Psyche’s myth first appears in Lucius Apuleius’ second-century CE novel The Golden Ass. It is the prototype for the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.” (Roman names for Greek spirits are used within the novel, i.e. Eros is Cupid, Aphrodite is Venus. The names in this entry correspond to the novel.)
Psyche was a princess so beautiful that people stop worshipping Venus and began worshipping her instead. Angered, Venus sent Cupid to shoot Psyche with arrows of love so that she would fall in love with someone incredibly humiliating and inappropriate. Instead Cupid was so struck by Psyche’s beauty that, distracted, he accidentally nicked himself and fell madly in love with her. He went through complicated machinations to have Psyche brought to his home.
Psyche lived in Cupid’s palace in solitary luxury. She never actually saw him but at night he joined her under cover of darkness. They were deliriously happy, but eventually she became homesick and received permission to visit home even though Cupid warned that her trip would bring disaster. Her sisters, who assumed that Psyche was dead or tormented by a hideous monster, were dismayed to see her looking more beautiful than ever. When she described her mysterious lover, they advised her to learn his identity lest her doom be ensured.
Her jealous sisters piqued her curiosity. On her return, she lit a candle to gaze at her sleeping lover. Hypnotized by his beauty, she allowed the candle wax to drip on him. He awoke angered by her mistrust. He abandoned Psyche. The elegant palazzo dissolved into mist, and Psyche was left all alone.
Seeking forgiveness and reunion, she traveled to the one sure to know Cupid’s whereabouts: his mother. Venus greeted her cruelly and set impossible tasks for her, culminating in a journey to Hades to borrow Proserpina’s box of beauty. Psyche completed all tasks but while returning from Hades, she was tempted to open the box to obtain a little extra beauty before rejoining Cupid. The powers within Proserpina’s box are too strong for a mortal.
Psyche died, but Cupid who had been observing all the while, rescued her. Cupid carried her to Olympus where he pleaded his case before Jupiter who gave Psyche a cup of ambrosia that revived her and caused her to become immortal. Psyche and Cupid lived happily ever after. Their daughter is named Pleasure.
Psyche means “soul.” Her tasks may be understood as an initiation. Her trip to Hades represents death and rebirth. Her story may contain the coded secrets of Lucius’ own spiritual initiation.
Psyche was not content to remain on Olympus as Cupid’s consort. Instead she became a working goddess who actively fulfills the petitions of devotees. Psyche emerged as a goddess of love whom some consider more compassionate and approachable than her mother-in-law. Psyche has evolved into a tremendously romantic and erotic goddess. Her sole surviving myth is considered one of Earth’s great love stories as exemplified by Frederic Leighton’s painting, The Bath of Psyche, first exhibited in 1890.
Psyche is traditionally portrayed as a beautiful young woman with butterfly wings but modern images frequently omit the wings. Mariana Mayer and Kinuko Craft’s 1996 children’s book, Cupid and Psyche (HarperCollins) provides detailed illustrations of the entire myth.
Luxurious food and drink as well as images of hearts and butterflies.
Aphrodite; Eros; Olympian Spirits; Pandora; Proserpina; Venus; Zeus and the Glossary entry for Identification
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.