“Psyche and the Eagle of Zeus” by Natale Schiav0ni, 1845
These heroic tales are meant to inspire those that reside within the confines of the mortal world. Granted, we humans may not experience dove drawn carriages or magically made castles on a daily basis but these stories of divine glory and human triumph can still be applied to our world all the same. Life presents each of us with pitfalls and challenges that may not seem as overtly problematic as a man-eating ram but still can possess the danger of a dragon hidden from within none the less.
The external circumstances may differ from real life but our approach, actions, and reactions in essence remain the same. Each of us must find from within our own sense of bravery befitting the strongest hero or heroine yet not be so foolhardy as to think every battle can be fought entirely on our own. Being born mortal, Life is best faced with the solidarity and assistance from others who are of like heart and mind. And there must always be an awareness both in good times and bad that divine intercession is a very real and possible thing.
Surely as the most glorious god or goddess dwells within each of our hearts.
This will soon be all too apparent for our heroine since the danger of dragons will be a most real and deadly dilemma placed before her eyes to witness.
We return to Psyche as she entreats upon her most challenging and life threatening labor to date.
Psyche couldn’t believe how drained she was upon reaching Venus’ sanctuary. Despite not having to keep up with her mistress flying far ahead in her dove drawn chariot as when they first departed the temple, foraging back on her own seemed to take much, much longer upon her return.
“The stone floor of my prison cell will be a welcome sight, I am so weary.” Psyche thought in her exhausted state.
But as the girl turned the sharp corner of the sanctuary to enter the building she was blocked by none other than her mistress who stood directly before her.
“Well, well, well. Finally the lowly slave makes her return!” Venus said whimsically. “I knew you would be slower than a slug getting back here but never did I think an entire Age of Man would pass before you finally would return.”
Psyche knew better than to directly speak to her mistress despite her overwhelming urge to beg the goddess for leniency by allowing her to return to her cell to rest. Instead the girl was stunned to hear Venus relay a command she never would have foreseen.
“I planned on having you undertake your next task in the twilight just before dawn but since you’ve made me wait all this while, now is as good a time as any to begin. Lower yourself and kneel behind me in my carriage.”
Psyche looked at her mistress pleadingly, knowing fully well Venus was aware of how grueling the journey back to her temple was by foot. But the goddess bore no sympathy for the girl’s physically spent state as she threatened her coldly.
“If you do not get on your knees in the carriage willingly, my whip will be more than happy to see to it that you do. Move your lazy self or bear my wrath, slave!”
As Psyche lowered herself to her knees, her mistress twisted her position in the carriage fully around so that her body faced outwards. This meant nothing separated the girl from the back of the carriage and imminent death should Psyche experience the misfortune of falling due to either her knees giving in or by fainting. All she could do was cling for her life to both sides of the carriage with her bare hands as her mistress drove the chariot upwards through the sky to a most dizzying height.
Instead of screaming in terror or begging for her mistress’ mercy, Psyche looked straight ahead while breathing slowly and deeply, not allowing the desperation of panic to overtake her.
Even in the dark of night, the rushing flow of falling water could be heard before the chariot descended to the ground. They landed at the base of a tall mountainous peak from which at the very top sprung torrent after torrent of water that was blacker than the night itself. After settling the reigns, Venus turned to her servant and said the following:
“I am well aware of the assistance you’ve been given by that rogue son of mine but even so I am still willing to see if you are indeed endowed with a true bravery of spirit.” the goddess stated. ” Do you see that lofty mountain-peak from where the waters of a dark spring first emerge? Take this urn and fetch me some icy water drawn from the stream’s highest point as it begins its flowing journey downwards.”
Psyche dutifully bowed her head in acceptance of her charge, took the urn from her mistress, and began to ascend a thin narrow path which climbed alongside the ominous waterfall. Its waters flowed so hard and fast, they would smash against the nearby rocks causing icy cold plumes to shoot across Psyche’s face like splays of tiny darts.
The higher the girl ascended up the path, the more the surrounding air became heavy with sleet-like droplets and a heavy ice cold mist. It was only by tightly squinting her eyes that Psyche was able to continue venturing upward. However as she made her way to an even greater altitude a most strange obstacle presented itself – the path abruptly ended in a sheer wall of stone.
The passageway still continued at a point further and higher up but the only way Psyche could continue her trek was by groping along the craggy side cliff in order to reach the ledge which lay directly above the sheer stone face wall. Placing the urn’s handle in between her teeth, Psyche began to climb the roughly hewn side rock, to which she almost immediately fell from due to the torrents of flowing water making the rock’s surface fiendishly slippery and nearly impossible to traverse.
