ONCE on a time, through that Destiny that over-rules the gods, Love himself gave up his immortal heart to a mortal maiden. And this is how it came to pass.
There was once a king who had three daughters, all lovely maidens, but the youngest Psyche, excelled her sisters so great that beside them she seemed like a goddess consorting with mere mortals. The fame of her surpassing beauty spread far and wide and soon many people came to worship her as though she were a goddess. Venus’ temples lay in filth and her favorite city lay in ruins, for now, all that cared for Venus cared for Psyche.
Venus grew jealous of Psyche and as always turned to her son Cupid for help. She told Cupid to go to earth and shoot Psyche with an arrow as to make her fall in love with the most despicable creature on the earth. He would have done so if he was not first shown Psyche. It was as though Cupid pierced his own heart with one of his arrows. Venus left Cupid confident that he would carry out her orders.
What happened next Venus did not count on. Psyche did not fall in love with a horrible creature and still more strange she did not fall in love at all. All the men were content in worshiping and admiring her but no one ever truly loved her. Both her sisters inexpressibly inferior to her had gotten married to kings and yet she sat sad and solitary, only to be admired, not loved.
Her father in discourse turned to an oracle of Apollo for advice. The oracle said that Cupid himself told him to say that Psyche be dressed in deepest mourning and placed on the summit of a mountain to be taken away by a winged serpent, stronger than the gods themselves, to make his wife.
Misery came as her father told the family the lamentable news. They dressed Psyche up as though she was to attend her on funeral and walked with her to the top of the hill. Though her parents wept grievously, she kept her courage and said she was glad the time had come. They went in despairing grief leaving her helpless on the top of the mountain and returned to the palace and mourned all their days for her.
As she sat atop the mountain she wept and trembled not knowing what was to come. Suddenly a warm breath of wind caressed her neck and she felt herself being lifted up and away until she came down upon a soft meadow with flowers so fragrant. She had forgotten all her fears here and fell asleep. As she woke beside a bright river; and on its bank was a stately mansion that was fit for the gods themselves.
So awe-struck as she hesitated at the threshold, she heard voices telling her the house was for her and that she should bath and refresh and a banquet table will be set for her and then it told her they were her servants.
The food and so delicious and the bath so refreshing. While she dined, she heard sweet melodious music, but could not see who was playing. As the day passed she began to feel reassured that she would soon meet her husband. As night came she heard the sweet whispers of her husband’s voice in her ears and realized that her husband was no monster or shape of terror, but the husband she had so desperately longed for.
Psyche had not spoken with her sisters in some time and requested from her husband that she bade them welcome to the palace. He said that this would bring bad fortune upon her but she wept and wept and soon he gave in and granted her request. Her sisters greeted her with tears and embraces. Both sisters became overcome with jealousy as they realized their wealth was nothing in comparison with hers, they began plotting a way to ruin her.
That very night Psyche’s husband warned her once more. Already Psyche’s sisters realized Psyche’s contradictory remarks on the appearance of her husband and realized she had not seen him before. They began to invoke feelings of suspicion and fear that her husband was really the serpent that the oracle had said would come and that one night he would devour her.
Psyche’s heart began to fill with terror and not love. She plotted that night that she would sleep with a sharp knife and lamp near her bed, and that once her husband fell fast asleep that she go to his bed and plunge the dagger into his body for it was forsaken that she would see a hideously misshapen body of a monster.
She was confused she thought it was her loving husband, not a serpent monster, but it also was her loving husband. She must have certainty, she finally decided one thing for sure she would see him tonight.
That night she mustered up the courage and lit the lamp and tiptoed to her husband’s bedside. As the light came upon him, she realized it was not a monster but the most beautiful man she had ever seen, overcome with shame at her mistrust she would have plunged the dagger into her breast if it had not fallen from her hands. But the same hands that saved her betrayed her, as she trembled a drop of hot oil from the lamp fell on her husband’s shoulder and he began to wake. At the sight of this infidelity, he fled without a word.
Psyche fled into the night in search of her husband she traveled far and wide in search for him. Meanwhile her husband had gone to Venus’ chamber to have his wound cared for, but as soon as she heard the story she left her him in his pain as she became even more overcome with jealousy. She vowed to show Psyche what it felt like to bring down the wrath of a goddess.
Psyche’s search was to no avail, she had not found her husband so she went to Venus herself. Venus would grant her her wish if she completed the task of separating a great quantity of the smallest seeds by night fall. As she sat there alone she realized that this was an impossible task to complete. No one had heard Psyche’s prayers for they did not want to become an enemy of Venus. But the the tiniest of creatures felt sympathy for her. The ants began to sort the seeds for Psyche. All the seeds lay in ordered neat piles. This is what Venus saw when she came. “Your work is by no means done” said Venus. She gave Psyche a piece of crust and bade her sleep on the ground as she left to her soft fragrant couch.
The next morning, she devised another task for Psyche, this time a dangerous one. There were sheep down near the riverbank with golden fleece. She was to fetch some fleece and bring it back to Venus. As she reached the river, she had the urge to hurl herself into it ending all her pains, but a voice bade her not to. The voice instructed her to wait till the sheep came out of the bushes toward the evening for the sheep were indeed very fierce. She did as she was told and once the sheep left she gathered the fleece from the sharp briars and she carried it back to her cruel mistress. Venus received it with an evil smile. Venus knew that Psyche could not have accomplished this alone and said that she must prove herself by obtaining a flask filled with water from the river Styx. As she approached the waterfall, she realized that only a winged creature could reach it. This time her savior was an eagle, who poised with great wings beside her, seized the flask from her with his beak and brought it back to her full of the black water.
But Venus kept on. She sent Psyche with a box which she was to carry to the underworld and ask Persephone to fill with some of her beauty. Psyche found her guide in a tower on her path. It gave her careful directions on how to get to Persephone’s palace. All had happened as the her guide had told her and Persephone was willing to do Venus a favor, and Psyche, greatly encouraged, bore back the box. The last trial was brought upon herself out of curiosity. She wished to see the beauty-charm in the box and perhaps use some herself for she must look beautiful if she was to see the God of Love again. She opened the box but nothing was to be found inside suddenly a deadly languor took possession of her as she fell into a heavy sleep.
At this point, Cupid stepped forward, Cupid was healed from his wound and had fled the palace by flying through the windows for Venus had locked him in his chamber. Cupid picked Psyche up and wiped the sleep from her eyes and placed it into the box. Cupid told her to take the box to his mother and all would be fine. To make sure Cupid flew up to Mount Olympus and spoke with Jupiter himself. Although Cupid had done Jupiter harm previously by making him turn into a bull and a swan, he agreed to help him. Jupiter summoned all the gods, including Venus, and announced the marriage of Cupid and Psyche. Mercury brought Psyche to the palace of the gods, and Jupiter himself gave her the ambrosia to make her immortal. Venus was in turn satisfied for with Psyche up in Heaven, she would not command attention from the men on earth.
So all came to a most happy end. Love and Soul (for that is what Psyche means) had sought and, after sore trials, found each other; that union could never be broken.