Books: The Myth of Eros and Psyche

‘The Abduction of Psyche’ by William Adolphe Bouguereau.

Hi! It’s Annie!

After seeing ‘Hadestown’ a few days ago, I have fully immersed myself once again in Greek mythology. It’s definitely one of my favorite forms of classic literature to dive into! And for years now, no Greek tale has been quite as interesting to me as the tale of Eros (otherwise known as Cupid) and Psyche. It could be because Greek mythology and folklore is well known for its tragedy and this is one of the only stories that actually (surprisingly) ends happily. I’m not a huge fan of depressing endings; I much prefer a happy one. And the story of Eros and Psyche is not only one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read, it also is the inspiration for many fairytales that we know and love today. The story also includes the most depth we get on the actual character of Eros, who is an often misinterpreted mythological figure. So I’m actually going to go into the tale itself, the figures within it and who they actually are, and how this amazing myth has effected so many other beloved stories we all know! This is a MAJOR SPOILER warning for if you do not know the myth and want to read an official version.

Eros:

Before I go into the story, I want to talk about the characters! And none so much as Eros, one of the most misinterpreted gods in Greek mythology. Modern media portrays Cupid as a baby angel in a diaper carrying a bow and arrow. Always lighthearted and a very pure image of what love is. This is not how Eros has ever been portrayed in any of the original myths; in fact Eros was one of the most feared Greek gods in mythology. This was for several reasons, the first of which being that he was one of the only gods who actually had the power to effect other gods because of the power of his arrows. Yes, they were that powerful. Eros was also actually more of a mischief god than anything else; while he could grant a mortal or god love he could also grant them suffering by forcing them to love an inconvenient person, or worse, a deadly creature. On top of that his mother, Aphrodite herself, often used him as her hound, to enact revenge on mortals or gods that had wronged her. Eros never took the appearance of a baby. He was described to look like a young man, the fairest of the gods even, but with wings. Despite Eros’s great power and freedom among the gods to do what he pleased as none of them wanted to be on his bad side, he was often described as being fairly lonely. Often not finding companionship with men or other gods, partly because of how much he was feared. Is it just me, or is that so much more interesting than a weird baby in a diaper?

Psyche:

A very beautiful mortal whose beauty becomes so renowned that men travel from afar to see it for themselves. Unfortunately, this also leads many mortals to say that she’s more beautiful than Aphrodite. If you know anything about Aphrodite at all, saying something like that is usually a death sentence for the recipient of the compliment in Greek tales. This on top of the fact that people began giving Psyche their gifts originally meant to be offerings for Aphrodite was just the icing on the cake of her fury. But Psyche did not mean for this to happen, nor was she happy about it. Psyche was also unable to ever fall in love with a mortal man and others falling in love with her was just as impossible. Men could only admire, but never truly love her. Making her just as lonely as Eros, but also unknowingly opening her up to falling in love with an immortal man. When her parents fear that she will never have any marriage prospects, they take her to see an oracle who tells her that her future husband will be a monster who even the gods fear. (Still unconvinced that Eros was actually a badass?) She is told to go and wait on a cliff for her husband, which most of the village accepts as her death, but she is instead taken by the winds up to Eros’s palace.

‘Beauty and the Beast’:

The fairytale to take inspiration from this myth the most by far is actually ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Obviously, Eros fell in love with Psyche after Aphrodite sent him to make her fall in love with a horrific and dangerous creature and he could not complete the task. But arranging for Psyche to come stay with him is difficult. Firstly, part of it is to keep her hidden from Aphrodite. But also, Psyche is not allowed to see him at all meaning that he can only visit her when it’s dark outside. Psyche is still under the impression that she’s been taken to a monster, taking the words of the oracle very literally even though they probably weren’t meant that way. Trapped in a palace with a monster. Sound familiar?

‘Cinderella’:

As Psyche is only allowed a little time to spend with her new husband, she is still very lonely and misses her family. Cue Eros allowing her to invite her two sisters, who very much remind me of two other fairytale sisters. Immediately jealous upon seeing how their sister is now living, they encourage her to find out the identity of her husband. Ultimately convincing her that he was still a monster who would probably kill her any night he chose. Of course, Psyche does the stupid thing and lights a candle to look at Eros, which drips oil on him, waking him up and causing him to leave, hurt by the betrayal.

‘Rumplestiltskin’:

One of the more interesting points of this myth is that it is one of the only ones that involves a woman going through Greek trials. After Psyche misleadingly goes to Aphrodite for help getting Eros back, she is forced to do four tasks. Though Psyche is taken pity on and helped through all of these tasks. The first one is actually to sort through piles of seeds, which is the exact task that is set for the protagonist of ‘Rumplestiltskin’.

‘The Little Mermaid’:

Though this one is less of the original tale and more of more recent adaptations; this one is also pretty obvious to me. Having a powerful being give a woman a certain amount of time to earn her man or become a slave has been used in many versions of the ‘The Little Mermaid’. Considering that this even ends with the “Prince” coming to help her with the final battle at the end, makes this even more obvious to me. Eros eventually frees himself from where Aphrodite has locked him the entire time Psyche has been completing these tasks, and saves Psyche. Eventually standing up to his mother himself before Zeus intervenes.

‘The Sleeping Beauty’:

The final task that Eros saves Psyche from? She retrieves “beauty” from Persephone on the request of Aphrodite and after a harrowing journey to the underworld, Psyche is nervous about meeting Eros in her severely beaten state. She opens the box of “beauty” which turns out to be more like death or rather a deep sleep. Though Eros uses his powers to wake her up, this is thought to be where the idea of waking someone from deep sleep with true love comes from.

The story ends with Zeus giving Psyche immortal life so she can live out her days with Eros with the ability of actually seeing him this time. Like I said, it ends happily! But I was surprised I hadn’t heard about this story sooner than I had, especially because it is one of the lesser known myths despite how influential it has been. This story is literally all of our favorite fairytales wrapped into one! But considering ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has always been one of my favorites, I find it odd that nobody seems to talk about its origins. Not to mention the idea of a lonely immortal god falling in love with a lonely mortal woman is an absolutely beautiful concept. I wish we’d have more adaptations of this myth in particular, because what we do have is very few and far between. I hope that this myth will eventually get the recognition it deserves so that I can finally read a full book adaptation of it in the future.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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