from Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine: A Commentary on the Tale by Apuleius by Erich Neumann
In a certain city there once lived a king and queen. They had three daughters very fair to view. But whereas it was thought that the charms of the two eldest, great as they were, could yet be worthily celebrated by mortal praise, the youngest daughter was so strangely and wonderfully fair that human speech was all too poor to describe her beauty, or even to tell of its praise. Many of the citizens and multitudes of strangers were drawn to the town in eager crowds by the fame of so marvelous a sight and were struck dumb at the sight of such unapproachable loveliness, so that, raising their right hands to their lips, with thumb erect and the first finger laid to its base, they worshiped her with prayers of adoration as though she were the goddess Venus herself. And now the fame had gone abroad, through all the neighboring towns and all the country round about, that the goddess, who sprang from the blue deep of the sea and was born of the spray of the foaming waves, had deigned to manifest her godhead to all the world and was dwelling among earthly folk; or, if that was not so, it was certain, they said, that heaven had rained fresh procreative dew, and earth, not sea, had brought forth as a flower a second Venus in all the glory of her maidenhood.
This new belief increased each day, until it knew no bounds. The fame thereof had already spread abroad to the nearest islands and had traversed many a province and a great portion of the earth. And now many a mortal journeyed from far and sailed over the great deeps of the ocean, flocking to see the wonder and glory of the age. Now no man sailed to Paphos or Cnidos, or even to Cythera, That they might behold the goddess Venus; her rites were put aside, her temples fell to ruin, her sacred couches were disregarded, her ceremonies neglected, her images uncrowned, her alters desolate and foul with fireless ashes. It was to a girl men prayed, and it was in the worship of mortal beauty that they sought to appease the great goddess. When the maid went forth at morning, men propitiated the name of Venus with feast and sacrifice, though Venus was not there; and as the maid moved through the streets, multitudes prayed to her and offered flowers woven in garlands or scattered loose at will.
But the true Venus was exceedingly angry that divine honors should be transferred thus extravagantly to the worship of a mortal maid. She could bear her fury no longer, her head shook, a deep groan burst from her lips, and thus she spoke with herself: “Behold, I the first parent of created things, the primal source of all elements; behold, I Venus, the kindly mother of all the world, must share my majesty and honor with a mortal maid, and my name that dwells in the heavens is dragged through the earthly muck. Shall I endure the doubt cast by this vicarious adoration? Shall a girl that is doomed to die parade in my likeness? It was in vain the shepherd, on whose impartial justice Jove set the seal of his approval, preferred me over such mighty goddesses for my surpassing beauty. But this girl, whoever she be, that has usurped my honors shall have no joy thereof. I will make her repent of her beauty, even her unlawful loveliness.”
Straightway she summoned her winged headstrong boy, scorner of law and order, who, armed with arrows and torch aflame, speeds through others’ homes by night, saps the ties of wedlock, and all unpunished commits hideous crime and uses all his power for ill. Him then, though wantonness and lust are his by birth, she fired still further by her words, and leading him to that city showed him Psyche - for so the maid was called - face to face. Then, groaning at the far-flown renown of her fair rival, her utterance broken with indignation, she cried: “I implore you by all the bonds of love that bind you to her that bore you, by the sweet wounds your arrows deal and by the honeyed smart of your fires, avenge your mother, yes, avenge her to the full and sternly punish this rebellious beauty. But this, this only, this beyond all else I would have you do and do with a will. Cause the maid to be consumed with passion for the vilest of men, for one whom Fortune has condemned to have neither health, nor wealth, nor honor, one so broken that through all the world his misery has no peer.”
So spoke she, and with parted lips kissed her son long and fervently. Then she returned to the shore hard by, where the sea ebbs and flows, and trading with rosy feet the topmost foam of the quivering waves, plunged down to the deep’s dry floor. The sea gods tarried not to do her service. It was as though she had long since commanded their presence, though in truth she had but just formed the wish. The daughters of Nereus came singing in harmony, Neptune, also called Portunus, came with bristling head of azure, his wife Salacia with fish-teeming womb, and their babe Palaemon, rider of the dolphin. Now far and wide hosts of Tritons came plunging through the seas; one blew a soft blast from his echoing shell, another with a silken awning shaded her head from the fierce heat of the sun, a third held up a mirror before her mistress’s eyes, while others swam yoked beneath her car. Such was the host that escorted Venus, as she went on her way to the halls of ocean.
Meanwhile Psyche, for all her manifest beauty, had no joy of her loveliness. All men gazed upon her, yet never a king nor prince nor even a lover from the common folk came forward desirous to claim her hand in marriage. Men marveled at her divine loveliness, but as men marvel at a statue fairly wrought. Long since, her elder sisters, whose beauty was but ordinary and had never been praised through all the world, had been betrothed to kings who came to woo, and they had become happy brides. But Psyche sat at home an unwedded maid and, sick of body and broken in spirit, bewailed her loneliness and solitude, loathing in her heart the loveliness that had charmed so many nations. Wherefore the father of the hapless girl was seized with great grief; suspecting the anger of heaven and fearing the wrath of the gods, he inquired of the most ardent oracle of the Milesian god, and with prayer and burnt offering besought the mighty deity to send a husband to wed the maid whom none had wooed.
Apollo, though an Ionian and a Greek, in order not to embarrass the author of this Milesian tale delivered his oracle in Latin as follows:
On some high crag, O king, set forth the maid,
In all the pomp of funeral robes arrayed.
Hope for no bridegroom born of mortal seed,
But fierce and wild and of the dragon breed.
He swoops all-conquering, born on airy wing,
With fire and sword he makes his harvesting;
Trembles before him Jove, whom the gods do dread,
And quakes the darksome river of the dead.
The king, once so happy, on hearing the pronouncement of the sacred oracle returned home in sorrow and distress and set forth to his wife the things ordained in that ill-starred oracle. They mourned and wept and lamented for many days. But at last the time drew near for the loathsome performance of that cruel ordinance. The unhappy maid was arrayed for her ghastly bridal, the torches’ flame burned low, clogged with dark soot and ash, the strains of the flute of wedlock were changed to the melancholy Lydian mode, the glad chant of the hymeneal hymn ended in mournful wailing, and the girl on the eve of marriage wiped away her tears even with her bridal veil. The whole city also joined in weeping the sad fate of the stricken house, and the public grief found expression in an edict suspending all business.
But the commands of heaven must be obeyed, and the unhappy Psyche must go to meet her doom. And so when all the rites of this ghastly bridal had been performed amid deepest grief, the funeral train of the living dead was led forth escorted by all the people. It was not her marriage procession that Psyche followed dissolved in tears, but her own obsequies. Bowed in grief and overwhelmed by their sore calamity, her parents still shrank to perform the hateful deed. But their daughter herself addressed them thus:
Why torment your hapless age with this long weeping? Why with ceaseless wailing weary the life within you, life more near and dear to me than to yourselves? Why with vain tears deform your eyes? Your eyes are mine! Why beat your bosoms and the breasts that suckled me? Lo! what rich recompense you have for my glorious beauty! Too late you perceive that the mortal blow that strikes you down is dealt by wicked Envy. When nations and peoples gave me divine honor, when with one voice they hailed me as a new Venus, then was the time for you to grieve, to weep and mourn me as one dead. Now I perceive, now my eyes are opened. It is the name of Venus and that alone which has brought me to my death. Lead me on and set me on the crag that fate has appointed. I hasten to meet that blest union, I hasten to behold the noble husband that awaits me. Why do I put off and shun his coming? Was he not born to destroy all the world?”
So spoke the maid and then was silent, and with step unwavering mingled in the crowd of folk that followed to do her honor. They climbed a lofty mountain and came to the appointed crag. There they placed the maiden on the topmost peak and all departed from her. The marriage torches, with which they had lit the way before her, were all extinguished by their tears. They left them and with downcast heads prepared to return home. As for her hapless parents, crushed by the weight of their calamity, they shut themselves within their house of gloom and gave themselves over to perpetual night. Psyche meanwhile sat trembling and afraid upon the very summit of the crag and wept, when suddenly a soft air from the breathing West made her raiment wave and blew out the tunic of her bosom, then gradually raised her and, bearing her slowly on its quiet breath down the slopes of that high cliff, let her fall gently down and laid her on the flowery sward in the bosom of a deep vale.
