After this utterance the maiden fell silent, and with resolute step she now attached herself to the escorting procession of citizens. They made their way to the appointed rock set on a lofty mountain, and when they had installed the girl on its peak, they all abandoned her there. They left behind the marriage-torches which had lighted their way but were now doused with their tears, and with bent heads made their way homeward. The girls unhappy parents, worn out by this signal calamity, enclosed themselves in the gloom of their shuttered house, and surrendered themselves to a life of perpetual darkness.
PSYCHE (Psuch), that is, breath or the soul, occurs in the later times of antiquity, as a personification of the human soul, and Apuleius (Met.iv. 28, &c.) relates about her the following beautiful allegoric story. Psyche was the youngest of the three daughters of some king, and excited by her beauty the jealousy and envy of Venus. In order to avenge herself, the goddess ordered Amor to inspire Psyche with a love for the most contemptible of all men : but Amor was so stricken with her beauty that he himself fell in love with her. He accordingly conveyed her to some charming place, where he, unseen and unknown, visited her every night, and left her as soon as the day began to dawn. Psyche might have continued to have enjoyed without interruption this state of happiness, if she had attended to the advice of her beloved, never to give way to her curiosity, or to inquire who he was. But her jealous sisters made her believe that in the darkness of night she was embracing some hideous monster, and accordingly once, while Amor was asleep, she approached him with a lamp, and, to her amazement, she beheld the most handsome and lovely of the gods. In her excitement of joy and fear, a drop of hot oil fell from her lamp upon his shoulder. This awoke Amor, who censured her for her mistrust, and escaped. Psyches peace was now gone all at once, and after having attempted in vain to throw herself into a river, she wandered about from temple to temple, inquiring after her beloved, and at length came to the palace of Venus. There her real sufferings began, for Venus retained her, treated her as a slave, and inmposed upon her the hardest and most humiliating labours. Psyche would have perished under the weight of her sufferings, had not Amor, who still loved her in secret, invisibly comforted and assisted her in her labours. With his aid she at last succeeded in overcoming the jealousy and hatred of Venus; she became immortal, and was united with him for ever. It is not difficult to recognise in this lovely story the idea of which it is merely the mythical embodiment, for Psyche is evidently the human soul, which is purified by passions and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness. In works of art Psyche is represented as a maiden with the wings of a butterfly, along with Amor in the different situations described in the allegoric story.
With these words she kissed her son long and hungrily with parted lips. Then she made for the nearest shore lapped by the waves . . .
But the warnings of heaven were to be obeyed, and unhappy Psyches presence was demanded for her appointed punishment. So amidst intense grief the ritual of that marriage with death was solemnized, and the entire populace escorted her living corpse as Psyche tearfully attended not her marriage but her funeral. But when her sad parents, prostrated by their monstrous misfortune, drew back from the performance of their monstrous task, their daughter herself admonished them with these words : Why do you rack you sad old age with protracted weeping? Or why do you weary your lifes breath, which is dearer to me than to yourselves, with repeated lamentations? Why do you disfigure those features, which I adore, with ineffectual tears? Why do you grieve my eyes by torturing your own? Why do you tear at your grey locks? Why do you beat those breasts so sacred to me? What fine rewards my peerless beauty will bring you! All too late you experience the mortal wounds inflicted by impious envy. That grief, those tears, that lamentations for me as one already lost should have been awakened when nations and communities brought me fame with divine honours, when with one voice they greeted me as the new Venus [Aphrodite]. Only now do I realize and see that my one undoing has been the title of Venus bestowed on me. Escort me and set me on the rock to which fate has consigned me. I hasten to behold this noble husband of mine. Why should I postpone or shrink from the arrival of the person born for the destruction of the whole world?
Psyche was aglow with delight at the news. She gloried in the comforting prospect of a divine child, she exulted in the fame that such a dear one would bring her, she rejoiced at the thought of the respected status of mother. She eagerly counted the mounting days and departing months, and as a novice bearing an unknown burden, she marvelled that the pinprick of a moment could cause such a lovely swelling in her fecund womb.
