- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology»
- Ancient History»
- Greek & Roman History
From the Greek That'll Learn Ya File: Eros and Psyche - Trust in Love
The story of Eros and Psyche is one of the most loved of all Greek tales. There is true love, love lost, and a fight to win love back, and along the way, a mother who cannot stand to lose her beloved son to a girl, fights to keep the lovers apart. Many people have found themselves in a similar situation, but only Psyche found herself going up against Aphrodite, one of the most powerful goddesses of all time.
Once upon a time, it is a love story after all, there was a king and queen who had three lovely daughters. The youngest of the three was also the most beautiful. Her name was Psyche and she was so beautiful that none of the young boys of the kingdom would seek her hand for fear she would turn them down. Many of the people took her beauty as a sign that she was perhaps a daughter of the goddess of beauty herself and began bringing their offerings to her instead. This outraged Aphrodite and she decided to use her son to get even with the innocent girl.
The goddess's first attempt to eliminate her rival was to send her son Eros, god of love, to shoot Psyche with one of his golden arrows to make her fall in love with a hideous beast. Eros set out to follow his mother's orders, he really did, but when he saw the beautiful girl, he was so taken with her that he accidentally pricked himself with the tip of his own arrow. As even he was not immune to his power, he fell deeply in love with the girl and could not follow through on the plan.
Since the king and queen's other two daughters had long since been married off to good men, the father worried what would become of his youngest. He went to Delphi and sought the advice of the Oracle of Apollo. Aphrodite, seeing her chance to once again ruin the girl, ordered Pythia, the oracle, to tell Psyche's father that she was to be married to a creature who was so hideous that even Zeus and Hades feared him. The father is then told to prepare his daughter for a funeral and take her to the rocky peak high above his kingdom. Psyche is to be left alone there at which time her husband will come and claim her. Aphrodite expected the girl to die from exposure, but little did she know she was setting up a situation that would become her worst nightmare.
Psyche stood alone waiting for the beast to arrive when to her surprise, a gentle wind, named Zephyrus, swept her up into the heavens. When he finally sets her softly down, she falls asleep in a beautiful garden with towering trees and flowing steams. When she wakes, feeling somehow hopeful and happy, she finds her way to the palace that sits upon the flowery lawn. As soon as she steps inside, she is taken by the beauty and instantly knows it must be the palace of a god. Upon entering, she finds herself in the care of a multitude of invisible servants. Whatever she desires will instantly appear, and she can want for nothing. A voice from an unseen person tells her that all she sees is hers, but she is concerned that she has not yet met her husband.
As the evening wears on, Psyche grows nervous when she is guided to a bedroom but knows this is the prophecy of the oracle. When her lover appears, the room is dark, and she is unable to see him. Despite not being able to see his face, she finds he is gentle and caring. When she awakes the next morning, he is gone, and she is left alone with the unseen servants for the day. From that time on her husband returns each nigh and makes love to her in the darkness then is gone by first light.
After a time, Psyche's curiosity becomes so great that she asks her husband why it is that she is never allowed to see his face. He tells her that monster or god it does not matter what he looks like. He wants her to continue to love him just as he is. He then asks her to just trust him and never attempt to see his face. Psyche, being very much in love with her husband, agrees to never look upon his face.
Psyche, now in her extreme happiness, wants to contact her family and ease their fears over her fate, but her husband warns her that she must never call upon them and let them know where she is, or both of them will suffer a terrible fate. Psyche, now worrying over her parents, cries all day. When her husband returns that evening, wanting her to be happy, he agrees to let her bring her sisters to the palace to see that she is happy.
Psyche's sisters, in mourning for their lost sibling, stood crying on the rocky cliff where they last saw their sister. Psyche then calls down to them telling them not to weep for her as she is here. She then sends Zerphyrus, the west wind, to collect her sisters and bring them to her. Her sisters are at first amazed at how happy Psyche looks and then, upon entering the palace, are in disbelief as to the way she is now living. When they turn their questions to their sister's husband, Psyche, not wanting to reveal anything about her husband, tells her sisters that her husband is a handsome hunter who is gone from her during the days, and he is the most kind and caring of men. The sisters then begin to grow jealous of all that Psyche now has and when they return to their own homes, begin to cry out to Tyche, goddess of fortune, that it is unfair how their lives are so dreadful when Psyche lives in such splendor. Her sisters hide all of the riches Psyche shared with them from her home and tell their parents that Psyche has indeed married a beast.
