The myth of Eros and Psyche is probably one of the best love stories in classical mythology. Eros, son of Aphrodite, was the personification of intense love desire and he was depicted throwing arrows to people in order to hit their heart and make them fall in love. Psyche, a beautiful maiden, personifies the human soul. In fact, she is the symbol of the soul purified by passions and misfortunes and who is, from now on, prepared to enjoy eternal happiness.
In the love story of Eros (Cupid in Latin) and Psyche (meaning "soul" in Greek), we can see the perseverance of a man even when he is possessed by passion and the effort of a woman to overcome many obstacles in order to achieve the happiness of love.
The legendary beauty of Psyche
Once upon a time, there was a king who had three wonderful daughters. The youngest, Psyche, was much more beautiful than her two sisters and looked like a goddess among mere mortals. The fame of its beauty had been spread throughout the whole kingdom and men kept coming to her palace to admire and worship her.
When people would see her, they used to say that not even Aphrodite herself could compete Psyche. The more people were getting to know Psyche, the less would remember the goddess of love and beauty. The temples of Aphrodite were abandoned, her altars covered with cold ashes and the sculptors would no more make statues for her. All the honors reserved to her were then attributed to a simple, mortal girl.
The goddess could not accept such a situation and required help from his son, Eros. He told him in distress, Use your power and make this little shameless girl to fall in love with the vilest and the most despicable creature who has ever walked on Earth. Eros agreed to do so but the moment he saw her, he himself felt his heart pierced by one of his own arrows. He couldn't make that charming maiden fall in love with a horrible creature but also decided not to tell his mother.
The horrible prophesy
Psyche, however, was felling bad because not only she could not fall in love with someone but, even more surprising, nobody seemed to really fall in love with her. Men were happy just to admire her. Then they passed by and married another girl. Her two sisters, though definitely less seductive, had held two lavish weddings, each with a king. Psyche was the most beautiful girl on Earth, but she was sad and lonely, always admired but never really loved. It seemed that no man would want her as his wife and this caused great anxiety and distress to her parents.
That is when her father went to visit the oracle of Delphi to ask Apollo for an advice on what to do to find a husband for Psyche. The prophecy of the god was terrible. Apollo decreed that Psyche, dressed in black dress, should be brought to the summit of a mountain and stay there alone. The husband that was assigned to her, a winged serpent, terrible and more powerful than the gods themselves, would come up and take her for his wife.
No one can imagine the despair of the family and friends of Psyche. She was prepared for the hill as if she were to face her death and with more cries than if they were to drive her to the tomb, they led the young lady to the hill. Desperately, they all departed, leaving Psyche to her fate, radiant and helpless, and they locked themselves in the palace to mourn her for the rest of their days.
The beginning of a fairy tale
On the hill and in the dark, Psyche remained seated and waited. While she was shaking and crying in the quiet night, a slight breeze reached her. It was the fresh wind of Zephyr, the mildest of the winds. He felt that she was being raised. She was being taken into the air, over the rocky hill, to a soft meadow full of flowers. He did his best to make her forget her pain and put her to sleep.
She then woke up by the sound of clear stream and when she opened her eyes she faced an imposing and magnificent castle. It seemed destined to a god, with gold columns, silver walls and floors of inlaid precious stones. Absolute silence ruled. It seemed uninhabited and Psyche approached cautiously to admire its splendors. She remained suspicious at the threshold, where she heard a noise but could not see anyone. However, she could clearly hear the words: The house is for you. Come in and do not be afraid. Take a bath and we will immediately honor you with a great dinner.
Never had she taken such a refreshing bath nor tasted such delicious dishes. While eating, she heard a soft music around her, like a harp accompanying a numerous choir. She heard it but she could not see it. The whole day she was alone, only accompanied by the voices. But somehow she knew her husband would come at night. And so it was. When she felt he was close to her and heard his voice whispering sweetly in her ear, her fears disappeared. Without even seeing him, she was certain that he was not a monster but the loving husband she had always been wishing for.
The doubt in her heart
The following days passed in full joy and Psyche could not remember any happier time of her life. However, day after day, she was feeling sadness that she could not see her husband. Moreover, she was left alone all day and boredom filled her heart. Suddenly, she started missing her family. They must have been mourning for her and she was alive and happy. This was not fair and she didn't want her family to suffer.
That night, she asked her mysterious husband to grant her a favor. She wanted her tow sisters to come up at the palace and make sure that she was fine. That would be a comfort for her old parents. At first, her husband refused but when Psyche turned out so sad, he told her. OK, I will allow your sisters to come up here, but I am warning you, do not let them influence you. If they do, you will destroy our relationship and suffer a lot.
Next day, her two sisters, carried by the wind, they came up to Psyche. They were all happy to see each other and cried in happiness. However, when they entered the palace, the two older sisters were amazed by all those magnificent treasures. During dinner, they heard a wonderful music and drank the most delicious of wines. Envy was flourishing in their heart and an irresistible curiosity to know the owner of such magnificence, the husband of Psyche. They kept asking the poor girl questions on her husband, his look and his occupation. Psyche just said that he was a young hunter.