Psyches response was muffled with tearful sobs. Some time ago, I
Psyche felt a blessed assurance being bestowed upon herby heavens provision. She heeded the suggestions of the disembodied voice, and after taking a nap and then a bath to dispel her fatigue, she at once noted a semicircular couch and table close at hand. The dishes laid for dinner gave her to understand that all was set for her refreshment, so she gladly reclined there. Immediately wine was delicious as nectar and various plates of food were placed before her, brought not by human hands but unsupported on a gust of wind. She could see no living soul, and merely heard words emerging from thin air: her serving-maids were merely voices. When she had enjoyed the rich feast, a singer entered and performed unseen, while another musician strummed a lyre which was likewise invisible. Then the harmonious voices of a tuneful choir struck her ears, so that it was clear that a choral group was in attendance, though no person could be seen.
PSYKHE (Psyche) was the goddess of the soul and the wife of Eros (Roman Cupid) god of love.
The two wicked sisters approved this wicked plan. So they hid away all those most valuable gifts. They tore their hair, gave their cheeks the scratching they deserved, and feigned renewed grief. Their hastily summoned tears depressed their parents, reawakening their sorrow to match that of their daughters, and then swollen with lunatic rage they rushed of to their homes, planning their wicked wiles–or rather the assassination of their innocent sister.
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4. 28 – 6. 24 (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
She was once a mortal princess whose extraordinary beauty earned the ire ofAphrodite(Roman Venus) when men began turning their worship away from the goddess towards the girl. Aphrodite commanded Eros make Psykhe fall in love with the most hideous of men but the god instead fell in love and carried her off to his hidden palace. Eros hid his true identity and told Psykhe she must never gaze upon his face. Her jealous sisters, however, tricked her into disobeying and the angry god forsook her. Psykhe searched the world for her lost love and eventually came into the service of Aphrodite. The goddess commanded her perform a series of seemingly impossible tasks which culminated in a journey to the Underworld. Psykhe was afterwards reunited with Eros and the couple were married in a ceremony attended by all the gods.
This belief grew every day beyond measure. The story now became widespread; it swept through the neighbouring islands, through tracts of the mainland and numerous provinces. Many made long overland journeys and travelled over the deepest courses of the sea as they flocked to set eyes on this famed cynosure of their age. No one took ship for Paphos, Cnidos, or even Cythera to catch sight of the goddess Venus. Sacrifices in those places were postponed, shrines grew unsightly, couches become threadbare, rites went unperformed; the statues were not garlanded, and the altars were bare and grimy with cold ashes. It was the girl who was entreated in prayer. People gazed on that girls human countenance when appeasing the divine will of the mighty goddess. When the maiden emerged in the mornings, they sought from her the favour of the absent Venus with sacrificial victims and sacred feasts. The people crowded round her with wreaths and flowers to address their prayers, as she made her way through the streets. Since divine honours were being diverted in this excessive way to the worship of a mortal girl, the anger of the true Venus [Aphrodite] was fiercely kindled. She could not control her irritation. She tossed her head, let out a deep growl, and spoke in soliloquy : Here am I, the ancient mother of the universe, the founding creator of the elements, the Venus that tends the entire world, compelled to share the glory of my majesty with a mortal maiden, so that my name which has its niche in heaven is degraded by the foulness of the earth below! Am I then to share with another the supplications to my divine power, am I to endure vague adoration by proxy, allowing a mortal girl to strut around posing as my double? What a waste of effort it was for the shepherd [Paris] whose justice and honesty won the approval of great Jupiter [Zeus] to reckon my matchless beauty superior to that of those great goddesses! But this girl, whoever she is, is not going to enjoy appropriating the honours that are mine; I shall soon ensure that she rues the beauty which is not hers by rights!
