Love’s Endurance: The Legend of Cupid and Psyche!
Updated: February 12, 2010
The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche painted by Francois Boucher 1744
Most of us are familiar with the legend of Cupid and Psyche. But many of us gloss over the tumultuous challenges in their relationship. These days when talk can be cheap and relationships fleeting, this myth is a grand reminder of the power of commitment. It also brings into focus the importance of “sticking to our guns” in matters of love and relationships.
What’s more, the epic of Cupid and Psyche personifies human nature in such sweet, profound ways. It’s Psyche’s doing, really. She gives the gift of moral understanding because she was 100% human when Cupid first became utterly enchanted by her beguiling beauty.
Being human, Psyche (as are we all) was susceptible to distinctly human tendencies in behavior like: Curiosity, Doubt, Fear, Despair. On the flip side, she was also capable of magnanimous Determination, Hope, Devotion and of course, Love.
We see these human qualities fanned out for display in Cupid and Psyche’s love story. Consequently, observing these qualities in myth prompts us to contemplate our own behaviors and beliefs about love.
Let me count the ways by offering you a synoptic view of how human love conquers all in the face of intense desperation and challenge.
Misguided by Bad Advice:
Let’s face it, in the beginning, the relationship between Cupid & Psyche was unorthodox to say the least. But Psyche was copasetic with the arrangement. During the day she luxuriated in Cupid’s palatial estates, free to indulge in the delights only a love god could provide. The evenings held more pleasure for her as this is the only time Cupid would wing his way back to her open arms. Psyche had nary a second thought that she was never permitted to actually see Cupid. It seems, Psyche was in love with who he Cupid was – not with the trappings of “Cupid the God.”
So what broke the charm? Psyche’s two sisters, that’s who.
Psyche loved living at Cupid’s homestead, but nonetheless missed her family and so asked if he could send for her sisters. Upon arriving, her sisters became overwhelmingly jealous at Psyche’s lifestyle and abundantly apparent happiness. So, they started weaving threads of doubt in her mind. They planted seeds of suspicion about Cupid. You can almost hear their nasal -toned questions to Psyche: “Who is this guy, really,” “Why does he disallow you to see his face?” “What kind of job is this that he can only spend time with you at night?” and on and on and on. They were relentless!
Finally, Psyche caved. She went against Cupid’s wishes and snuck upon him with an oil lamp (and also armed herself with a dagger! Her sisters had her convinced she was sleeping with a monster!). Imagine her standing over the utterly perfect Cupid, illumined by the soft glow of her lamp. You can almost feel her breath catch as her eyes took her magnificently winged lover-boy-god. The awe-struck moment was short lived. A drop of hot oil escaped from the lamp, startling Cupid awake. Having been seen (who knew he was a bashful sort!?), he fled his chambers and secluded himself from ever seeing Psyche again.
Of course she was devastated. And of course, as all good myths go, Cupid and Psyche eventually reunited (they even got married with Jupiter’s blessings!). But their reunion didn’t come without Psyche paying a few high prices.
The myth of Psyche depicts her endlessly searching high and low for Cupid – to no avail. Finally she entreated the aid of Venus (Cupid’s mom) as she was one of the few who could find him and arrange a reconciliatory meeting for Psyche
Venus, a jealous sort, loathed Psyche for her beauty. Nevertheless, Psyche was desperate to find and reconnect with her beloved.
So, Psyche’s love for Cupid was tested four times…
1) Insipid Seed Sorting
Venus set Psyche to the monumental task of seed-sorting. Psyche found herself standing before a behemoth mountain of beans, legumes and seeds. Poppies, Sesames, Favas, Chickpeas – oy vey! Of course, Venus knew it was humanly impossible to sort out this massive pile of peas. Little did she know that love has mysterious (and industrious) ways. Enter the Ants. Yes, Ants. They took pity on Psyche’s impossible task, and admired her devotion to love. So, they helped her sort through all the beans, seeds and kernels. In no time, Psyche and the Ants had everything separated, cataloged and stored in short order.
