Cupid & PSyche
Retelling of a Mythological Love Story
Apuleius’s story of Cupid & Psyche is filled with elements that reads like an epic novel – envy, betrayal, and suffering triggering one of them to act on contrition and the other to forgive. Mythological stories of Zeus, Athena, Hercules and gods alike celebrate feats of heroism, but Cupid and Psyche’s story demonstrates the power of love.
This story begins with a Princess name Psyche graced with such Divine beauty that there are whispers that she is the actual incarnate of the Goddess Venus. Adorned by her people and around the world, many have left Venus and so her temple lay in ruin. Naturally, the goddess is enraged and exacts revenge on Psyche through her son, Cupid.
Cupid known in the realms for causing strife with couples in love with just one strike of his arrow, did not waste this opportunity to cause mischief for his mother. Not what you expected to hear that the God of Love can be quite a little demon? Beware, the pierce of his arrow into your heart may make you unconscious of your vice and earthy treasures.
Cupid’s task, “strike your arrow and make her fall in love with the most vile creature alive!” Upon finding the princess weeping herself to sleep in her chambers, he is deeply moved. Psyche who is alone crying is very telling.
Despite having such beauty and access to everything she desires, Psyche is lonely and unhappy. While her two older sisters are already married to kings, she fears her destiny lies in isolation behind the walls of her father’s castle.
Feeling a sense of connection, he too feels the loneliness of a god who has everything within reach but finds himself flying aimlessly about with no depth of meaning. Richness whether through beauty, wealth or access does not equate to happiness. Cupid takes pity on the Princess and falls in love with her.
Lost in thought, he clumsily injures himself. Pierced by his own arrow and falling more deeply in love, Cupid disobeys his mother’s orders. Venus is enraged by Cupid’s refusal and curses the Princess that she will never find a suitable husband.
The curse has made men adore Psyche from afar, never to approach the Princess for they deem themselves unworthy. “Although she pleased the world, yet she hated in herself, her own beauty.”
Psyche’s father concerned for his daughter pleads to the God Apollo for help. But the Oracle from Apollo only delivers anguish to the princess and her family.
Let Psyche’s corpse be clad in mourning weed
And set on rock of yonder hill aloft;
Her husband is no wight of human seed,
But serpent dire and fierce, as may be thought,
Who flies with wings above in starry skies,
And doth subdue each thing with fiery flight.
The gods themselves and powers that seem so wise
With mighty love be subject to his might.
The rivers black and deadly floods of pain
And darkness eke as thrall to him remain.
After a period of mourning, the King leads a procession escorting his daughter up to the cliff. Trembling and weeping, Psyche is resigned to her fate. In stillness, she finds herself lifted suddenly and gently into the air with melodic shrills of whispers very faint to detect. Believing she is entering her moment of death, she offers no resistance and fear eases softly into sleep.
The Princess awakes and finds herself laying gently on a field of grass in front of a grand castle. Psyche feeling refreshed, enters her new home. All her needs are met by invisible servants. The wedding night? It is met with all the loving expectations of a doting bridegroom and their union consummated.
Her encounters with her husband occur only in the dark of night, unseen, always taking flight the next morning. He makes her promise to never light the lantern and look upon him. Unbeknown to Psyche this invisible husband is in fact Cupid. If it ever comes to light Venus’s son is married to her enemy, the wrath of this angry god is too frightening to behold.
The Princess is no longer afraid and every evening, she eagerly awaits for her invisible husband. A few months have now passed, and as she stands on her balcony viewing the cliff below where she once stood, she reflects.
“Serpent, dire, fierce”, the Oracle had foretold. Exhilaration fills her lungs with a sense of rebirth and their love is growing with intensity. With a smile on her face and a hand on her belly, she awaits in her castle for the birth of their child.
The God of Love knows full well the power of loneliness and does all he can to meet her needs. It is so with Psyche. Despite the love he gives her, the lack of human contact especially that of her family fills her heart. Psyche begs to see her sisters especially having seen them one day weeping at the foot of the cliff where they believe she had died. Reluctantly he agrees but warns Psyche that they will try to turn her against him.
The next time she sees her sisters visit at the foot of the cliff to mourn, she runs to them. The sisters wept for joy to learn Psyche lives. She takes them to her palace, and they are filled with awe. However, the joy in her sister’s hearts turns into envy seeing the majesty of her grand castle.
Their jealousy has them ask Psyche more about her “husband”. Realizing she has never seen him, they plant seeds of fear and doubt, “What if he’s a monster?” Despite her declaration of his goodness, their peppering questions water her doubts to full bloom especially when they claim the baby maybe at risk.
“You must be certain”! Fearing what she has gotten herself into, as Cupid lay sleeping next to her, she lights the lantern with a dagger at hand. As she places the light near him, she recognizes it is Cupid the God of Love!
Immediately feeling the heat of shame for not trusting her husband, she trembles causing the hot oil to land upon Cupid. Cupid awake in pain not from the lantern but from the burn of her betrayal. He leaves Psyche with a cry, “Love cannot live where there is no trust.” Cupid and all the Divine treasures of his home disappears, and Psyche is all alone.
At that moment, Psyche understood the power of inner beauty of mind and moral character outweighs any physical appearances. In the eyes of her beloved, it deeply hurt her to know she is the cause of his wound and how ugly she has become to him. She searches high and low for her husband but to no avail. So, in desperation, she seeks the help of the goddess who desires her downfall, Venus.
Wounded, Cupid flies to his mother’s Tower to heal. He tells Venus all that has transpired triggering a wrath of anger. Cupid not only disobeyed his mother but chose to love the very woman she despised. She allows her son to stay at her home as his wounds heal in a sealed chamber, unable to leave or receive visitors.