Following these words, she showed them the magnificent riches of the golden house, and let them hear the voices of her large retinue. She then allowed them the rich pleasure of a luxurious bath and an elegant meal served by her ghostly maids. But when they had had their fill of the copious abundance of riches clearly bestowed by heaven, they began to harbour deep-seated envy in their hearts. So one of them kept asking with nagging curiosity about the owner of those divine possessions, about the identity and status of her husband. Psyche in her hearts depths did not in any way disobey or disregard her husbands instructions. She invented an impromptu story that he was a handsome young man whose cheeks were just darkening with a soft beard, and who spent most of his day hunting in the hills of the countryside. But she was anxious not to betray through a slip of the tongue her silent resolve by continuing the conversation, so she weighed her sisters down with gold artefacts and precious jewels, hastily summoned Zephyrus, and entrusted them to him for the return journey.
This was carried out at once, and those splendid sisters then made their way home. They were now gnawed with the bile of growing envy, and repeatedly exchanged loud-voiced complaints. One of them began : Fortuna (Fortune), how blind and harsh and unjust you are! Was it your pleasure that we, daughters of the same parents, should endure so different a fate? Here we are, her elder sisters, nothing better than maidservants to foreign husbands, banished form home and even from our native land, living like exiles far from our parents, while Psyche, the youngest and last offspring of our mothers weary womb, has obtained all this wealth, and a god for a husband! She has not even a notion of how to enjoy such abundant blessings. Did you notice, sister, the quantity and quality of the precious stones lying in the house, the gleaming garments, the sparkling jewels, the gold lying beneath our feet and all over the house? If she has as handsome a husband as she claims, no woman living in the whole world is more blessed. Perhaps as their intimacy continues and their love grows stronger, her god-husband will make her divine as well. Thats how things are, mark my words; she was putting on such airs and graces! Shes now so high and mighty, behaving like a goddess, with those voices serving her needs, and Winds obeying her commands! Whereas my lifes a hell; to begin with, I have a husband older than my father. Hes balder than an onion as well, and he hasnt the virility of an infant. And he keeps our house barricaded with bards and chains.
As she gazed on all this with the greatest rapture, a disembodied voice addressed her : Why, may lady, do you gaze open-mouthed at this parade of wealth? All these things are yours. So retire to your room, relieve your weariness on your bed, and take a bath at your leisure. The voices you hear are those of your handmaidens, and we will diligently attend to your needs. Once you have completed your toilet a royal feast will at once be laid before you.
She then summoned Zephyrus, and reminded him of her husbands instruction. He speedily obeyed the command, and at once whisked them down safely on the gentlest of breezes. The sisters embraced each other, and delightedly exchanged eager kisses. The tears which had been dried welled forth again, prompted by their joy. Now that you are in good spirits, said Psyche, you must enter my hearth and home, and let the company of your Psyche gladden your hearts that were troubled.
Psyche consented and promised to follow her husbands guidance. But when he had vanished in company with the darkness, the poor girl spent the whole day crying and beating her breast. She kept repeating that now all was up with her, for here she was confined and enclosed in that blessed prison, bereft of conversation with human beings for company, unable even to offer consoling relief to her sisters as they grieved for her, and not allowed even to catch a glimpse of them. No ablutions, food, or other relaxation made her feel better, and she retired to sleep in floods of tears.
She at once summoned her son [Cupid-Eros], that winged, most indiscreet youth, whose own bad habits show his disregard for public morality. He goes rampaging through peoples houses at night armed with his torch and arrows, undermining the marriages of all. He gets away scot-free with this disgraceful behaviour, and nothing that he does is worthwhile. His own nature made him excessively wanton, but he was further roused by his mothers words. She took him along to that city, and showed him Psyche in the flesh (that was the girls name). She told him the whole story of their rivalry in beauty, and grumbling and growling with displeasure added : I beg you by the bond of a mothers affection, by the sweet wounds which your darts inflict and the honeyed blisters left by this torch of yours: ensure that your mother gets her full revenge, and punish harshly this girls arrogant beauty. Be willing to perform this single service which will compensate for all that has gone before. See that the girl is seized with consuming passion for the lowest possible specimen of humanity, for one who as the victim of Fortuna (Fortune) [Tykhe] has lost status, inheritance and security, a man so disreputable that nowhere in the world can he find an equal in wretchedness.
