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EROS AND PSYCHE
N the blue waters of the Ægean Sea, midway between
Greece and Egypt, lies the fertile land of Crete. Here,
long, long ago, when the gods still walked on earth in
human form and the sons of men were as children playing
in a fair garden, there ruled a king who was the father
of three lovely daughters. They lived in a palace in
the rich Omphalian plain, beneath the shade of
snow-capped Ida, surrounded by smiling gardens and
fruitful vineyards, with a glimpse, away to the
southward, of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. So great
was the beauty of these three maidens that their fame
went abroad throughout all the land, and wealthy wooers
flocked from far and wide to win their hands in
marriage. The two elder sisters soon became the brides
of two great princes, and were well content to pass
their days in the sunshine of their husbands' love and
admiration, and to deck themselves with gold and
jewels, and listen to the praise
 of their beauty upon the lips of men. For the gods had
given them grace of form and feature, but their souls
within were vain and foolish, so that in after-years,
when they found their sister more blessed than they,
their vanity and envy brought them to an evil end.
The youngest sister, whose name was Psyche, continued
to live on at home long after the other two were
married. In face and form she was as fair as they,
whilst her soul within was so pure and beautiful that
it shed a heavenly radiance about her, so that when men
looked into her face all thoughts of love and wooing
died out of their hearts, and they worshipped her as
one of the Immortals. Wherever she passed voices were
hushed and heads were bowed in prayer, till at length
it was rumoured that Aphrodite herself, the Queen of
Love, had come to live with men. The temples stood
deserted and the altars bare of sacrifice, and from far
and wide men flocked to Psyche with gifts and garlands
and songs of praise.
Then foam-born Aphrodite, Queen of Love, was filled
with jealousy and wrath that a mortal should usurp her
place and name, and she cast about in her mind for some
means of revenge.
"Verily, I must make this Cretan maiden rue the day
when first men laid my offerings at her feet. I will
smite her with so dire a malady that her very beauty
shall be turned to scorn, and the heights to which her
impious pride hath raised her shall be as nought to the
depths of her shame and misery."
Thereupon she sent for her son, the great god Eros, who
lords it over gods and men. The poison of his fiery
darts none can withstand, and with him it rests to burn
 men's hearts with the fever of unsatisfied desire, or
so to temper the venom of his shafts that it runs like
heavenly nectar through the veins. Yet the joy that he
gives withal is akin to madness, and the torture of his
wrath a frenzy unquenchable.
"Best-beloved son," she said, "if thou carest aught for
thy mother's name and fame, thou wilt hasten now to do
my bidding. In midmost Crete there dwells a
maid—Psyche by name—whose impious pride
hath cast dishonour on my godhead. The offerings that
are mine by right are cast before her feet. My temples
stand devoid of worshippers, who flock to pay her
court; and all this not in Crete alone, but from the
farthest shores of Hellas men cross the sea in
white-winged ships to gaze upon her face. Go now, I
pray thee, and smite her with a poisoned arrow from thy
bow. Make her to love some loathly monster, deformed in
soul and body, and with a passion so shameless and
all-consuming that men shall spurn her, even as now
they haste to pay their vows. As thou lovest me, go
with all speed and do my bidding."
So Eros sped away to fulfill Aphrodite's command, and
plant in the heart of Psyche the image of a dark and
dreadful monster, and make her love it. As she slept he
came and stood beside her, armed with his bow and
poisoned arrows. But when he looked upon her his arm
fell lifeless by his side, and the arrows slipped out
of his hand, for never had he looked on one so fair;
and her beauty smote his heart as surely as ever one of
his own shafts had pierced a mortal's breast. From that
moment he loved her with all his soul, and swore that
no harm should ever come to her through him, but that
 himself and no other, whether man or monster, should be
her bridegroom. And he picked up the arrow and put it
back into the sheath.
"If she can trust me," he said, "she shall never feel
a wound from one of these. I will carry her away, and
she shall be mine; but till the gods are reconciled
that I should wed a mortal, and my mother's anger is
appeased, I must visit her only in the night-time, and
she must not know who I am nor see my face. When the
gods have proved her and found her worthy of me, then
will I reveal myself to her, and through my love she
shall be immortal, and dwell with me for ever in the
shining courts of heaven."
And he bent over and kissed her lightly on the lips.
She smiled in her sleep and held out her arms towards
him, and he knew that his kiss had kindled in her heart
the light of love.
Aphrodite, meanwhile, with her mind at rest, took her
way along the shell-strewn curve of a sandy bay, and
laughing ripples made music at her feet. The Sun was
slowly sinking to his bed in Ocean's stream, and Night
rode in her crescent car across the calm green vault of
heaven. From Aphrodite's feet a broad gold path of
light led straight to the sunset realms of Helios, the
sun-god, and as she waited on the shore, a band of
dolphins ploughed the sea towards her. In their wake
came Tritons blowing on soft-voiced conches, and some
drew a pearly shell behind and pushed it to the shore
and bade her enter.
"Great Helios bids thee to his midnight revelry, O
Queen of Love," they cried, "and we are come to guide
 thee along the golden pathway to the glowing palaces of
As the goddess stepped into the shell, they blew a loud
salute upon their conches, and spread a silken sail
above her head, and with music and laughter they
crossed the shining sea to the golden halls of Helios.
meanwhile, all unconscious of the wrath she had kindled
in the breast of Aphrodite, was pining away at home in
loneliness of heart. Little did she care for th worship
that men paid her or for the offerings that they laid
at her feet. It was for the love of a husband that she
longed, and her soul was starving in the midst
of rich gifts and the rapt, adoring gaze of
worshippers. Her melancholy fastened on the king her
father, and on all the palace, and soothsayers and
augurs crowded round the doors with omens, charms, and
riddling words, and prophesied all manner of evil.
At last the king could bear it no longer, and he set
forth on pilgrimage to Apollo's shrine at Delphi, and
made question of the oracle.
"Have the gods ordained that Psyche, my daughter,
should die unwed, though the fairest maid on earth, or
doth some bridegroom await her who tarrieth long? O god
of Light, reveal his name, and save my child from
Then the tripod shook, and from the midst of the
incense and vapour the priestess made reply,
"Think not of marriage-songs, O king, or bridal
 torches. On a lonely rock on snow-clad Ida must thou
leave thy child, the bride of no mortal man. But a
savage monster shall come, the terror of gods and men,
and shall bear her waay to his own land, and thine eyes
shall see her no more. Wherefore make ready the funeral
feast. Bring forth your sable robes of mourning, and
bid the minstrels raise a dirge for the dead. For so
the gods have willed it."
So the king went sadly home, and his heart was heavy
within him. And all the people mourned with him; for
they loved the fair princess, with her beautiful sad
face and her kind and noble heart. All manner of tales
went abroad of the monster she must wed, some saying
one thing and some another. But most men thought it
must be Talus, the great giant who guarded Crete. Three
times every day did he walk around the island, and woe
to any stranger who fell in his path or tried to land
when he was by. For from top to toe he was made of
burning metal—gold and silver and bronze and
iron—while through his body ran one single vein
that was filled with fire and fastened in his head with
a nail. If any man tried to thwart him, he would gather
him up in his great bronze arms and hold him to his
breast, red-hot with the fire in his vein, and when he
was well cooked through he would devour him. Many a
long year after, when Jason sailed by with the heroes
of the Golden Fleece, Talus rushed down, and would have
stopped them from watering their ship, and have turned
them adrift on the salt seas to be tortured to death
with thirst. But Medea, Jason's dark witch-wife,
beguiled him with fair promises, and made him cool his
burning body in the sea before she would
 come near. Then when she had him under her spells she
softly drew the nail from his head, and the fire flowed
forth from his vein, and all his strength departed, and
he died with a curse on his lips for Medea and her
wiles. But she only laughed loud, and bade Jason water
the ship and thank the immortal gods that he had a
witch-woman to wife. That, however, was long after, and
Talus was now in the prime of life, and the terror of
all the country-side.
Meanwhile, the land was plunged in mourning, and in the
palace all was bustle and confusion in preparation for
the funeral rites. All day long the old kiing sat in
his chamber, and looked out towards the lonely heights
of Ida, where his daughter was to be left.
"Better that she should die in her maidenhood," he
cried, "then wed this terrible monster."
Psyche alone in all the palace was calm, and tried to
comfort her father.
"Sire," she said, as she put her arms about his neck,
"to look on thy tears is to me more bitter than my
fate. Weep not for me, for something within me bids me
take comfort, and I hear a sweet voice say, 'Rejoice,
beloved, and come with me.' Dark was that day, my
father, when first men laid their offerings at my feet,
and my heart dwelt apart in its loneliness. And now, if
but for one day I may look upon the face of my
bridegroom, I would gladly die. For, methinks, it is no
monster I must wed."
But the king thought only of the words of the oracle,
and would not be comforted.
At length the bridal day dawned, and the sad procession
wound slowly from the palace towards Ida. Choruses
 of singers led the way with solemn dirges for the dead,
and the king, uncrowned, followed with his nobles clad
in armour and holding blazing torches in their hands.
