of life of her husband. Then Psyche's excessive naivety made her forget her earlier version, and she concocted a fresh story. She said that her husband was a business-man from an adjoining region, and that he was middle-aged, with streaks of grey in his hair. But she did not linger a moment longer in such talk, but again loaded her sisters with rich gifts, and ushered them back to their carriage of the wind.
But as they returned home, after Zephyrus with his serene breath had borne them aloft, they exchanged abusive comments about Psyche. ‘There are no words, sister, to describe the outrageous lie of that idiotic girl. Previously her husband was a young fellow whose beard was beginning to sprout with woolly growth, but now he's in middle wage with spruce and shining grey hair: What a prodigy he must be! This short interval has brought on old age abruptly, and has changed his appearance! You can be sure, sister, that this noxious female is either telling a pack of lies or does not know what her husband is like. Whatever the truth of the matter, she must be parted from those riches of hers without delay. If she does not know what her husband looks like, she must certainly be married to a god, and its is a god she's got for us in that womb of hers. Be sure of this, that if she becomes a celebrity as the mother of a divine child--which God forbid--I'll put a rope round my neck and hang myself. For the moment, then, let us go back to our parents and spin a fairy story to match the one we concocted a first.’
In this impassioned state they greeted their parents disdainfully, and after a restless night those despicable sisters sped to the rock at break of day. They threw themselves down through the air, and the Wind afforded them his usual protection. They squeezed their eyelids to force out some tears, and greeted the girl with these guileful words: ‘While you sit here, content and in happy ignorance of your grim situation, giving no thought to your danger, we in our watchful zeal for your welfare lie awake at night, racked with sadness for your misfortunes. We know for a fact--and as we share your painful plight we cannot hide it from you--that a monstrous Dragon lies unseen with you at night. It creeps along with its numerous knotted coils; its neck is blood-stained, and oozes deadly poison; its monstrous jaws lie gaping open. You must surely remember the Pythian oracle, and its chant that you were doomed to wed a wild beast. Then, too, many farms, local huntsmen, and a number of inhabitants have seen the Dragon returning to its lair at night after seeking its food, or swimming in the shallows of a river close by.
‘All of them maintain that the beast will not continue to fatten you for long by providing you with enticing food, and that as soon as your womb has filled out and your pregnancy comes to term, it will devour the richer fare which you will then offer. In view of this, you must now decide whether you ware willing to side with your sisters, who are anxious for your welfare which is so dear to their hearts, and to live in their company once you escape from death, or whether you prefer to be interred in the stomach of that fiercest of beasts. However, if you opt for the isolation of this rustic haunt inhabited only by voices, preferring the foul and hazardous intimacy of furtive love in the embrace of this venomous Dragon, at any rate we as your devoted sisters will have done our duty.’
Poor Psyche, simple and innocent as she was, at once felt apprehension at these grim tidings. She lost her head, and completely banished her recollection of all her husband's warnings and her own promises. She launched herself into the abyss of disaster. Trembling and pale as the blood drained from her face, she barely opened her mouth as she gasped and stammered out this reply to them.
‘Dearest sisters, you have acted rightly in continuing to observe your devoted duty, and as for those who make these assertions to you, I do not think that they are telling lies. It is true that I have never seen my husband's face, and I have no knowledge whatsoever of where he hails form. I merely attend at night to the words of a husband to whom I submit with no knowledge of what he is like, for he certainly shuns the light of day. Your judgement is just that he is some beast, and I rightly agree with you. He constantly and emphatically warns me against seeing what he looks like, and threatens me with great disaster if I show curiosity about his features. So if at this moment you can offer saving help to your sister in her hour of danger, you must come to my rescue now. Otherwise your indifference to the future will tarnish the benefits of your previous concern.’
Those female criminals had now made their way through the open gates, and had occupied the mind of their sister thus exposed. They emerged from beneath the mantlet of their battering-ram, drew their swords, and advanced on the terrified thoughts of that simple girl. So it was that one of them said to her: ‘Our family ties compel us, in the interests of your safety, to disregard any danger whatsoever which lies before us, so we shall inform you of the one way by which you will attain the safety which has exercised us for so long. You must whet a razor by running it over your softened palm, and when it is quite sharp hide it secretly by the bed where you usually lie. Then fill a well-trimmed lamp with oil, and when it is shining brightly, conceal it beneath the cover of an enclosing jar. Once you have purposefully secreted this equipment, you must wait until your husband ploughs his furrow, and enters and climbs as usual into bed. Then, when he has stretched out and sleep has begun to oppress and enfold him, as soon as he starts the steady breathing which denotes deep sleep, you must slip off the couch. In your bare feet and on tiptoe take mincing steps forward, and remove the lamp from its protective cover of darkness. Then take your cue from the lamp, and seize the moment to perform your own shining deed. Grasp the two-edged weapon boldly, first raise high your right hand, and then with all the force you can muster sever the knot which joins the neck and head of that venomous serpent. You will not act without our help, for we shall be hovering anxiously in attendance, and as soon as you have ensured your safety by his death, we shall fly to your side. All these riches here we shall bear off with you with all speed, and then we shall arrange an enviable marriage for you, human being with human being.’
Their sister was already quite feverish with agitation, but these fiery words set her heart ablaze. At once they left her, for their proximity to this most wicked crime made them fear greatly for themselves. So the customary thrust of the winged Breeze bore them up to the rock, and they at once fled in precipitate haste. Without delay they embarked on their ships and cast off.
