“Being deeply loved by someone
gives you strength,
while loving someone deeply
gives you courage.”
“To love is nothing.
To be loved is something.
But to be loved by the person you
Although the love story of Cupid and Psyche has existed in oral tradition since forever and a day ago, it made its first written appearance in the Roman novel Metamorphoseon: Asinius Aureas by Lucius Apuleius in the 2nd century AD. The longevity and popularity of the tale has led to a plethora of art through the ages depicting their romance, so I had to include just a handful of favorites in my telling of it.
Cupid and Psyche
The story begins with Psyche (whose name means “soul” or “butterfly. Although Psyche is sometimes depicted with butterfly wings, she is a mortal) – she is the youngest of three daughters born to a king and queen. All three daughters are beautiful, but Psyche is absolutely gooorgeous. So stunning, in fact, that people come from near and far just for the pleasure of admiring her beauty.
The adoration of Psyche gets totally out of hand when everyone stops worshiping the goddess of Love and Beauty – Venus. And, you can bet who is a little more than miffed about this. Yep, Venus, Miss beauty goddess herself.
She becomes incensed at the thought of a mere mortal being admired more than her, so she orders her son, Cupid, to visit the girl while she is sleeping, prick her with his arrow, and before she awakes, arrange for a grotesque monster to be the first thing she lays eyes on (and therefore falls in love with). Sounds pretty fool-proof, right? Weeeeell….
The Pierce of Love
Cupid makes himself invisible and steels into Psyche’s bedroom, but just as he is about to prick her with his arrow, she awakens and though he is invisible, their eyes meet.
Cupid is so smitten by her beauty that he accidentally pokes himself with his own arrow and falls head-over-heals in love with her. Realizing he botched his mission, he returns home to mommy dearest to deliver the unfortunate news.
Venus is outraged (the last thing she wants is a gorgeous daughter-in-law). So she puts a curse on Psyche that makes it impossible for any man to propose marriage to her. And, the curse takes. Psyche’s two sisters eventually get married, but she is stuck home…alone.
Meanwhile, Cupid is so distraught that he shelves the arrows and neglects his duty of making mortals fall in love. No one is marrying or mating. Things are out of sync. Venus can’t allow things to continue this way, so to get the earth back on track, she relents and allows Cupid to marry Psyche.
Consulting the Oracles
During this time, Psyche’s parents worried that they must have offended the gods because their hottest daughter is still unwed. So they decide to consult the oracles about their daughter’s future.
The oracles inform the king and queen that Psyche is destined to marry a monster and that they must leave her on the mountain to await this mysterious being. The royal couple whines and cries a little, but since this was an actual prophecy, they reluctantly abandon her on the mountaintop.
As Psyche hangs out on the mountain, fully expecting something horrible to happen, Zephyr, the west wind, comes and gently carries her away to a sumptuous palace in a paradise setting.
Oh Husband, Where Art Thou?
There, she enters the castle grounds and finds treasures and countless pieces of art. She is told that it is all hers, and is treated to an amazing feast complete with singing angel choirs.
That night, Cupid arrives at last in their bedroom, but does not want Psyche to know who he is, not yet, so he only visits her each night in the cover of darkness.
After a few weeks, however, Psyche is not cool with this arrangement any longer. She wants to know what her hubby looks like. But Cupid still forbids it. In the process of explaining her loneliness to invisible hubby, she convinces him to allow her sisters to come for a visit. He’s a little hesitant, but consents and has Zephyr fly them over.
A Visit from Her Sisters
Psyche’s sisters take one look at the posh surroundings and become super jealous. They begin interrogating her about her spouse. Psyche lies saying that he is an incredibly handsome catch who spends most of his days in the country hunting. They don’t buy it for a minute and keep pumping for more information.
Eventually, Psyche admits that she has never seen him and that he only comes to her at night. Her envious sisters remind her of the prophecy and try to persuade her that said hubby is really a monster who will only destroy her.
Cupid’s Cover is Blown
Overcome by curiosity and fright, Psyche brings a lamp (and a knife, just in case) into her bedroom while her mysterious partner sleeps. That’s when she sees that her husband is none other than Cupid. What’s more, she is blown away at how ridiculously handsome he is, and just happens to scratch herself on one of his arrows. Now distracted with overwhelming desire for him, she covers him with kisses and accidentally spills a drop of lamp oil on him in the process. He awakens, startled (as if the kisses wouldn’t have done the trick).
Furious that his anonymity is blown, he flies out the window threatening that Psyche will never see him again. Psyche is left in love and very much alone.
Desperate to find her lost love, Psyche wanders the land, visiting the temples of Ceres and Juno to summon help. Both offer that there is only one goddess who can help her – Venus.
Plead for Help
Psyche takes the advice and presents herself to Venus, begging for information on where she can find Cupid, her love. Venus is still bent out of shape at Psyche’s beauty, so after a lengthy tongue-lashing, she gives Psyche a series of impossible (and treacherous) tasks.
When Psyche successfully completes all three tasks, with the help of animals and gods along the way, the enraged Venus sets her on a quest in which she is certain to fail. She sends her to the Underworld to see Proserpina (a.k.a Persephone), wife of Pluto (a.k.a Hades) and queen of the Underworld, and bring back a potion of her beauty (apparently, stressing over the lovelorn Cupid made Venus lose some of her own).
Psyche bravely heads off down under, but she’s a little upset this time. Traipsing off to dead territory is crazy dangerous. Besides, how is she supposed to get there? Suicide? That seems like the most logical scenario, so she walks to the edge of a cliff.
Just as she is about to jump, she hears a voice (Cupid) instructing her the “safe” way to reach the Underworld, especially getting past the vicious three-headed guard dog, Cerberus (not to be confused with Fluffy who likes music. Cerberus is wooed by a piece of cake).
Long story short: Psyche has one difficult time in Deadland, but she comes out alive with a box of beauty in hand.
On her way to deliver her prize to Venus, she figures it can’t hurt to pilfer some beauty for herself. After all, a little more beauty may make her truly worthy of Cupid. And so she opens it.
Unfortunately, the box does not contain beauty at all – just an overpowering spell of slumber. One whiff and Psyche plunges into a deep sleep, collapsing in the middle of the road.
Revived by the Kiss of Love
Cupid, in the meantime, has forgiven all, admitting that he cannot live without her. And so he immediately flies to help.
He soon finds his sleeping beauty and awakens her with a kiss.
Cupid then rushes to Mount Olympus where he entreats the king of the gods, Jupiter (a.k.a Zues) to help him and Psyche in their eternal union. Jupiter is happy to help the couple. He summons Venus, telling her to chill out about everything, and then he brings Psyche up to Mount Olympus where the lovers’ wedding is celebrated with a great banquet, and the bride is given ambrosia which makes her immortal.
The Transforming Power of Love
Like all great fairy tales, this one ends happily ever after. Except for one thing: who in their right mind would want Venus for a mother-in-law? Yeesh!
What I love about this tale is that Psyche, the female character, is clearly the protagonist of the story. She is the hero. Cupid may be her Prince Charming, but it is her adventure, and it is she who succeeds at insurmountable tasks, risking life and limb to be with the man she loves.
What’s more…Psyche, our butterfly in the making, symbolizes the human spirit.
The great dichotomy of her story (similar to our own) is that misfortune and suffering in the temporal world have a way of summoning an inner courage to pull her through, and only then is she honed into greatness and renewed with the blessings of true joy – in an eternity with the one she loves.
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