A detailed close up of the lower right corner of the massive painting displaying everything but the kitchen sink (including live elephants and camels) on Mt. Olympus by Giulio Romano in 1526 entitled “The Banquet of Amor and Psyche”. Our title characters are depicted along with the fruit of their loving labors in the upper left corner of this close up, Cupid and Psyche’s daughter, Voluptas.
It took Psyche a few moments to realize she was no longer a trapped guest doomed to forever stay in the Underworld Palace of the Queen of the Dead. Only upon opening her eyes to discover her hands clutching the box containing Persephone’s beauty ointment did it then dawn on the girl she had indeed completed her fourth and final labor of indentured servitude to her mother-in-law, the goddess Venus.
Psyche automatically arose with the intent of presenting her completed task before her mistress but then paused. After all she had been through, why should the goddess of Beauty be the sole benefactor of her hard work, she thought. Hard work that nearly got herself killed on more than one occasion this time around.
It then occurred to Psyche that during her time of enslavement to the goddess she had lived in such a state of abject fear that no longer did she give herself any kind of priority or first consideration.
“Psyche Opens the Golden Box” by John William Waterhouse, 1903
If Venus was worried about her beauty being compromised, Psyche could only imagine how her own looks fared when considering she hadn’t even seen her reflection in a mirror since leaving Cupid’s home. Focusing on the ornately carved golden box which lay in her hands the girl contemplated aloud,
“I should be able to partake in that which I have singlehandedly procured.” she convinced herself. “Besides, my efforts have earned me the right to be as attractive as I can in order to win back my husband’s affection.”
For a fleeting moment Psyche’s intuition was able to relay a message of dire warning that went something along the lines of : “That which comes from the Land of the Dead is meant for the dead , only.” but the girl’s rational mind overpowered her intuitive guidance by silencing it through self-justification.
Intending to use just the barest trace of Persephone’s beauty ointment so it wouldn’t be noticeably used, Psyche impulsively proceeded to lift the box’s lid,
….only to discover nothing inside it.
All that was in the box was a small rectangular mirror which ran alongside the inner section of its lid. A mirror that when gazed upon revealed a hooded figure in black robes approaching Psyche from behind a fair distance away.
Psyche quickly closed the box’s lid shut to avoid any blame as she turned to face the fast approaching stranger
….only to discover no one was there.
Confused and unexpectedly fearful, Psyche turned back around to retrieve the ointment box back into her hands when as if out of nowhere the hooded figure in black suddenly stood standing directly before her . The stranger then lowered her hood to reveal the Queen of the Dead, Persephone herself who proceeded to put her hand on Psyche’s shoulder saying in a voice that was neither human nor animal,
“YOU ARE MINE, NOW.”
Followed by everything going black.
“Cupid carries Psyche to Paradise and asks Jupiter and his wife Juno for their supplication” by Unknown
When Psyche came to, she couldn’t help but laugh. The constant strain and turmoil must have finally gotten to her, she thought, since she could have sworn being cradled in her husband’s arms as his massive wings carried them both across the sky.
But that was what indeed was happening.
As she attempted to fully open her eyes Psyche instantly realized something was very amiss. Her person was not complete. Observing her arms and legs she could see herself but her form was faded and transparent as if she were a ghost. The girl lifted her hand before her face only to see right through it to the clouds which lay beyond.
“Speaketh nor moveth not my love.” her husband’s voice gently yet forcefully said to her. “Thou art in the throes of death. Thy Cupid shall do his utmost to save his Psyche.”
With her body too weak to move, Psyche closed her eyes content in knowing that should her life soon end, it would at least occur while nestled in the arms of her beloved.
When she returned to consciousness once more, Psyche perceived being in a large hall with a multitude of people assembled all around her. Numerous conversations were taking place and from what she could decipher the topic at hand revolved around herself.
“‘Tis far too late. The girl cannot be revived at this point.” a woman’s voice commented near by.
“Nonsense. The boy presented his case quite well. Even if she has expired, our mighty Lord will not only supplicate but resurrect her for she is one of us now.” a man’s voice said admonishingly.
“We can only hope a certain goddess learns her lesson this time around that she cannot be so punishing simply because a mortal has fallen from her favor.” a third voice said close to the first two. “All in all, it would be quite a pity if such a lovely creature cannot be saved.”
The debating seemed to gather momentum with the din growing more and more of a fevered pitch around Psyche when a sudden silence fell upon the entire chamber with all talking and debate simultaneously ending all at once.