But Psyche, now left alone, except that being harried by the hostile Furiae [Erinyes, Furies] was no solitude, tossed in her grief like the waves of the sea. Though her plan was formed and her determination fixed, she still faltered in uncertainty of purpose as she set her hands to action, and was torn between the many impulses of her unhappy plight. She made haste, she temperized; her daring turned more to fear, her diffidence to anger, and to cap everything she loathed the beast but loved the husband, though they were one and the same. But now evening brought on darkness, so with headlong haste she prepared the instruments for the heinous crime. Night fell, and her husband arrived, and having first skirmished in the warfare of love, he fell in to a heavy sleep.
Then Psyche, though enfeebled in both body and mind, gained the strength lent her by fate's harsh decree. She uncovered the lamp, seized the razor, and showed a boldness that belied her sex. But as soon as the lamp was brought near, and the secrets of the couch were revealed, she beheld of all beasts the gentlest and sweetest, Cupidos [Eros] himself, a handsome god lying in a handsome posture. Even the lamplight was cheered and brightened on sighting him, and the razor felt suitable abashed at its sacrilegious sharpness. As for Psyche, she was awe-struck at this wonderful vision, and she lost all her self-control. She swooned and paled with enervation; her knees buckled, and she sought to hide the steel by plunging it into her own breast. Indeed, she would have perpetrated this, but the steel showed its fear of committing so serious a crime by plunging out of her rash grasp. But as in her weariness and giddiness she gazed repeatedly on the beauty of that divine countenance, her mental balance was restored. She beheld on his golden head his luxuriant hair steeped in ambrosia; his neatly pinned ringlets strayed over his milk-white neck and rosy cheeks, some dangling in front and some behind, and their surpassing sheen made even the lamplight flicker. On the winged god's shoulders his dewy wings gleamed white with flashing brilliance; though they lay motionless, the soft and fragile feathers at their tips fluttered in quivering motion and sported restlessly. The rest of his body, hairless and rosy, and was such that Venus [Aphrodite] would not have been ashamed to acknowledge him as her son. At the foot of the bed lay his bow, quiver, and arrows, the kindly weapons of that great god.
As Psyche trained her gaze insatiably and with no little curiosity on these her husband's weapons, in the course of handling and admiring them she drew out an arrow from the quiver, and tested its point on the tip of her thumb. But because her arm was still trembling she pressed too hard, with the result that it pricked too deeply, and tiny drops of rose-red blood bedewed the surface of the skin. So all unknowing and without prompting Psyche fell in love with Amor [Eros, Love], being fired more and more with desire for the god of desire. She gazed down on him in distraction, and as she passionately smothered him with wanton kisses from parted lips, she feared that he might stir in his sleep. But while her wounded heart pounded on being roused by such striking beauty, the lamp disgorged a drop of burning oil from the tip of its flame upon the god's right shoulder; it could have been nefarious treachery, or malicious jealousy, or the desire, so to say, to touch and kiss that glorious body. O you rash, reckless lamp, Amor's (Love's) worthless servant, do you burn the very god who possesses all fire, though doubtless you were invented by some lover to ensure that he might possess for longer and even at night the object of his desire? The god started up on being burnt; he saw that he was exposed, and that his trust was defiled. Without a word he at once flew away from the kisses and embrace of his most unhappy wife.
But Psyche seized his right leg with both hands just as he rose above her. She made a pitiable appendage as he soured aloft, following in his wake and dangling in company with him as they flew through the clouds. But finally she slipped down to earth exhausted. As she lay there on the ground, her divine lover did not leave her, but flew to the nearest cypress-tree, and from its summit spoke in considerable indignation to her.
‘Poor, ingenuous Psyche, I disregarded my mother Venus' instructions when she commanded that you be yoked in passionate desire to the meanest of men, and that you be then subjected to the most degrading of marriages. Instead, I preferred to swoop down to become your lover. I admit that my behaviour was not judicious; I, the famed archer, wounded myself with my own weapon, and made you my wife--and all so that you should regard me as a wild beast, and cut off my head with the steel, and with it the eyes that dote on you! I urged you repeatedly, I warned you devotedly always to be on your guard against what has now happened. But before long those fine counsellors of yours will make satisfaction to me for their heinous instructions, whereas for you the punishment will be merely my departure.’
As he finished speaking, he soared aloft on his wings. From her prostrate position on the ground Psyche watched her husband's flight as far as her eyes allowed, and she tortured her heart with the bitterest lamentations. But once the sculling of his wings had removed him from her sight and he had disappeared into the distance, she hurled herself headlong down from the bank of a river close by. But that kindly stream was doubtless keen to pay homage to the god who often scorches even the waters, and in fear for his person he at once cast her ashore on his current without injuring her, and set her on its grassy bank. The rustic god Pan chanced to be sitting at that moment on the brow of the stream, holding the mountain deity Echo in his arms, and teaching her to repeat after him all kinds of songs. Close by the bank nanny-goats were sporting as they grazed and cropped the river-foliage here and there. The goat-shaped god was well aware of the calamity that had befallen Psyche. He called her gently to him, lovesick and weary as she was, and soothed her with these consoling words.
‘You are an elegant girl, and I am a rustic herdsman, but my advanced years give me the benefit of considerable experience. If my hazard is correct--sages actually call such guesswork divine insight--I infer from your stumbling and frequently wandering steps, from your excessively pale complexion and continual sighs, and not least from your mournful gaze, that you are suffering grievous love-pains. On that account you must hearken to me: do not seek gain to destroy yourself by throwing yourself headlong or by seeking any other means of death. Cease your sorrowing, lay aside your sadness, and instead direct prayers of adoration to Cupidos [Eros], greatest of gods, and by your caressing attentions win the favour of that wanton and extravagant youth.’
