Cupid and Psyche

There was a certain king who had three lovely daughters. The older ones had married princes of wealth and fame, but the youngest, Psyche, was so radiantly beautiful, so striking attractive that men thought she was Venus on earth. They were satisfied just to pass by her house, sing hymns in her praise and then go on about their business.

Venus soon noticed that her temples were deserted. There were no warm ashes on her alters. In anger, she summoned her winged son, Cupid. "Cupid, my temples are deserted; men no longer make sacrifices there and all because of this mere mortal called Psyche. I want you to go down and shoot her with one of your love arrows and make her fall in love with some loathsome, ill-mannered man who will treat her cruelly.

When Cupid found Psyche, he too fell in love with her beauty. Some say it was as though he had struck himself with one of his own arrows. He did not follow through with his mother's orders and returned home saying not a word.

Venus watched but no suitor came to ask for Psyche's hand in marriage. Psyche's parents became alarmed. Her parents decided to consult an oracle of Apollo for advice. Cupid had prearranged a meeting with Apollo for this consultation; "Dress the princess for her marriage and her death. Take her to yonder mountain top and leave her there alone. There her destined husband, a fearful winged serpent, stronger than the gods will come and take her away."

"Don't weep for me now, father," said Psyche," my beauty has drawn down upon me the jealousy of Heaven. Now go, knowing that I am glad the end has come."

Her parents left. Psyche sat down and as she wept and trembled, a soft breeze came through the stillness of her, the gentle breeze of Zephyr, sweetest and mildest of the winds. He lifted Psyche away and took her to a grassy meadow, soft as a bed and fragrant with flowers. She slept there. When she woke, she saw a mansion stately and beautiful as though built for a god. She walked toward the mansion hearing not a sound nor hearing a single word. The place seemed deserted. At the threshold she heard voices, invisible voices, inviting her to come inside. "We are your servants; ready to do whatever you desire."

At this new home, she was waited upon day after day hearing voices yet seeing no one. At last one evening, her dear unseen husband came. He demanded she never light an oil lamp. He could only come at night. He warned her never to try to see him. He later warned her about her two sisters. "They are coming to the hill where you had disappeared. Do not let them come," admonished Cupid. However, Psyche wanted to see someone and she loved her sisters. Psyche allowed Zephyr to carry them back and forth. They were jealous at first, then upon their second visit discovered that Psyche had never seen her husband.

Her sisters reminded Psyche of the oracles reply. "He will turn into a monster and devour you. You must kill him! Light a lamp when you are sure he is asleep and take a knife and kill him."

Psyche knew her husband had been nothing but good to her. So she determined to do one thing; to see him. But as she lit the lamp she saw no monster but a handsome winged man. As she fell on her knees, she dropped hot oil on Cupid who awoke. He rushed out saying, "Love cannot live where there is no trust. I warned you!"

Psyche left journeying she knew not where. She ended up in a temple of Ceres and began straightening. Ceres came and advised Psyche to seek out Venus and offer herself as a humble servant. Venus first laughed but decided to give Psyche various tasks to teach her to be dutiful.

First Psyche had to separate a pile of various seeds, one grain at a time. An army of ants came in and assisted her. Then Psyche had to gather some golden wool from fearful rams. A river god spoke to Psyche telling her to wait until evening when the rams come to drink. As they walk through the thickets some of their golden wool will be caught. Her third task was to go to the source of the river Styx and fill a flash of its water. Psyche climbed a tower; she felt she would have to kill herself to go to the river. As she climbed stones in the tower spoke to her telling her how to get there. Then an eagle flew by picking the flash from her hands and dipping it in the river. Task by task Psyche had help. Venus felt sure this fourth task would be the last. Venus told Psyche, "I have lost some of my beauty tending to my wounded son. Go down to the underworld with this box and ask Persephone for some of her beauty. Bring me the box. Here are two honey cakes for Cerberus and two coins for Charon. Bring me the box."

Psyche did as she was ordered. On her way back to earth, Psyche decided that she too had lost some of her beauty. Venus surely would not miss just a particle. She opened the box and fell beside the palace. In the box was death, the trick of Venus.

Cupid flew by; finding her, he wiped the sleep of death from her eyes and put it back in the box. She was given ambrosia and nectar. She became immortal. Venus was happy now. Psyche would not longer turn men's eyes. They would return to her temples.