Next came Psyche, all in white, with a bridal veil and
garlands, and surrounded by white-robed maidens; and
last of all the people of the city followed with loud
wailing and lamentation. Up the steep mountain road
they went, and the path grew rougher and narrower step
by step. On either side the dark rocks frowned down
upon them, and echoed to and fro the wailings of the
people as they passed, and above them the snow-capped
peak of Ida stood out against the summer sky, like a
lonely sentinel keeping watch over the plain below.
Slowly the shadows of the rocks lengthened across the
barren slopes, and the funeral torches shone pale in
the glowing sunset light. At last they reached the
appointed polace beneath the unmelting snow, and on the
barren rock they set the maiden, and bade her a
sorrowful good-bye. Ever and anon they turned back to
look on her as they wound down the mountain-side, and
only the snow-clad peak flashed like a ruby in the last
rays of the sunk and as they looked backward for the
last time they saw Psyche transformed in the golden
light. Her white dress shone like a rainbow, and her
golden hair fell about her shoulders like a stream of
fire, and as she raised her arm to wave to them she
looked like no mortal maid, but a goddess in all her
beauty, so that the people hushed their voices and
bowed their heads before her. Soon the light faded, and
they could see her no more. Sadly they went their way,
 all down the mountain-track and across the plain below
the torches shone out like twinkling stars in the
Psyche, meanwhile, left alone, pondered sadly on her
fate, and wondered what the night would bring. And as
she sat and pondered, a soft breeze played about her,
filling her veil and robe, and gently she felt herself
lifted from the rock and borne through the air, till
she was laid down upon a grassy bank sweet with the
scent of thyme and violets. Here a deep sleep upon her,
and she knew no more.
was dawning when Psyche awoke, and high up in the
bright air the larks were singing their morning hymn to
the sun, and calling on bird and beast and flower to
awake and rejoice in the glad daylight. At first she
could remember nothing of what had happened, and
wondered where she was; then slowly all the sad
ceremony of the day before came back to her—the
funeral procession up Mount Ida, the lonely rock on
which she had been left, and the soft west wind that
had borne her away. So she rose up from the green bank
on which she had slept all night, and looked round
about her to see what manner of land she was in.
She found herself standing on a hillock in the midst of
a fertile plain. Steep cliffs rose up on every side as
though to guard the peaceful valley, and keep out any
evil thing that would enter in. To the eastward only
was there a break in the mountain-chain, and the dale
widened out towards the sea. As Psyche gazed,
 the golden disc of the sun rose slowly from the water,
and his bright rays lit up the grey morning sky and
scattered the silvery mist that hung about the
tree-tops. On either side of her was a wood, with a
green glade between sloping up towards a marble temple,
which flashed like a jewel in the rays of the rising
sun. And Psyche was filled with wonder at the sight,
for it seemed too fair to be the work of human hands.
"Surely," she thought, "it must be the handiwork of the
lame fire-god Hephæstos, for he buildeth for the
immortal gods, who sit on high Olympus, and none can
vie with him in craft and skill."
Then she looked about her to see if anyone were near.
But all around was quiet and still, with no signs of
human habitation. Wondering the more, she drew near to
the temple, and went up the marble stairs that led to
the entrance. When she reached the top her shadow fell
upon the golden gate, and, as she stood doubting what
to do, they slowly turned on their hinges, and opened
to her of their own acord, and she walked through them
into the temple. She found herself in a marble court
surrounded by pillars and porticoes which re-echoed the
soft music of a fountain in the midst. Through the open
doors of the further colonnade she caught a glimpse of
cool dark rooms, with carvings of cedar-wood and silver
and silken hangings. And now the air was filled with
music and sweet voices calling her by name.
"Psyche, lady Psyche, all is thine. Enter in."
So she took courage and entered. All day long she
wandered about the enchanted palace discovering fresh
wonders at every step. Even before she knew it the
 mysterious voices seemed to guess every wish of her
heart. When she would rest they led her to a soft
couch. When she was hungry they placed a table before
her spread with every dainty. They led her to the bath,
and clothed her in the softest silks, and all the while
the air was filled with songs and music.
All this time she had not said a word, for she feared
she might drive away the kindly voices that ministered
to her. But at last she could keep silence no longer.
"Am I a goddess," she asked, "or is this to be dead? Do
those who pass the gates of Death feel no change, nor
suffer for what they have done, but have only to wish
for a thing to gain their heart's desire?"
The voices gave her never a word in answer, but led her
to the chamber where her couch was spread with
embroidered coverlets. The walls all round were covered
with curious paintings, telling of the deeds of gods
and heroes—how golden Aphrodite loved Ares, the
god of War, and Apollo the nymph Daphne, whome he
changed into a laurel-tree that never fades. There was
Ariadne, too, upon her island, whom the young god
Dionysus found and comforted in her sore distress; and
Adonis, the beautiful shepherd, the fairest of mortal
Psyche, tired out by all the wonders she had seen
during the day, sank down upon her couch, and was soon
asleep. But sleep had not long sealed her lids before
she was awakened by a stir in the room. The curtain
over her head rustled as though someone were standing
beside her. She lay still, almost fainting with terror,
scarcely daring to breathe, when she heard a voice
softly call her by name.
 "Psyche, my own, my beloved, at last I have got thee,
my dear one."
And two strong arms were round her and a kiss upon her
lips. Then she knew that at last the bridegroom she had
waited for so long had come to claim her, and in her
happiness she cared not to know who he was, but was
content to feel his arms about her and hear her name
upon his lips. And so she fell asleep again. When she
awoke in the morning her first thought was to look upon
the face of the husband who had come in the dark night,
but nowhere could she find him. All the day she passed
in company of the mysterious voices who had ministered
to her before; but though their kindness and courtesy
was never failing, she wandered disconsolately about
the empty halls, longing for the night-time, and
wondering whether her lover would come again. As soon
as it was dark she went again to her chamber, and there
once more he came to her and swore that she was his for
evermore, and that nothing should part them. But always
he left her before it was light and came to her again
when night had fallen, so that she never saw his face
nor knew what he was like. Yet so well did she love and
trust him that she never cared to ask him his secret.
So the days and nights sped swiftly by, for in the
daylight Psyche found plenty to amuse her in the
enchanted palace and garden, and she did not think of
loneliness when every night she could hold sweet
converse with her beloved.
But one evening when he came to her he was troubled,
"Psyche, my dear one, great danger threatens us, and
 I must needs ask thee somewhat that shall grieve thy
"Mine own lord," she said, "what can there be that I
would not gladly do for thee?"
"Well do I know, beloved, that thou wouldst give thy
life for me. But that which I ask will grieve thee
sore, for thou must refuse the boon thy sisters shall
"My sisters! They know not where I am. How, then, can
they ask me a boon?"
"Even now they stand upon the lonely rock where thou
wast left for me, to see if they can find thee or learn
aught of thy fate. And they will call thee by name
through the echoing rocks, but thou must answer them
never a word."
"What, my lord! wouldst thou have my sisters go home
disconsolate, thinking that I am dead? Nay, surely,
thou wouldst not be so hard of heart? But let me bid
the soft west wind, that wafted me hither, bring them
too, that they may look upon my happiness and take back
the tidings to mine aged sire."
"Psyche, thou knowest not what thou askest. Foolish of
heart are thy sisters, and they love the trappings and
outward show of woe, and with their mourning they wring
their father's aching heart till he can bear it no
more. So he hath sent them forth to see whether they
can hear aught of thy fate. And, full of their own
hearts' shallow grief, they seek thee on teh
mountain-side, thinking to find thy bones bleaching in
the rays of the sun. Were they to see thy happiness,
their hearts would be filled with envy and malice. They
would speak evil of me, and taunt thee on thine unknown
lord, and bid thee look
 upon my face and see lest I be some foul monster. And
Psyche, mine own wife, the night that thou seest my
face shall be the night that shall part us for
evermore, and thy first look shall be thy last.
Therefore answer them not, I pray thee, but stay with
me and be my bride."
And Psyche was troubled at these words, for she thought
her husband wronged her sisters. Nevertheless,
unwilling to displease him, she said,
"I will do thy will, my lord, even as thou sayest."
Yet all the day long she thought on her sisters
wandering on the bleak mountain-side, and how they
would call for her by name, and at length go sadly home
to her father's house and bring no comfort. The more
she thought on it the sadder she became, and when her
husband came to her, her face was wet with tears. In
vain he tried to comfort her. She only sobbed the more.
"All my joy is turned to bitterness," she said, "when I
think on the grief that bows down my father's heart. If
but for one day I could bring my sisters here and show
them my happiness, they would bear the news to him, and
in my joy he would be happy too. Let them but come and
look at this fair home of mine, and surely it will not
harm me or thee, my dear lord?"
"I have not the heart to refuse thee, Psyche," he said,
"though it goeth against me to grant this. I fear that
evil will come. If they ask thee of me, answer them
Psyche was overjoyed at his consent, and thanked him,
and put her arms about his neck and said,
"My dearest lord, all thou sayest I will do. For wert
thou Eros, the god of Love himself, I could not love
 The next day, when Psyche was left alone, she went out
into the valley to see whether she could hear her
sisters calling her. And sure enough, she had not gone
far, when high up above her head, from the top of the
cliff, she heard her name, "Psyche, O Psyche! where art
thou?" At this she was overjoyed,
"O gentle Zephyr!" she called, "O fair west wind! waft,
oh waft my sisters to me!"