Psyche made no reply to this advice from the shepherd-god. She merely paid reverential homage to his divine person, and proceeded on her way. After wandering with weary steps for a considerable distance, as night bell a certain path led her all unknowing to the city where the husband of one of her sisters had his realm. Psyche recognised it, and asked that her arrival be announced to her sister. She was then ushered in, and after they had greeted and embraced each other, her sister enquired why she had come.
Psyche began to explain. ‘You recall that plan of yours, by which you both persuaded me to take a two-edged razor and slay the beast who used to lie with me falsely claiming to be my husband, with the intention of later devouring my poor self with his greedy maw? I fell in with your proposal, but when the lamp which conspired with me allowed me to gaze on his face, the vision I beheld was astonishing and utterly divine; it was the son of the goddess Venus [Aphrodite], I mean Cupidos [Eros] himself, who lay peacefully sleeping there. I exulted at the sight of such beauty, and was confused by the sense of overwhelming delight, and as I experienced frustration at being unable to enjoy relations with him, the lamp by dreadful mischance shed a drop of burning oil on his shoulder. At once the pain caused him to start from his sleep, and when he saw me wielding the steel and the flame, he said: "This is a dreadful deed you have done. Leave my bed this instant, and take your goods and chattels with you. I shall now take your sister"--at this point he cited your name specifically--"in solemn marriage." At once he then ordained Zephyrus to waft me outside the bounds of his estate.’
Psyche had not yet finished speaking when her sister, goaded by mad lust and destructive envy, swung into action. She devised a lying excuse to deceive her husband, pretending that she had learnt of her parents' death; she at once boarded ship, and then made hot-foot for the rock. Although the wrong wind was blowing, her eagerness was fired by blind hope, and she said: ‘Take me, Cupidos, as your worthy wife; Zephyrus, take your mistress aboard!’
She then took a prodigious leap downward. But not even in death could she reach that abode for her limbs bounced on the rocky crags, and were fragmented. Her insides were torn out, and in her fitting death she offered a ready meal to birds and beasts. The second punitive vengeance was not long delayed. Psyche resumed her wandering, and reached a second city where her other sister similarly dwelt. She too was taken in by her sister’s deception, and in her eagerness to supplant Psyche in the marriage which they had befouled, she hastened to the rock, and fell to her deadly doom in the same way.
While Psyche was at this time visiting one community after another in her concentrated search for Cupidos [Eros], he was lying groaning in his mother’s chamber, racked by the pain of the wound from the lamp. But then the tern, the white bird which wings her way over the sea-waves, plunged swiftly into the deep bosom of ocean. She came upon Venus [Aphrodite] conveniently there as the goddess bathed and swam; she perched beside her, and told her that her son had suffered burning, and was lying in considerable pain from the wound, with his life in danger. As a result the entire household of Venus was in bad odour, the object of gossip and rebuke on the lips of people everywhere. They were claiming that Cupidos was relaxing with a leady of easy virtue in the mountains, and that Venus herself was idly swimming in the ocean, with the result that pleasure and favour and elegance had departed from the world; all was unkempt, rustic, uncouth. There were no weddings, no camaraderie between friends, none of the love which children inspire; all was a scene of boundless squalor, of unsavoury tedium in sordid alliances. Such was the gossip which that garrulous and prying bird whispered in Venus’ ear, tearing her son’s reputation to shreds.
Venus was absolutely livid. She burst out: ‘So not that fine son of mine has a girl-friend, has he? Come on, then tell me her name, since you are the only one who serves me with affection. Who is it who has tempted my innocent, beardless boy? Is it one of that crowd of Nymphae, or one of the Horae (Seasons), or one of the band of Musae (Muses), or one of my servant Gratiae (Graces)?’ The garrulous bird did not withhold a reply. She said: ‘I do not know, mistress; I think the story goes that he is head over heels in love with a girl by the name of Psyche, if my memory serves me rightly.’
Then Venus in a rage bawled out at the top of her voice: ‘Can it really be true that he is in love with that Psyche who lays claim to my beauty and pretends to my name? That son of mine must surely have regarded me as a procuress, when I pointed the girl out to him so that he could win her acquaintance.’
As she grumbled she made haste to quit the sea, and at once made for her golden chamber. There she found her son lying ill as she had heard, and from the doorway she bellowed out as loudly as she could: ‘This is a fine state of affairs, just what one would expect from a child of mine, from a decent man like you! First of all you trampled underfoot the instructions of your mother--or I should say your employer--and you refused to humble my personal enemy with a vile love-liaison; and then, mark you, a mere boy of tender years, you hugged her close in your wanton, stunted embraces! You wanted me to have to cope with my enemy as a daughter-in-law! You take too much for granted, you good-for-nothing, loathsome seducer! You think of yourself as my only noble heir, and you imagine that I'm now too old to bear another. Just realize that I'll get another son, one far better than you. In fact I'll rub your nose in it further. I'll adopt one of my young slaves, and make him a present of these wings and torches of yours, the bow and arrows, and all the rest of my paraphernalia which I did not entrust to you to be misused like this. None of the cost of kitting you out came from your father's estate.
‘Ever sine you were a baby you have been badly brought up, too ready with your hands. You show no respect to your elders, pounding them time after time. Even me your own mother you strip naked every day, and many's the time you've cuffed me. You show me total contempt as though I were a widow, and you haven't an ounce of fear for your stepfather, the bravest and greatest of warriors. And why should you? You are in the habit of supplying him with girls, to cause me the pain of having to compete with rivals. But now I'll make you sorry for this sport of yours. I'll ensure that you find your marriage sour and bitter.
