Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Cupid and Psyche

Cupid and Psyche

We have a version from Apuleius from the 2nd century ad. There’s no known source for the love/soul allegory. Is this a folktale conglomeration? We do get the curiosity motif, the evil stepmother/mother-in-law, the helping animals, etc.

Psyche was so beautiful that Venus perceived her as a threat, so her son Cupid was sent to make Psyche love a debased creature. Psyche’s father consulted the oracle and learned that Psyche would marry a winged serpent. Psyche had to go to the mountaintop to await the deathly marriage. Her procession was funereal.

A breeze magically swept her into a flowery valley. She wandered to a golden palace where invisible hands undressed, washed, anointed, and redressed her. Food appeared magically, and song, and she was tended to by invisible servants. That night her invisible unknown husband came to her, and he left before daylight.

Psyche was allowed to see her sisters but not her husband. She reported to them that her husband was a young hunter and they became jealous.

Psyche became pregnant. If she kept the husband’s secret the kid would be a god; if not, mortal. The next time the sisters visited Psyche said that her husband was a middle-aged merchant. The sister knew something was up, so they convinced her she had married a fiendish reptile and that she must bring a lamp and a knife to bed the next time.

Psyche revealed Cupid with the lamp, and he flew into the air. She tried to drown herself in grief but her suicide attempt failed. She told each of her sisters that Cupid wanted each of them in her place as wife. Each of them jumped off the cliff shouting, “Here I come, Cupid!” and fell onto the rocks.

Venus tracked Psyche down and tore at her while Anxiety and Sadness whipped her. Then Venus assigned tasks: Psyche had to sort out a mountain of wheat, barley, lentils, poppy seeds, etc. (but ants came and helped); she had to bring wool from vicious sheep; collect cold water in a jar from a cascade guarded by dragons (an eagle helped); and fetch a bit of beauty in a box from Proserpina in the underworld. For this last, instead of killing herself, she went down a vent hole. She had a coin for Charon and sops (bread soaked in honey water) for Cerberus, but she was instructed not to look in the box. Naturally she did and fell into a fatal sleep. Cupid was able to revive her.

The council of gods convinced Venus that it would be good for Cupid to settle down. So Psyche was made immortal. The two married and their child was called Pleasure. They lived happily ever after, although that’s difficult to believe with the brat around.