The story of Cupid and Psyche is an ancient allegory recounting the power of Love in its many variations, both good and bad, evolved and unevolved. Within the palette of human emotion, Love is by far the strongest yet strangely enough has the constitution of a weak kitten whenever placed near such negative traits as jealousy, envy, anger, bitterness, and resentment, just to name a frustrating few.
In the second installment of this amorous epic, the power of Love is about to get thrown into the mud head first by those divisive forces already mentioned above, first by the dark side of divinity but also from the sinful scope of mortals as well.
We return to where our story first began, with a girl named Psyche.
Through no fault of her own the young maiden Psyche had offended the gods by having been born with exceptionally good looks. Despite being mortal with no sense of guile, Psyche’s incomparable beauty drew adoration from those far and near. This in turn led many to believe the girl was the actual embodiment of the goddess of Beauty, Venus, herself.
A commonly held belief which greatly offended the goddess, who despite being the epitome of Beauty was made to feel insecure and threatened by Psyche’s enchanting features. With her jealousy agitated and amplified, Venus sought to inflict a most cruel and extreme punishment upon the unknowing girl.
Truth be told, this wasn’t the first time Venus took divine retribution against a mortal she perceived as being more attractive than her divine self. Not too long before our story unfolded, the goddess of Beauty severely punished one of her own high priestesses after learning the Lord of the Seven Seas, the god of the ocean, Poseidon had forced his intentions upon her. Upon discovering her servant had been defiled in one of her own temples, Venus made sure neither man nor god alike would ever be attracted to the ill-fated girl by transforming her into a monster so hideous, those who gazed upon her face were instantly turned to stone.
Some of you may already be familiar with the poor wretch who fell victim to Venus’ vengeance. Her name was Medusa.
Even with that said, Destiny was already well aware how unjust Venus’ punishments had been in times past and thus acted against her favor. The goddess’ rage-filled insecurity was turned against her by the agent of her retribution not only disobeying her command to harm Psyche but by that same agent falling helplessly in love with the mortal girl’s captivating beauty.
Fate willed it so for Venus’ son, the god of Love named Cupid to be a victim to his own amorous arrows with Psyche being the first thing his eyes gazed upon after piercing himself with his own weaponry. Imprisoned by the same tool of retaliation he wielded against both god and mortal, Cupid was resolved in capturing the heart of the fair Psyche and making her his wife. He did this by strategizing a plan so outlandish, the risk associated with his scheme bore repercussions far more dangerous than his mother’s wrath could ever hope to incur.
The god of Love sought to change the prophetic voice of the Future.
Knowing how even the residents of Mt. Olympus were fearful of being targeted by his love arrows, Cupid entreated upon Apollo, the god of prophecy, for assistance. Pleased that Venus’ imp of an offspring was requesting his help, Apollo agreed for his oracles to “see” a falsified vision of the future tailored to Cupid’s best advantage in order for the Love god to have Psyche alone to himself – provided the fickle trickster agree to never aim another arrow towards the god of prophecy’s general direction again.
Returning once more to the world of mortal men…
Despite his youngest daughter drawing people from every age, area, and walk of life to his home, the King couldn’t fathom why not a single soul had ventured to even speak to Psyche, let alone approach him to request her hand in marriage. It simply wasn’t sound that his child’s countless admirers referred to her as “the 2nd coming of Venus” yet none of them dared to look her directly in the eye. The King had a far easier time marrying off his two eldest daughters whose features combined measured up to that of a handsome dish rag when compared to the almost otherworldly beauty displayed by his youngest child.
A grim and worrisome thought then occurred to Psyche’s father: Could it be possible that, merciful Heaven, his youngest child had offended the gods in some way?
There was only one way the King could find out if his fears were an actual reality – Psyche’s father had to seek consul from the oracle of Apollo at the god of prophecy’s temple at Delphi.
Psyche could tell from her father’s face things were far more serious than anyone could have imagined upon returning from his journey to Delphi. As he approached his daughter, the King wasted no time and repeated the prophecy given to him at Apollo’s shrine which he had committed to memory:
“On high crag, O King, set forth the maid,
In all the pomp of funeral robe arrayed.
Hope for no bridegroom born of mortal seed,
But fierce and wild of dragon breed.
He swoops all-conquering, borne on airy wing,
With fire and sword he makes his harvesting;
Trembles before him Jove, whom gods do dread,
And quakes the darksome river of the dead.”*
The King then tearfully added, “My youngest, we must marry you off to be Death’s bride.” as Psyche swooned with inconsolable despair into her father’s arms.
When the dreaded day of sacrificial offering finally arrived, the bleak irony behind the oracle’s words were made a reality. Psyche was a vision of loveliness in her bridal clothes despite everyone around her wearing funerary garb of all black. Throngs of people chanted death dirges in low, solemn whispers as they escorted the bride in a processional to the desolate spot where Psyche was soon to meet her “bridegroom”.
Everyone bitterly wept, except for the bride, herself. When the processional reached the top of the barren cliff, Psyche bravely stood with her head held high as she comforted her father and sisters stating how relieved she was to no longer be incurring the wrath of the gods. The bride was then chained by her wrists to the cliff’s rocky ledge and left to face her doomed fate alone, entirely on her own.
Confined and solitary, Psyche silently wept from the ever mounting fear. And then it happened.
She heard the loud rush of an oncoming wind.
“The sound of his mighty wings approach me.” Psyche thought to herself, recalling the oracle’s words which spoke of her bridegroom being a dragon-like monster “borne on airy wing.”
The whirring noise of moving air became deafening as it barreled down upon the helpless girl. Psyche turned her face inwards towards the rocky wall, shutting her eyes as tightly as she could and expecting the very worst. She dared not look as she felt the tempest concentrate its force directly at her shackles, removing them from the cliff’s sheer wall as if pieces of loose string.
Then to her horror, she became air-borne.
No longer able to control her fear, Psyche shrieked in terror, not for being so high in the air but for being as such with nothing or no one holding her aloft.
Before she knew it however, her journey through the sky ended almost as quickly as it began. Psyche felt herself being placed down upon the ground while a gentle breeze wafted around her face as if wishing her safe passage and a sweet Farewell. She stood shaking and motionless with her eyes still clamped shut when a voice emerged from out of the air, saying:
“Greetings my fair wife. Open thine eyes and behold thy new home.”
Despite her eyes fluttering in a state of terrified resistance, Psyche couldn’t believe what she saw upon opening them. Rather than there being a dragon-like man monster, her vision beheld a castle which stood on a pristine hillock fringed with snapdragons and sunflowers. A babbling brook flowed down and around the castle’s perimeter, serving as its moat. Before her feet sprawled an intricately carved wooden bridge which connected the ground from which stood to the castle’s entranceway.
Psyche saw the fortress gate lift and heard the castle’s mighty oak door groan as it slowly opened on its own accord. She then heard the same gentle voice once again speak:
“Come, my betrothed and enter our home. For you are mistress of this place and tonight I shall make you my wife.”
Nodding her head in response to the voice’s command, Psyche crossed the bridge and entered the great hall of the castle, marveling at the wonder of it all as the oak door slowly closed itself shut behind her.
*Cover image “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova, 1793
*Text image “The Head of Medusa” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1615
*Text image “Psyche’s Wedding Processional” by Edward Burne-Jones, 1895
*Text image “Psyche and Zephyrus” by Kinuko Craft, 1990
* Quoted text taken from Eric Neumann’s “Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine” 1971
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.