February 12, 2019

The Love Story of Cupid and Psyche

In the month of love when displays of affection are encouraged especially commercially through the gifting of chocolates, sweets, flowers and Valentine cards. Symbols of love such as the heart, doves or a chubby cherub with wings depicting the god of desire, Cupid (Amor/Eros) is plentiful. Cupid is often portrayed as the son of the goddess Venus and the god Mars. His most memorable appearance in mythology is from the love story of Cupid and Psyche.

In many fairy tales the protagonists meets their love interest near to the end of the story with no real reason to fall madly in love. The tale of Cupid and Psyche is perhaps a little more romantic as it provides evidence and reason for the attraction. Having Greek origins, the earliest record of this tale lies within a Roman novel, Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis. Published in Latin some time in the latter half of the second century CE. The story goes as follows...

A king and queen have three daughters, all were very lovely but Psyche was the most beautiful. Word traveled throughout the lands of Psyche's unearthly beauty that some even mistook her for the goddess of love, Venus herself. This angered Venus and as punishment, she ordered her son Cupid, whose golden arrows can cause love at first sight at the slightest touch to avenge her. He was to make Psyche fall in love with a monster.
Edward Burne-Jones
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Cupid enters Psyche's chamber one night, ready with bow in hand. When he sees her and is startled by her beauty, he accidentally nicks himself with his own arrow. Cupid falls in love with Psyche instantly and flees the scene. Venus then instructs an oracle to deliver Psyche to the mountaintop where she will be wed to a hideous monster.

Cupid is now unable to obey his mothers orders, rescues Psyche. She is swept down safely by Zephyrus, the west wind to a magnificent castle. Inside the castle, Psyche had everything she could ever desire with invisible servants and a mysterious host who became her husband. She was instructed to never see the face of her husband who visits and makes love to her in the dark of night.
William Say
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Before long, Psyche grows lonely and asks to have her sisters visit her in the castle. Psyche's jealous sisters demand she discover the identity of her secret husband for he may be the monster the oracle had predicted. With this planted doubt, that night while Cupid was asleep, Psyche holds a candle near him and sees not the face of a monster but that of a handsome god. While in her discovery, a drop of hot wax falls on Cupid and wakes him. He is infuriated at her betrayal and abandons her.
Henrietta Rae
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Psyche is miserable and enters the temple of Venus to attempt atonement. To gain forgiveness, Venus assigns three impossible tasks for Psyche. First, she must sort through great mounds of mixed grains. With the help of ants, she completes her first task. For her second task, she is to retrieve golden fleece from dangerous sheep down by the river. A river god aids Psyche this time by telling her to collect the fleece that have been left behind on the bushes when the sheep leave for shade. Psyche's second task is complete and this angers Venus even more.
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
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For her third task, she is given a box and commanded to request some beauty from Proserpine, queen of the underworld. Cupid unable to let his love enter the underworld to never return, aids psyche in her last task. He instructs her to pay Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx with a gold coin from her lips so he will not know she is alive. Psyche is careful not to eat or be distracted by anything whilst in the underworld. She receives the beauty from Proserpine within the box and returns to the land of the living successfully. Before returning to Venus, Psyche's curiosity gets the better of her and she decides to open the box and get a little beauty for herself. Once the box is opened, she discovers that there is no beauty in the box; it contains only the sleep of death. Instantly, Psyche falls to the ground. When he sees his love fall, Cupid flew to her side and drew the sleep from her body and places it back into the box.

The lovers asks each other for forgiveness and Cupid pleads to Jupiter, king of the gods to allow Psyche into Olympus. Psyche then drinks a cup of ambrosia and becomes immortal. Soon after, Cupid and Psyche have a daughter named Voluptas meaning 'pleasure'.

Kinuko Y. Craft
HarperCollins 1996
Hardcover 48p
9" x 11"

There are not many modern retellings available for the story of 
Cupid and Psyche and even slimmer pickings for children's picture
books. A recommendation for this title is by M. Charlotte Craft and
illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft.

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