Psyche lay sweetly reclined in that soft grassy place on a couch of herbage fresh with dew. Her wild anguish of spirit was assuaged and she fell softly asleep. When she had slumbered enough and was refreshed, she rose to her feet. The tempest had passed from her soul. She beheld a grove of huge and lofty trees, she beheld a transparent fountain of glassy water. In the very heart of the grove beside the gliding stream there stood a palace, built by no human hands but by the cunning of a god. You will perceive, as soon as I have taken you within, that it is the pleasant and luxurious dwelling of some deity that I present to your gaze. For the fretted roof on high was curiously carved of sandalwood and ivory, and the columns that upheld it were of gold. All the walls were covered with wild beasts and creatures of the field, wrought in chased silver, and confronting the gaze of those who entered. Truly it must be some demigod, or rather in very truth a god, that had power by the subtlety of his matchless skill to put such wild life into silver. The pavement was of precious stones cut small and patterned with images of many kinds. Most surely, yes, again and yet again I say it, blessed are those whose feet tread upon gems and jewels. The rest of the house through all its length and breadth was precious beyond price. All the walls were built of solid ingots of gold shone with peculiar splendor, making a daylight of their own within the house, even though the sun should withhold his beams. Such were the lightnings flashed from bed chamber and colonnade and from the very doors themselves. Nor were the riches in the rest of the house unworthy of such splendor. It seemed a heavenly palace built by great Jove that he might dwell with mortal men.
Allured by the charm and beauty of the place, Psyche drew near and, as her confidence increased, crossed the threshold. Soon the delight of gazing on such loveliness drew her on to explore each glory, until at last on the farther side of the house she beheld a lofty chamber piled high with countless treasure. Nothing may be found in all the world that was not there. But wondrous as was the sight, when suddenly a bodiless voice spoke to her: “Why, lady,” it said, “are you overwhelmed at the sight of so great wealth? All is yours. Go now to your chamber, refresh your weariness upon your couch, and bathe when it pleases you so to do. We whose voices you her are your servants who will wait upon you diligently and, when you have refreshed your body, will straightway serve you with a royal banquet.”
When she heard these disembodied voices Psyche perceived that their instructions and all the treasure of the palace must be the gift of some god that watched over her. First for a while she slept, then waking, bathed to refresh her weariness. This done, she beheld hard by a couch shaped like a half-moon, and deeming from the dinner served spread beside it that it was meant for her refreshment, gladly lay down. Forthwith she was served with wine like nectar and many a delicious dish. Still no one waited on her, but all things seemed wafted to her as it were by some wind. Neither could she see any person, she only heard words that fell from the air, and none save voices were her servants. After she had feasted thus daintily, one whom she could not see entered and sang to her, while another struck the lyre, though never a lyre was to be seen. Then the harmony of a multitude of musicians was borne to her ears, so that she knew that a choir was there, though none was visible. These delights over, Psyche went to her bed, for the hour was late.
Now when night was well advanced a soft sound came to her ears. She trembled for her honor, seeing that she was all alone; she shook for terror, and her fear of the unknown surpassed by far the fear of any peril that ever she had conceived. At length her unknown husband came and climbed the couch, made Psyche his bride, and departed in haste before the dawn. And forthwith the voices came to her chamber and served all her needs. So for a long time her life passed by, till at length, as nature ordains, what seemed strange at first by force of continued habit became a delight, and the sound of the voices cheered her loneliness and perplexity.
Meanwhile her parents grew old and feeble by reason of the tireless torment of their grief. The news of it was noised abroad and the elder sisters learned all that had befallen. Then grief and mourning straightway fell upon them, they left their homes and vied with one another in their haste to have sight and speech of their parents once again.
Now that very night Psyche’s husband thus addressed her - for though she saw not her unknown spouse, her hands had felt them, and her ears could hear him:
“Sweet Psyche, my beloved wife, Fortune is turned cruel and threatens you with deadly peril. Watch, be most cautious and beware. Your sisters believe you dead and are distraught with grief. But if you should chance to hear their lamentations, answer them not, do not even look forth from the house, or you will drive me to bitter woe and yourself to utter destruction.”
Psyche assented and promised she would do as her husband willed. But when he left her with the passing of night, the poor girl burst into weeping and consumed the whole day in tears and lamentation, crying that now in truth she was utterly undone; for she was kept a close captive within the walls of her luxurious prison and deprived of all human conversation. She might not even bring consolation to her sisters, who mourned her loss, nor even so much as set eyes on them. She would take no refreshment, she neither bathed nor ate but, weeping floods of tears, retired to sleep. After a little her husband came to her side somewhat earlier than his wont, caught her still weeping to his arms and thus upbraided her:
“Was this your promise, my sweet Psyche? What can I, your husband, now hope or expect of you? Night and day you cease not from your anguish, not even when your husband clasps you to his heart. Come, now, be it as you will! Obey your heart, though its craving bring you nothing but harm. Only remember, when later you repent, that I warned you in good earnest.”
But Psyche, when she heard these words, broke into entreaties, then threatened that she would slay herself, and at last prevailed upon her husband to grant her desire, that she might see her sisters, soothe their sorrows, and have speech with them. He yielded to the prayers of his new-wed bride, and further gave leave to present her sisters with what she would of gold or jewels. But he warned her again and again, with words that struck terror to the soul, never to let her sisters persuade her by their ill counsels to inquire what her husband was like; if she yielded to the impious promptings of curiosity, she would exile herself forever from his embraces and from all the profusion of wealth that now was hers. She thanked her husband, and her soul was somewhat cheered. Then she said: “Sooner would I die a hundred deaths than be robbed of your sweet love. For whoever you are, I love you and adore you passionately. I love you as I love life itself. Compared with you Cupid’s own self would be as nothing. But grant this boon also, I beseech you, and bid your servant the wind of the West, to bring my sisters hither even as bore me.”
Then she rained on him beguiling kisses and endearing words and embraces that should constrain him to her will, and beside these allurements called him “husband sweet as honey, Psyche’s life and love.” Her husband yielded to the power and spell of her passionate murmurs, yielded against his will, and promised to do all; and then, as dawn drew near, he vanished from his wife’s arms.
Meanwhile her sisters had made inquiry as to the situation of the crag where Psyche had been left, and they hastened to the spot. And when they were there, they began to beat their breasts and weep their eyes blind, until all the rocks and cliffs made answer, echoing to their ceaseless cries of grief. And now they began to call on their unhappy sister by name, till the piercing sound of their lamentable crying descended into the valley, and Psyche ran forth from the house in an ecstasy of trembling joy. “Why do you torment yourselves with these vain cries of woe?” she cried. “I whom you mourn am here. Cease your mournful cries and dry those cheeks that so long have streamed with tears, for even now you may embrace her whom you bewailed.” Then, calling the West Wind, she told him of her husband’s command, and he did at once as he was bidden and bore them down into the valley safe and sound on the wings of his soft breath. There the sisters embraced with eager kisses and took delight of one another, till the tears that they had dried welled forth again for very joy.
Then said Psyche: “Come now, enter with joy the house that is my house and refresh your afflicted hearts with the presence of your own Psyche.” So saying, she showed them all the riches of the golden house and made known to their ears the great household of voices that waited on her. Then she refreshed their weariness in the fairest of baths and with all the rich dainties of that celestial table till, their senses sated with the affluence of her heavenly wealth, they began to foster envy deep in their inmost hearts. At length on of them began to question her without ceasing, very closely and curiously, as to who was the lord of these celestial marvels, and who or of what sort was her husband. Nevertheless, Psyche would in no wise transgress her husband’s ordinance or banish it from the secret places of her soul, but on the spur of the moment feigned that he was young and fair to view, his cheeks just shadowed with a beard of down, and that he was for the most part occupied with hunting among the mountains or along the countryside. The, for fear that as their talk went on she might make some slip and betray her secret, she loaded them with gifts of wrought gold and jeweled necklaces and, calling the West Wind, committed them to his charge, to be carried back to the place from whence they came.