That night Psyches husband (he was invisible to her, but she could touch and hear him) said to her : Sweetest Psyche, fond wife that you are, Fortuna (Fortune) [Tykhe] grows more savage, and threatens you with mortal danger. I charge you: show greater circumspection. Your sisters are worried at the rumour that you are dead, and presently they will come to this rock to search for traces of you. Should you chance to hear their cries of grief, you are not to respond, or even to set eyes on them. Otherwise you will cause me the most painful affliction, and bring utter destruction on yourself.
Meanwhile her parents were aging in unceasing grief and melancholy. As the news spread wider, her elder sisters learnt the whole story. In their sadness and grief they vied with each other in hastily leaving home and making straight for their parents, to see them and discuss the matter with them.
The other took up the grumbling. I have to put up with a husband crippled and bent with rheumatism, so that he can succumb to my charms only once in a blue moon. I spent almost all my day rubbing his fingers, which are twisted and hard as flint, and burning these soft hands of mine on reeking poultices, filthy bandages, and smelly plasters. Im a slaving nursing attendant, not a dutiful wife. You must decide for yourself, sister, how patiently or–let me express myself frankly–how menially you intent to bear the situation; I cant brook any longer the thought of this undeserving girl falling on her feet like this. Just recall how disdainfully and haughtily she treated us, how swollen-headed shed become with her boasting and her immodest vulgar display, how she reluctantly threw at us a few trinkets from that mass of riches, and then at once ordered us to be thrown out, whisked away, sent off with the Wind because she found our presence tedious! As sure as Im a woman, as sure as Im standing here, Im going to propel her headlong off that heap of riches! If the insulting way shes treated us has needled you as well, as it certainly should have, we must work out an effective plan together. We must not show the gifts in our possession to our parents or anyone else. We must not even betray the slightest awareness that shes alive. Its bad enough that weve witnessed the sorry situation ourselves, without our having to spread the glad news to our parents and the whole world at large. People arent really fortunate if no one knows of their riches. Shell realize that shes got elder sisters, not maid-servants. So let us now go back to our husbands and homes, which may be poor but are honest. Then, when we have given the matter deeper thought, we must go back more determined to punish her arrogance.
At that moment her husband came to bed somewhat earlier than usual. She was still weeping, and as he embraced her, he remonstrated with her : Is this how the promise you made me has turned out, Psyche, my dear? What is your husband to expect or to hope from you? You never stop torturing your self night and day, even when we embrace each other as husband and wife. Very well, have it your own way, follow your own hell-bound inclination. But when you begin to repent at leisure, remember the sober warning which I gave you.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
Her husband unwillingly gave way before the forceful pressure of these impassioned whispers, and promised to do all she asked. Then, as dawn drew near, he vanished from his wifes embrace.
In a certain city there lived a king and with three notably beautiful daughters. The two elder ones were very attractive, yet praise appropriate to humans was thought sufficient for their fame. But the beauty of the youngest girl [Psyche (Psykhe)] was so special and distinguished that our poverty of human language could not describe or even adequately praise it. In consequence, many of her fellow-citizens and hordes of foreigners, on hearing the report of this matchless prodigy, gathered in ecstatic crowds. They were dumbstruck with admiration at her peerless beauty. They would press their hands to their lips with the forefinger resting on the upright thumb, and revere her with devoted worship as if she were none other than Venus [Aphrodite] herself. Rumour had already spread through the nearest cities and bordering territories that the goddess who was sprung from the dark-blue depths of the sea and was nurtured by the foam from the frothing waves was now bestowing the favour of her divinity among random gatherings of common folk; or at any rate, that the earth rather than the sea was newly impregnated by heavenly seed, and had sprouted forth a second Venus [Aphrodite] invested with the bloom of virginity.
She pressed seductive kisses on him, whispered honeyed words, and snuggled close to soften him. She added endearments to her charms : O my honey-sweet, darling husband, light of your Psyches life!
