From Renaissance painters all the way to today’s filmmakers, Psyche and Eros (or “Cupid”) have served as great sources of inspiration, and have been featured in many great — and sometimes, lesser — works of art in a plethora of variations.
Although the story was first written down by Roman author Apuleius in the second century AD, scenes from the myth are found on many ancient Greek works of art, indicating that the story was first told in ancient Greece.
Many ancient Greek myths were later adapted and retold by Roman authors, and often the Roman sources are the only written versions of the myths that survive. Some stories may have never been written down in Greece at all, or any copies of such texts have since been lost.
According to Greek mythology, Psyche was a mortal woman of exceptional beauty and grace. Her looks became legendary, and people from all over the world came just to see her loveliness for themselves.
Yet Psyche did not marry anyone belonging to the legions of her admirers. She only wanted to marry the man she would love with all her heart. Her parents, however, wanted her married off as soon as possible, and asked for an oracle, hoping they would find a suitable husband for their beautiful daughter.
The fame of Psyche even reached Mount Olympus
Aphrodite, the goddess of Love in Greek mythology, was furious that a mortal woman was the subject of the admiration of so many men.
The jealous goddess asked her son, the young master of love, Eros, to descend to the world of mortals and poison men’s souls so that they no longer desired Psyche.
However, when Eros laid eyes on Psyche, he was so completely mesmerized by her beauty that he forgot to carry out his mother’s orders. In fact, he fell in love with Psyche himself.
Eros told Apollo to give the oracle that Psyche would marry an ugly beast whose face she would never be able to look at, and that he would wait for her at the top of Mount Olympus.
Naturally, the oracle’s words devastated Psyche’s parents. They could not believe that the gods had such a horrible fate in store for their precious daughter.
Yet they surely could not go against the gods, and they decided they had no alternative but to begin arranging the wedding of their daughter with the beast.
Psyche did marry the beast — but because of his appearance she was able to be with her husband only at night. However, her spouse’s less-than-stellar looks were counterbalanced by the genuine, tender love he showed to her.
The beast’s love and devotion made Psyche happy and she found that all her dreams about true love had actually been fulfilled. She spoke about her great happiness with her sisters, but confided in them how sad she was that she wasn’t able to see his face.
Psyche’s sisters became jealous of her happiness and convinced her that her husband was a monster who would eventually kill her, and that she should kill him first to save her life.
So one night, Psyche took a knife and an oil lamp and went to commit the horrible deed. But when she cast her light on the face of her beast-husband she saw instead the beautiful visage of the god of love, Eros.
Psyche was so shocked by this sudden revelation that she accidentally spilled the lamp’s oil on his face. Eros woke up and flew away, telling Psyche that she had betrayed him and ruined their relationship so that they would never be together again.
Psyche immediately began a desperate search for her lost love. She even went to the goddess Aphrodite herself, who had imprisoned Eros in the Palace, and begged to see him. The cunning Aphrodite then gave Psyche three impossible tasks to accomplish in order to prove her love.
But Psyche’s love was so strong that she accomplished the first two tasks easily. The first was to sort a huge quantity of different legumes, which she managed with no trouble. The second was to bring golden fleece from wild mountain sheep. Psyche accomplished that as well.
The third one, however, was by far the hardest of all, and also was a trap. She had to go to the Underworld (Hades) and bring back Persephone’s box with the elixir of beauty to Aphrodite, who also ordered her not to open the box.
However, there was no elixir of beauty actually inside the box. Aphrodite knew that inside, instead of the elixir, there was Morpheus, the god of sleep — and she also knew that Psyche would have the curiosity to open it.
Opening the box, Psyche fell asleep.
When Eros found out what happened, he ran away from the Palace, and begged Zeus to save his beloved Psyche.
Zeus was so moved by the true love and devotion of the pair that he granted Psyche the gift of immortality so that the two lovers could be together for eternity.
Over time, Psyche became known in Greek mythology as the deity of the soul. Today, the myth of Psyche and Eros still symbolizes the search for personal growth through learning — as well as true love, of course!