This done, those good sisters of hers returned home, and the gall of rising envy burned fierce within them, and they began to talk with one another often and loud and angrily. At last one of them spoke as follows: “Oh! cruel and unkind, unprofitable Fortune! Was this thy will that we, born of the same parents as Psyche, should endure so different a lot? Are we, the elder, who have been given alien king to be their handmaidens and banished from our home and country, to dwell like exiles far from our parents? And is she, the youngest, the last offspring of our mother’s weary womb, to be the mistress of such treasure and have a god for husband? Why, she has not even the wit to know how to use such overflowing fortune rightly. Did you see, sister, how many and how rich are the jewels that lie in her house, what shining raiment and what glistening gems are there, and how wherever one goes one walks on gold, abundant gold? Why, if she has a husband as fair as she told us, there lives no happier woman in all the world. Woman, did I say? It may be that his love increases, and his passion gathers its full force, the god whom she has wedded will also make her a goddess. In good truth she is a goddess already; such was her carriage, such her mien. The woman who has voices for handmaids, and can command even the winds, is aiming high and breathes a goddess’s pride even now. Whereas I, poor wretch, have got a husband older than my father, balder than a pumpkin, and feebler than any child, and he keeps the whole house under lock and key.”
The other took up the strain: “I am afflicted by a husband so doubled and bent with rheumatism that he never gives a thought to love. I have to rub his gnarled and stony fingers till my soft hands are blistered with his dirty bandages, and stinking lotion, and filthy plasters. I am more than an attentive wife, I am a hard-worked sick-nurse. You may bear your misfortunes with patience, or rather - for I will speak my mind plainly - with servility. As for me, I cannot any longer endure that such wealth and fortune should have fallen to one so unworthy. Remember with what pride and arrogance she dealt with us, with what boastful and extravagant ostentation she revealed her haughty temper! How scanty were the gifts she gave us from the vastness of her store, and how grudgingly she gave! And then, when she was tired of our presence, she had us bundled off and blown away upon a whistling breeze. If I am a woman and have a spark of life in me, I’ll oust her from her fortune. And if, as I should suppose, our outrageous treatment rankles in your heart as it does mine, let us both take resolute action. Let us not reveal our wrong to our parents or any other human being; let us not even seem to know anything of how she fares. It is enough that we have seen what we would gladly not have seen, without our declaring such glad news of her to our parents and all mankind. Those are not truly rich whose wealth is known to no man. She shall learn that we are her elder sisters and not her handmaids. But now let us go to our husbands and revisit our homes, which, even if they are poor, are at least respectable. Then, when we have taken earnest thought and formed our plans, let us return in our might to crush her pride.”
This counsel of evil, where good should have been, pleased these wicked women. They hid all the precious gifts they had received and began with feigned grief to weep once more, rending their hair and tearing their faces, as indeed they deserved to be torn. Then, after hastily deterring their parents from further search by rekindling the burning anguish of their grief, they went swollen with mad rage to their own homes, there to contrive their wicked schemes against their innocent sister, yes, even to devise her death.
Meanwhile Psyche’s unknown husband once more admonished her as he talked with her in the darkness of night: “Do you see,” he said, “what great peril you are in? Fortune as yet but skirmishes at the outposts. Unless you are firm and cautious while she is yet far off, she will close hand to hand. Those false she-wolves are weaving some deep plot of sin against you, whose purpose is this: to persuade you to seek to know my face, which, as I have told you, if once you see, you will see no more. And so if hereafter those wicked ghouls come hither armed with their dark designs - and they will come, that I know - speak not at all with them, or if your simple, unsuspecting soul is too tender to endure that, at least neither give ear nor utterance to anything concerning your husband. For soon we shall have issue, and even now your womb, a child’s as yet, bears a child like to you. If you keep my secret in silence, he shall be a god; if you divulge it, a mortal.”
This news made Psyche glad; she lifted her head and rejoiced that she should be blest with a divine child. She exulted in the glory of the babe that should be, and was proud that she should be called a mother. Anxiously she counted the days as they increased and the months that passed by, and marveled as the promise grew. But now those two curses, those foul furies breathing adder’s poison, hastened toward their goal and came sailing on their course with impious speed. Then her husband, who came not save for the brief space of night, warned Psyche once again: “The last day, the final peril is upon you; those hateful women, you kin and yet your foes, have put their armor on, have struck their camp, set the battle in array, and blown the trumpet blast; your monstrous sisters have drawn the sword and seek your life. Alas! sweetest Psyche, what calamities are upon us! Pity yourself and me, keep holy silence and save your house, your husband, yourself, and our young babe from the doom of ruin that lowers over them. Neither see nor hear those wicked women - sisters I may not call them - for they have conceived unnatural hate for you and have trodden underfoot the bonds of blood. Oh! take no heed when, like the Sirens, they stand forth upon the crag and make the cliffs echo with their fatal voices.”
Psyche replied, her voice broken with tearful sobs: “Long since, I think, you have had proof of my fidelity and discretion. Not less, even now, will I show how steadfast is my soul. Only once more bid our servant the West Wind to perform his office. You have denied me sight of your holy form, grant me at least that I may see my sisters. By your locks that hang all round your brow, sweet as scent of cinnamon, by the soft delicate cheeks so like mine, by your bosom that burns with strange heat, I implore you, by my hopes that at east I may behold your face in the face of our babe, I beseech you, grant the pious prayer of my anguished entreaty, suffer me to enjoy the embraces of my sisters, and make the soul of Psyche, you votary, take new life for joy. I seek no more to see your face; not even the dark of night can be a hindrance to my joy, for I hold you in my arms, light of my life.” With these words and soft embraces she charmed her husband to her will. Wiping away her tears with his own locks, he promised he would do as she desired and straightway departed before the light of dawning day.
The leagued conspirators, the two sisters, did not so much as set eyes
on their parents but hastened with headlong speed to the crag. They
tarried not for the coming of the wind that should bear them, but with
presumptuous daring leapt forth into the abyss. But the West Wind
forgot not the bidding of his king, though he had gladly done so, and caught
them to the bosom of his breathing air and set them down upon the ground.
They made no delay, but entered the house side by side; and there they
that were Psyche’s sisters only in name embraced their prey and, hiding
beneath a cheerful mien the guile that was stored within their hearts as
if it had been a treasure, spoke to her with these fawning words: “Psyche,
you are no longer a child, no, you are even now a mother. Think what
a joy to us you bear in your womb, with what delight you will make glad
all our home. Ah! babe, who if he match, as match he should, his
parents’ beauty, will be born a very Cupid.”
Thus step by step with feigned love they wormed their way into their sister’s heart. And straightway, when she had bidden them sit down, and had refreshed them from the weariness of their journey, and cheered them with steaming water at the bath, she fested them royally in her banqueting hall on all those wondrous dainties and savory stews. She bade the harp sound, and its chords made melody; she bade the flute play, and its voice was heard; she bade the choir sing, and their chant pealed forth. The hearts of those who heard were made glad by all this ravishing music, although they saw no one. But yet not even the honeyed sweetness of those strains could allay the wicked purpose of those accursed women. They turned their speech to frame the snare that their guile had made ready, and with false words began to ask her what her husband was like, what was his family, what his rank. Then Psyche, in the utter simplicity of her heart, forgot her former tale and devised a new falsehood, and said that her husband came from the next province, had vast sums invested in business, and was middle-aged, his hair just grizzled with a few gray hairs. She spoke only for a moment on this matter and then, loading her sisters once more with costly gifts, sent them away in the chariot of the wind.
But, when the soft breath of the West had lifted them on high, and they were returning homeward, they began to speak thus one to the other: “What are we to say, sister, of so monstrous a falsehood as that which the poor fool told us? The first time her husband was a youth with manhood’s first down upon his chin; now he is middle-aged in all the glory of white hairs. Who can he be whom so short a space of time has thus transformed into an old man? My sister, there are but two alternative. Either the wretch lies, or else she does not know what her husband is like. Whichever of these explanations is true, it is our duty to cast her forth from that wealth of hers as soon as we may. But if she has never seen her husband’s face, clearly she has married a god, and it is a god that she bears in her womb. Now, if she come to be called the mother of a baby god - which heaven forbid! - I will get a noose and hang myself. Meanwhile, let us return home to our parents and devise some cunning deceit such as may suit our present discourse.”