Psyche could hear a solitary presence making its way through the crowds and could sense this solitary yet strong presence walking towards her general direction. Upon reaching her vicinity, she then heard a voice unlike any she had ever heard before. A man spoke with such regal richness, the very essence of his voice demanded that one listen with alert focus :
“Open thine eyes and lift thy head if thou art able, precious girl.”
Upon fully opening her eyes Psyche determined she was in the presence of He who ruled over all beings both mortal and divine, mighty Jupiter himself, King of Heaven. In his hands, the Ruler of the Gods bore a chalice so detailed and elaborately made, it was bedazzling. From within the charmed drinking vessel came the most pleasantly fragrant aroma emanating from what appeared to be a heavenly elixir.
“Drink from this chalice the nectar which I doth hold before thee. It is the water of immortality which we call Ambrosia. Drink and be eternally divine.”
It was only when Jupiter’s mesmerizing voice ceased to speak that Psyche was finally able to take note of her surroundings. She was positioned in the middle of Mt. Olympus’ Hall of Divine Assembly where both the floors and walls were comprised of gleaming white marble and everyone gathered wore robes of the purest white. Psyche’s physical form had faded to near total obscurity, the simple function of keeping her eyes open had become nearly unbearable,.so weak and close to death was she
The girl then realized she had been cradled in her husband’s arms the entire time. She looked questioningly into her husband’s eyes, seeking to affirm whether she should drink from the chalice of Ambrosia.
All Cupid could do in response was nod in approval as tears streamed down his face.
And so, as the Emperor of the Gods gently held her head up, the mortal girl named Psyche deeply drank from the chalice of immortality and in an instant was no more.
From the moment the Ambrosia touched her lips Psyche experienced a transformational change that was utterly indescribable. As soon as she began to swallow the heavenly liquid, she felt a delightfully warm sensation along with a jolt of energy that was both invigorating while at the same time made each muscle, tendon, and area of connective tissue in her body feel astoundingly loose and limber. The girl marveled in amazement as her physical form that was on the verge of expiring became something entirely new and never before experienced.
Said another way, Psyche observed with sheer delight as she watched herself becoming divine.
Along with the diametric change of energy, Psyche’s physical structure altered permanently to mark the process of her transition into immortality. Similar to her husband, wings sprang from Psyche’s back which were attached to her scapulae that although were visually small in stature were incredibly fast and more powerful than those of the most spritely pixie. Rather than being the instruments of flight of a predatory eagle or massive albatross as of those possessed by her husband, as a divine being Psyche now possessed the winged appendages of a lightning fast, supernatural butterfly.
“Psyche Transformed” by Tenerani Pietro, 1816
The girl’s process of divine transformation was made complete in a matter of mere minutes.
As Cupid and Psyche embraced each other in a tearful reunion of renewed passion a woman emerged from out of the crowd whose regal demeanor made her naturally stand out. Upon observing her signature fan of majestic peacock feathers, her patron animal, Psyche became immediately aware of being in the presence of deific royalty. For there before her stood Juno, Queen of all Divinity.
The peacock was the patron animal of Juno who not only ruled over all of Mt. Olympus as Queen but specifically as the Goddess of Marriage and the heavenly defender of Fidelity. The unique bird and its tail of grand display was intimately associated with Juno due to the ancient Greek belief that each of its tail feathers was individually marked by an “eye” that was meant to watch and observe the behavior of one’s significant other.
“Allow us to inform thee of what has come to pass whilst thou was “in absentia”, my dear girl.” Juno said lightheartedly to Psyche, who lowered her head in humble deference.
“In the midst of a divine general assembly, your impetuous youth of a husband dramatically made his way in, all the while carrying the dying body of his mortal wife in his arms.” the Queen explained.”Upon realizing this was not one of the young rogue’s usual displays of trickery, mighty Jupiter allowed young Cupid to take full advantage of the moment by allowing the youth to speak in your stead and state thy case. He explained what had happened to you and in particular how thy mother-in-law had actively gone against thee.”
Juno then straightforwardly said to Psyche, “We Olympians know better than to get embroiled in the surface affairs of humanity but your husband relayed your state of need with such faithful tenacity and described your actions to be of such a noteworthy and consistent manner that it became quite clear your dilemma needed to be immediately addressed. ”
Juno then turned before all assembled and proclaimed, “I present to you the immortals of Love, the god Cupid and his wife, the goddess Psyche.”
To which the entire assembly gathered burst into applause while wildly cheering.
As she took everything in, Psyche gasped an intake of air as she doubled over with an intensely sharp pain as everyone stood motionless in shock. Far off in the distance she could hear a familiar voice ordering the crowd to make way in order to provide assistance.