Scarcely had she said the words than she saw her
sisters gently borne down from the cliff above and set
upon the ground beside her. She fell upon their necks
and kissed them.
"Ah, my dear sisters," she cried, "how happy am I to
see you! Welcome to my new home. See, I am not
tortured, as you thought. Nay, my life is bliss, as
you shall see for yourselves. Come, enter in with me."
And she took them by the hand and led them through the
golden gates. The ministering voices played soft music
in the air, and a rich feast was spread before them.
All through the palace Psyche led them, and showed them
all her treasures, and brought out her choicest jewels,
and bade them choose out and keep as many as they
All this time, though there was no corner of the palace
that she kept hidden from them, she spoke no word of
her mysterious husband. At length they could contain
their curiosity no longer, and one made bold to ask
"Psyche, thou livest not here alone, of a surety. Yet
where is thy lord? All thy treasures hast thou shown
 us, but him, the giver of all, we have not seen. Who
is he, then? Surely he, whom the winds and bodiless
voices obey, must be a god, and no mortal man. Tell us
of him, we pray thee."
And Psyche remembered her husband's warning.
"My lord," she said, " is a huntsman bold, and over
hill and dale he rides this day after the swift-footed
stag. As fair as the dawn is he, and the first down of
youth is on his cheek. All through the hours of
sunlight he goeth forth to the chase, and at eventime
he returneth to me."
It was now close on night, and the shadows fell long
across the cool green lawns of the garden. Psyche
bethought her that it was high time for her sisters to
go, before they could ply her with questions. So,
kissing them farewell, and sending many a loving
message to the king her father, she called on Zephyr to
waft them away to the top of the cliff.
Hitherto the surprise and wonder at all they had seen
and heard had filled the minds of the two sisters. But
when they found themselves once more alone upon the
barren mountain-slopes, they had leisure to think and
compare their lot with that of their sister. Before
they had seen her golden halls they had been quite
content with their own palaces. But these now seemed
humble beside the splendours they had just left. Their
shallow hearts were quite filled up with the image of
themselves, and they had no room left for their sister.
But now her good fortune forced the remembrance of her
upon them, and they were filled with an envy and
jealousy of her which conquered even their love for
themselves. They could not be content to return once
more to their homes,
 and receive the homage of their husbands and their
households. Their one thought was how they might spoil
her happiness. For the hatred that is born of
self-love is an all-consuming passion that burns up
every kind and noble thought, as a forest fire burns up
the tall trees that stand in the path of its fury.
"How cruel and unjust," cried one, "that she, the
youngest, should be blest so far above us both. My
lord is a very beggar to him who giveth Psyche her
golden halls to dwell in."
"Yea, and mine is an old man by the side of this
beardless youth. Sister, thy grief and mine are one.
Side by side let us work, and verily her cunning shall
be great if she can avail against us and keep her
"Thou sayest well. 'Twas from pride that she welcomed
us to her halls to flaunt her riches before us.
Sister, I am with thee. Quickly let us plan some plot
to unrobe this upstart maiden of her vaunted godhead."
Whereupon they agreed together to bring their father no
word of Psyche's happiness. They tore their robes and
loosed their hair, as though all this while they had
been wandering over the rough mountain rocks.
"Ah, sire," they cried, "how can we tell thee the evil
tidings? Nowhere can we find our sister, or any trace
of her. Verily, the oracle lieth not, and she is the
bride of some fell monster."
Their cruel words smote their father to the heart and
quenched the feeble spark of hope that still burned in
his breast. And when all hope leaves the heart of man,
life leaves him, too. So the old king died, and his
 blood was on the hands of his own children, and one day
they paid the penalty with their lives.
Meanwhile, Psyche lived on in the happy valley in
blissful content. Her husband would often warn her
that her sisters were plotting her ruin, but she would
listen to nothing against them. At last one night he
"Psyche, to-morrow thy sisters will seek thee once
again. This time they will not wait for Zephyr to bear
them down, but, trusting themselves to the barren air,
they will hurl themselves from the cliff, and be dashed
to pieces on the rocks below. Leave them to their
fate. 'Twill be due penalty for their crime, and 'tis
the only way that we can be saved, beloved."
"My lord," cried Psyche, "thy cruelty would kill my
love for thee, were it not immortal. But, in very
truth, all my joy would be slain did I know that my
sisters were killed when I could have saved them. Oh,
dearest husband, by the love that makes us one, I
beseech thee, send Zephyr once more to bear my sisters
And she sobbed so pitifully and prayed so earnestly
that once again he had not the heart to refuse.
So about noontide the next day Psyche heard loud
knocking and cries at the door, and she hastened to
open it herself to her sisters. Again, she kissed
them, and bade them welcome, and they deceived her with
flattery and honeyed words, and when she was off her
guard, one said,
"Come, tell us, Psyche, thy husband's name. Among the
immortal gods, where doth he take his place, and why is
he not here to greet us?"
"My husband," she replied, "is a rich merchant. Many a
long year hath it taken to build up all the fortune
 you behold, for already the hair about his temples is
touched with snow. And this day hath he gone a long
journey to a distant town in search of rich
merchandise, and he returneth not till the setting of
Then quickly she called on Zephyr to bear them away
before they could ply her with questions.
When her husband came that night he was more troubled
than before, and begged her to see them no more, but
let them be dashed to death on the rocks if they
troubled her again. Her pure heart, however, would
believe no evil of them; and in this one thing she
disobeyed her lord.
Meanwhile, the second visit of the sisters to Psyche in
her beautiful home had but served to add fuel to the
fire of their envy. When they remembered her confusion
and the different tales she told them about her unknown
lord, jealousy whispered in their ears that all her
happiness depended on the keeping of her secret, and
that secret they straightway determined to know.
" 'Tis a strange lord, methinks," said one, "who
in the waxing and waning of a single moon doth change
from a beardless boy to a grave and reverend merchant
whose hair is touched with snow."
"True, sister. And therein lieth the secret of her
happiness. Her lying tale but proves that she hath
never seen her lord. And verily, he who would hide his
face from the queen of his heart must be some child of
the Immortals, whose love for an earth-born maid must
be hid from gods and men."
 "Yea, and they who are loved of the Immortals are
themselves immortal, too, and their seed after them.
Truly, sister, that Psyche should be a goddess is more
than I can bear."
"I feel with thee! It is not meet that the youngest
should have all. Let us invent some lying tale which
shall make her look upon her lord, and break the spell
which binds him to her."
"What sayest thou to the words of the oracle that
doomed her to wed a monster? Let us go to her and say
that now we know this to be true, and beg her to flee
from fate so vile."
So once more they trusted themselves to Zephyr, for
Psyche had prevailed upon her lord to promise that, so
long as her sisters should do her no harm, Zephyr
should always be waiting to carry them to and fro from
Early the next day she was aroused from sleep by the
sound of weeping and lamentation at her door, and she
hastened to meet her sisters, fearing some ill news.
And they fell upon her neck, crying,
"Alas, alas, for thine evil fate!"
"Mine evil fate, sisters? What mean ye? All is well
"Ah, so thou thinkest in thine heart's innocence. Even
so falleth the dove a victim to the hawk that wheeleth
"What talk is this of doves and hawks? Come, my
sisters, weep no more, for in this pleasant vale even
the winds of heaven breath gently on me, so good and
great is my lord who commandeth them."
 "Thy lord! Hast ever seen his face, child, that thou
callest him good and great?"
"Nay," she answered, blushing to think that they had
guessed her secret, " 'tis true I have not seen
his face, but what need to look upon him when all
around me breathes of his love for me?"
"Hast never heard tell of foul monsters that wed with
the daughters of men, and come to them only in the
night season, when the darkness can hide their
deformity? They cast a spell about their victims, and
by their wiles and enchantments they make all things
about them seem fair. But one day, when they have had
their fill, and tire of the maid they have won, lo! at
a word the pleasant palaces and gardens vanish into
air, and she is left ashamed and deserted, and scorned
by gods and men. Ah, sister, be warned by those who
wish thee well, and flee from thy vile lot ere all is
lost. Even yesterday, when we left thee, we saw a
monstrous shape that glided after us through the wood,
and we fled in terror, knowing it was thy lord, who
would not have us near thee. Come with us now, and be
When Psyche heard their words she was very troubled.
Truly, 'twas strange that her lord should be loath for
her to see her sisters, unless, indeed, it was even as
they said, and she was the prey of some terrible beast.
Yet his kind and loving words and his tender thought
for her welfare and all the beauty that surrounded her
gave the lie to such a thought.
"My dear sisters," she cried, "I thank you for your
loving fears for me, but it cannot be as you say.
Though I have never looked upon my lord, these fair
 gardens do but mirror forth the beauty of his soul, and
I know that he is true."
"Then why doth he hide his face? At least, if thou
wilt not flee with us now, do but put him to the test
when he comes this night. A glimpse at his form will
tell thee that our tale is true; and if by some strange
chance it be not so, what harm can one glance do?"