So hot with anger were they that they had scarcely a word of greeting for their parents and passed a sleepless and disturbed night. On the morrow these abandoned women hastened to the crag and swooped swiftly down as before under the protection of the wind. The forcing a few tears from their eyes by rubbing their lids, they addressed their young sister with these crafty words: “Ah! you are happy, for you live in blessed ignorance of your evil plight and have no suspicion of your peril. But we cannot sleep for the care with which we watch over your happiness and are torn with anguish for your misfortunes. For we have learned the truth, and, since, we are partners of your grief and hapless plight, we may not hide it from you. He that lies secretly by your side at night is a huge serpent with a thousand tangled coils; blood and deadly poison drip from his throat and from the cavernous horror of his gaping maw. Remember Apollo’s oracle, how it proclaimed that you should be the bride of some fierce beast. Moreover, many a farmer, many a hunter of this neighborhood, and many of those who dwell round about have seen him in the shadows of the river. And all affirm that you will not much longer feast on such dainties or receive such loving service, but so soon as your time has come, he will devour you with the ripe fruit of your womb. The hour has now come when you must choose whether to believe your sisters, whose sole care is for your dear safety, to flee from death and live with us, free from all thought of peril, or find a grave in the entrails of a cruel monster. If the musical solitude of this fair landscape, if the joys of your secret love still delight you, and you are content to lie in the embraces of a foul and venomous snake, at least we, your loving sisters, have done our duty.”
Poor Psyche, for she was a simple and gentle soul, was seized with terror at this melancholy news; she was swept beyond the bounds of reason, forgot all her husband’s warnings and all her own promises. Headlong she fell into the deeps of woe, her limbs trembled, her face turned pale and bloodless, and in stumbling accents she stammered forth these scarcely articulate words: “Dearest sisters,” she said, “you are true to your love for me, as fitting. And I think that those who told you these things are not lying. For never have I seen my husband’s face nor known all whence he comes. Only at night I hear soft murmured words and endure the embraces of a husband who shuns the light and whose shape I know not. You say well that he is some strange beast, and I accept your words. For ever with stern speech he terrifies me from seeking to have sight of him, and threatens great woe to me should I strive curiously to look upon his face. Now, therefore, help me, if there be any succor you may bring to your sister in her hour of peril. For you will undo all your former good deeds, if you allow indifference to usurp the place of love.”
Then since they had reached their sister’s inmost heart and laid it bare to view, and its portals stood open wide, those evil women abandoned the secret stealth of their dark scheming, unsheathed the swords of guile, and invaded the timorous thoughts of the simple-hearted girl. Then one of them said: “Since the ties of birth bid us disregard all peril, if only we may save you, we will make known to you the course that long thought has revealed to us, the sole path that leads to safety. Take the sharpest of razors and whet it yet sharper by rubbing it softly against the palm of your hand, then hide it on the side of your couch where you are accustomed to lie. Take too some handy lantern, filled with oil and burning with a clear light, and place it beneath the cover of some vessel. Conceal all these preparations most carefully, and then, when he enters, trailing his moving coils, and climbs to his couch as is his custom, wait till he is stretched at full length and caught in the stupor of his first sleep, and his breathing tells you that his slumber is deep; then glide from the bed and barefoot, on tiptoe, moving soft with tiny steps, free the lantern from its prison in the blind dark. Let the light teach you how best to perform your glorious deed, then raise your right hand, put forth all your strength, and with the two-edged blade hew through the joint that knits the head and neck of the deadly serpent. Our aid shall not fail you. As soon as you have won safety by his death, we will hasten eagerly to your side, join hands with yours to bear away all your treasure, find you a wedlock worthy of your prayers, and unite you to a husband as human as yourself.”
With these words they inflamed their sister’s burning heart - for in truth her heart was all afire - and then left her, for they feared exceedingly to remain on the spot where so great a crime was to be done. As before, they were borne to the crag’s top by the blast of the winged breeze, sped away in hasty flight, entered their ships, and departed.
Psyche was left alone - and yet she was not all alone, for the fierce furies that vexed her soul were ever with her. She tossed to and fro upon a tide of troubles vast as the sea. Her resolve was made and her heart fixed, yet as she stove to nerve her hands for the deed, her purpose failed her and was shaken, and she was distraught by the host of passions that were born of her anguish. Impatience, indecision, daring and terror, diffidence and anger, all stove within her, and, worst of all, in the same body she hated the beast and loved the husband. Yet as evening began to draw on to night, with precipitate haste she made all ready for her hideous crime. Now night was come and with it her husband; he caught her in his arms, kissed her, and sank into a deep sleep.
The Psyche - for though flesh and spirit were weak and trembled, yet the fierce will of destiny gave her force - summoned all her strength, drew forth the lantern, and seized the razor; a sudden courage displaced the weakness of her sex. But as soon as the lamplight revealed the secrets of the couch, she saw the kindest and sweetest of all wild beasts, Amor himself, fairest of the gods and fair even in sleep, so that even the flame of the lamp, when it beheld him, burned brighter for joy, and lightnings flashed from the razor’s sacrilegious blade. But Psyche at the marvel of that sight was all dismayed, her soul was distraught, a sickly pallor came over her, fainting and trembling she sank to her knees and sought to hide the blade in her own heart. And this she would assuredly have done, had not the steel slipped from her rash hands for terror of so ill a deed. Weary and desperate, fallen from her health of mind and body, she gazed again and again upon the beauty of that divine face and her soul drew joy and strength. She beheld the glorious hair of his curling locks that strayed over his snow-white neck and crimson cheeks, some caught in a comely tangle, some hanging down in front, others behind; and and before the lightnings of their exceeding splendor even the light of the lamp grew weak and faint. From the shoulders of the winged god sprang dewy pinions, shining like white flowers, and the topmost feathers, so soft and delicate were they, quivered tremulously in a restless dance, though all the rest were still. His body was smooth and very lovely and such as Venus might be proud to have bourne. Before the feet of the god lay bow, quiver, and arrows, the kindly weapons of the great god. Psyche gazed on them with insatiate heart and burning curiosity, took them in her hands, and marveled at her husband’s armory. Then, taking an arrow from the quiver, she tried its point against her thumb. But her hand trembled and pressed too hard upon it, till the point pricked too deep and tiny blood-drops bedewed the surface of her skin. So all unwitting, yet of her own doing, Psyche fell in love with Love. Then, as her passion for passion’s lord burned her ever more and more, she cast herself upon him in an ecstasy of love, heaped a wanton kiss on kiss with thirsty hastening lips, till she feared he might awake.
But even as her swooning spirit wavered in the ecstasy of such bliss, the lamp, whether foul falseness or guilty envy moved it, or whether it longed itself to touch and kiss so fair a body, sputtered forth from the top of its flame a drop of burning oil, which fell upon the god’s right shoulder. Ah! rash, overbold lamp! Love’s unworthy servant, thou burnest the very lord of fire, although surely thou dost owe thy being to some lover who devised thee that even by night he might have all his desire. For the god, when he felt the burning smart, leapt from the couch and, seeing his secret thus foully betrayed, tore himself from the kisses and embraces of his unhappy bride and flew away with never a word. But poor Psyche, even as he rose, caught hold of his right leg with both her hands, clung to him as he soared on high, and would not leave him, but followed him for the last time as he swept through the clouds of air, till at last overwearied she fell to earth.
But the god her lover left not her lying thus on earth, but flew to a cypress hard by, and from its lofty top spoke to her thus in accents of woe: “Ah! Psyche, simple-hearted, I forgot the commands of my mother Venus, who bade me fire you with passion for some miserable abject man and yoke you in wedlock to him, and myself flew to your side that I might be your lover in this place. But this I did thoughtlessly, as now I know. For I, the far-famed archer, wounded myself with my own shafts, and made you my bride to win this reward - that you should think me a wild beast, and plot to hew off my head with blade of steel, that head where dwell these eyes that love you so dearly. Again and again I bade you beware of all that you have done, and in my love forewarned you. But those admirable women, your counselors, shall forthwith pat the penalty for their disastrous admonitions; you I will only punish thus - by flying from you.” And with these words he spread his pinions and soared into the sky.