When her loving husband returns to her bed that evening, he tells her all that her sisters have done and warns that Tyche will attempt to seek redemption for her sisters by driving her to question his appearance again. He warns her that if her sisters return, as he is sure they will, Psyche is to turn them away or at least refuse to listen to anything they say about him. He tells her that she is with child and if she remains faithful to his wishes, the baby will be born a god, but if she gives in to temptation, their baby will be born mortal.
The sisters return to visit Psyche and begin to insist that she is indeed married to an unseen beast, and they fear for her very life. They remind her of the oracle's words and beg her to find out the truth before he turns on her. They insist that once she delivers her baby, the beast will eat her. Psyche now breaks down and begins to cry admitting that she has never seen her loving husband. She then agrees to take an oil lamp to her bedchamber and shine a light upon her husband's face.
That night, after he husband returns and makes love to her, he falls asleep in their bed. Silently she retrieves the lamp and a blade then shines the light to see the face of the beast to which she is married. When she sees the face, however, she is in shock as it was Eros, a handsome god lying in her bed. She becomes mesmerized looking over her husband, his golden locks, his pure white wings, his naked flesh, she can hardly believe he is hers. She spots his bow and arrows lying at the foot of the bed. She takes one of his arrows and begins to look at it but because of her shaking, pricks her arm. Now, though she already loves him, her love becomes stronger than any feeling she has ever felt before. She then begins kissing him, but in her carelessness, she lets a drop of oil fall from the lamp onto his shoulder. Eros wakes upon the pain, and seeing that her trust in him is destroyed, he flees from their bed without a word. Psyche cries out and grabs his leg refusing to let go. As he flies to the heavens, she rises with him until he gently sits her down at which time he starts to scold her. He tells her of his mother's demand to make her fall in love with a hideous beast and how he pricked himself and fell in love with her. He reminds her that he had given her his love and all of his possessions while in return asking only for her trust and her love. Instead, she betrayed him and prepared to cut off his head with a blade. He had warned her that the vile ways of her sisters would lead to this, but she was so silly that she did not head his warning. Now her punishment is that he has to leave her.
Eros then flew away leaving Psyche alone and crying on the ground. After a few minutes, she managed to get up and carry herself over to a nearby stream and threw herself in wishing to drown. As would happen, the god of the wild, Pan, was on the other bank teaching the mountain nymph Echo to sing by repeating after him. Being a god, Pan, recognized that Psyche was suffering the pain of a lost love. Not wanting to see her die, he called to her and brought her across the water to him. The god then begged her never to attempt by any means to kill herself again but to pray to Eros the god of love for relief. She did not tell him the Eros was in fact the love she had lost. She listed to her advice then went on her way.
After a time of wondering around in tears, Psyche came upon the kingdom of one of her sisters. After greeting one another with hugs, her sister asked why she was there. Psyche then began to tell her that when she took her advice and looked upon the face of her husband, she found that it was Eros, the god of love himself. She told her sister that he was so angry with her that he put her out and told her that he would instead marry her sister and mentioned the sister before her by name. Her sister then ran to the rocky cliff as quickly as she could and threw herself off in order to go be with the god only this time it was not Zephyrus blowing. The sister bounded upon the rocks and killed herself. Psyche then continued her wonderings until she came up the village of her remaining sister. Again, she told of her husband Eros's design to marry her sister and again her sister threw herself off the rocks to her death.
While Psyche was busy taking revenge upon her sisters, Eros was lying in his mother's bedchamber crying in pain. His mother, however, was not home. At once, a white dove flew to Aphrodite who was bathing in the sea. The bird told her that her son was burned and gravely ill because the wound was inflicted by his lost love. It also claimed that all around the world, people were gossiping that Eros was of lazing around in the mountains while his mother swam in the ocean. With neither of them seeing to the business of love, there were no weddings, no friendships, no children being cuddled with joy. In other words, the world was falling apart because there was no love. Upon hearing this, Aphrodite became furious and demanded to know who the girlfriend was that had forced herself on her precious baby boy. She demanded to know if it was some nymph or one of the Horae, Muses, or Charities. The dove feared what its goddess might do, but finally admitted that it believed it was the girl Psyche.