Thus they tempted her, and made her doubt her lord,
though sore against her will. So it often happens that
the pure of heart are tortured by the doubts which the
wicked plant in their breasts. As little does a young
bird in the greenwood suspect the hunter's snare as did
Psyche in her loving innocence suspect the malicious
envy of her sisters.
But they were filled with joy at the success of their
plot, and when Zephyr had borne them to the top of the
cliff they could contain their gladness no longer, but
fell upon each other's necks and kissed and danced for
But Psyche at their bidding made ready to look upon her
lord that night. Under a chair she placed a lighted
lamp in readiness, and shrouded it about, that the
light might not shine into the room and betray her
purpose. Trembling she went to bed that night, for she
hated the deed she must do. At the usual hour her lord
came and spoke lovingly to her, and kissed her, but her
words died away upon her lips, and she shuddered at his
embrace. In time he fell asleep, and his breathing was
gentle and even as that of a child sweetly dreaming in
its innocence at heart. Then she rose up silently in
the dead of night, and walking softly to the chair, she
took the lamp from
 beneath and turned on tiptoe to the bed. High above
her head she held the light, that the rays might fall
more gently on him as he slept, and with bated breath
she drew near and looked on him. As she looked, the
blood rushed headlong through her veins, and her heart
beat fast within her, and her limbs seemed turned to
water as she bent forward to look more closely. For on
the bed, wrapped in deep slumber, lay no terrible
monster, as she feared, but the youngest and fairest of
the Immortals—Eros, the great god of Love. The
gleam of his golden locks was as sunshine on the summer
sea, and his limbs like the eddying foam. From his
shoulders sprang two mighty wings bright as the
rainbow, and by his side lay his quiver and darts. As
he moved restlessly in the light of the lamp she heard
her name upon his lips. With a low cry she fell on her
knees beside him, and as she did so her arm grazed the
point of an arrow placed heedlessly in the sheath. The
poison ran like liquid fire through her veins, and set
her heart aflame, and with blazing cheeks she bent over
and kissed him on the lips. As she did so the lamp
trembled in her hand, and a drop of the burning oil
fell upon his shoulder, and he started up and found her
bending over him.
ON THE BED, WRAPPED IN DEEP SLUMBER, LAY NO TERRIBLE MONSTER, AS SHE FEARED, BUT THE YOUNGEST AND FAIREST OF THE IMMORTALS
"Ah, wretched, wretched Psyche!" he cried; "what hast
thou done? Couldst thou not trust me, who gave thee
all the happiness thou hast ever known?"
"My lord, my lord, forgive me! I would but prove to my
sisters by mine own eyes' witness that thou wert not
the monster that they dreaded."
"Thrice foolish maid! Knowest thou not that doubt
driveth away love? Did I not tell thee that thy first
 look would be thy last? From a terrible fate I saved
thee when Aphrodite bade me strike thee with my shaft
and make thee love some terrible beast. When I went
forth to do her bidding thy grace and beauty conquered
me, and I took thee away to be my bride; and in time,
hadst thou proved worthy, my mother and all the great
gods that rule above would have forgiven me, and shed
on thee the gift of immortality, to live with me for
ever in the courts of heaven. But now all is lost, and
I must leave thee."
"Ah, my lord, great is my sin, but I love thee, and my
soul is thine. Over the whole wide world would I
wander, or be slave to the meanest of men, so be it I
could find thee again. Ah, dearest lord! tell me not
that all hope is gone."
One moment he was silent, as though doubting her. Then
"One way there lieth before thee, if thy courage prove
greater than thy faith—one only way, by which
thou canst reach me—the long rough path of trial
and sorrow. Heaven and earth shall turn against thee;
for men win not immortality for a sigh. Yet will I
help thee all I may. In thine own strength alone thou
wouldst faint and die by the way, but for every step
thou takest I will give thee strength for two. And now
farewell! I can tell thee no more, neither linger
beside thee. Fare thee well, fare thee well."
As he vanished from her eyes Psyche fell senseless on
the floor, and for many a long hour she lay there,
hearing and seeing nothing, as though life itself had
 Meanwhile the two sisters were waiting in a frenzy of
impatience to know whether success had crowned their
evil plot. If the doubt they had planted in Psyche's
breast had borne fruit, and she had dared to disobey
her lord, they knew full well that all her happiness
would have vanished like a dream. Yet, fearing the
anger of him whom the winds of heaven obeyed, they
dared not trust themselves to Zephyr, who had carried
them down before. So they wandered restlessly from
room to room, and peered from the windows, hoping that
Psyche in her misery would come to them and beg for
succour in her evil plight. There was nothing they
would have loved better than to spurn her from their
doors and taunt her on the retribution which had fallen
on her vanity. But all day long they waited, and yet
she came not, so that at length they parted and went
each one to her couch.
But the night was hot and sultry, and the eldest sister
lay on her bed and tossed restlessly from side to side,
and could not sleep. At length she went to the
casement and drew aside the curtain and looked out on
the starry night, and when she had cooled her burning
brow she went back to her couch. Just as she was about
to fall asleep she felt a shadow pass between her and
the light from the window, and she opened her eyes, and
her heart beat fast; for straight in the path of the
moonbeams stood Eros, the great god of Love, and his
wings stood out black against the starlit sky as he
leant on his golden bow. Though his face was dark in
the shadow, his eyes seemed
 to pierce through to her heart as she lay still and
trembling with fear. But he spoke softly to her with
false, honeyed words.
"Lady, thy sister Psyche, whom I chose out from the
daughters of men, hath proved false and untrue, and lo!
now I turn my love to thee. Come thou in her stead and
be mistress in my palace halls, and I will give thee
immortality. Lo! even now Zephyr awaits thee on the
mountain-top to bear thee away to my home."
So saying, he faded from her sight. Her wicked heart
was filled with joy when she heard of Psyche's fall,
and she rose up in the dead of night and put on her
gayest robe and brightest gems. Without so much as a
look on the prince her husband she went out to the
mountain-top. There she stood alone, and called softly
"O Zephyr, O Zephyr, O fair west wind, waft me, oh waft
me away to my love!"
Without waiting she threw herself boldly down. But the
air gave way beneath her, and with a terrible cry she
fell faster and faster, down, down, to the gulf below,
and was dashed to pieces on the rocks; and from the
four quarters of heaven the vultures gathered and fed
upon her flesh.
As for the second sister, to her, too, the god appeared
and spoke false honeyed words, and she too went forth
alone; and in the morning her bones lay gleaming white
beside her sister's on the rocks below.
 When Psyche awoke from her swoon, she looked around in
bewilderment, for the scene which met her eyes was the
same, and yet so different. The forest-trees waved
their arms gently in the breeze, and whispered to each
other in the glad morning light, and in the hedges the
birds sang sweet songs of joy; for the skies were blue,
and the grass was green, and summer was over the land.
But Psyche sat up with a dull grief in her heart,
feeling over her the dim shadow of a half-forgotten woe
that meets those who awake from sleep. At first she
wondered where she was, for her clothes were wet with
dew, and looking round the still familiar scene, she
saw the green glade in the forest, but no shining
palace at the top. Then like a flash she remembered
the night, and how by her doubt she had forfeited all
her happiness, and she lay on the ground and sobbed and
prayed that she might die. But soon tired out with
weeping, she grew calmer, and remembered the words of
her lord—how she could find him again only after
long wandering and trial. Though her knees gave way
beneath her, and her heart sank at the thought of
setting out alone into the cruel world, she determined
to begin her search forthwith. Through the dark forest
she went, and the sun hid his face behind the
pine-tops, and great oaks threw shadows across her
path, in weird fantastic forms, like wild arms thrust
out to seize her as she passed. With hurrying steps
and beating heart she went on her way till she came out
on the bleak mountain-side, where the stones cut her
tender feet and the brambles tore her without mercy.
 But on and on she struggled along the stony road, till
the path grew soft beneath her, and sloped gently
downwards to the plain. Here through green fields and
smiling pastures a river wound slowly towards the sea,
and beyond the further bank she saw the smoke from the
homesteads rise blue against the evening sky. She
quickened her steps, for already the shadows from the
trees fell long across the fields, and the grass turned
to gold in the light of the dying day. And still
between her and shelter for the night lay many a broad
meadow and silver stream to cross. As she drew nearer
she looked this way and that for a ford, but seeing
none, she gathered together her courage, and breathing
a prayer to the gods, stepped into the water. But she
was weak and faint with fasting, and at every step the
water grew deeper and colder, and her strength more
feeble, till at length she was borne off her feet, and
swept away by the hurrying tide. In her agony she
"O god of Love, have mercy and save me ere I die, that
I may come to thee!"
Just as she was about to sink, she felt a strong arm
seize her and draw her up on the opposite shore. For a
while she lay faint and gasping for breath; but as her
strength returned, she heard close beside her soft
notes of music, and she opened her eyes to see whence
the sweet sounds came. She found herself lying beneath
a willow-tree, against which leant a strange musician.