But, they didn't believe her, of course. Could a simple hunter be so rich? He must be a prince or even a god, they thought. The two sisters knew that compared to Psyche, their own wealth and happiness were nothing at all and in total jealousy, they made a plan to hurt their sister. When, they were saying goodbye, they two evil women told Psyche that her husband must be the awful snake that the oracle of Delphi had told her husband. That is why he doesn't allow you to see him. Because he knows that if you see him, you will disgust in his sight and leave him forever. Oh, poor Psyche, how can you sleep with such a horrible creature?
From that day on, Psyche could think of nothing else but these words. Her sisters must be right. Why doesn't he come to me in the day? Why doesn't he allow me to see him? What is his secret? Why hasn't he ever told me about his life? These thoughts were puzzling Psyche for many days long. He must be hiding something horrible and that is why he does not want to be seen in the daylight. I must find out. Tonight, when he falls to deep sleep, I will light a candle to see him. If he is a snake, I will kill him. Otherwise, I will turn the candle off and go happily to sleep. He had taken her decision, forgetting all about her husband's warning.
Indeed, that night, when her husband fell asleep peacefully, she took courage and lit the candle. Walking on her toes she approached the bed and she felt a deep relief. The light did not show a monster but the most beautiful of men. Ashamed by her madness and her little confidence, Psyche fell down on her knees and thanked gods for this happiness. But while he was leaning on him, a drop of oil fell from the candle on the back of that handsome, young man. He woke up in pain and saw the light. He looked her at the eyes and, facing Psyche's distrust, he left their bedroom without uttering a single word.
Psyche immediately ran after her husband. It was dark and she could not see him, but could hear his heartbroken voice: Love can not live without trust. Those were his last words before flying to the dark sky. The god of love!, she thought. He was my husband and I did not trust him. She cried and cried for days and then she decided to do anything to gain her back. She would look everywhere for him and she would prove her love.
Three dangerous tasks to prove her love
Without knowing what else to do, she went to the temple of Aphrodite and prayed to the goddess. She asked Aphrodite to speak to her son and persuade him to get Psyche back. Aphrodite had not, of course, overcome her jealousy for Psyche and still wanted her revenge. She told the young girl that she needed to be completely sure that Psyche was the appropriate wife for her son. Therefore, Psyche should accomplish three tasks to prove her skills. If she failed in even one of these tasks, Eros would be lost for ever.
Psyche agreed and Aphrodite led her on a hill. There the goddess showed her a dune of different small seeds of wheat, poppies, millets and many others. I want you to separate these seeds by this afternoon. If you do not, I will never let you see Eros again, said Aphrodite and left. How could see do that? How could see separate all these tiny seeds? This was a cruel task that filled her eyes with tears. That moment, a group of ants were passing by and saw her in despair. Come, feel mercy for this poor girl and let us help her, they said to each other. They all responded to this appeal and worked hard, separating the seeds, something in which they were experts. From the big original dune, they formed several smaller dunes, each with one king of seed. These smaller dunes saw Aphrodite and became angry.
You have not finished your work she said and ordered Psyche to sleep on the ground, without giving her any food, while she leaned in her soft bed. She thought that if she could compel Psyche to hard work for a long time, her beauty would not resist. Meanwhile, Aphrodite would not let her son to leave his room, where he was all that time mourning for Psyche's betrayal.
Next morning, Aphrodite came up with a new job from Psyche, a dangerous task. Can you see those black waters descending from the hill? That is River Estige, awful and abhorrent. Fill this bottle with its water, the goddess said. On reaching the waterfall, Psyche realized that the surrounding rocks were slippery and steep. The waters rushed through such abrupt rocks that only a winged creature could approach.
And indeed, an eagle helped her. It was flying with its huge wings above the river when it saw Psyche and fell sympathy for her. It seized the bottle from her hands with its beak, filled it with some black water and gave it back to Psyche. Venus accepted her with a cold smile. Someone helped you, she said sharply, otherwise you would not have been able to perform this task by your own. I'm going to give you another chance to prove you that you are as determined as you claim to be.
She gave a box to Psyche. She had to take it to the Underworld and ask Persephone, queen of the Dead, to drain a little of her beauty into the box. Obedient as usual, Psyche took the path leading to Hades. When she entered the gates and took the boat to the other bank, where the dead people used to leave, she gave much money to Charonte the boatman to help her find her way in the dark to the palace of Persephone.
Indeed, the boatman helped her and after a while, she was right in front of Persephone. When she asked her to drop a drain of her beauty in the box, Persephone was glad to serve Aphrodite. Psyche took the box and returned cheerful to the Earth. When she gave Aphrodite the box, the goddess got extremely angry. She yelled the poor girl that she would never let her go and she would always be her servant.
All is well that ends well
At this crucial moment, the Gods, who were watching this wrongdoing all this time, decided to take up action. They sent Hermes, the messenger God, to narrate Eros all the misfortunes that his wife was going through. Eros was touched and this healed the wound of betrayal. He left his room and found Psyche exhausted in his mother's garden.
From that moment on, Eros and Psyche lived happily together in their lovely palace, which was always full of roses and other flowers. Psyche persuaded Eros to forgive his mother for what she had made her suffer. As a wedding gift, Zeus made Psyche immortal and allowed her to taste ambrosia, the drink of the Gods. Even Aphrodite was happy because, now that Psyche was living in the sky with her husband, men on earth had forgotten all about her and were again worshiping the true goddess of beauty.