‘But what am I to do, now that I'm becoming a laughing-stock? Where shall I go, how shall I curb in this scoundrel? Should I beg the assistance of my enemy Sobrietate (Sobriety, Temperance), so often alienated from me through this fellow's loose living? The prospect of having to talk with that unsophisticated, hideous female gives me the creeps. Still I must not despise the consolation of gaining revenge from any quarter. She is absolutely the only one to be given the job of imposing the harshest discipline on this rascal. She must empty his quiver, immobilize his arrows, unstring his bow, extinguish his torch, and retrain his person with sharper correction. Only when she has sheared off his locks--how often I have brushed them shining like gold with my own hands!--nd clipped those wings, which I have steeped in my own breast's liquid nectar, shall I regard the insult dealt to me as expiated.’
These were her words. Then she bustled out, glowering and incensed with passionate rage. At that moment Ceres [Demeter] and Juno [Hera] came up with her. When they observed her resentful face, they asked her why she was cloaking the rich charm of her radiant eyes with a sullen frown. ‘You have come,’ she answered, ‘at a timely moment to fulfil my wishes, for I am seething inside. I ask you to search with might and main for that fickle runaway of mine called Psyche. I'm sure that the scandalous gossip concerning my household, and the behaviour of that unspeakable son of mine, have not passed you by.’ They knew quite well what had happened, and they south to assuage Venus' raging temper. ‘My lady, how is it that your son's peccadillo has caused you to war on his pleasures in this unrelenting way, and also to desire to destroy the girl that he loves? What harm is there, we should like to know, in his giving the glad eye to a nicely turned-out girl? Don't you realize that he is in the prime of manhood, or are you forgetting his age? Just because he carries his years well, does he strike you as a perpetual boy? You are a mother and a sensible one at that. Are you always going to pry nosily into your son's diversions, and condemn his wanton ways, censure his love-life, and vilify your own skills and pleasures as practised by your handsome son? What god or what person on earth will bear with your scattering sensual pleasures throughout the world, when you sourly refuse to allow love-liaisons in your own house, and you close down the manufacture of women's weaknesses which is made available to all?’
This was how the two goddesses sucked up to Cupidos, seeking to win his favour, though he was absent, by taking his part, for they feared his arrows. But Venus was affronted that the insults which she sustained were treated so lightly. She cut the tow of them short, turned on her heel, and stalked quickly off to the sea.
Meanwhile Psyche in her random wanderings was suffering torment, as she sought day and night to trace her husband. She was restless in mind, but all the more eager, in spite of his anger, to soften him with a wife's endearments, or at any rate to appease him with a servant's entreaties. She spied a temple perched on the peak of a high mountain, and she said: ‘Perhaps this is where my lord dwells?’ She made her way quickly there, and though her feet were utterly weary from her unremitting labours, her hope and aspiration quickened them. She mounted the higher ridges with stout heart, and drew close to the sacred shrine. There she saw ears of wheat in a heap, and others woven into a garland, and ears of barley as well. There were sickles lying there, and a whole array of harvesting implements, but they were in a jumbled and neglected heap, thrown carelessly by workmen's hands, as happens in summer-time. Psyche carefully sorted them out and ordered them in separate piles; no doubt she reflected that she should not neglect the shrines and rites of any deity, but rather implore the kindly spirit of each and all.
Kindly Ceres [Demeter] sighted her as she carefully and diligently ordered these offerings, and at once she cried out from afar: ‘Why, you poor Psyche! Venus [Aphrodite] is in a rage, mounting a feverish search for your traces all over the globe. She has marked you down for the sternest punishment, and is using all the resources of her divinity to demand vengeance. And here you are, looking to my interests, with your mind intent on anything but your own safety!’
Then Psyche grovelled at the goddess's feet, and watered them with a stream of tears. She swept the ground with her hair, and begged Ceres' [Demeter's] favour with a litany of prayers. ‘By your fruitful right hand, by the harvest ceremonies which assure plenty, by the silent mysteries of your baskets and the winged courses of your attendant Dracones, by the furrows in your Sicilian soil, by Proserpina's [Persephone's] descent to a lightless marriage, and by your daughter's return to rediscovered light, and by all else which the shrine of Attic Eleusis shrouds in silence--I beg you, lend aid to this soul of Psyche which is deserving of pity, and now entreats you. Allow me to lurk hidden here among these heaps of grain if only for a few days, until the great goddess's raging fury softens with the passage of time, or at any rate till my strength, which is now exhausted by protracted toil, is assuaged by a period of rest.’
Ceres [Demeter] answered her: ‘Your tearful entreaties certainly affect me and I am keen to help you, but I cannot incur Venus's displeasure, for I maintain long-standing ties of friendship with her--and besides being my relative, she is also a fine woman. So you must quit this dwelling at once, and count it a blessing that I have not apprehended and imprisoned you.’
So Psyche, in suffering this reverse to her hopes, was now beset by a double grief. As she retraced her steps, she noticed in a glimmering grove in the valley below an elegantly built shrine. Not wishing to disregard any means, however uncertain, which gave promise of brighter hope, and in her eagerness to seek the favour of any divinity whatsoever, she drew close to its sacred portals. There she observed valuable offerings, and ribbons inscribed with gold letters pinned to the branches of trees and to the doorposts. These attested the name of the goddess to whom they were dedicated, together with thanks for favours received. She sank to her knees, and with her hands she grasped the altar still warm from a sacrifice. She wiped away her tears, and then uttered this prayer [to Hera]: ‘Sister and spouse of mighty Jupiter [Zeus], whether you reside in your ancient shrine at Samos, which alone can pride itself on your birth, your infant cries, and your nurture; or whether you occupy your blessed abode in lofty Carthage, which worships you as the maiden who tours the sky on a lion's back; or whether you guard the famed walls of the Argives, by the banks of the river-god Inachus, who now hymns you as bride of the Thunderer and as queen of all goddesses; you, whom all the East reveres as the yoking goddess, and whom all the West addresses as Lucina [goddess of childbirth], be for me in my most acute misfortunes Juno [Hera] Sospita (the Saviour), and free me from looming dangers in my weariness from exhausting toils. I am told that it is your practice to lend unsolicited aid to pregnant women in danger.’