For his head and shoulders and arms were those of a
man, but his legs and feet were thin and hoofed, and he
had horns and a tail like a goat. His ears were
pointed, his nose was wide and flat, and his hair fell
 wild about his face. Round his body he wore a
leopard's skin, and he made sweet music on a pipe of
reeds. At first she was terrified at the sight of this
strange creature, but when he saw her look up at him,
he stopped playing, and smiled at her; and when he
smiled he puckered his face in a thousand wrinkles, and
his eyes twinkled merrily through his wild elf-locks,
so that none could look on him and be sad. In spite of
all her woes Psyche fairly laughed aloud as he began
to caper round her on his spindle legs, playing a wild
dance-tune the while. Faster and faster he went, and
up and down, and round and round, till, with a last
shrill note on his pipe and a mad caper in the air, he
flung himself on the grass beside her.
FASTER AND FASTER HE WENT, AND UP AND DOWN, AND ROUND AND ROUND.
"Have I warmed the blood back to thy heart, fair maid?"
he asked, "or shall I dance again the mad dance that
drives away cold and despair?"
"Nay, merry monster, even now my sides ache with
laughter. But tell me, who art thou, that savest
damsels in distress, and drivest away their sorrow with
thy wild piping and dance?"
"I am the god of the forest and woodland and broad wide
pasture lands. To me the shepherd prays to give
increase to his flocks and the huntsman for a good
day's sport. In the evening, when the moon shines high
o'erhead, and the sky is bright with stars, I take my
pipe and play my lays in the dim dark forest glades.
To the sound of my music the brook murmurs sweetly, and
leaves whisper softly o'erhead, the nymphs and naiads
forget their shyness, and the hamadryad slips out from
her tree. Then the eyes of the simple are opened, and
on the cool, green grass by the side of the silver
 the goatherd, the neatherd and the young shepherd-lad
dance hand-in-hand with the nymphs, and the poet,
looking forth from his window, cries, 'How sweet are
the pipes of Pan!'
"But when the dark storm-cloud rides over the sky, and
the streams rush swollen with rain, with fleet foot I
hurry through woodland and dell, and over the bleak
mountain-tops; the crash of my hoofs on the rocks
sounds like thunder in the ears of men, and the shriek
of my pipe like the squall of the wild storm-wind. And
I rush through the midst of the battle when the
trumpets are calling to arms; but above the blare of
the bugle men hear the shrill cry of my pipes. Then
the archer throws down his bow, and the arm of the
spearman falls limp, and their hearts grow faint with
panic at the sound of the pipes of Pan. Nay, turn not
from me in terror, lady," he added, as Psyche made as
though she would flee, "for I wish thee no ill. 'Tis
gods mightier than I who have made me goat-footed, and
with the horns and the tail of a beast. But my heart
is kindly withal, or I would not have saved thee from
Once more he smiled his genial smile, and puckered his
face like the ripples on a lake when a breeze passes
"Come, tell me who art thou, and how can I help thee?"
Then Psyche told her tale, and when she had finished
Pan was silent for a time, as though lost in thought.
At length he looked up, and said,
"Thou seekest the great god Eros? I would that I could
help thee, lady; but love once fled is hard to find
again. Easier is it to win the dead to life than to
bring back love that doubt hath put to flight. I
 thee, for I know not how thou canst find him, or where
thou must seek. But, if thou wilt journey further, and
cross many a long mile of pasture and woodland, though
wilt come to the rich corn-lands and the shrine of
Demeter, the great Earth Mother. She knows the secret
of the growing corn, and how the rich fruits ripen in
their season, and she will have pity on a maid like
thee, because of her child Persephone, whom Hades
snatched away from her flowery meadows and dragged
below to be Queen of the Dead. Three months she lives
with him, the bride of Death, in the dark world of
shades, and all the earth mourns for her. The trees
shed their leaves like tears on her grave, and through
their bare branches the wind sings a dirge. But in the
spring-time she returns to her mother, and the earth at
her coming puts on her gayest robe, and the birds sing
their brightest to welcome her back. At her kiss the
almond-tree blushes into bloom, and the brook babbles
merrily over the stones, and the primrose and violet
and dancing daffodil spring up wherever her feet have
touched. Go, then, to Demeter's shrine; for if thy
love is to be sought on earth, she will tell thee where
to go; but if to find him thou must cross the dark
river of death, her child Persephone will receive
He then pointed out to her the path to the village,
where she could get shelter for the night, and Psyche,
thanking him, went on her way, gladdened at heart by
the genial smile of the wild woodland god.
That night she slept in a shepherd's cottage, and in
the morning the children went out with her to point out
the road she must go. The shepherd's wife, standing at
the door, waved to her with her eyes full of tears.
 had maidens of her own, and she pitied the delicate
wanderer, for Psyche's beautiful face had shed a light
in the rude shepherd's hut which the inmates would
So Psyche went on her journey, often weak and fainting
for food, and rough men laughed at her torn clothes and
bleeding feet. But she did not heed their jeers and
insults, and often those who had laughed the loudest
when she was a little way off, were the first to hush
their rude companions when they saw here near. For her
face was fairer than the dawn and purer than the
evening star, so that the wicked man turned away from
his sin when he saw it, and the heart of the watcher
was comforted as he sat by the sick man's bed.
At length, as Pan had told her, she came to the rich
corn-lands where Demeter has her shrine. Already the
valleys were standing thick with corn, for it was close
on harvest-time, and on the hill-sides the purple
grapes hung in heavy clusters beneath the tall
elm-branches. As she drew near the temple, a band of
harvesters came out. They had just placed the
first-fruits of the corn in the shrine, and now they
were trooping to the fields, a merry throng of young
men and maidens. Psyche stood back slyly as they
passed, but they heeded her not, or at most cast a
curious glance at her ragged clothes and bruised feet.
When they had passed her, and she had heard their merry
laughter and chatter die away down the lane, she
ventured to enter the temple. Within all was dark and
peaceful. Before the altar lay sheaves
 of corn and rich purple clusters of grapes, whilst the
floor was strewn with the seeds and bruised fruits
which the harvesters had let fall when they carried in
their offerings. Hidden in a dark corner Psyche found
the temple-sweeper's broom, and, taking it, she swept
up the floor of the temple. Then, turning to the alter
steps, she stretched forth her hands and prayed,
"O Demeter, great Earth Mother, giver of the golden
harvest—O thou who swellest the green corn in the
ear, and fillest the purple vine with gladdening juice,
have mercy on one who has sinned. For the sake of thy
child, Persephone, the Maiden, have pity on me, and
tell me where in the wide world I can find Eros, my
lord, or whether to the dark land I must go to search
So she prayed, and waited for an answer; but all was
still and dark in the temple, and at length she turned
sorrowfully away, and leant her head against a pillar
and wept. And, because she had walked many a long mile
that day, and had not eaten since dawn, she sank down
exhausted on the ground, and gradually her sobs grew
fewer and fainter, and she fell asleep.
As she slept she dreamt the temple was dark no more,
but into every corner shone a soft clear light, and
looking round to see whence it came, she saw, on the
alter steps, the form of a woman, but taller and
grander than any woman of earth. Her robe of brown
gold fell in stately folds to her feet, and on her head
was a wreath of scarlet poppies. Her hair lay in thick
plaits on her bosom, like ripe corn in the harvest, and
she leant on a large two-handed scythe. With great
mild eyes she looked at
 Psyche as one who has known grief and the loss of loved
ones, and can read the sorrows of men's hearts.
"Psyche," she said, "I have heard thy prayer, and I
know thy grief, for I, too, have wandered over the
earth to find the child of my love. And thou must
likewise wander and bear to the full the burden of thy
sin; for so the gods have willed it. This much I tell
thee, and no more. Thou must go yet further from the
land of thy birth, and cross many a rough mountain and
foaming torrent, and never let thy heart grow faint
till thou come to a temple of Hera, the wife of Zeus
the All-seeing. And if she find thee worthy, she will
tell thee how thou must seek thy love."
So saying, she faded from her sight, and Psyche awoke
and found the temple cold and dark. But in her heart
she cherished the image of the great Earth Mother, with
her large eyes full of pity, and set out comforted on
Too long would it be to tell of all her wanderings and
all the hardships of the road, but many a moon had
waxed and waned before she stood on the brow of a hill
looking down on Hera's shining temple. Down the hill
she went and up the marble steps, and men stood aside
as she passed, for her face was fairer than before, and
she no longer shrank back like a haunted thing, but
walked with the swinging gait of those whose feet the
kind earth has hardened, and the breezes of heaven have
fanned the fire in their eyes. In her heart she knew
that she had conquered and borne the terrors of the
path with no coward's fears, and she prayed that Hera
might find her worthy of doing great deeds to win back
her lord. Then she stood before the altar, and made
 "O Hera, golden-throned, who sittest on the right hand
of Zeus—O thou who, when the marriage-torch is
lit, doth lead the bride and bridegroom to their home,
and pourest blessings on their wedded love, have mercy
on me, and show me where I may find my lord. Far have
I wandered, and drunk deep of sorrow's cup, but my
heart is strong for any task that shall win back my
love to me."