Aphrodite then quickly returned to her palace and upon finding her son injured as she was told, she started screaming at him. How dare he do this to her. Who did he think he was to not do as she had told him? She was his mother, his boss. She threatened to have another son and make him her heir, or better still, take a slave and give him Eros's wings, bow, arrows. She accused him of taking her for granted and reminded him that everything he had he had gotten from her for his father, Ares, had given him nothing. She continued saying he had made her a laughingstock, and now he expected her to accept that girl as her daughter-in-law. She told him that only when she had taken everything she had given him, including his golden locks of hair, would she give him to Psyche. Aphrodite then left the room in anger and ran into Demeter and Hera. The goddesses asked why she looked so upset. The goddess of love then told them she was sure that they had heard what her son had done, and they agreed. Aphrodite asked them to help her track down the worthless Psyche. The other two Olympian goddesses then asked Aphrodite why she was so upset that her own son was in love. He was a man now, despite the fact that his mother could not see it, and how could anyone respect her work when she would not even allow love in her own home. Aphrodite was to have none of it and stormed back off to the sea.
Psyche continued her wonderings until she came upon a temple fit for a god. Though desperately tired, she hurried along hoping her husband would be there. Instead, she found that women had been bringing their offerings of grain to the temple and throwing it about all over the floor. Psyche thought it wrong, to leave an offering to any of the gods in such a way and began to sort the grains by type in neat little pile. When she finished, Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, came to her and told her that Aphrodite was fit to be tied and making everyone look for her. Yet, here was Psyche tending to Demeter's business with no care for herself. Psyche then begged at Demeter's feet to let her stay there in the gain temple and hide from Aphrodite until she had a chance to rest as she was dreadfully tired. Demeter, though feeling sorry for the girl, told her that she could not anger Aphrodite by going behind her back, but she would allow the girl to leave and not turn her over to the goddess of love.
Psyche continued her wonderings until she came a upon an orchard and knew it to be a temple to the goddess Hera. She knelt at an altar and became to pray that the wife of Zeus and goddess of motherhood would take pity on her. She prayed that, as Hera was known to do, she would give aid to her as a pregnant woman. Hera then appeared to her and told the girl that if she could, she would, but that Aphrodite was her daughter-in-law, as the goddess was married to her son Hephaestus. She also told Psyche that it was against the laws of the gods for one to give shelter to the slave of another. Psyche could not believe that she was being turned away again. She then pleaded with Hera to advise her on what to do next. She could not find her husband and now there was no place safe for her to hide. Hera advised her to go beg Aphrodite's forgiveness and perhaps she would find all that she seeks in the home of the goddess.
Aphrodite, growing tired of searching for Psyche, went straight away to Zeus and asked to borrow his son Hermes to communicate with the mortals to enlist aid in finding the girl. Zeus agreed and Hermes let with Aphrodite to essentially put out a warrant and reward for the capture of Psyche. When Psyche reached Aphrodite's doorway to turn herself in, all of the servants in the palace then called out her presence in order to obtain the reward for themselves. Aphrodite came and told the girl it was about time she realized that she did in fact have a goddess then dragged her inside by the hair of her head. Once inside, Aphrodite looked at the girl and asked if she had finally come to meet her mother-in-law or was she there for her husband who was on his deathbed for the wound she had given him.
After having her servants beat the girl, Aphrodite brought her back and again spoke to her pointing out the baby she was carrying. She supposed that the girl thought she would be a happy grandmother. Then sarcastically said how happy she was that despite her own youthful appearance, she would be called a grandmother to a son born of a cheap servant. She then told Psyche that she, Aphrodite, was stupid for even calling the baby her son as the wedding between the two of them was not legal and the child would just be a bastard if she was allowed to have it. Aphrodite then set about beating the girl herself ripping her dress, pulling out her hair and pounding her in the head. Aphrodite then put Psyche before a huge pile of seeds, poppy, wheat, millet, beans etc, and told her to sort them out by nightfall to prove she was worthy of existence in the goddess's eyes. Aphrodite then took off for a wedding party leaving Psyche to her work.