But Psyche, though she lay bowed to the earth, followed her husband’s flight as far as sight could reach and tormented her soul with lamentation. When the beat of his wings had borne him far, and the depth of air had snatched him from her sight, she flung herself headlong from the brink of a river that flowed hard by. But the kindly stream feared for himself, and, to do honor to the god who kindles even waters with his fire, straightway caught her in his current and laid her unhurt upon a bank deep in flowering herbage. It chanced that at that moment Pan, the god of the countryside, sat on the river’s brow with Echo, the mountain goddess, in his arms, teaching her to make melodious answer to sounds of every kind. Close by along the bank, goats wandered as they browsed and played wantonly as they plucked the river’s leafage. The goat-footed god called Psyche to him gently, for she was bruised and swooning, and he knew moreover what had befallen her; and he assuaged her pain with these gentle words:
“Fair maiden, I am but a rude rustic shepherd, but long old age and ripe experience have taught me much. If I guess rightly (though men that are wise call it no guess, but rather divination), your weak and tottering steps, your body’s exceeding pallor, your unceasing sighs, and still more your mournful eyes, tell me that you are faint from excess of love. Wherefore give ear to me and seek no more to slay yourself by casting yourself headlong down, nor by any manner of self-slaughter. Cease from your grief and lay aside your sorrow, and rather address Amor, the mightiest of gods, with fervent prayer and win him by tender submission, for he is an amorous and soft-hearted youth.”
So spake the shepherd god. Psyche made no answer, but worshiped the deity that had showed her the path of safety and went upon her way. When she had wandered no small way with weary feet, about close of day she came by a path she knew not to a certain town, where the husband of one of her sisters held sway. When she learned this, Psyche begged that her presence might be announced to her sister. She was led into the palace and there, when they had made an end of greeting and embracing one another, her sister asked her the reason of her coming. Psyche made answer thus: “You remember the counsel you gave me, when you urged me to take a two-edged razor and slay the wild beast that lay with me under the false name of a husband, before my wretched body fell victim to his voracious maw. But as soon as I took the lamp for my witness - for such, alas! was your counsel - and looked upon his face, I saw a wondrous, a celestial sight, the son of Venus, Amor himself, lying hushed in gentle slumber. Transported by the sight of so much joy, and distraught by my great gladness, my ecstasy was almost more than I could endure. But at that moment, by a cruel stroke of chance, the lamp spurted forth a drop of burning oil, which fell upon his shoulder. The pain wakened him from sleep, he saw me armed with fire and blade of steel and cried, ‘In atonement for the foul crime you have purposed, be gone from my couch and take with you what is yours. I will marry your sister’ - and he mentioned your name - ‘with all due ritual.’ So saying, he bade the West Wind blow me beyond the confines of the house.”
Psyche had scarcely finished when her sister, goaded by the strings of mad lust and guilty envy, tricked her husband with a cunningly contrived lie, pretending that she had just received the news of her parents’ death, and without more ado took ship and went to that same crag. And there, though it was no wind of the West that blew, yet, aflame with all the greed of blind hope, she cried: “Take me, Amor, a wife that is worthy of thee, and thou, wind of the West, bear up thy mistress.” So saying, she hurled herself headlong in one mighty leap. But not even in death might she reach that happy place. For her limbs were tossed from rock to rock among the crags and torn asunder, and afterwards, as she devoured her entrails. Such was the manner of her end.
Nor was the doom of Amor’s second vengeance long delayed. For Psyche once more was led by her wandering feet to another city, where the other sister dwelt, as has dwelt the first. And like the first, she was too ensnared by Psyche’s guile and, seeking in wicked rivalry to supplant her sister as the bride of Love, hastened to the crag and perished by the same death.
Meanwhile, as Psyche wandered in search of Amor from people to people, he lay in his mother’s chamber groaning for the pain of the wound that the lamp had dealt him. Then that white bird, the sea mew that swims over the surface of the waves oared by its wings, hastily plunged into the deep bosom of Ocean. There he found Venus, as she was bathing and swimming, and taking his stand by her told her that her son had been burned, that he was full of anguish at the wound’s great pain and lay in peril of his life. Further he told her that the whole household of Venus had been brought into evil repute, and suffered all manner of railing, “because,” said the bird, “both thou and he have retired from the world, he to revel with a harlot in the mountains, and thou, goddess, to swim the sea. And so there has been no pleasure, no joy, no merriment anywhere, but all things lie in rude unkempt neglect; wedlock and true friendship and parents’ love for their children have vanished from the earth; there is one vast disorder, one hateful loathing and foul disregard of all bonds of love.” Such were the words with which that garrulous and most inquisitive bird, as he chattered into Venus’ ear, lacerated the reputation of her son. Venus was filled with anger and cried with a sudden cry: “And so that good son of mine has got a mistress! Come tell me, bird, my only faithful servant, what is the name of this woman who has thus distracted my son, a simple boy not yet promoted to the garb of manhood? Tell me, is it one of the Nymphs or Hours? Or is it one of the Muses’ choir, or one of my own attendant Graces?”
The loquacious bird had no though of silence. “Mistress,” he replied, “I know not who she is. I think, however, if my remembrance does not play me false, that he was head over ears in love with a girl called Psyche.” Then Venus in her indignation cried yet louder still: “What! he loves Psyche, the supplanter of my beauty and the rival of my fame! Why, the young scamp must think me his procuress, for it was I who showed him the girl, and it was through me that he came to know her!”
Shrieking such words as these, she emerged from the sea and straightway sought her golden chamber. And finding the boy lying sick even as she had heard, she railed loudly at him as soon as she reached the door of the room: “Truly your behavior is most honorable and worthy of your birth and your own good name, first to trample your mother’s, or rather your queen’s, bidding underfoot, to refuse to torment my enemy with base desires, and then actually to take her to your own wanton embraces, mere boy as you are, so that I must endure my enemy as my daughter-in-law! Oh! you seducer, you worthless boy, you matricidal wretch! You think, no doubt, that you alone can have offspring and that I am too old to bear a child. I would have you know that I will bear a far better son than you have been. No, to give the insult a sharper sting, I will adopt one of my own young slaves, give him your feathers and your flames, your bow and arrows and all the trappings I gave you for use far other than that which you have made of them. For nothing of all that went to make up your accoutrements came from your father’s estate! You have been badly trained from your babyhood until now; you have sharp talons and have often beaten your elders in the most irreverent manner, why, you have robbed your own mother, yes, you rob me daily, you unnatural son! You have often stricken me, you treat me with scorn as being a widow, and show not the least reverence for your stepfather, the greatest and bravest of all warriors. Why, you have even provided him with paramours, because you are angry with my love for him! But I will make you rue those tricks and your marriage shall be as bitter gall in your mouth. But what shall I do now to avenge my mockery? Where shall I turn? How shall I restrain this foul little eft? Shall I seek aide from my foe Sobriety, whom I have so often offended to satisfy his whims? No, I cannot endure the thought of speaking to a creature so rude and unkempt. On the other hand, my vengeance is not to be despised, from whatever source it may come. I will seek her aid and hers alone. She shall punish that ne’er-do-well right soundly, empty his quiver and blunt his arrows, unstring his bow and extinguish the flames of his torch, yes, and apply even sharper remedies to his body itself. Only then shall I feel wrong appeased, when she has clipped his hair close, that hair to which I with my own hands gave its sheen of gold, and when she has shorn away those wings which I steeped in nectar as he lay on my bosom.”
So speaking, she flung out of doors in bitter anger, and ah! how bitter the wrath of Venus can be! But Ceres and Juno straightway met her and, seeing her face thus distorted with passion, asked why she had imprisoned all the charm of her flashing eyes with so fierce a frown. She answered: “It is well you have met me! For my heart is all on fire, and I should have done some violence. But go, I pray you, with all your might seek out that wretch, Psyche, who has made off as if on wings. For you cannot be ignorant of the shame that has befallen my house, nor of the deeds of my unspeakable son.”
Then, although they knew well what had come to pass, they stove to soothe the wrath of Venus. “What great crime,” they asked, “has your son committed that you should denounce his pleasures so fiercely and seek to kill her whom he loves? Even if he has smiled not unwillingly on a charming girl, is that a crime? Don’t you know that he is a man and young? Or have you forgotten the number of his years? Or do you think he must always be a boy merely because he carries his years so fairly? And must you, his mother, a sensible woman too, always be prying curiously into your son’s amusements, blaming him for a wanton, taunting him with his loves, and denouncing your own arts and your own charms that live again in your fair son? Who among the gods and men will permit you to sow passions broadcast among the people of the earth, while you forbid your own household the charms of love, and debar them from all enjoyment of women’s foibles, and enjoyment that is open to all the world?”
Thus the goddesses, in fear of Amor’s arrow, gladly took up his defense
and flattered him even in his absence. But Venus, indignant that
her wrongs should be treated with such ridicule, passed them by and departed
in the opposite direction, seeking the sea with hasty steps.