Thus she prayed, and bowed her head before the great
white statue of the goddess. Even as she spoke, the
statue seemed to change and rise from the ivory throne
in the shape of a woman tall and exceeding fair. Her
robes were like the clouds at sunset, and her veil like
the mountain mist; on her head she wore a crown of
gold, and the lightning played about her feet as she
gazed at Psyche with eyes that pierced through to her
"Psyche," she said, "I have heard thy prayer, and I
know that thou art true. For I am the wife of Zeus,
who seeth all things, and he hideth naught from me.
Well I know that thou has wandered far, and suffered at
the hands of men. But greater trials await thee yet,
before thou canst find thy lord. Thou must be a slave
to foam-born Aphrodite, the pitiless goddess of Love.
And she will try thee sorely, and put thee to many a
hard test ere she will forgive thee and think thee
worthy of her son Eros, or of the godhead men gave thee
long ago. But if thou overcomest her wrath, thou hast
overcome death itself, and naught can part thee from
thy lord again. Go, then, to where she holds her court
in a pleasant valley by the sea, and forget not that
the gods bless tenfold those
 who waste not the power that is given them, how feeble
soe'er it be."
So saying, she faded slowly away till Psyche found
herself standing once more before the pale white
statue. Then she turned and went through the silent
temple, and out into the sunlight, and asked for the
road which would lead her to the sea and Aphrodite's
For many a long day she journeyed, till at length she
saw the blue sea far away and a pleasant valley sloping
to the shore. Here the waves broke in laughing ripples
on the beach, and the leaves danced gaily on the trees
in the soft west wind; for Aphrodite, born of the foam,
the fairest of all the goddesses, held her court there,
surrounded by her nymphs and maidens. As she sat on
her golden throne they danced around her with their
white arms gleaming, and crowned her with roses,
singing the while the song of her beauty.
"O foam-born Aphrodite, Queen of Love, fairest of
Time's deathless daughters. Thee the golden-snooded
Hours kiss as they pass and the circling Seasons crown
with grace. Before thee all was fire and chaos, but at
thy coming like sped to like. The earth decked herself
with flowers, and the nightingale sang to her mate on
the bough, and in the pale moonbeams youth and maiden
sped hand in hand through the glade. Thy smile is like
sunshine on ripples, but the flash of thine eyes like
the death-bearing gleam of the lightning; for not
always art thou kind. The heart of the scorner thou
 and art jealous for thy rites. Wherefore north and
south and east and west men worship thee, now and
evermore, O goddess of ten thousand names!"
As Psyche drew near the nymphs espied her. With loud
cries they rushed forward, and flinging chains of roses
about her, dragged her forward before the throne.
"A prisoner, a prisoner!" they cried—"a mortal, O
queen, who has dared to enter they sacred vale! What
fate shall be hers?"
And Psyche knelt trembling before the throne. She
dared not look up, for she felt the eyes of the goddess
upon her, and the blaze of her anger burned through to
"Psyche, what doest thou here? Knowest thou not that
long ago I loved thee not, because thy beauty taught
men to forget my dues, and mine own son didst thou lead
to disobey my word? By thy folly hast thou lost him;
and glad am I that he is rid of thy toils. Think not
that thy tears will move me. Those who enter my sacred
vale become the lowest of my slaves, and woe to them if
they fail to do the task I set them. Verily, thine
shall be no light one, or I am not the Queen of Love
"O lady," answered Psyche, " 'twas to be thy slave
and to do thy will that I came to thy sacred vale, if
haply I might turn thy wrath to love and prove myself
not all unworthy of thy son. Great was my sin, O
goddess, when I doubted him; but many are the tears I
have shed, and weary the way I have wandered in search
of him—yea, even to the dark underworld would I
go, if so be it I could find him there. As for the
 men paid me, Zeus, who searcheth all hearts, knoweth
that I lifted not mine in pride above thee. Nay, doth
not every gift of beauty come from thee, O mighty one?
If my face hath any fairness, 'tis that it shadoweth
forth thine image. Weak are the hearts of men, lady,
and hard is it for them to look on the sun in his
might. Be not angry then, if through the mortal image
that perisheth, they stretch forth blind hands towards
the beauty that fadeth not away. And now on my hands
and knees I beg thee, O queen, to set me thy hardest
tasks, that I may prove my love or die for mine
As Psyche was speaking the face of the goddess
softened, and she answered her more gently.
"Thy words please me, maiden, for the gods love those
who shrink not back from trial. Three tasks I will set
thee, and if in those thou fail not, one harder than
all the others will I give thee, whereby thou shalt win
thy love and immortality. Go, maidens, and lead her to
my garner, that she may sort the golden grain ere the
sun's first rays gild the pine-tops."
At the command of the goddess the nymphs gathered round
Psyche, and, binding her hands with chains of roses,
led her away to the garner. Here they set her free,
and with peals of merry laughter bade her farewell.
"Pray to the hundred-handed one, maiden, to help thee,"
cried one; "thy two hands will not go far."
"Nay, an hundred hundred hands could not sort the grain
by sunrise," said another.
 "Better to work with two hands," said Psyche, "than
idly to pray for ten thousand."
But for all her brave answer her heart sank as she
looked at the task before her; for she stood in the
largest garner it had ever been her lot to
see—wide and lofty as her father's palace-halls,
and all the floor was strewn with seeds and grain of
every kind—wheat, oats and barley, millet, beans
and maize, which she must sort each after its kind into
a separate heap before the sun should rise. However,
she set diligently to work, and minute after minute,
hour after hour passed swiftly by, and the heaps
growing by her side; yet for all her toil 'twas but a
tiny corner of the garner she had cleared. Feverishly
she worked on, not daring to look at what remained to
do. Her back ached, her arms grew stiff, and her eyes
felt heavy as lead, but she worked as one in a dream,
and her head kept falling on her breast for weariness,
till at length she could hold out no longer, but fell
fast asleep upon the cold stone floor.
While she slept a marvellous thing happened. From
every hole and crack there appeared an army of
ants—black ants, white ants, red
ants—swarming and tumbling over each other in
their haste. Over the whole floor of the garner they
spread, and each one carried a grain of seed, which it
placed upon its own heap and ran quickly back for
another. Such myriads were there, and so quickly did
they work, that by the time the first ray of the sun
peeped in at the windows the floor was clear, save for
the heaps of sorted grain standing piled in the midst.
The bright light pouring in at the window fell upon
Psyche as she slept, and with a start she awoke and
 feverishly to feel about for the grain. When her eyes
became accustomed to the light, how great was her joy
and thankfulness to see the neat heaps before her! And
as she looked around, wondering who could have been so
kind a friend, she saw the last stragglers of the ants
hurrying away to every crack and cranny.
"O kind little people," she cried, "how can I thank
She had no time to say more, for the door was thrown
open, and in a golden flood of sunlight the nymphs came
dancing in. Seeing the floor cleared and the bright
heaps lying on the floor, they stopped short in
"Verily thou hast wrought to some purpose, maiden,"
"Nay, she could never have done it of herself," said
"True, O bright-haired ones!" answered Psyche. "I
toiled and toiled, and my labour did but mock me, and
at length my strength gave way and I fell asleep upon
the floor. But the little folk had pity on me, and
came out in myriads and sorted out the grain till all
was finished. And lo! the task is accomplished."
"We will see what our queen shall say to this," they
And binding her once more in their rosy chains, they
led her to Aphrodite.
"Hast thou swept my garner, Psyche, and sorted the
grain each after its kind?" she asked.
"Thy garner is swept and thy grain is sorted, lady,"
she replied, "and therein I wrought the little my
 strength could bear. When I failed the little folk
came forth and did the task."
Trembling, she waited for the answer, for she feared
that in the very first trial she had failed. But
"Why dost thou tremble, Psyche? The task is
accomplished, and that is all I ask; for well do I know
the little folk help only those who help themselves.
Two more tasks must thou do before I put thee to the
final proof. Seest thou yon shining river? On the
other bank graze my flocks and herds. Precious are
they beyond all telling, for their skins are of pure
gold. Go, now, and fetch me one golden lock by
So saying, she signed to the nymphs to release Psyche,
who went at once towards the stream, light-hearted; for
this task, she thought, would be no hard one after the
As she approached the river she saw the cattle feeding
on the further bank—sheep and oxen, cows and
goats—their golden skins gleaming in the
sunlight. Looking about for some means of crossing,
she espied a small boat moored among the reeds.
Entering it, she unloosed the rope and pushed out into
the stream. As she did so, one of the bulls on the
further shore looked up from his gazing and saw her.
With a snort of rage he galloped down the field,
followed by the rest of the herd. Right down to the
water's edge they came, lashing their tails and goading
with their horns, and an ill landing would it have been
for Psyche had she reached the shore. Hastily she
pushed back among the reeds, and pondered what she must
do; but the more she
 thought the darker grew her lot. To get one single
hair from the golden herd she must cross the stream,
and, if she crossed, the wild bulls would goad her to
death. At length in despair she determined to meet her
doom, if only to show that her love was stronger than
death. As she bent over the boat to loose the rope, a
light breeze set the reeds a-whispering, and one seemed
to speak to her.
SHE UNLOOSED THE ROPE AND PUSHED OUT INTO THE STREAM.
