A myth retold.

You ever hear the myth of Cupid and Psyche? It’s pretty cool. It was the inspiration for my favorite book “Till we have faces.”

In a nutshell it’s Beauty and the Beast with a few strange twists.

Psyche is a beautiful beyond belief woman, who is being worshiped instead of the goddess Aphrodite (who is goddess of love and beauty) which makes Aphrodite furious, so she sens her son Eros (whom we all know by his roman name Cupid) to make Psyche fall in love with some hideous person or beast. In the process however, he accidentally scratches himself with the point of an arrow and falls  in love with her himself.

Well, you can imagine how Aphrodite feels about this, but she doesn’t do anything for awhile. Psyche goes to an oracle for advice, since she’d getting lonely and tired of only being worshiped and not really loved, the oracle (I believe upon Aphrodite’s instruction) tells her she is fated to marry a monster. Well, Psyche isn’t too happy about this, but somehow( the reasons vary) she ends up on a cliff and the West Wind comes an carries her to this great palace. Where he is waited on by invisible servants and visited at night by her husband. Whom she never sees. (This is like the original Beauty and the Beast, not the Disney version.)

Psyche is enjoying herself with no qualms until her sisters pay her a visit. (Either Eros lets them or his mother or they somehow find her themselves, I’m not sure.) We’ll say Eros lets them in this account. Her sisters fill her head with suspicions about her husband, what if he really is a hideous monster? Finally she agrees to look at him by night, the very thing she was forbidden to do. So she does this that night, but he turns out to be a gorgeous god with angel wings. While she’s gaping at him in adoration a drop of hot candle wax falls on him from her lap. He wakes up, scolds her for breaking his trust, and leaves her there. Aphrodite hears all about it and decides to punish Psyche in some pretty dramatic ways. She sets her a lot of tasks that seem impossible. But creatures ranging from ants, to eagles, to other gods, all help her complete the tasks.

Finally she is given one last task. Getting beauty from Persephone, the queen of the underworld. Psyche successfully gets a cask from her, but even though she was warned not to look in it, she does. (Some say because she wanted to look better for her husband whom she was supposed to be reunited with.) Well, it turns out what was in the box was death. Or else the beauty in it was so intense no mortal mind could take it in. Whatever the case Psyche immediately passes out. Either into death or just unconsciousness.

Eros finally comes back to her, after being kept away by his mother for a long time, and revives her. Then he brings her up to Olympus and she is given immortality. Zeus patches things up between her and Aphrodite somehow, and they all live happily ever after. (As much as Greek gods do.) Psyche also is given wings. Butterfly like wings if I remember correctly.

In Greek psyche means “Soul” and I’ve also heard it means “butterfly.” Which I think fits. I think the Greeks were onto a thing or two when they came up with this myth.

The myth is a metaphor for the soul. I’m sure it’s been interpreted different ways, but here’s my guess at it: The soul has to mate with love in order to fly. But before it can be fully united to true love, it must be free of its bondage to selfish, vengeful, jealous love (represented by Aphrodite.) That kind of love is just lust really, it wants to be admired and fulfilled but never give anything back in return. And if you know anything about Greek mythology, you know Aphrodite is responsible for screwing a lot of people up because of her matchmaking. (To her credit, she also makes some happy marriages along the way.)

Eros, or Cupid is considered a monster because he forces people to fall for each other with his arrows. People fear love because it leads to many reckless things. At least I always thought that’s what it meant.

C. S. Lewis puts a different spin on it when he shows that people fear Eros because they do not understand him, nor do they know him. Even though by all accounts Aphrodite does more to mess people up, Eros gets the credit for the damage she does. Eros is seen as a  brute because he seems to devour people. In that they are never seen again after they are taken to him. But Lewis digs deeper and shows that after being with a god, mortals are ruined for ever being content with mere mortal companionship again. Which makes their families angry and jealous, and makes other immortals like Aphrodite furious.

The really odd part is where Psyche dies. In any other Greek Myth, she’d be doomed for disobeying Aphrodite’s instructions. (It happened to other people.) But in this one, in an odd twist, she is forgiven and brought back with no lasting consequences. And she is reunited with her husband and made immortal. Did you catch that? The soul is made immortal after being united with love?

What’s really interesting is that I’m fairly certain this myth predated Christianity, yet all the basic elements of Christianity are in there. Psyche breaks the god’s command, ends up enslaved to another god who wants to punish her, she dies, she is resurrected, and she lives forever; because of love.

On top of that, Eros is Aphrodite’s son, so you could also see it as a representation of how Christ atones for us and makes us right with the Father.

It’s a powerful myth because it rings true. It’s one of the only Greek myths I know of where mercy wins out over the gods queer justice. It also reflects the truth, as Lewis shows, that the gods ways are unsearchable for mortals.

I like the myth both in its original form and in its retelling and I can’t figure out why no one is doing a retelling of it in movie form. Someone get on that!

Anyway, I hope you liked it, until next time–Natasha.

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