“If this doesn’t keep my senses awake, then surely I am dead and my soul has yet to realize it.” the girl ironically thought to herself.
As she inched her way ever closer to the nearby ledge, she suddenly realized she would have to propel herself through the air and both grasp and lift herself up by hanging on to the ledge’s edge. Not wasting a moment, Psyche inhaled deeply through her nose, twisted her torso around while pushing herself off the rock as her hands successfully found their aimed target.
But no sooner had she landed on the ledge, then a blood curdling screech could be heard followed by a disheartening sound that was a mixture of slithering motion with the scraping of sharp metal. Lifting her body into a fast push up, Psyche’s head popped above the ledge to briefly behold a most unwelcome sight.
Not the typical red scaled, fire breathing flying kind of dragon most would think of. The beast was a slick and slimy shade of black which according to Apuleius had a “long craning neck and eyes sworn to unwinking wakefulness”. Despite its absence of wings and seeming inability to breathe fire, the creature was terrifying all the same by possessing a mouth with multiple rows of immense fangs, along with having razor taloned claws each the size of meat cleavers.
It occurred to Psyche (and rather quickly at that) this atypical dragon guarded the mountain spring amphibiously by its ability to traverse through the water it was assigned to protect.
As if that wasn’t heart stopping enough, from across the other side of the flowing stream another dragon of the black scaled, amphibious kind answered its twin’s screeching call of alarm.
While Psyche’s mind froze with fright her body took over on its own accord, instinctively sensing all was lost if some sort of action wasn’t immediately taken . The girl had no other choice but to jump off the ledge and back to where the pathway had abruptly ended with as little attention drawing noise as possible.
Psyche’s body went into survival mode before her mind could catch up to understand what was happening. However everything was brought into place (if rather painfully) when she landed on her side after drop landing from the ledge with the fall expelling every bit of air out of her body. As quickly as her body could move, Psyche crawled across the slick rock surface by her elbows and proceeded to squeeze herself into a tiny nook as her body adjusted to regaining the wind it had completely lost.
The girl couldn’t move or scream even if she desperately wanted to do so. She sat catatonic in paralyzed shock, her clothes drenched with a mix of atmospheric ice water and the cold sweat of pure terror. She sat in the tiny nook of the enclave hugging her knees while shaking uncontrollably.
Until suddenly a distant cawing could be heard that drew ever nearer.
“Joyfully the Eagle bore back the Urn” by Andrew Lang, 1921
Psyche registered the sound to being that of an eagle’s battle cry but much like how the guardian dragons differed from their own kind, this winged creature was in no way remotely typical for its species as well.
In short, the bird was gigantic. The eagle must have been at least 4-5x sizes larger than the standard sized version of its kind and Psyche could hear its massive wings whooshing through the air as it made its descent close by her. As if its size wasn’t impressive enough, the girl was rendered awestruck when upon landing the massive creature spoke with a deeply rich baritone voice:
“Behold daughter of Earth, I am the messenger and patron animal of the King of Heaven and Ruler of all creation, Zeus. Simple and innocent girl! Didst thou think thou couldst retrieve a single drop from these deadly waters overhead which strike fear even among the Gods, themselves? My time is short, hand me thy urn.”
Taking the receptacle in its mouth the mighty creature flew out of sight, straight up into the Heavens. The eagle then dived directly down as it glided through the river’s exact middle, its wings outspread like oars keeping it afloat as it dipped Psyche’s flask into the spring’s black waters from where they first emerged.
“The Eagle of Zeus brings the cup to Psyche” by Benjamin West, 1802
The noble bird did this so fast and efficiently, the task was completed well before either dragon could dive into the water and attack the majestic creature. Zeus’ winged representative then circled high above before gracefully alighting over Psyche and relaying the urn back to her saying:
“Farewell faithful and foolish brave one! Rejoice in knowing the King of Heaven looks upon you favorably.”
And then was gone.
Needless to say a sufficient amount of time needed to pass before Psyche arose to make her way back down the cliff after experiencing such a unique and mystical sight.
Venus could tell her slave had once again accomplished her task, given the water Psyche bore her was an icy black but bubbling just the same. Much like how the girl could not have foreseen her mistress’ command to commence her task, she also did not expect the goddess’ reaction upon completing it.
As Venus snatched the urn from her servant with one hand, the other backhanded her square across the face. With total contempt the goddess then said: “You have mocked me for the last time, slave! And no divinity can help you with your final task, since tomorrow you will be descending into Hell, itself to do my bidding with the Queen of the Dead.”
To which Psyche dropped to her knees and proceeded to lose consciousness from both the overwhelming shock and physical exhaustion which overtook her all at once.
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