As she prayed like this, Juno [Hera] at once appeared before her in all the venerable majesty of her divinity. There and then the goddess said: ‘Believe me, I only wish that I could crown your prayers with my consent. But shame prevents me from opposing the will of Venus [Aphrodite], my daughter-in-law whom I have always loved as my own daughter. There is a second obstacle--the legislation which forbids sanctuary for runaway slaves belonging to others, if their owners forbid it.’
Psyche was aghast at this second shipwreck devised by Fortuna. Unable to meet up with her elusive husband, she abandoned all hope of salvation, and had recourse to her own counsel. ‘What other assistance can I seek or harness to meet my desperate plight? Even the goodwill of goddesses however well-disposed has been of no avail to me. Now that I am trapped in a noose as tight as this, where can I make for, under what roof or in what dark corner can I hide, to escape the unwinking eyes of mighty Venus? Why don't you show a manly spirit, and the strength to renounce idle hope? Why don't you surrender yourself voluntarily to your mistress, and soften her savage onslaught by showing a humble demeanour, however late in the day? You never know, you may find the object of your long search in her house.’
This was how she steeled herself for the uncertain outcome of showing obedience or rather for her certain destruction, as she mentally rehearsed the opening lines of the plea she was to utter.
Venus [Aphrodite] now despaired of a successful search for her by earthly means, and she made for heaven. She ordered her carriage to be prepared; Vulcanus [Hephaistos] had lovingly applied the finishing touches to it with elaborate workmanship, and had given it to her as a wedding-present before her initiation into marriage. The thinning motion of his file had made the metal gleam; the coach's value was measured by the gold it had lost. Four white doves emerged from the large herd stabled close to their mistress's chamber. As they strutted gaily forward, turning their dappled necks from side to side. They submitted to the jewelled yoke. They took their mistress aboard and delightedly mounted upwards. Sparrows sported with the combined din of their chatter as they escorted the carriage of the goddess, and the other birds, habitually sweet songsters, announced the goddess's approach with the pleasurable sound of their honeyed tunes. The clouds parted, and Caelus [Ouranos, Heaven] admitted his daughter; the topmost region delightedly welcomed the goddess, and the tuneful retinue of mighty Venus had no fear of encounter with eagles or of plundering hawks.
She at once made for the royal citadel of Jupiter [Zeus], and in arrogant tones sought the urgent use of the services of the spokesman-god Mercurius [Hermes]. Jupiter's lowering brow did not refuse her. Venus happily quitted heaven at once with Mercurius accompanying her, and she spoke seriously to him: ‘My brother from Arcaida, you surely know that your sister Venus has never had any success without Mercurius's attendance, and you are well aware for how long I have been unable to trace my maid who lies in hiding. So I have no recourse other than that you as herald make a public proclamation of a reward for tracking her down. So you must hasten to do my bidding, and clearly indicate the marks by which she can be recognized, so that if someone is charged with unlawfully concealing her, he cannot defend himself on the plea of ignorance.’
With these words she handed him a sheet containing Psyche's name and other details. Then she at once retired home.
Mercurius [Hermes] did not fail to obey her. He sped here and there, appearing before gatherings of every community, and as instructed performed the duty of making proclamation: ‘If anyone can retrieve from her flight the runaway daughter of the king, the maidservant of Venus called Psyche, or indicate her hidden whereabouts, he should meet the herald Mercurius behind the metae Muriae. Whoever does so will obtain as reward from Venus herself seven sweet kisses, and a particularly honeyed one imparted with the thrust of her caressing tongue.’
Longing for this great reward aroused eager competition between men everywhere when Mercurius made the proclamation on these lines, and this above all ended Psyche's hesitation. As she drew near to her mistress's door, a member of Venus's [Aphrodite's] household called Consueto (Habit) confronted her, and at once cried out at the top of her voice: ‘Most wicked of all servants, have you at last begun to realize that you have a mistress? Or are you, in keeping with the general run of your insolent behaviour, still pretending to be unaware of the exhausting efforts we have endured in searching for you? How appropriate it is that you have fallen into my hands rather than anyone else's. You are now caught fast in the claws of Orcus [Haides], and believe me, you will suffer the penalty for your gross impudence without delay.’
She then laid a presumptuous hand on Psyche's hair, and dragged the girl in unresisting. As soon as she was ushered in and presented before Venus' gaze, the goddess uttered the sort of explosive cackle typical of people in a furious rage. She wagged her head, scratched her right ear, and said: ‘Oh, so you have finally condescended to greet your mother-in-law, have you? Or is the purpose of this visit rather to see your husband, whose life is in danger from the wound which you inflicted? You can rest assured that I shall welcome you as a good mother-in-law should.’ Then she added : ‘Where are my maids Sollicito (Melancholy) and Tristie (Sorrow)?’
They were called in, and the goddess consigned Psyche to them for torture. They obeyed their mistress's instruction, laid into poor Psyche and tortured her with other implements, and then restored her to their mistress's presence. Venus renewed her laughter. ‘Just look at her,’ she said. ‘With that appealing swelling in her belly, she makes me feel quite sorry for her. I suppose she intends to make me a happy grandmother of that famed offspring; how lucky I am, in the bloom of my young days, at the prospect of being hailed as a grandma, and having the son of a cheap maidservant called Venus's grandson! But what a fool I am, mistakenly calling him a son, for the wedding was not between a couple of equal status. Besides, ti took place in a country house, without witnesses and without a father's consent, so it cannot be pronounced legal. The child will therefore be born a bastard--if we allow you to reach full term with him at all!’