2) Sheering Crazy Sheep
Rams, to be specific. Venus next sent Psyche to sheer and gather golden fleece from a heard of totally insane Rams. Apparently the horny critters were in a lather the day Venus set Psyche to the task. They were cavorting, butting, challenging and who knows what else – Rams can be very disagreeable. Psyche took one look at those battering Rams and knew her goose was cooked. She’d never sheer them alive. She sat in the meadow, weeping over her dilemma. The Reeds of the field heard her sobs and were touched by her devotion to love (you see a theme here?). So, they whispered a bit of advice in Psyche’s ear. They encouraged her to wait after dusk to sheer the sheep. They’d be plumb-tuckered that night after the raucous of the day of Rams play, and they’d be gentle as lambs for her that night. The Reeds were right, and Psyche returned to Venus with gobs of gold fleece.
3) Fishing in the Styx
Next, Venus sent Psyche off with an urn to collect fluid from the river Styx. This seemed a herculean task because the Styx is a “no pass zone.” No one, not even the gods dared to dally or dip their toes into the Styx. It’s a place of big juju. A transitional realm wrapped in very powerful and oft-considered dark magic. The river Styx winds through the Underworlds, realms of spiritual ambiguity. When mortal life is traded for spiritual existence (i.e.: Death) a ride down the Styx is protocol. Naturally, the subject of death is rife with uncertainty, and so the river Styx bode dark portents for Psyche. As a mortal, she would have to give her own life to collect a bit of the drink from the Styx. Luckily, her plight to meet each of Venus’ challenges had reached the ears of all the deities – even Jupiter. He was touched by Psyche’s (yes, you guessed it) devotion to love and was compelled to help her with this task. He transformed himself into a magnificent Eagle (a bird sacred to Jupiter/Zeus), took the urn from Psyche, scooped it into the Styx and returned it to her filled to the brim with the dubious brew.
4) Permanent Vacationing
Just when Psyche thought she spared her own life from the snaky Styx, Venus sent her on her final challenge – a trip to the Underworld. Indeed, quite a final challenge as there would be no coming back from this one. Essentially, Psyche would have to sacrifice her own life to enter these nether-realms in search of Proserpina (Persephone in Greece). Once found, Psyche was to request a bit of Proserpina’s essence, bottle it up and return it to Venus. Now, the Underworlds present multi-levels of no-no’s and unmentionables. According to myth, stuff that creeps and crawls and goes “bump” in the night lives there. Psyche bemoaned her final task, but remained resolute to her vision of reuniting with her cherished Cupid. Stoically, she climbed a grandiose Tower with intent to hurl herself from the top and enter the dread Underworlds. Poised on the precipice, just about to plunge – the great Tower spoke to her. The Tower had observed Psyche’s climb and in its stony heart, felt compassion for Psyche’s plight. With gravely speech the Tower imparted golden how-to tips that would win Psyche free range through the Underworlds. It gave awesome advice like tipping Charon (the ferryman of lost souls) a few bucks to assuage his wicked temper. Another bright bit of advice… toss Cerberus (a feral triple headed beast) a few Scooby snacks and win passage to Proserpina’s inner chambers. Taking careful heed of every tip the Tower provided, Psyche ventured out of the Underworlds unharmed, quite alive, and armed with the urn holding Proserpina’s essence.
At this point of the story, we might think “All’s well that ends well!” Venus grants Psyche reunion with Cupid and they live happily ever after, right?
Psyche gets curious about the contents of the urn. “I wonder” she must have mused, “What exactly does an Underworld Goddess Essence look like? What does it do?” She pops the top of the urn and releases a wave of hypnotic fumes, which instantly puts her into a coma. Bummer.
As fate would have it, Cupid had been watching over Psyche the whole time. In fact, some versions of the legend of Cupid and Psyche contend the god had helped her with each task set by Venus. Why? because his love for Psyche was just as devoted and strong-willed as hers was for him.
Seeing her succumb to the dark sleep, Cupid winged his way to her side and revived her, post-haste. Awakened, Psyche was of course, overjoyed to be once again united with her beloved god.
The rest is history (err, myth, actually). They married and lived happily ever after. Jupiter even granted Psyche the gift of immortality – quite literally making their love infinite.
And just in case there is any doubt as to the moral of the legend of Cupid and Psyche – here’s a hint:
“Amor Vincit Omina“
(love conquers all)