"Fair lady, leave us not, for those who reach the
further shore return not to us again."
"Farewell, then, for ever, gentle reed, for I have a
task to do, though I die in the vain attempt."
"Ah, lady, stay here and play with us. Too young and
fair art thou to die."
"No coward is young or fair, kind reed. And before
sunset I must win a lock from a golden fleece yonder,
or I shall never find my love again."
And she let loose the rope.
"Stay, stay, gentle maiden. There I can help thee, for
all my life have I watched the golden herds, and I know
their ways. All day long they feed in the pleasant
pasture, and woe to those who would cross over when the
sun is high in heaven. But towards the evening, when
he is sinking in the far west, the herdsman of
Aphrodite cometh and driveth them home to their stalls
for the night. Then mayest thou cross with safety and
win a lock from the golden herd."
But Psyche laughed aloud at his words.
"Thou biddest me to steal the apples when the tree is
bare. Thy heart is kind, O reed, but thy tongue
lacketh wisdom. Fare thee well."
"Not so fast, lady. Seest thou not the tall ram
 yonder by the thorn bush? Sweet grows the grass
beneath its shade, yet to reach it he must leave a
golden tribute on the thorns. Even now there is a lock
of his fleece caught in the branches. Stay with us
till the herds are gone, lady, and then canst thou win
the lock of gold."
"O kindest of reeds, forgive my blindness. 'Tis more
than my life thou has saved, for, with the task undone,
I should lose my love for ever."
So all day long she stayed and talked with the reeds;
and they told her that often folk came down to the
stream and pushed out for the other bank. But when the
cattle rushed raging to the water's edge they turned
back afraid, and dared not venture forth again, but
went home disconsolate. And so they heard not the
whispering of the reeds nor learnt the secret of
winning the golden lock.
Now the shadows were falling fast, and away in the
distance Psyche heard the horn of the herdsman and his
voice calling the cattle home. At the sound they
lifted their heads, and made for the gate on the far
side of the field. As soon as they were safely
through, Psyche pushed out the boat and rowed to the
other bank. Swiftly she made for the thorn-bush and
picked the golden lock from the bough, and as the boat
glided back to the reeds, the sun sank low behind the
hills. Close at hand she heard the laughter of the
nymphs as they came to see whether the task were done.
With a smile she drew the lock of gold from her bosom,
and, marvelling, they led her back to Aphrodite.
"Thou hast a brave heart, Psyche," said the goddess, as
she looked at the golden lock at her feet.
 "The bravest heart could not have won this lock, lady,
without knowing the secret which the reeds whispered to
"Well do I know that, Psyche. But 'tis only the pure
in heart that can understand the voice of the wind in
the reeds; and thus doubly have I tried thee. Take now
this crystal bowl for thy third task. Beyond this
pleasant vale thou wilt come to a dark and barren
plain. On the far side a mighty mountain rears his
peak to heaven, and from the summit a spring gushes
forth and falls headlong over the precipice down into
the gulf below. Go now and get me a draught of that
stream, but see that thou break not the goblet on the
way, for its worth is beyond telling."
In truth, as she held it out, the crystal gleamed
brighter than the rainbow. Psyche took the goblet, and
the first rays of the sun found her already on the
plain. Far away on the other side the mountain-peak
rose barren and black against the sky, and she hurried
on as fast as her feet would go, lest night should fall
ere she had filled the goblet. On and on she went, and
at length she drew near to the mountain and looked
about for a path leading up to the summit. But naught
could she see save rocks and boulders and masses of
crumbling stones, and there was nothing for it but to
set to work to climb the rough mountain-side. Clasping
the goblet tightly in one hand, she clung to the rocks
as best she might with the other, fearing at every step
that she would slip and break her precious burden. How
she ever reached the top she never knew, but at length
she stood, bruised and torn, upon the summit. What was
 when she saw that the mountain-peak was divided by a
mighty cleft, and across the abyss she saw the stream
of water gushing out from the steep rock a hundred feet
and more below the summit! Even had she toiled down
again and up on the other side the rock fell away so
smooth and sheer that a mountain-goat would have no
ledge on which to rest his foot.
Psyche sat down upon a rock to think what she must do,
and the more she thought the more she felt that her
last hour had come.
"For the only way I can reach the water is to throw
myself into the bottomless abyss, where the steam flows
deep down into the bowels of the earth; and I should be
dashed to pieces, but perchance the King of the
Underworld would have mercy on me, and let my soul
return but once on earth to bear the crystal bowl to
So saying, she stood and bade farewell to the earth and
the pleasant sunlight and the fair flowers that she
loved, and prepared to throw herself over the
mountain-side. As she was about to spring from the
edge, she heard the whirring of wings above her head,
and a mighty eagle flew down and settled on the rock
"Far up above thy head, in the blue sky, have I watched
thee, Psyche, and seen thy labours on the
mountain-side. Too brave and true art thou to go to
thy death. Give me the goblet, and I will fill it.
Knowest thou that yonder stream is a jet which
springeth up from dark Cocytus, the River of Wailing,
which watereth the shores of the dead? No mortal can
touch of that water and live, or bear it away in a vessel
of earth. But this goblet is the gift of Zeus
almighty, and I am his
mes-  senger—the only bird of heaven that can look
on the sun in his might. Give me the cup, then, and I
will fill it, and bear it to the mountain-foot, that
thou mayest carry it back in safety."
With tears of joy and thankfulness Psyche gave him the
goblet, and as he flew away across the dark chasm,
swift as an arrow from the bow, she turned and sped
down the mountain-side, heeding not the stones and
boulders, so glad was she at heart. At the foot she
found the eagle awaiting her.
"O mightiest of birds, how can I thank thee?" she
"To have served thee, lady, is all the thanks I need.
Farewell, and may the gods prosper thee in thy last
And he spread his mighty wings and flew away. Psyche
watched him till he grew but a tiny speck in the blue
sky. Then she turned and hastened across the plain
with her precious goblet of water.
The nymphs danced out to meet her as before, and led
her to Aphrodite.
"I see thou art fearless and true, maiden," she said,
when Psyche told her tale. "Twice hast thou faced
death without flinching, and now must thou go down to
his own land; for no woman is worthy of my son's love,
if she possess not beauty immortal that fadeth not with
passing years. And she alone, the Queen of the Dead,
can give thee this gift. Take this casket, then, and
go and kneel before her and beg her to give thee
therein the essence of that beauty. When thou hast it,
see thou hasten swiftly back and open not the casket;
for if its
 fumes escape and overcome thee in the world below, thou
must dwell for ever with the shades."
So Psyche took the casket, and her heart sank within
her at the thought of that dread journey. And the
nymphs waved sadly to her as she went away, for never
yet had they looked on one who had returned from the
dark land of shadows.
Away from the pleasant vale went Psyche, for she knew
full well that nowhere in that fair place could she
find a way down to the world below. As a child, when
she lived in her father's halls, her nurse had told her
strange tales of dark and fearsome caves which men
called the mouth of Hades, and how those who went down
them never returned; or if one perchance, more favoured
than the rest, came back into the sunlight, his face
was pale and his strength departed, and he talked
wildly of strange things that none could understand.
Far over the country-side she wandered and asked for
the gate of Hades, and some pitied her weakness, and
some laughed at her foolishness, and all men thought
"For beggar and king, for wise and foolish, the road to
Hades is one," they said, "and all must travel it soon
or late. If thou seekest it, in very sooth, go throw
thyself from off yon lofty tower, and thou wilt find it
Sadly she went and stood on the tower, for she knew no
other way. Once again she bid farewell to the earth
and the sunlight, and was about to leap from a
 when she thought she heard a voice calling her by name,
and she hushed her breath and listened.
"Psyche, Psyche," she heard, "why wilt thou pollute my
stones with blood? I have done thee no wrong, yet thou
wouldst make men hate me and shun the rock on which I
stand. As for thee, it would avail thee nought, for
thy soul would dwell for ever in the Kingdom of the
Dead, and the shadow of thyself, faint and formless,
would glide about my walls, and with thin-voiced
wailing weep for thy lost love; men, hearing it, would
flee from me, and for lack of the builder's care, my
stones would fall asunder, and of all my proud beauty
naught would be left, save a mound of moss-grown stones
and thy spirit's mournful guardianship."
"Poor tower," she said, "I would not harm thee. Thou
canst tell me, perchance, some better way, for I must
bear this casket to the Queen of the Dead, and beg for
a gift of beauty immortal, that I may return to the
earth worthy of my lord."
"Hadst thou thrown thyself over the edge, thou wouldst
never have come to the Queen of the Dead, but wailing
and forlorn wouldst have wandered on the shores of the
Land that has no name; for betwixt that land and Hades
flows the wide Stygian stream. One boat there is that
can cross it, and therein sits Charon, the ferryman of
souls. Greedy of gain is he and hard of heart, and
none will he take across who bear not a coin of gold in
their mouths. And the pale ghosts of those who have
died away from their loved ones, when none were by to
pay the last rites of the dead and place the gold coin
 in their mouths—all these flock wailing around
him and beg him with heart-rending cries to take them
over the stream. But to all their entreaties he
turneth a deaf ear and beateth them back with his oar.