Meanwhile Psyche wandered hither and thither in restless agitation. Night and day she sought her husband and her heart could not find rest. And more and more she yearned, if the tender blandishments of a wife might not allay his anger, at least to appease him with the prayers of a slave. At last she saw a temple on the crest of a high mountain. “How do I know,” she said, “that my lord may not dwell yonder?” And there she hastened, for hope and desire lent wings to her feet, though they were fainting beneath her for very weariness of her unending toil. And now she had nimbly surmounted the high ridge and entered and approached the sacred couch. There she saw sheaves of wheat piled in a heap or twined into garlands; sheaves too of barely were there, and sickles and all the implements of the reaper’s calling. But all lay at random, confused and uncared for, as though they had been cast idly down by the reapers’ hand in the heat of noon. Psyche separated them all with care and arranged them in order, each in its separate place; for she thought that she ought not to neglect the shrines or ceremonies of any god, but rather appeal to the kindness and pity of all. While she was thus engaged with anxious industry, kindly Ceres came upon her and straightway cried aloud, “Is it you, poor Psyche? Venus in the madness of her heart tracks your steps anxiously through all the world, seeking that she may mete out to you the most cruel of punishments, and eager to avenge her wrong with all the might of her godhead. And yet do you now watch thus over my offerings, and have you thought for your own safety?”
Then Psyche cast herself down on the ground before her, bedewing the goddess’s feet with floods of tears and sweeping the ground with her hair. And with manifold entreaties she besought that she might win pardon. “By thy right hand that bringeth fruit to the earth, by the glad rites of harvest, by the silent mysteries of thy sacred arks, by the winged chariots drawn by the dragons that serve thee, by the furrows of Sicilian fields, by the ravisher’s chariot and the imprisoning earth, by the deep abyss where the lightless wedlock of Proserpine was celebrated, by the joyous return to the light when thou hadst found thy daughter, and by all else that the shrine of Attic Eleusis shrouds in silence, I beseech thee, succor the soul of helpless Psyche, thy suppliant. Suffer me to lie hid, if only for a few short days, amid yonder heap of sheaves, that the wild anger of that mighty goddess may by lapse of time, or at least that I may find a brief space of rest and refreshment for my strength that my long toil hath broken.”
Ceres answered: “Your tearful prayers awaken my pity and I long to aid you, but I may not quarrel with one who is my kinswoman. Moreover, I am bound to her also by old ties of friendship, and she has a good heart after all. And so you must leave my temple without more ado, and count it for the best that I have not kept you here, nor given you my protection.”
This unlooked-for repulse doubled Psyche’s affliction, and she turned back from the temple. As she went she saw in the twilight grove within a deep valley a temple built of cunning workmanship, and since she wished to leave no path to fairer hope untried, however doubtful it might be, but rather to implore the aid of every god, she approached the sacred portals. She saw there precious gifts and cloths embroidered with letters of gold hanging from the boughs of trees or fastened to the doorposts. And all these bore witness to the name of the goddess to whom they had been dedicated in gratitude for boons received at her hand. Then Psyche sank to her knee and, casting her hands about the alter, still warm with sacrifice, wiped away her tears and made her prayer:
“Sister and bride of Jove, whether thou holdest thine ancient home at Samos, which alone hath glory from thy birth, thine infant wailing, and thy nurture; or whether thou hauntest thy rich home in lofty Carthage, that honors thee as the maid that came down from heaven borne on the lion’s back; or rulest thou over the glorious walls of Argos by the banks of Inachus, who proclaims thee bride of the Thunderer and queen of goddesses, thou whom all the East worships as Zygia and all the West hails as Lucina, be thou to me in my great need Juno the Savior, and free me from the fear of imminent peril; for the toils I have endured are great and I am weary. Aye, and i know that, even uncalled, thou aidest mothers in peril when their time is near.”
So prayed she, and forthwith Juno revealed herself to her in all the august majesty of her godhead, and straightway said: “Right gladly, by my honor, I swear it, right gladly I would grant your prayers. But for very shame I may not aid you against the will of Venus, my son’s wife, whom I have ever loved as a daughter. Moreover, I am prevented by the laws forbidding harborage to others’ runaway slaves, save only with their master’s consent.”
This second shipwreck of her fortunes filled Psyche with terror. She had sought her winged husband all in vain and, despairing utterly of safety, thus brooded within herself: “What help now may I seek for the healing of my woes, since even these goddesses, for all their good will, may not lift their voice in my defense? Whither now may I turn, that am caught in so vast a snare? What house, what darkness may hide me safe from great Venus’ inevitable eyes! Come then, take heart of grace! Your poor hopes are shattered. Renounce them bodily and yield of your own free will to your mistress, and assuage the fierce onset of her wrath by submission, late though it be. Who knows but you may even find the husband you have sought so long, there in his mother’s house!” And so she made ready for the uncertain issue of her submission, or rather for certain death, and meditated how she should begin her entreaties.
Venus, meanwhile, had abandoned all attempts to search her out on earth and sought the skies. She bade her chariot be prepared, the chariot that Vulcan had wrought for her of gold, and finished carefully with subtle art, and given her as a marriage gift, before they passed the threshold of the bridal chamber. It shone where the artist’s file had thinned the metal away, and the very loss of the gold had made it more precious. Four white doves, out of all the many that nested round their mistress’s bedchamber, appeared and, hopping gaily forth and writhing their painted necks, entered the jeweled yoke; their mistress mounted the car, and they flew forth bearing her on their way with joy. Sparrows wantoned in the air with twittering harmony, as they attended the chariot of the goddess, and every manner of sweet songbird proclaimed her coming with the melodious music of their honeyed strains. The clouds yielded before her path, heaven opened to his daughter, and the heights of air welcomed her with joy; nor had the musical servants of mighty Venus any fear of pouncing eagle or greedy hawk.
The she turned her course to Jove’s royal castle and, superb even in her supplications, demanded that Mercury, god of the ringing voice, should be placed at her disposal to lend her his aid. Jove’s dark brow nodded assent, and straightway Venus descended from heaven in an ecstasy of joy and addressed Mercury, who went with her, in these earnest words: “Arcadian brother, you know that your sister Venus has never done anything without the aid of Mercury, and you cannot but be aware how long I have searched in vain for that handmaiden of mine who hides from me. There is nothing left for me but to employ you as my herald and publish a reward for her discovery. See then that you perform my behest with speed and set forth clearly the marks by which she may be known, that no one who has wickedly and unlawfully taken upon him to conceal her may plead ignorance as an excuse.” So saying, she gave him a handbill containing Psyche’s name and all else that was necessary. This done, she went home.
Mercury did not neglect to do as he was bidden. For he sped far and wide, visiting all the people of the earth, and thus performed the task of proclamation with which he had been entrusted: “If any man can stay the flight or point out the hiding place of a runaway princess, Handmaid of Venus, answering the name of Psyche, let him meet Mercury, who makes this proclamation, behind the Murcuan Pyramids, and he shall receive as the reward of his information seven sweet kisses from Venus’ own lips and one yet more honeyed than the rest from the tip of her sweet tongue.”
When Mercury delivered his proclamation in this wise, a wild desire seized all mankind, and they vied with one another in the hope of winning so marvelous a reward. This circumstance more than all else finally banished every thought of further delay from Psyche’s soul. And as she was already approaching the doors of her mistress, one of Venus’ servants, Habit by name, met her and at once cried with all the strength of her voice: “Do at last you have come to understand who is your mistress, you worthless slut! Or do you still pretend not to know what trouble we have had in looking for you? It would be in keeping with the rest of your effrontery if you did. But it is lucky you have fallen into my hands. Hell has you in its claws now, and you shall pay bitterly for your disobedience, now without more ado.” Then without a moment’s hesitation she thrust her hand into Psyche’s hair and dragged her after her.
Psyche made no resistance, but was led into the house and brought into the presence of Venus. The goddess no sooner beheld her than she burst into a wild laugh, such as men will utter when mad with wrath; then shaking her head and scratching her right ear, she cried: “So, at length you have thought fit to come and greet your mother-in-law? Or have you come to visit your husband, who is in danger of his live, thanks to the wound you gave him? But you need not be frightened! I will give you such a welcome as a good daughter-in-law deserves.” The “Where,” she cried, “are my handmaidens Trouble and Sorrow?” They were summoned, and Venus handed over Psyche to their charge, so that they might torture her. In obedience to their mistress’s command, they scourged poor Psyche with whips and wracked her with other torments, and then once more brought her into the presence of their mistress.