Psyche stood looking at the pile in disbelief of how she could accomplish anything in her current state when an ant, knowing of the situation, wanting to help Eros's wife and feeling that her mother-in-law was being unfair, took pity on the girl and rounded up a whole legion of ants to sort out the seeds into tidy piles. They finished their work and fled just before the goddess returned. Aphrodite, upon return and finding the nice neat piles, accused that Psyche had not done the work herself, threw her a crust of bread, and left her for the night. In the meantime, Eros was being held captive in a room at the far side of the house so he would not know that his wife was there.
The following morning, as soon as Eos, the dawn, had drawn Apollo's chariot, Aphrodite called the girl to her again. This time she ordered her to follow a river and find the sheep with golden wool. Psyche was to then get some of the golden fleece anyway she could and bring it back to her goddess. Psyche at once set out but not to find the sheep. She wanted to find a cliff and throw herself off of it. As she walked along, however, she heard music being played through the reeds. Within the notes she received another message from Pan. He told her not to poison his river with her dead body. He advised her to stay away from the sheep while they were riled up in the morning but wait until afternoon when they took rest in the shade of the tree. As the sheep slept, she would then find tufts of golden wool tangled on the branches of the brambles and would be easy for her to collect. Psyche, trusting in the god Pan's advise did all that he instructed. When she returned all of the golden fleece to her mother-in-law, however, the goddess was still not pleased.
For her next task, Aphrodite ordered the girl to take a pitcher and climb to a far off mountain where the River Styx feeds into the River Cocytus. Psyche is to bring back water from the highest point of the stream. Again the girl set out for the highest peak, but again it was for the purpose of throwing herself off the top to end her pain, but before she would reach the top, she spied a huge rock that was too big to go around. There were also a slew of snakes calling out for her to stop and go back. Not knowing what to do, she stopped in her tracks and stood frozen with fear. Zeus spied the innocent girl and sent his eagle to her aid. When the bird approached it told her that the Styx was deadly to the touch of mortals, so that even if she were capable of reaching the top, which she was not, there would be no way she to collect the water that even gods feared. The bird then took the pitcher and flew to the top to collect the water for her. Still Aphrodite was not moved when she returned. The goddess told her that to have accomplished this last task, she must be a witch. She orders the girl to carry out one more task.
Now Aphrodite sends Psyche to the realm of Hades ordering her to take a box to the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, for some of her beauty cream. She is to tell the wife of Hades that Aphrodite has been too busy taking care of her wounded son and has used all of hers putting it on the god's burns. She orders the girl to make it back quickly because she needs to make herself pretty to go to the theater with the other gods that night. Psyche now realized that this was her last task simply because the only way to go to the realm of Hades was to die.
Psyche now walked to the nearest tower and climbed to the top to throw herself off. Before she could reach the top, however, the tower called out to her asking why she was intent on killing herself. The tower told her that if she went just down the road to Sparta, she would find a path to a gateway to the River Styx. She was to carry with her two golden coins and two barley cakes. She was told that she would pass an ass carrying sticks, and it would ask her to stop and help with some of his fallen load, but she is not to speak nor stop. When she gets to the river, Charon, the ferryman, will require a fare for the passage. He will need to take one of the gold coins from her lips in order to carry her safely across. The tower went on to say that a dead man would float to the surface as she crossed and beg her to help him into the boat, but she could not. Upon the other side, she would come across three old ladies weaving and again be asked to help, but she could not. The tower said that each of these would be a trick Aphrodite had put into place to trip her up along her journey. When she reached Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades, she was to feed him one of the barley cakes which would keep him occupied while she passed. From there she was to go to the palace and tell Queen Persephone why she was there. Persephone would surely give her what she asked, then the girl was to return the same way giving Cerberus the other barley cake and Charon the other gold coin. The most important instruction, however, was to not open the box of beauty cream under any circumstance.