Saying this, she flew at Psyche, ripped her dress to shreds, tore her hair, made her brains rattle, and pummelled her severely. She then brought some wheat, barley, millet, poppyseed, chickpeas, lentils and beans. She mingled them together in an indiscriminate heap, and said to her: ‘You are such an ugly maidservant that I think the only way you win your lovers is by devoted attendance, so I'll see myself how good you are. Separate out this mixed heap of seeds, and arrange the different kinds in their proper piles. Finish the work before tonight, and show it to me to my satisfaction.’ Having set before her this enormous pile of seeds, she went off to a wedding-dinner. Psyche did not lay a finger on this confused heap, which was impossible to separate. She was dismayed by this massive task imposed on her, and stood in stupefied silence. Then the little country-ant familiar to us all got wind of her great problem. It took pity on the great god's consort, and cursed the vindictive behaviour of her mother-in-law. Then it scurried about, energetically summoning and assembling a whole army of resident ants: ‘have pity, noble protégées of Terra (Earth), our universal mother; have pity, and with eager haste lend your aid to this refined girl, who is Amor's [Eros'] wife.’ Wave after wave of the sespedalian tribe swept in; with the utmost enthusiasm each and all divided out the heap grain by grain, and when they had sorted them into their different kinds, they swiftly vanished from sight.
As night fell, Venus returned from the wedding-feast flushed with wine and perfumed with balsam, her whole body wreathed with glowing roses. When she observed the astonishing care with which the task had been executed, she said: ‘This is not your work, you foul creature; the hands that accomplished it are not yours, but his whose favour you gained, though little good it's done you, or him either!’ The goddess threw her a crust of bread, and cleared off to bed.
Meanwhile Cupidos [Eros] was alone, closely guarded and confined in a single room at the back of the house. This was partly to ensure that he did not aggravate his wound by wanton misbehaviour, and partly so that he would not meet his dear one. So the lovers though under the one roof were kept apart from each other, and were made to endure a wretched night. But as soon as Aurora's [Eos the Dawn's] chariot appeared, Venus summoned Psyche, and spoke to her like this: ‘Do you see the grove there, flanked by the river which flows by it, its banks extending into the distance and its low-lying bushes abutting on the stream? There are sheep in it wandering and grazing unguarded, and their fleeces sprout with the glory of pure gold, I order you to go there ate once, and somehow or other obtain and bring back to me a tuft of wool from the precious fleece.’
Psyche made her way there without reluctance, but with no intention of carrying out this task. She wanted to seek the cessation of her ills by throwing herself headlong from a cliff above the river. But from that stretch of stream one of the green reeds which foster sweet music was divinely inspired by the gentle sound of a caressing breeze, and uttered this prophecy: ‘Psyche, even though you are harrowed by great trials, do not pollute my waters by a most wretched death. You must not approach the fearsome sheep at this hour of the say, when they tend to be fired by the burning heat of the sun and charge about in ferocious rage; with their sharp horns, their rock-hard heads, and sometimes their poisonous bites, they wreak savage destruction on human folk. But one the hours past noon have quelled the sun's heat, and the flocks have quieted down under the calming influence of the river-breeze, you will be able to conceal yourself under that very tall plane-tree, which sucks in the river-water as I do myself. Then, as soon as the sheep relax their fury and their disposition grows gentle, you must shake the foliage in the neighbouring grove, and you will find golden wool clinging here and there to the curved stems.’
This was how the reed, endowed with human qualities of openness and kindness, told Psyche in her extremity how to gain safety. She did not disregard this careful instruction and suffer accordingly; she followed out every detail, and the theft was easily accomplished. She gathered the soft substance of yellow gold in her dress, and brought it back to Venus. But the hazard endured in this second trial won her no favourable acknowledgement from her mistress at least, for Venus frowned heavily, smiled harshly, and said: ‘I know quite well that this too is the work of that adulterer. But no I shall try you out in earnest, to see if you are indeed endowed with brave spirit and unique circumspection. Do you see that lofty mountain-peak, perched above a dizzily high cliff, from where the livid waters of a dark spring come tumbling down, and when enclosed in the basin of he neighbouring valley, water the marshes of the Styx and feed the hoarse streams of the Cocytus? I want you to hurry and bring me back in this small jug some icy water drawn from the stream's highest point, where it gushes out from within.’
Handing Psyche a vessel shaped from crystal, she backed this instruction with still harsher threats.
Psyche made for the topmost peak with swift and eager step, for she was determined there at least to put an end to her intolerable existence. But the moment she neared the vicinity of the specified mountain-range, she became aware of the lethal difficulty posed by her daunting task. A rock of huge size towered above her, hard to negotiate and treacherous because of its rugged surface. From its stony jaws it belched forth repulsive waters which issued directly from a vertical cleft [this Arkadian stream of Styx was similarly described by the Greek geographer Pausanias]. The stream glided downward, and being concealed in the course of the narrow channel which it had carved out, it made its hidden way into a neighbouring valley. From the hollow rocks on the right and left fierce snakes crept out, extending their long necks, their eyes unblinkingly watchful and maintaining unceasing vigil. The waters themselves formed an additional defence, for they had the power of speech, and from time to time would cry out ‘Clear off!’ or ‘Watch what you're doing!’, or ‘What's your game? Lookout!’, or ‘Cut and run!’, or ‘You won't make it!’ The hopelessness of the situation turned Psyche to stone. She was physically present, but her senses deserted her. She was utterly downcast by the weight of inescapable danger; she could not even summon the ultimate consolation of tears.