Then Venus laughed loud once again and said: “Behold, she thinks to move me with pity because she is big with child and the time is near when the fair fruit of her womb shall make me a happy grandmother. Truly, I am blessed that I should be called a grandmother, though yet in the flower of my age, and that the son of a vile serving-wench should be known as Venus’ grandchild! But I am a fool to call him her son. He is no true son, for the parties to the marriage were not of equal birth, while the wedding took place in a country house unwitnessed and without his father’s consent. It cannot therefore be regarded as legitimate, and the child will be born a bastard, at least if we allow you to become a mother at all.”
So saying, she flew upon her, tore her clothes in many places, disheveled her hair, buffeted her about the head, and beat her cruelly. Then, taking corn and barley and millet and poppy seed and chick peas and lentils and beans, all jumbled and confused in one heap, she said to her: “I cannot conceive that any serving-wench as hideous as yourself could find any means to attract lovers save by making herself their drudge; wherefore now I myself will make trial of your worth. Sort that disordered heap of seeds, place each kind of grain apart in its own place, and see that you show me the work completed before the evening.”
Having thus assigned her this vast heap of seeds, the goddess departed to a marriage feast. But Psyche never put a hand to that disordered and inextricable mass, but sat in silent stupefaction, overwhelmed by the vastness of the task. Then the ant, the little tiny ant, that dweller in the fields, understanding the difficulty of her huge task, pitied the sorrow of the great god’s bride and, abhorring the cruelty of her mother-in-law, ran nimbly hither and thither and summoned and gathered all the host of ants that dwelt around. “Pity,” it cried, “O ye nimble nurslings of earth, the mother of all; pity a lovely girl, the spouse of even Love himself. Be prompt and swift and aid her in her hour of need!” Thereupon, wave upon wave, the six-footed hosts rushed to the rescue, and one by one, with the utmost zeal, separated the whole heap, grain by grain. And after they had parted and distributed the several grains, each after their kind, they vanished swiftly from sight.
And now at nightfall Venus returned from the wedding feast, heavy with wine and sweet with balsam scents and all her body bound about with shining roses. And when she saw with what marvelous diligence the task had been performed, she cried: “This is not your doing, vile wretch, nor the work of your hands, but the work of him whose heart you won to your own hurt, yes, and to his hurt also.” Then, flinging her a crust of common bread, she departed to her couch. Meanwhile Amor was kept under close ward in the inner part of the house within the four walls of his own chamber, partly that he might not inflame his wound by the perversity of his wanton passions, partly that he might not meet his beloved. And so those two lovers dragged out the night of woe beneath the same roof, but sundered and apart. But when Aurora had just begun to ride forth in the sky, Venus called Psyche to her and thus addressed her: :Do you see that grove that fringes the long banks of the gliding stream, whose deep eddies come rushing down from yonder mountain? There wander sheep whose fleeces shine with hue of gold, and no man guards them as they graze. I bid you take a wisp from the wool of their precious fleece as best you may and bring it to me with speed.”
Psyche arose willingly, not indeed that she might perform her task, but that she might find rest from her woes by casting herself down a cliff that overhung the river. But from the river’s bed a green reed, nurse of sweet music, breathed on some breath divine, with gentle murmur whispered forth this melodious prophecy: “Psyche, racked though thou art by so many a woe, pollute not my sacred waters by slaying thyself thus miserably, nor at this hour approach those terrible sheep. For they borrow fierce heat from the blazing sun and wild frenzy maddens them, so that with sharp horns and foreheads hard as stone, and sometimes even with venomous bites, they vent their fury in the destruction of men. But till the heat of the noonday sun has assuaged its burning, and the beats are lulled to sleep by the soft river breeze, thou canst hide thee beneath yonder loft plane tree, which drinks of the river water even as I. And, when once the sheep have abated their madness and allayed their anger, go shake the leaves of yonder grove, and thou shalt find the golden wool clinging here and there to crooked twigs.”
Thus did that kind and simple-hearted reed teach Psyche in her deep distress how she might win to safety. She listened with an attention which she had no cause to regret and thus instructed made no delay, but observed all the bidding of the reed, stole the soft yellow gold with easy theft, and returned to Venus with her bosom full of it. And yet she won no approval from her mistress for having overcome the peril of her second task. For Venus, with a frown upon her brow and a bitter smile upon her lips, said: “I am well aware who was the secret author of this deed no less than the last. But now I will put you to a shrewd trial that I may know whether you have a stout heart and prudence beyond the prudence of a woman. Do you see the high mountain peak that crowns yonder lofty cliff, wherefrom the swarthy waves of a black stream flow down till, caught in the neighboring valley’s walled abyss, they flood the Stygian swamps and feed the hoarse streams of Cocytus? Go, draw me icy water even from where on the high summit the fountain’s farthest waves well forth, and bring it to me with all speed in this small urn.” So saying, she gave her a small jar carved out of crystal, and threatened yet more cruel torments if she failed.”
The Psyche with swift steps sought the topmost height of the mountain, sure that there at least, if all else failed, she could put an end to her miserable existence. But as soon as she reached the slopes near the aforesaid peak she perceived how vast and difficult was her task, and how fraught with death. For it was a rock of measureless height, rough, slippery, and inaccessible, and from jaws that gaped in its midst it vomited forth a hideous stream that, from the very point where it burst from the hollows of a deep slanting cavern and fell over the rock’s sloped face, had worn out a narrow channel for its path and, thus concealed, rushed secretly into the neighboring valley. To right and left from crannies in the crag there crept forth fierce dragons, with long craning necks and eyes sworn to unwinking wakefulness, whose pupils keeps watch forever and shrink not from the light. And even the very waters had voices that forbade approach. For they cried “Hence!” and “What dost thou? Have a care!” and “What wouldst thou? Beware!” and “Fly!” and lastly “Thou art doomed to die!” Psyche felt herself turned to stone by the impossibility of her task. Though she was present in the body, her senses had flown away from her and, quite overwhelmed by such vast inevitable peril, she lacked even the last solace of tears.
But the anguish of her innocent soul was not unmarked by the grave eyes of kindly Providence, for the royal bird of highest Jove suddenly spread both his pinions and came to her with timely aid, even the eagle, the ravisher, mindful of the ancient service rendered Jove when at Love’s bidding he had swept from earth the Phrygian Boy who is his cupbearer. He honored Love’s godhead in the woes of his bride and, leaving the shining paths of the high vault of heaven, swooped past Psyche’s face and thus began: “Dost thou, simple-hearted and all unversed in such labors, hope to have power to steal or even touch so much as one drop of that most holy and also most cruel fountain? Thou hast surely heard tell, even if thou hast never read, that even the gods and Jove himself dread yonder Stygian waters, and even as you mortals swear by the divinity of the gods, so the gods swear by the majesty of Styx. But come, give me that urn!” Straightway he seized it and caught it to his body; then poised on the vast expanse of his beating pinions, swiftly he oared his way among the fierce jaws of teeth and the forked tongues of dragons that flickered to left and right. The waters denied him access and bade him depart ere he took some hurt, but he feigned that he sought them at Venus’ bidding and was her servant. Whereupon they suffered him to approach somewhat less grudgingly. So he took of the water and Psyche received the full urn with joy and bore it with all speed to Venus.
Yet not even then could she appease the will of the frenzied goddess. For she threatened her with shameful torments yet worse and greater than before and thus addressed her with a baleful smile upon her lips: “In truth, I believe you are some great and potent sorceress, so nimbly have you obeyed my hard commands! But you must do me yet this one service, sweetheart. Take the casket” - and with the words she gave it - “and straightway descend to the world below and the ghastly halls of Orcus himself. There present the casket to Proserpine and say, ‘Venus begs of thee to send her a small portion of thy beauty, such at least as may suffice for the space of a brief day. For all her beauty is worn and perished through watching over her sick son.’ But see that you come back with all speed, for I must anoint myself with it before I go to heaven’s theater.”
Then Psyche felt more than ever that her fortune was come to its last ebb, and knew that all veil of pretense was laid aside, and that she was being driven to swift destruction. Well might she think so! For she was constrained with her own feet to tread the way to Tartarus and the spirits of the dead. She hesitated no longer, but went to a certain high tower that she night throw herself headlong from it. For thus she thought most swiftly and with greatest honor to descend to the world below.
