April 5, 2010

In Roman mythology Psyche (Greek equivalent: Yuch) is the goddess of the soul, the wife of Cupid (Greek equivalent: Eros), the god of love. Psyche started out as a mortal princess. She was the daughter of an anonymous king and his queen. Psyche had two elder sisters. All three sisters were beautiful, but Psyche was the fairest. For her matchless beauty, she was considered as a new Goddess of Love, and as her fame increased, many men came from distant land to witness her for once.

Psyche earned the ire of Venus (Greek equivalent: Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty when people diverted their worship from the goddess to the mortal. Venus commanded Cupid, his son, to shoot her with one of his magical arrows to make her fall badly in love with the first man she saw. But the Parcae (Greek equivalent: Moirai ; Fates) decreed otherwise, just as Cupid was about to shoot the arrow at her, he stumbled by her beauty and accidentally pricked himself with the arrow. As a consequence, he fell madly in love with Psyche and carried her away to his secluded palace. However Cupid hid his true identity, and commanded her never to look upon his face. Fearing the fact that his disloyalty might be disclosed to his mother, Cupid visited Psyche only by night unseen and unrecognised. He made her promise that she would never look at him. Although Cupid had forbidden her never to look upon his face, one night, out of curiosity, Psyche lit a lamp and looked upon him while he was sleeping. Psyche got so excited to discover Cupid as her husband that her body started to shiver. When she bent her body to kiss him, a drop of oil spilt from the lamp on the naked body of Cupid and awakened him. Cupid became very angry at the disobedience of Psyche and abandoned her. Psyche found herself alone in the midst of darkness, the whole palace got vanished in the thin air just after Cupid left the scene.

Psyche was devastated when Cupid left her. Subsequently, the brokenhearted young woman decided to go to Venus and beg before her for her blessing on the marriage. Venus, however, saw this as her opportunity to take her revenge. Venus told Psyche that she would consider her worthy of her son if she was able to complete three tasks. Then Venus beat her fiercely. Cupid saw and heard everything standing from distance.

Psyche’s first task was to spend the night in a room filled with mixed grains and to have them all sorted and bagged by daybreak. Realising the impossibility of the task, Psyche started weeping. Watching her misery an army of ants took pity on her and came forward to help her with the task. Because of their helping hands Psyche was able to finish the task in advance of the deadline. As a reward of her success, Venus beat Psyche again like the previous day.

The following day she was given a far more impossible task. Her mission was to bring back the Golden Fleece belonging to a magical ram. The ram was extremely ferocious and already killed several heroes who tried to acquire his fleece. She was Terrified that she also would be crushed by the vicious creature. When she was about to give up her faith on her task’s materialisation, a mermaid took pity on her. Psyche worked according to her advice and managed to collect the fleece. She presented the fleece to Venus. That day Venus mocked at psyche very rudely.

The third task was utterly impossible. Venus gave Psyche a crystal jar to fetch water from the river Styx. That river was guarded by a band of dragons. When Psyche reached there she realised that this task cannot be undertaken by her. When Psyche was about to give up her faith on the task, Jupiter’s (also Jove; Greek equivalent: Zeus) eagle showed up in the sky. The eagle was aware of Cupid and Psyche’s story. So, he took the jar from Psyche’s hand and filled it with Stygian water.

When Psyche returned with the water in the jar, Aphrodite thought she must be a clever and wicked witch, and gave her yet another task. It was Psyche's last and most frightening challenge. The test was to descend into the underworld, the kingdom of the dead, and to return with the beauty box from Proserpina (Greek equivalent: Persephone), the goddess of the dead (goddess of the underworld) and the fertility of the earth. This task was her longest and hardest. Even Venus could realise that this time Psyche would surely die. When Psyche set out for her journey into the underworld, Cupid secretly followed her. He knew very well that this time she was walking towards death. When she was about to enter the underworld, Cupid, staying out of sight, instructed her how to collect the beauty box from Proserpina. Psyche could not recognise Cupid’s voice. However, she worked according to his advice and was able to get the box. At the time of returning, she thought that if Venus keeps her promise, she would be able to meet Cupid just after completion of this task. Thus, she thought that she should prepare herself to face that moment of truth. Then, with a view to increase her beauty a bit more, she decided to use a tiny touch of the beauty contained in the box. But as she opened the box, a black cloud covered her. What she released from that box was not beauty but Stygian sleep. She fell to the ground and lay like a corpse without sense or motion. She was supposed to sleep forever, but Cupid came forward and rescued her. He shut the cloud of sleep up again in the box and awakened Psyche with the light prick of one of his arrows.

Accepting the reality that he truly loved Psyche, he flew to the heaven and begged to the supreme god Jupiter to consider his case. So Jupiter, who had been defiled by Eros so many times, found on this occasion the opportunity to teach Cupid a lesson. But instead, he assured Cupid that his prayer would be granted. Zeus then called a council of the gods. There, in front of everybody, Jupiter requested Venus to forgive psyche. Venus could not refuse that request. She blessed Psyche wholeheartedly. Then upon Minerva’s (Greek equivalent: Athena, also: Athene) advice Jupiter decided to make psyche the last goddess of Olympia. A marriage ceremony was arranged to legitimise their relationship.

Thus after many trials Psyche and Cupid were united. And in due time they had a daughter born to them whose name was Pleasure/Volupta/ Hedone.


The fable of Cupid and Psyche is usually considered allegorical. The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul. There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull, grovelling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness.

In works of ancient mosaics Psyche is represented as a maiden with the wings of a butterfly, along with Cupid. Sometimes a pair of Psyches is portrayed; the second is probably their daughter Pleasure.

The story of Psyche and Cupid has been the interesting subject of scrutiny for numerous literary artists. The 17th century English poet John Milton, for example, alludes to the story of Cupid and Psyche in the conclusion of his Comus:
"Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced,
Holds his dear Psyche sweet entranced,
After her wandering labours long,
Till free consent the gods among
Make her his eternal bride;
And from her fair unspotted side
Two blissful twins are to be born,
Youth and Joy; so Jove hath sworn."
The English Romantic poet John Keats alludes to the story of Cupid and Psyche in his Ode to Psyche:
"O latest born and loveliest vision far
Of all Olympus' faded hierarchy!
Fairer than Phœbe's sapphire-regioned star
Or Vesper, amorous glow-worm of the sky;
Fairer than these, though temple thou hast none,
Nor altar heaped with flowers;
Nor virgin choir to make delicious moan
Upon the midnight hours;
No voice, no lute, no pipe, no incense sweet,
From chain-swung censer teeming;
No shrine, no grove, no oracle, no heat
Of pale-mouthed prophet dreaming."


Khan, Farhad. An Encyclopedia of Classical Literature. Dhaka: Protik, 1996.

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable, The Age of Chivalry, Legends of
Charlemagne. New York: Random House, 1934.

“Psyche.” Greek Mythology Link. 1997. Carlos Parada and Maicar Förlag. 30 March 2010
< http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Psyche.html >.
Tanvir Shameem Tanvir Shameem is not the biggest fan of teaching, but he is doing his best to write on various topics of language and literature just to guide thousands of students and researchers across the globe. You can always find him experimenting with presentation, style and diction. He will contribute as long as time permits. You can find him on:


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