Meanwhile Psyches unknown husband in their nightly conversation again counselled her with these words : Are you aware what immense danger overhangs you? Fortuna is aiming her darts at you from long range and, unless you take the most stringent precautions, she will soon engage with you hand to hand. Those traitorous bitches are straining every nerve to lay wicked traps for you. Above al, they are seeking to persuade you to pry into my appearance, and as I have often warned you, a single glimpse of it will be your last. So if those depraved witches turn up later, ready with their destructive designs, and I am sure they will, you must not exchange a single word with them, or at any rate if your native innocence and soft-heartedness cannot bear that, you are not to listen to or utter a single word about your husband. Soon we shall be starting a family, for this as yet tiny womb of yours is carrying for us another child like yourself. If you conceal our secret in silence, that child will be a god; but if you disclose it, he will be mortal.
Psyches sisters enquired about the location of the rock on which she had been abandoned, and they quickly made their way to it. There they cried their eyes out and beat their breasts until the rocks and crags echoed equally loudly with their repeating lamentations. Then they sought to conjure up their sister by summoning her by name, until the piercing notes of their wailing voices permeated down the mountainside, and Psyche rushed frantically and fearfully from the house. Why, she asked, do you torture yourselves to no purpose with your unhappy cries of grief? Here I am, the object of your mourning. So cease your doleful cries, and now at last dry those cheeks which are wet with prolonged tears, for you can now hug close the sister for whom you grieved.
Psyche, enticed by the charming appearance of these surroundings, drew nearer, and as her assurance grew she crossed the threshold. Delight at the surpassing beauty of the scene encouraged her to examine every detail. Her eyes lit upon store-rooms built high on the other side of the house; they were crammed with abundance of treasures. Nothing imaginable was missing, and what was especially startling, apart from the breath-taking abundance of such riches, was the fact that this treasure-house had no protection whatever by way of chain or bar or guard.
But as Psyche wept in fear and trembling on that rocky eminence, Zephyrus (the West Winds) kindly breeze with its soft stirring wafted the hem of her dress this way and that, and made its folds billow out. He gradually drew her aloft, and with tranquil breath bore her slowly downward. She glided down in the bosom of the flower-decked turf in the valley below. In that soft and grassy arbour Psyche reclined gratefully on the couch of the dew-laden turf. The great upheaval oppressing her mind had subsided, and she enjoyed pleasant repose. After sleeping long enough to feel refreshed, she got up with carefree heart. Before her eyes was a grove planed with towering, spreading trees, and a rill glistening with glassy waters. At the centre of the grove and close to the gliding stream was a royal palace, the work not of human hands but of divine craftsmanship. You would know as soon as you entered that you were viewing the birth and attractive retreat of some god. The high ceiling, artistically panelled with citron-wood and ivory, was supported on golden columns. The entire walls were worked in silver in relief; beasts and wild cattle met the gaze of those who entered there. The one who shaped all this silver into animal-forms was certainly a genius, or rather he must have been a demigod or even a god. The floors too extended with different pictures formed by mosaics of precious stones; twice blessed indeed, and more than twice blessed are those whose feet walk on gems and jewels! The other areas of the dwelling too, in all its length and breadth, were incalculably costly. All the walls shimmered with their native gleam of solid gold, so that if the sun refused to shine, the house created its own daylight. The rooms, the colonnade, the very doors also shone brilliantly. The other riches likewise reflected the splendour of the mansion. You would be justified in thinking that this was a heavenly palace fashioned for mighty Jupiter [Zeus] when he was engaged in dealings with men.