Meanwhile, Psyche enters the home of the Goddess Venus hoping that if she prostrates herself, she may be forgiven and be reunited with her husband. Eyeing her malevolently, she assigns two handmaids (Worry and Sadness) to punish Psyche. Indeed, they bash her mind and heart endlessly.
Afterwards, Venus assigns Psyche four tasks and if successful, she will allow her to be reunited with Cupid. But these are four impossible tasks no mortal can endure.
The first task: Separate the Seeds. Venus has her locked up in room filled with a large dune made of various tiny little seeds. She is to separate each of them by the afternoon. Psyche attempts to separate the seeds, but they are just too small and numerous. She is overcome with sadness and despair.
But she is not alone. The ants who see her cry take pity on her and gather together to help separate the seeds. From the large dune the seeds are now piled into three smaller sets of dunes and the task is completed. Psyche overcome with gratitude for her helpers moves on to the next task.
The Second task: Retrieve Golden Fleece. Psyche watches the rams in the field near a lake butting heads. She realizes trying to retrieve the fleece from them will cause her injury. Clearly at a loss, again she finds herself aided by an unlikely source, a reed. It speaks to her and advises Psyche to wait until the sun goes down and pick the fleece that they have scraped off against the bushes and trees. With gratitude for her helper she complies.
The third task: Retrieve Water. Not just any water but “Water of life from River Styx”. This river is known for its slippery rocks with sharp edges. A large eagle observes Psyche fail at her task. Taking pity upon her, the eagle takes her flask, goes to the edge of the waterfall and fills it with the water of life. With gratitude, she eagerly takes the flask and returns to Venus with the water of life.
Certain that Psyche had some help, Venus is convinced Psyche will fail the fourth test: Death and Retrieval. She is to enter the underworld and ask the Goddess Persephone for some of her beauty to be placed in a box. No one has ever returned from the dead.
Psyche seeks the highest tower she can find to plunge herself down towards death. She will do anything for her husband, but the task does not make sense to her. Exhausted from all the previous tasks and the growing child inside her, she stands on top of the tower completely defeated.
“There’s another way”, she hears a voice. The voice emanates from the tower itself. “Take coins with you for the ferryman. Take two cakes for the three-headed dog; one to let you into the underworld, and one to let you out again… Once you receive the gift from Persephone, do not open the box!” Psyche grateful to the tower, goes on her way to do the task.
The previous tasks were done through the help of unknown forces. This last challenge, she must do on her own. Psyche gives the coins to the ferryman to take her to the underworld as instructed by the tower. During this transition to the valley of death, she is reflective.
Psyche becomes more aware of who she is and what she is capable of. Her love gives her the energetic forces like the gods. The anticipation of meeting the goddess Persephone reminds her of the maiden she once was. At one time vain desiring to be loved, she was like Venus.
Now a baby on the way, Psyche is like the goddess Demeter, who has sorted her ways and has now grown. Determined to be reunited with Cupid, she is persistent like the goddess Hera. Despite being pregnant and tired, the task she undertakes give her deep meaning.
Her trip goes as planned. Psyche gives one of the cakes to the 3 headed watchdogs guarding the goddess’s palace and upon consumption falls fast asleep. She keeps the last cake for them when she exits. As for Persephone, the goddess gladly shares her beauty which she places in a the box.
Psyche is now back among the living having successfully completed all four tasks. As she descends from the boat, she sees her reflection on the water. How haggard and tired she now appears. All the feelings and stress of the tasks now reflects upon her face.
The weight of the box containing Persephone’s beauty has her thinking, “surely just a little for me will make me beautiful once again for my beloved.” Curious, she opens Pandora’s box and a black mist puffs over her face. She falls into a death-like sleep. After all this, it can’t be the end?
In the meantime, Cupid’s wounds have healed into a scar. It is speculated that the God of Love had sent his creatures to watch over her. Learning what Psyche had endured for him, he forgives and loves her even more. Better yet, her trials have transformed him too. Before he was a mischievous god hiding his misdeeds toward couples in love. Seeing his own mother’s treatment had caused deep pain, his intention now is to be forthright.
He escapes from his locked chamber through the window bars. He searches and finds Psyche unconscious. Quickly, Cupid takes the tip of his arrow to remove the black mist upon her face and takes Psyche up to the heavens to appeal to the god of the sky, Jupitar.
Cupid tells the story of all Psyche had endured and asks Jupitar’s blessings to have her hand in marriage once again. This time for all to witness. Jupitar has compassion and calls an assembly of all the Gods including Venus.
Jupiter hands Psyche ambrosia for her to drink transforming her to an immortal goddess. He convinces Venus since Psyche is no longer mortal, all men of the earth will return to her temples to worship her. With that Venus submits.
The marriage between Cupid and Psyche takes place with a big feast. No longer in hiding, the God of Love is married to Psyche, also known as Soul. Upon the birth of their child, the name given is “JOY”.
Together, Love, Soul, and Joy continue to wreak havoc on mankind.
Guided by love, our psyche can transform to discover the depths of our soul. Finding the strength and resilience within ourselves to find meaning in our life, we realize with gratitude we bring forth happiness and joy.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
– Lao Tzu.
This is my condensed Adaptation of Apuleius’s story of Cupid & Psyche for Valentine’s Day – February 14. Can you spot all the symbolisms offered in this story?
3. Top image of Cupid and Psyche: L.-Prang-Co.-publisher-Public-domain-via-Wikimedia-Commons.jpg