The Story of Cupid and Psyche
Sculpture of Cupid and Psyche
Photo © Nick Yee at SXC
The following story of Cupid is drawn from The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius circa 150 A.D. It is a summary of the actual story and is not verbatim. This story utilizes the Latin names of the gods. The greek counterparts of Cupid and Venus are Eros and Aphrodite, respectively.
The story of Cupid begins with the Goddess Venus and a beautiful young mortal woman and daughter of a King, named Psyche. Psyche's beauty was so great, that many men adored her and forgot to worship and adore Venus. Venus became very jealous, and hatched a plan to seek revenge against Psyche.
Venus' plan involved her son Cupid, the god of desire. Venus asked her son to entrance Psyche to fall in love with a hideous monster. Though Cupid did not have anything against Psyche personally, he was mischievous by nature and agreed to Venus' plan.
The following storyline was added by Maria Tighe in a poem published in 1805. It explains how Cupid fell in love with Psyche, but was not in the original story written by Lucius.
Cupid set out to execute the plan. When he arrived in Psyche's quarters, she was sleeping. Cupid began to entrance Psyche with potions from Venus' garden. As he was casting the spell of love on her, she awoke and startled him. Through this, Cupid was able to leave undetected by Psyche. However, when he was startled he had cut himself with the tip of his own arrow, which caused him to fall deeply in love with Psyche. Venus' plan had backfired and her son was now in love with the woman she envied.
The original storyline written by Lucius Apuleius returns here
Psyche, although beautiful and adored by many men, received no suitors. Her sisters were not nearly as beautiful as Psyche, but were both married to Kings of other provinces. Psyche was distraught at her situation and did not understand why she was alone. Her parents, seeing the situation, decided to take action. Her father went to visit the Oracle of Apollo. Upon arrival, the Oracle told the King the following:
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.
The King, upon hearing this, was sad - he thought that his daughter was destined to be married to a monster. When he returned home, he shared the news with his family. Psyche, realizing that she had angered Venus and had a terrible fate, became even more distraught. Weeping, she told her family that she was ready to go to the mountain and get on with her miserable destiny. The family agreed, and a large, sad procession took her to a rock in the mountains and left her there, alone and afraid.
While she waited, a Zephyrus lifted her in a dreamy state and laid her down in a valley with sweet and fragrant flowers. When she woke up, she saw many beautiful things, including a crystal clear river and great trees. She entered a beautiful building that could not have been made by mortal man. It had beautiful decorations made of citron, ivory, gold and other fine materials. Psyche heard a voice that seemingly came out of nowhere telling her that all of the fine things she saw were hers and at her command. Psyche later found a dining table with many meats laid out upon it, and sat down. As she sat down, many meats and wines were brought to her by invisible servants. That night, her new husband visited her and stayed with her, but she could not see him as it was dark. Things continued this way for a while, but as she was enjoying her new life, her family at home believed that she was miserable and possibly dead.
Psyche's sisters planned to go looking for Psyche. They went to the hill where they had left her, and called out to her. Psyche had convinced her husband to let her visit with her sisters so that they would not anguish any more. When her sisters saw all of the wonderful things that Psyche had, they became jealous and coveted her lifestyle. The sisters discussed how their marriages were poor and broken, and they devised a scheme together to destroy Psyche's new marriage so that one of them could possibly marry Psyche's new husband.
Now Psyche's marriage came with one strange caveat - that she should never see the face of her husband, or he would leave her. He wanted her to trust that his love to her was pure. He warned Psyche that her sisters were scheming against her.
Psyche's sisters returned to the valley a short time later. When they arrived, they began asking Psyche questions about her husband. Psyche at first tried to fend off the questions with lies, but after a while the sisters were able to get to the truth that Psyche had not actually ever seen her husband. They convinced her that she was married to a monster, as the Oracle of Apollo had alluded to, and that she needed to see his face for her own safety.
After the sisters left, Psyche was mentally anguished. She had promised her husband that she would not look at him, but now her sisters' remarks were forcefully tugging at her curiosity. One night, when her husband arrived home and went to sleep, Psyche took a lamp and a razor into the room. When Psyche brought the lamp close to the bed, she did not see a monster but rather one of the most handsome and fair creatures - it was Cupid. Psyche embraced Cupid and as she did so, accidentally burned him with a drop of lamp oil. Cupid woke up and was very angry. He told her that he had disobeyed his mother Venus to be with her, and that he had wounded himself with his own weapons. "Is this how you repay me?" asked Cupid. Cupid flew away in a rage, leaving Psyche with nothing, as all of the fine pleasures and ornaments disappeared from the valley.
After a while, Cupid could not bear being without Psyche any more. He realized that his mother Venus had tormented Psyche for a long time, and he requested Jupiter to make Psyche a goddess. Jupiter did so, and Cupid and Psyche lived happily ever after.