Meanwhile, Psyche for all her striking beauty gained no reward for her ravishing looks. She was the object of all eyes, and her praise was on everyones lips, but no king or prince or even commoner courted her to seek her hand. All admired her godlike appearance, but the admiration was such as is accorded to an exquisitely carved statue. For some time now her two elder sisters had been betrothed to royal suitors and had contracted splendid marriages, though their more modest beauty had won no widespread acclaim. But Psyche remained at home unattended, lamenting her isolated loneliness. Sick in body and wounded at heart, she loathed her beauty which the whole world admired. For this reason the father of that ill-starred girl was a picture of misery, for he suspected that the gods were hostile, and he feared their anger. He sought the advice of the most ancient oracle of the Milesian god [Apollon], and with prayers and sacrificial victims begged from that mighty deity a marriage and a husband for that slighted maiden. Apollo, an Ionian Greek, framed his response in Latin to accommodate the author of this Milesian tale : Adorn this girl, O king, for wedlock dread, and set her on a lofty mountain-rock. Renounce all hope that one of mortal stock can be your son-in-law, for she shall wed a fierce, barbaric, snake-like monster. He, flitting on wings aloft, makes all things smart, plaguing each moving thing with torch and dart. Why, Jupiter [Zeus] himself must fearful be. The other gods for him their terror show, and rivers shudder, and the dark realms below.
She thanked her husband, and with spirits soaring she said : But I would rather die a hundred times than forgo the supreme joy of my marriage with you. For I love and cherish you passionately, whoever you are, as much as my own life, and I value you higher than Cupidos [Eros] himself. But one further concession I beg for my prayers: bid your servant Zephyrus (the West Wind) spirit my sisters down to me, as he earlier wafted me down.
The pleasant entertainment came to an end, and the advent of darkness induced Psyche to retire to bed. When the night was well advanced, a genial sound met her ears. Since the was utterly alone, she trembled and shuddered in her fear for her virginity, and she dreaded the unknown presence more than any other menace. But now her unknown bridegroom arrived and climbed into the bed. He made Psyche his wife, and swiftly departed before dawn broke. At once the voices in attendance at her bed-chamber tended the new brides violated virginity. These visits continued over a long period and this new life in the course of nature became delightful to Psyche as she grew accustomed to it. Hearing that unidentified voice consoled her loneliness.
Then Psyche with prayers and threats of her impending death forced her husband to yield to her longing to see her sisters, to relieve their grief, and he also allowed her to present them with whatever pieces of gold or jewellery she chose. But he kept deterring her with repeated warnings from being ever induced by the baleful prompting of her sisters to discover her husbands appearance. She must not through sacrilegious curiosity tumble headlong from the lofty height of her happy fortune, and forfeit thereafter his embrace.
Psykhe was depicted in ancient mosaic art as a butterfly-winged woman in the company of her husband Eros. Sometimes a pair of Pyskhai (Psychae) were depicted–the second perhaps representing their daughter Hedone (Pleasure).
The king had formerly enjoyed a happy life, but on hearing this venerable prophecy he returned him reluctant and mournful. He unfolded to his wife the injunctions of that ominous oracle, and grief, tears and lamentation prevailed for several days. But now the grim fulfilment of the dread oracle loomed over them. Now they laid out the trapping for the marriage of that ill-starred girl with death; now the flames of the nuptial torch flickered dimly beneath the sooty ashes, the high note of the wedding-lute sank into the plaintive Lydian mode, and the joyous marriage-hymn tailed away into mournful wailing. That bride-to-be dried her tears on her very bridal-veil. Lamentation for the harsh fate of that anguished household spread throughout the city, and a cessation of business was announced which reflected the public grief.
But now those baneful, most abhorrent Furiae (Furies) [Erinyes] were hastening on their impious way aborad ship, exhaling their snakelike poison. It was then that Psyches husband on his brief visit again warned her : This is the day of crisis, the moment of worst hazard. Those troublesome members of your sex, those hostile blood-relations of yours have now seized their arms, struck camp, drawn their battle-line, and sounded the trumpet-note. Your impious sisters have drawn their swords, and are aiming at your jugular. The calamities that oppress us are indeed direful, dearest Psyche. Take pity on yourself and on me; show dutiful self-control to deliver your house and your husband, your person and this tiny child of ours from the unhappy disaster that looms over us. Do not set eyes on, or open your ears to, these female criminals, whom you cannot call your sisters because of their deadly hatred, and because of the way in which they have trodden underfoot their own flesh and blood, when like Sireni they lean out over the crag, and make the rocks resound with the death-dealing cries!