It was the voice of the goddess of Beauty, Venus, herself.
Upon finally reaching them, the goddess stood behind Psyche while barking to her son, “Grab her by the legs, boy, your child is about to be born.” as they transported her to the closest divan they could find.
It must be noted that immortals experience pain but they do so in a very concentrated way to make it as short lived as necessary. For the final time of her existence, Psyche once again swooned into unconsciousness but instead of being revived only to find herself alone and the situation even more dire than before, the newly made immortal awoke to her mother-in-law presenting before her a newly born, perfectly formed baby girl.
“Your daughter, my lady.” Venus said humbly with her head bowed low as she placed the child in Psyche’s arms.
The progeny of Psyche and Venus’ offspring was bestowed with the name “Voluptas” an ancient Roman word meaning “Pleasure“.
A close up of the Graces dancing together in Sandro Botticelli’s iconic painting “Primavera”, in English “Spring”. Cupid and Psyche’s daughter Voluptas, the goddess of Pleasure is depicted on the left.
Voluptas’ beauty far surpassed that of her mother and even her grandmother as if to cosmicly balance the hardship experienced between the two before the child made her entrance into the world. Alongside the divine embodiments of Charm and Creativity, the goddess of Pleasure’s presence formed the immortal trio of perfect harmony known to mortals as The Graces, as immortalized in the famous painting “Primavera” or “Spring” by the Renaissance master painter, Sandro Botticelli.
As this epic tale draws to a happy end I ask you to consider the one of a kind significance of this special story, my good reader. More often than not in the classical world of ancient Myth when a mortal interacted with a god, the end result nearly always had cataclysmic repercussions for those who were non-divine. Despite being blameless and overtly victimized, mortals almost always ended up with their lives being destroyed, most especially should they be of the female persuasion. Even when Juno, the goddess of Fidelity herself, suspected adultery of any kind, the Queen would relentlessly hunt down the mortal and never the divine transgressor in order to inflict her swift and harsh punishment.
But even with that said, there was one exception – a mortal girl named Psyche who transcended to the realm of the gods to be reunited with her divine spouse and who herself became an immortal being in her own right.
Psyche had no super powers nor was she bestowed with any divine gifts. She was human and being as such was fully aware of her limitations. What allowed for the girl’s life to not only be spared but to emerge victorious was an abundance of the following – Trust in others and the deepest of Faith in the workings of the Gods.
The girl tried her best with every action she undertook and inherently understood there would be times when that was the most she could do, along with having an unfaltering faith in the mysteries of the Universe which she had to trust were occurring for her benefit and not her demise.
She also possessed an openness of mind that allowed her to take full advantage of receiving assistance from those things which coexist with the mortal world such as the realm of animals and their much needed help with the sorting of seeds as well as with the plant world when Psyche heeded the wise advice of the river reed.
The force of Love not only enabled Psyche to successfully complete four impossible tasks which were intended to destroy her, the girl’s purity of faith and undaunted belief in her self elevated her to the realm of the Gods.
Nowhere else in the ancient world do we see a mortal’s sense of faithful tenacity so clearly rewarded.
Life is never static and mercifully we mortals were not only meant to adjust to the changes placed before us but are destined to thrive from them. Jungian analyst Erich Neumann states the myth of Cupid and Psyche shows by moral example “how a mutable person matures within the social constructs of family and marriage.” Mutability is a word which gauges a person’s responsiveness to change overall.
Upon becoming divine and sprouting her own set of wings, the goddess Psyche became forever associated with the creature who in the natural world experiences the process of metamorphosis – a period of extreme change where life is begun as larva and alters with the animal transforming into one of the most visually colorful of creatures by becoming a butterfly.
Wondrously, the name of Psyche invokes the power of change by not only referencing the natural world through the mutable abilities of the butterfly, the name of the mortal girl who became divine is also meant to inspire each of us as human beings since the name of Psyche when applied in mortal terms means “Soul”.
Considering each of us has a soul, not only do human beings bear the potential of ascending above our naturally born station in life, our souls allow us to connect to that which is divine by giving we mortals the internal potential to be the heroes and heroines each of us truly are from within.
All thanks to the winged goddess of the Soul, Psyche.
With that in mind your Author shall leave you with a quote said by the person who not only resurrected interest in the epic tale of Cupid and Psyche but in ancient mythology overall – the author recognized as the “greatest woman classicist“, Edith Hamilton:
May the union of the immortals of Love inspire each of us to attain greatness by tapping into the power of our own sense of self.
*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.