But the privations of this innocent soul did not escape the steady gaze of benevolent Providentia (Providence). Suddenly highest Jupiter's [Zeus'] royal bird appeared with both wings outstretched: this is the eagle, the bird of prey who recalled his service of long ago, when following Cupidos' [Eros'] guidance he had borne the Phrygian cupbearer [Ganymedes] to Jupiter [Zeus]. The bird now lent timely aid, and directed his veneration for Cupidos's power to aid his wife in her ordeal. He quitted the shining paths of high heaven, flew down before the girl's gaze, and broke into speech : ‘You are in all respects an ingenuous soul without experience in things such as this, so how can you hope to be able to steal the merest drop from this most sacred and unfriendly stream, or even apply your hand to it? Rumour at any rate, as you know, ahs it that these Stygian waters are an object of fear to the gods and to Jupiter [Zeus] himself, that just as you mortals swear by the gods' divine power, so those gods frequently swear by the majesty of the Styx. So here, hand me that jug of yours.’ At once he grabbed it, and hastened to fill it with water. Balancing the weight of his drooping wings, he used them as oars on right and left to steer a course between the serpents' jaws with their menacing teeth and the triple-forked darting of their tongues. He gathered some water in the face of its reluctance and its warning to him to depart before he suffered harm; he falsely claimed the Venus had ordered him to collect it, and that he was acting in her service, which made it a little easier for him to approach.
So Psyche joyously took the filled jug and hastened to return it to Venus. Even so, she was unable to conciliate the harsh goddess's resolve. Venus flashed a menacing smile as she addressed her with threats of yet more monstrous ill-treatment: ‘Now indeed I regard you as a witch with great and lofty powers, for you have carried out so efficiently commands of mine such as these. But you will have to undertake one further task for me, my girl. Take this box’ (she handled it over) ‘and make straight for Hades, for the funereal dwelling of Orcus [Haides] himself. Give the box to Proserpina [Persephone], and say: "Venus [Aphrodite] asks you to send her a small supply of your beauty-preparation, enough for just one day, because she has been tending her sick son, and has used hers all up by rubbing it on him." Make your way back with it as early as you can, because I need it to doll myself up so as to attend the Deities' Theatre.’
Then Psyche came to the full realization that this was the end of the road for her. All pretence was at an end; she saw clearly that she was being driven to her immediate doom. It could not be otherwise, for she was being forced to journey on foot of her own accord to Tartarus and the shades below. She lingered no longer, but made for a very high tower, intending to throw herself headlong from it, for she thought that this was the direct and most glorious route down to the world below. But the tower suddenly burst into speech, and said: ‘Pour girl, why do you seek to put an end to yourself by throwing yourself down? What is the point of rash surrender before this, your final hazardous labour? Once your spirit is sundered fro0m your body, you will certainly descent to the depths of Tartarus without the possibility of a return journey.
‘Listen to me. Sparta, the famed Achaean city, lies not far from here. On its borders you must look for Taenarus, which lies hidden in a trackless region. Dis [Haides] has his breathing-vent there, and a sign-post points through open gates to the track which none should tread. Once you have crossed the threshold and committed yourself to that path, the track will lead you directly to Orcus' very palace. But you are not to advance through that dark region altogether empty-handed, but carry in both hands barley-cakes baked in sweet wine, and have between your lips twin coins. When you are well advanced on your infernal journey, you will meet a lame ass carrying a load of logs, with a driver likewise lame; he will ask you to hand him some sticks which have slipped from his load, but you must pass in silence without uttering a word. Immediately after that you will reach the lifeless river [Akheron] over which Charon presides. He peremptorily demands the fare, and when he receives it he transports travellers on his stitched-up craft over to the further shore. (So even among the dead, greed enjoys its life; even that great god Charon, who gathers taxes for Dis [Haides], does not do anything for nothing. A poor man on the point of death must find his fare, and no one will let him breathe his last until he has his copper ready.) You must allow this squalid elder to take for your fare one of the coins you are to carry, but he must remove it form your mouth with his own hand. Then again, as you cross the sluggish stream, and old man now dead will float up to you, and raising his decaying hands will beg you to drag him into the boat; but you must not be moved by a sense of pity, for that is not permitted.
‘When you have crossed the river and have advanced a little further, some aged women weaving at the loom will beg you to lend a hand for a short time. But you are not permitted to touch that either, for all these and many other distractions are part of the ambush which Venus will set to induce you to release one of the cakes from your hands. Do not imaging that the loss of a mere barley cake is a trivial matter, for if you relinquish either of them, the daylight of this world above will be totally denied you. Posted there is a massive hound with a huge, triple-formed head. This monstrous, fearsome brute confronts the dead with thunderous barking, though his menaces are futile since he can do them no harm. He keeps constant guard before the very threshold and the dark hall of Proserpina [Persephone], protecting that deserted abode of Dis [Haides]. You must disarm him by offering him a cake as his spoils. Then you can easily pass him, and gain immediate access to Proserpina herself. She will welcome you in genial and kindly fashion, and she will try to induce you to sit on a cushioned seat beside her and enjoy a rich repast. But you must settle on the ground, ask for course bread, and eat it. Then you must tell her why you have come. When you have obtained what she gives you, you must make your way back, using the remaining cake to neutralize the dog's savagery. Then you must give the greedy mariner the one coin which you have held back, and once again across the river you must retrace your earlier steps and return to the harmony of heaven's stars. Of all these injunctions I urge you particularly to observe this: do not seek to open or to pry into the box that you will carry, nor be in any way inquisitive about the treasure of divine beauty hidden within it.’