Now having hope, Psyche hurried to Sparta and obtained two gold coins and two barley cakes. She passed the ass without stopping and paid the ferryman one gold coin for safe passage. She ignored the dead man and the weaver stopping only to give one barley cake to Cerberus. She kneeled before the goddess and spoke of her quest. At once Persephone had the box filled and returned it to Psyche. Psyche then set out to return just as she had come, giving Cerberus the other cake and Charon the second coin.
Psyche now thinking the hardest part of her task completed, having returned to the light of the upper world, traveled back along the path. Her mind then became preoccupied with the contents of the box. She could not see the harm of taking one little bit of the cream for herself to make her appearance more appropriate for her godly husband. Unable to stop herself, she opened the box. The box contained no beauty cream only Stygian sleep from the realm of Hades. Now that the lid was open, the sleep came over her and she dropped where she stood to sleep forever.
Eros now healed, could no longer stand to be apart from his beautiful Psyche. He fled his mother's palace through an open window and flew right to his sleeping wife. He scooped the Stygian sleep from her face then pricked her with one of his love arrows. He then held her in her arms scolding her for letting her curiosity get the better of her once again. After sending Psyche on her way to give his mother the box from Persephone, he then flew to the heavens to speak with all might Zeus.
The love god pleads to the king of the gods to intervene with his mother and allow him to marry. Zeus takes the boy's cheek between his fingers then kisses him there. He tells Eros that never has Eros given him the great respect he deserves as king of the gods. He has ruined his reputation over and over by making him fall in love with other goddess and mortal women besides his wife Hera. Eros has caused him to revert to the form of eagles, swans, bulls, snakes and other grisly creatures in order to obtain these women, but still he cannot find it in his heart to refuse what the boy has asked.
Zeus then orders his son Hermes, the messenger, to call together all of the gods in the heavens. Any who do not comply shall be fined. Olympus quickly fills with all of the gods for fear of Zeus's punishment. Zeus then takes a seat on his throne and makes an announcement to all those present. He points out that everyone knows Eros and how much Zeus, himself, cares for the boy. He points out that Eros has done a lot of foolish things in his youth (i.e. making them all fall in love with those they should not) and it is time to reign in his juvenile misdeeds a by marrying him to a girl. Zeus goes on to tell them that since Eros picked a girl and robbed her of her virginity, she is the one he must marry. He then turns to Aphrodite and tells her to keep her head up, as in his approving of the marriage it shall be considered between two equals and her family name is intact. Zeus then sends Hermes to find Psyche and bring her to Olympus.
Zeus then orders his son Hermes, the messenger, to call together all of the gods in the heavens and by his order call all of them together. Any who does not comply shall be fined. The Olympus quickly fills will all of the gods for fear of Zeus's punishment. Zeus then takes his seat on his throne and makes an announcement to all those present. He points out that everyone present knows Eros and how much Zeus, himself, cares for the boy. He points out that Eros has done a lot of foolish things in his youth (i.e. making them all fall in love with those they should not) and it is time to be reigned in his juvenile misdeeds a by marrying him to a girl. Zeus goes on to tell them that since Eros picked a girl and robbed her of her virginity, she is the one he must marry. He then turns to Aphrodite and tells her to keep her head up, as in his approving of the marriage it shall be considered between two equals and her family name is intact. Zeus then sends Hermes to find Psyche and bring her to Olympus.
Once Hermes brings the girl before the gods, Zeus gives her a cup of ambrosia and tells her that if she drinks from it, she will become immortal and Eros will be her husband forever.
A wonderful wedding feast is then set out before the gods. The bride and groom sit in a place of honor as do Zeus and Hera. Ganymede, Zeus's cupbearer fills his cut with nectar while Dionysus, the god of wine, provides for everyone else. Hephaestus, the god of fire, prepares bar-b-q while the Horae surround them all with roses. Apollo plays his lyre and Pan the flute, while the Muses sing and Aphrodite, herself, dances in the middle of the floor. Shortly after the wedding, Psyche gave birth to a health and beautiful daughter name Hedone (pleassure).
Psyche had it all, a wonderful home, wealth and a husband that loved her dearly. All she had to do was trust in him. Time and time again the young girl was overcome with curiosity and in the end, lost everything because of it. Only because she was truly innocent, was she allowed to have a happy ending after all of her trials. In the end, she not only have her loving husband but an immortally happy family.