But the tower suddenly broke forth into speech and cried: “Why, poor wretch, seekest thou to slay thyself by casting thyself headlong down? And why rashly dost thou faint before this task, the last of all perils? For if once the breath be severed from thy body, thou wilt assuredly go to the depths of Tatarus, but thou shalt in no wise have power to return thence. Give ear to me. Lacedaemon, a famous city of Achaea, is not far distant. Do thou seek Taenarus, that lies upon its borders hidden in a trackless wild. There is the vent of Dis, and through its gapping portals is shown a path where no man treads. Cross the threshold and launch thyself upon the path and forthwith thou shalt find a straight way to the very place of Orcus. Yet thou must not go empty-handed through the gloom, but must bear in both thy hands cakes kneaded of pearl barley and mead, and in thy mouth itself thou must bear two coins. And when thou hast traversed a good part of thy deathly journey, thou shalt meet a lame ass bearing wood and with him a lame driver who will ask thee to hand him a few twigs that have fallen from the load. But do thou speak never a word, but pass on thy way in silence. And forthwith thou shalt come to a river of the dead, where Charon hath charge and asks the ferryman’s toll before he conveys the traveler to the farther shore in his seamy bark. For avarice lies even among the dead, nor will Charon, or even the great god that is lord of hell, do anything unpaid; but the poor man when he dies must seek for journey money, and if there be no coin of bronze to hand, no one will ever suffer him to breathe his last. Thou must give this filthy graybeard by way of toll one of the coins which thou shalt take with thee. But remember, he must take it with his own hand from thy mouth. Likewise, as thou crossest the sluggish river, a dead man that is floating on the surface will pray for thee, raising his rotting hands, to take him into thy boat. But be thou not moved with pity for him, for it is not lawful. And when thou hast crossed the river and gone a little way farther, old weaving women, as they weave their web, will be thee lend them the aid of thy hands for a little. But thou must not touch the web; it is forbidden. For all these snares and many others spring from Venus’ craft designs against thee, that thou mayest let fall at least one of the cakes from thy hands. But think not the loss of that worthless piece of barley paste matters but little; for if thou lose but one, thou shalt lose with it the light of day. For there is a huge hound with three vast heads, wild and terrible, that bays with thunderous throat at the dead, though they are past all hurt that he might do them. Terrifying them with vain threats, he keeps sleepless watch before the very threshold of Proserpine’s dark halls and guards the empty house of Dis. Bridle his rage by leaving him a cake to prey upon, and thou shalt pass him with ease, and forthwith enter the very house of Proserpine. She shall welcome thee with kindly courtesy, bidding thee sit upon the ground, and ask for coarse bread and eat it. Then tell wherefore thou hast come, take whatsoever shall be given thee and, returning back, buy off the hound’s rage with the remaining cake. The give the greedy mariner the coin thou hadst kept back and, when thou hast crossed the river, retrace thy former steps till thou behold once more yonder host of all the stars of heaven. But I bid thee, above all, beware that thou seek not to open or look within the casket which thou bearest, or turn at all with over-curious eyes to view the treasure of divine beauty that is concealed within.”
Thus did that far-seeing tower perform its task of prophecy. And Psyche tarried not, but went to Taenarus and, duly taking the coins and the cakes, ran down the path to the underworld, passed by the decrepit donkey-driver in silence, paid the river’s toll to the ferryman, disregarded the prayer of the floating dead, spurned the craft entreaties of the weaving women and, after she had lulled the dread fury of the hound by giving him a cake to devour, entered the house of Proserpine. And though her hostess offered her a soft chair and dainty food she would have none of them, but sat lowly at her feet, content with common bread, and delivered the message which Venus had entrusted her. Straightway the casket was filled and sealed in secret. Psyche took it in her hands, silenced the hound’s barking maw with the second cake, paid the second coin to the ferryman, and, returning from the world below far more nimbly than she had descended, regained the shining daylight and worshipped it with adoration.
But then, Although she was in haste to bring her task to its conclusion, her mind was overwhelmed with rash curiosity. “Oh! what a fool am I,” she said, “for I carry the gift of divine beauty and yet not sip even the least drop therefrom, even though by so doing I should win the grace of my fair lover.” With the words she unclasped the casket. But there was no beauty therein, nor which, so soon as it was set free by the removal of the lid, rushed upon her and poured all over her limbs in a think cloud of slumber. She fell in the very path where she stood, and the sleep possessed her where she fell. There she lay motionless, no better than a sleeping corpse.
But the god Amor, who was recovering from his wound, which had now healed, unable to endure the long absence of his sweet Psyche, slipped through the lofty window of the bedchamber where he was confined and, since his wings had been refreshed by their long rest, flew forth swifter than ever and hastened to the side of his beloved Psyche. carefully he wiped the sleep from off her and confined it in the casket, its former receptacle. then waking Psyche with a harmless prick from on of his arrows, he said: “My poor child, you curiosity had almost brought you to destruction yet a second time. But meanwhile make haste to perform the task with which my mother charged you; I will see to the rest.” So saying, her lover rose lightly upon his wings, and Psyche with all speed bore the gift of Proserpine to Venus.
Meanwhile Amor, pale-faced and devoured with very great love, and fearing the sudden earnestness that had possessed his mother, had recourse to his old tricks. Swift-winged he soared to heaven’s farthest height, besought great Jove to aid him, and set forth his case. Thereupon Jove pinched Amor’s cheek, raise his hand to his lips, kissed it, and thus made answer: “My son and master, you have never shown me the honor decreed me by the gods, but with continued blows have wounded this heart of mine whereby the laws of the elements and the motions of the stars are ordered, and have brought shame upon me by often causing me to fall into earthly lusts; you have hurt my good name and fame by tempting me to base adulteries in defiance of public law and order, why, you have even led me to transgress the Julian law itself; you have made me foully to disfigure my serene countenance by taking upon me the likeness of serpents, fire, wild beasts, birds, and cattle of the field. Yet, notwithstanding, mindful of my clemency and remembering that you have grown up in my arms, I will grant you all your suit on one condition. You shall be on your guard against your rivals and, if there be on earth a girl of surpassing beauty, shall repay my present bounty by making her mine.”
Having thus spoken, he bade Mercury forthwith summon all the gods to an assembly and make proclamation that, if any one absented himself from the council of the heavenly ones, he should be fined ten thousand pieces. The fear of this caused heaven’s theater promptly to be filled, and Jove, towering above the assembly on his high throne, thus gave utterance: “Gods whose names are written in the Muses’ register, you all know right well, I think, that my own hands have reared the stripling whom you see before you. I have thought it fit at last to set some curb upon the wild passions of his youthful prime. Long enough he has been the daily talk and scandal of all the world for his gallantries and his manifold vices. It is time that he should have no more occasion for his lusts; the wanton spirit of boyhood must be enchained in the fetters of wedlock. He has chosen a maiden, and robbed her of her honor. Let him keep her, let her be his forever, let him enjoy his love and hold Psyche in his arms to all eternity.” Then turning to Venus, he added: “And you, my daughter, be not downcast, and have no fear your son’s marriage with a mortal will shame your lofty rank and lineage. For I will see to it that it shall be no unworthy wedlock, but lawful and in accordance with civil law.” Then straightway he bade Mercury catch up Psyche and bring her a goblet of ambrosia and said: “Psyche, drink of this and be immortal. The Amor shall never leave your arms, but your marriage shall endure forever.”
Forthwith a rich nuptial banquet was set forth. the bridegroom reclined on the couch of honor holding Psyche to his heart. So, too, Jove lay by the side of Juno his spouse, and all the gods took their places in order. then the shepherd boy that is his cupbearer served Jove with a goblet of nectar, which is the wine of the gods, and Liber served the others, while Vulcan cooked the dinner. The Hours made all things grow red with roses and other flowers, the Graces sprinkled balsam, and the Muses made melody with tuneful voices. Apollo accompanied his lyre with a song, fair Venus danced with steps that kept time to the sweet music played by the orchestra she had provided; for the Muses chanted in chorus or blew the flute, while Satyr and young Pan played upon the pipe of reed. Thus did Psyche with all solemnity become Amor’s bride, and soon a daughter was born to them: in the language of mortals she is called Pleasure.