This was how that far-sighted tower performed its prophetic role. Psyche immediately sped to Taenarus, and having duly obtained the coins and cakes she hastened down the path to Hades. She passed the lame ass-driver without a word, handed the fare to the ferryman for the river crossing, ignored the entreaty of the dead man floating on the surface, disregarded the crafty pleas of the weavers, fed the cake to the dog to quell his fearsome rage, and gained access to the house of Proserpina [Persephone]. Psyche declined the soft cushion and the rich food offered by her hostess; she perched on the ground at her feet, and was content with plain bread. She then reported her mission from Venus [Aphrodite]. The box was at once filled and closed out of her sight, and Psyche took it. She quietened the dog's barking by disarming it with the second cake, offered her remaining coin to the ferryman, and quite animatedly hastened out of Hades. But once she was back in the light of this world and had reverently hailed it, her mind was dominated by rash curiosity, in spite of her eagerness to see the end of her service. She said: ‘How stupid I am to be carrying this beauty-lotion fit for deities, and not take a single drop of it for myself, for with this at any rate I can be pleasing to my beautiful lover.’
The words were scarcely out of her mouth when she opened the box. But inside there was no beauty-lotion or anything other than the sleep of Hades, a truly Stygian sleep. As soon as the lid was removed and it was laid bare, it attacked her and pervaded all her limbs in a thick cloud. It laid hold of her, so that she fell prostrate on the path where she had stood. She lay there motionless, no more animate than a corpse at rest.
But Cupidos was now recovering , for his wound had healed. He could no longer bear Psyche's long separation from him, so he glided out of the high-set window of the chamber which was his prison. His wings were refreshed after their period of rest, so he progressed much more swiftly to reach his Psyche. Carefully wiping the sleep from her, he restored it to its former lodging in the box. Then he roused Psyche with an innocuous prick of his arrow. ‘Poor, dear Psyche,’ he exclaimed, ‘see how as before your curiosity might have been your undoing! But now hurry to complete the task imposed on you by my mother's command; I shall see to the rest.’
After saying this, her lover rose lightly on his wings, while Psyche hurried to bear Proserpina's [Persephone's] gift back to Venus [Aphrodite].
Meanwhile Cupidos, devoured by overpowering desire and with lovelorn face, feared the sudden arrival of his mother's sobering presence, so he reverted to his former role and rose to heaven's peak on swift wings. With a suppliant posture he laid his case before the great Jupiter [Zeus], who took Cupidos's little cheek between his finger and thumb, raised the boy's hand to his lips and kissed it, and then said to him: ‘Honoured son, you have never shown me the deference granted me by the gods' decree. You keep piercing this heart of mine, which regulates the elements and orders the changing motion of the stars, with countless wounds. You have blackened it with repeated impulses of earthly lust, damaging my prestige and reputation by involving me in despicable adulteries which contravene the laws--the lex Julia itself--and public order. You have transformed my smiling countenance into grisly shapes of snakes, fires, beasts, birds, and cattle. Yet in spite of all this, I shall observe my usual moderation, recalling that you were reared in these arms of mine. So I will comply with all that you ask, as long as you know how to cope with your rivals in love; and if at this moment there is on earth any girl of outstanding beauty, as long as you can recompense me with her.’
After saying this, he ordered Mercurius [Hermes] to summon all the gods at once to an assembly, and to declare that any absentee from the convocation of heavenly citizens would be liable to a fine of ten thousand sesterces. The theatre of heaven at once filled up through fear of this sanction. Towering Jupiter [Zeus], seated on his lofty throne, made his proclamation: ‘You gods whose names are inscribed on the register of the Musae, you all surely know this young fellow who was reared by my own hands. I have decided that the hot-headed impulses of his early youth need to be reined in; he has been the subject of enough notoriety in day-to-day gossip on account of his adulteries and all manner of improprieties. We must deprive him of all opportunities; his juvenile behaviour must be shackled with the chains of marriage. He has chosen the girl, and robbed her of her virginity, so he must have and hold her. Let him take Psyche in his embrace and enjoy his dear one ever after.’
Then he turned to address Venus [Aphrodite]. ‘My daughter’, he said, ‘do not harbour any resentment. Have no fear for you high lineage and distinction in this marriage to a mortal, for I shall declare the union lawful and in keeping with the civil law, and not one between persons of differing social status.’
There and then he ordered that Psyche be detained and brought up to heaven through Mercurius's agency. He gave her a cup of ambrosia, and said : ‘Take this, Psyche, and become immortal. Cupidos will never part from your embrace; this marriage of yours shall be eternal.’
At once a lavish wedding-feast was laid. The bridegroom reclined on a couch of honour, with Psyche in his lap. Jupiter [Zeus] likewise was paired with Juno [Hera], and all the other deities sat in order of precedence. Then a cup of nectar, the gods' wine, was served to Jupiter [Zeus] by his personal cup-bearer [Ganymedes], that well-known country-lad, and to the others by Bacchus [Dionysos]. Vulcanus [Hephaistos] cooked the dinner, the Horae (Seasons) brightened the scene with roses and other flowers, the Gratiae (Graces) diffused balsam, and the Musae (Muses), also present, sand in harmony. Apollo sang to the lyre, and Venus [Aphrodite] took to the floor to the strains of sweet music, and danced prettily. She had organized the performance so that the Musae sang in chorus, a Satyrus played the flute, and a Paniscus [a Pan] sang to the shepherd's pipes. This was how with due ceremony Psyche was wed to Cupidos, and at full term a daughter was born to them. We call her Voluptas (Pleasure) [Hedone]."


Sources:

  • Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Epic C2nd A.D.