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Psyche

Every human has a psyche, but for the Greeks, only Cupid himself had Psyche. The most beautiful human in the world, Psyche was the sister of two similarly endowed, and the daughter of a king. Her miraculous allure overshadowed her siblings, and crowds gathered around her just to gasp at her beauty. Priests loyal to the mighty Venus, goddess of Love, found themselves singing Psyche praise, abandoning their divine mistress for the stunning girl in their midst. A considerably annoyed Venus called for her son, Cupid, to vex the ignoble mortal, one of his chief proclivities, in a most dastardly way. Pining for the unswept floors of her temples, she demanded that Psyche grow enamoured of some repugnant beast, the most undeserving kind of creature he could find.

As the unwitting lass slept, the mischievous imp hurried to her bedside - prepared to perform his tricks. In his fervour, Cupid brushed an arrow against her, awakening her, whereupon she opened her eyes, startling him and causing him to perforate himself in a very undignified way. Gathering his composure, he repaired to Venus, his plan foiled. What magic he had time to wreak, though, was fruitful enough to please his mother; Psyche, the shining object of every man's eye, was doomed to find no suitor. Princes had courted even her sisters, more mundane in their shape, but no man presented himself to her. Upon consulting Apollo's oracle, her parents were informed that her husband, a monster against whom neither god nor man could struggle, awaited her on the mountaintop. Although her parents were shocked and terrified, Psyche herself felt little worry; she would rather have died then with no husband than to live forever with the curse. Hiking up the mountain with stoic resolve, Psyche discovered that fear had overcome her, and hardly noticed when the soothing grip of Zephyr hoisted her up and flew her to a gorgeous valley, filled with every manner of beautiful flower and luxury. She found a glorious palace, supported by pillars of gold and thoroughly decked with lush paintings, each room filled with art and natural wonders. A voice soon exalted her, inviting her to enjoy all that she beheld, but she could find nobody to whom the voice might be attached. Not wishing to disappoint her host, she complied, indulging herself in every sort of pleasure.

For all the splendour of her palace, she still worried that she would never see her husband. Every night he crept through the darkness, and vanished before the dawn, yet all he said was full of love and joy. He consoled her, asking her to trust his love. Content for some time, Psyche soon recalled that her family must have been concerned about her, and asked her clandestine husband if she might be allowed to visit her sisters. Although his response was reluctant, he assented. Psyche summoned Zephyr, who snatched up her sisters and brought them to the dale. Both parties were overjoyed to see each other. However, during a later visit, her sisters craftily insinuated that perhaps her stealthy husband was indeed a monster - why else would he hide his identity? Although Psyche tried to resist the implication, her growing curiosity would not relent. She soon armed herself with a lantern and a knife, meaning to discover what her unseen spouse had hidden from her. As she gazed upon his sleeping face, astounded that it was no other monster than Cupid himself, she spilled a drop of oil on his face, arousing him from his slumber. With a stern but regretful admonition, he flew from her.

Her sisters, gratified at the news but outwardly seeming to lament, decided that perhaps Cupid would choose one of them as his new lover, so they called Zephyr, each in turn, to bring them to Cupid. The leaped from the mountaintop, but Zephyr caught neither of them, and they both fell to the ground, where death hastily greeted them. Psyche took it upon herself to wander the world searching for her lost love, ashamed at her disloyalty. Finding another marvellous temple, she hazarded that it might be Cupid's, and entered. Within, she saw nothing but a dishevelled array of corn, barley and agricultural tools. Unconsciously, she set about to straighten up, when Ceres, the matron of the temple, greeted her. Ceres pitied Psyche, and told her that although she could not make Venus adore her, she could help her win favour with Venus. Venus, still irate, decided that the best remedy for her impious ignominies was to work, and she commanded that Psyche separate grain all day. She expected a vast storehouse full of mixed grains to be in order and categorised by evening. Cupid, sympathising, saw her, and caused a colony of ants to help her in her task. The job was completed, and Psyche was rewarded with some bread. Venus, who knew Psyche's work was aided, conceived another task, whereby the mortal was to earn golden fleece from some belligerent sheep across a nearby river. The god of said river instructed Psyche to wait until noon, when the sheep were asleep and unwilling to upset her with their violence. She obeyed, only to learn that Venus had a final labour for her, a chore that entailed a visit to Erebus to fetch a sample of Proserpina's beauty. Forthwith the industrious girl aimed to hop off a cliff, seeking to avoid a tedious walk to the underworld, but her stunt was precluded by a voice that told her of a less fatal shortcut, by way of a cave through which she could avoid many unpleasantries. She did as she was told, and won the beauty. Overcome by a desire to wear some of Proserpina's legendary charm, she opened the box, and was promptly put to sleep. Cupid, having recovered, came to her rescue, and offered to convince his mother to let them stay together. Jupiter, on his behalf, spoke to Venus, who begrudgingly acceded. Jupiter offered Psyche a draft to make her immortal, and the two were never again separated. With help from Cupid's touch, she bore a daughter, whom they named Pleasure.

Contributed by Gifford, Justin
23 January 2003

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