E'en hadst thou prevailed on him and come to the palace
of pale Persephone, thou couldst not have entered in;
for at the gates sits Cerberus, the three-headed hound
of Hell, and none may pass him without a cake of
barley-bread. But his soul loveth the taste of
earth-grown corn, and while he devours it the giver may
"The coin of gold and the barley-cake I can get," she
said, "but how can I reach the Underworld alive I know
"Not far from hence thou wilt find the cave men call
the Gate of Hades. In ignorance they name it, for no
math hath proved where it leads. All the long years I
have stood upon this rock have I watched the entrance
to that cave, and men have come up and looked inside,
and the boldest have entered it; but always have they
come swiftly back, staggering like drunken men, with
pale faces and wild eyes full of fear, and about them
hangs the smell of noisome vapours that rise up from
the gates of the dead; and the old wives sitting by the
fireside nod their grey heads together. ' 'Tis
the tale that our mothers told us long ago and their
mothers before them,' they mutter. ' 'Tis surely
the Gate of Hades, and those who venture too far will
never come back again.' They have guessed aright,
maiden, and down that dark cavern lies thy path."
"But if those who venture too far never return, how
shall I bear back the essence of undying beauty in the
"Instead of one gold piece, take two, and two loaves
 of fresh-baked barley bread. One gold coin to the
ferryman and one loaf to the hound must thou give as
thou goest, and keep the rest for thy return, and from
greed they will let thee pass back again. Tie the
casket in thy bosom, and put the gold coins in thy
mouth, and take the barley-loaves one in each hand.
See that thou set them not down, or the pale ghosts
will snatch them away; for the taste of the earth-grown
meal giveth a semblance of warmth to their cold forms,
and for a brief space they feel once more the glow of
life. So by many a wile will they seek to make thee
set down the bread; but do thou answer them never a
word, for he who toucheth or answereth one of these
becometh even as they are."
"Psyche thanked him for his counsel, and went forth to
beg the two gold coins and barley-loaves, and for love
of her fair face the people gave it gladly. When all
was ready, she set out towards the cave. About its
mouth the brambles grew tall and thick, and the ivy
hung down in long festoons, for none had ventured in
for many a long year. As best she might, she cut a way
through the prickly hedge, and stood in the shadow of
the cave, and the drip of the water from the roof sent
a faint echo through the vaults. Through the dark
pools she went, through mud and through mire, and the
green slime hung like a dank pall about the walls. On
and on she hastened, till her head swam round and her
heart turned sick within her; for round her floated a
mist of poisonous vapour, which choked her and made her
gasp for breath, and monstrous shapes swept
past—the Furies and Harpies and hundred-headed
beasts which guard the gate to Hades. Their cries and
shrieks filled the air,
 and every moment she shrank back, terrified that they
would tear her limb from limb, as they bore down on her
with the whirr of their mighty wings and their wild
locks flying in the wind. Across the path they stood
and waved her back, and her heart turned cold with
fear; but she pressed onward with hurrying steps, and
lo! when she came up to them the shapes clove asunder
like mist before the sun, and she passed through them,
and found they were but smoke.
And so she came to the nameless land that lies betwixt
earth and Hades; a barren, boundless plain it is, with
never a tree or shrub to break the dulness of its sad
mud flats. Up and down it wander the shades of those
whose bodies the kind earth has never covered, and they
wring their hands and wail to their dear ones above, to
grant them burial and the rites of the dead. For
Charon, the grim ferryman, beats them back from his
boat, because they have no coin, and they are doomed to
dwell for ever in the land that has no name.
As she was crossing the dismal plain, an old man came
towards her beating a laden ass. Old and weak was he,
and could scarce stagger along by the side of the
beast, and as he came up to Psyche the cords broke that
bound the burden on the ass's back, and the faggots he
carried were scattered all about. And he set up a
dismal wailing, and wrung his pale withered hands.
"Gracious damsel, have mercy on an old man, and help me
load my ass once more."
But Psyche remembered the words of the tower, and she
clung the tighter to the loaves of bread, though she
longed to help the feeble shade.
 Onward she went till she came to the banks of the Styx,
the mighty river of Hell, by which the great gods
swear. Nine times it winds its snaky coils about the
shores of Hades, and across its leaden waters Charon,
the boatman of the dead, ferries backward and forward
for ever. When he saw Psyche, he hailed her, and asked
for the coin. Answering him never a word, she held out
one coin with her lips, and as he took it she
shuddered. For his breath was as the north wind
blowing across the snow, and his eyes were like a
fish's, cold and dull.
"Welcome, sweet maiden. 'Tis not often we get a fare
like thee, my boat and I;" and he laughed a hard, thin
laugh, like the cracking of ice in a thaw, and beneath
her weight the boat creaked in chorus.
Out into the stream he pushed with his pole, and then
set to with his oar, and the rise and fall of the blade
made never a sound in those dull leaden waters. As
they neared the middle of the stream, Psyche saw two
pale arms rise up above the waves, and the head of an
old man, who cried out to her piteously,
"Help, help! I drown in this foul stream! Ah, for
pity's sake put out one finger to save me!"
"HELP, HELP! I DROWN IN THIS FOUL STREAM!"
And Psyche turned aside to hide her tears; for the face
was the face of her father, and his cries pierced
through to her heart. As the boat passed by he sank
with a moan beneath the waves, and she saw him no more.
At length they reached the shore of Hades, and she saw
three paths before her leading upwards from the landing
stage. As she stood, not knowing which to take, the
old man beckoned to her.
"I know not whither thou are bound, lady, for thou
 bearest not on thee the mark of the dead. The souls of
the wicked I know, for about them fly the Furies, the
avengers of sin, and hound them down the left-hand
path, through Periphlegethon, the river of
fire—down, down to the utmost depths of Tartarus.
And the souls of the brave shine forth like stars in
the darkness, and they take the right hand path to the
Elysian fields of light, where the breeze blows bright
and fresh and the golden flowers are glowing. The
middle path leadeth to the palace of pale Persephone,
but that way only the gods and the children of the gods
may go, or those who bear with them some token from the
Then Psyche showed him Aphrodite's casket, and turned
up the middle path. Through a dark wood she went, and
came out upon a plain. Here she saw three aged women
weaving at a loom, and they cried out to her in weak,
"Oh, maiden, thine eyes are young and thy fingers
supple. Come help us unravel the thread."
But for the third time she turned aside, and went
quickly on her way, and when she looked back over her
shoulder the loom and the hags had vanished away.
So at length she came to the palace of Persephone. The
roof and columns were all of pure silver, which shone
with a pale light through the murk and gloom, like the
shimmer of pale moonbeams on a cloudy night. Above the
heads of the pillars ran a frieze of strange device.
It told of Night and Chaos, and of the birth of Time,
and how the sons Earth rose up against the gods in
deadly battle, and were hurled into the depths of
 the thunderbolts of Zeus. And it showed how Prometheus
the Titan gave fire to mortal man, so that they learnt
all manner of crafts, and became the masters of all
living things, and like the gods for wisdom. But they
ruled by the law of the strongest and said that might
was right, and begat the foul forms of Pestilence and
War and red-handed Murder. The other side told of the
things that would come to pass when Time and Death
should be no more, and Love should rule the universe.
On that side all the forms were fair and all the faces
beautiful, and the breeze played through pleasant
places where the flowers never fade. In the centre of
the pediment, with mighty wings overshadowing either
side, stood a mighty figure, Anangke, great Necessity,
the mother of gods and men. From one side she looked
dark and terrible, and the world trembled at her frown,
but from the other she was fairer than the day, and by
unchanging law she drew all things after her till they
should be perfected.
On the palace steps before the doorway sat Cerberus,
the three-headed watch-dog. When he saw Psyche
approaching he began to growl, and his growl was like
the rattle of thunder far away. As she drew nearer he
barked furiously and snarled at her, baring his white
gleaming fangs. Quickly she threw him one of the
barley loaves, and while he was devouring it, she
slipped gently past, and stood within the courtyard of
the palace. All was silent and deserted, and her
footsteps, as they fell on the marble pavement, sent no
echo through the colonnades; for it seemed that even
sound must die in that lifeless air. She passed
through great doors of bronze into a lofty
 hall. In the shadowy depths of it she saw a great
throne raised, and on it sat the Queen of the Dead.
About her stood two handmaids, and their names were
Memory and Sleep. One fanned her with great
poppy-leaves, and as she did so the eyes of the queen
grew heavy and dim, and she sat as one in a trance.
But when this one grew weary of fanning, anon the other
would hold up before her a great mirror of polished
steel, and when she looked into it the colour would
rush into her pale cheeks, and her eyes would glow like
coals of fire, for in the flash of the steel she saw
earth's flowery meadows, and remembered that for three
moths only did she live in the gloom and the shade; and
she knew, moreover, that one day the circling seasons
would stay their course, and decay and death would pass
away, and when that time came she would return no more
to the murk and gloom, but dwell for ever in the
sunshine and the flowers. A magic mirror is that which
Memory holds, and few are there who can bear to look on
its brightness, but those whose eyes are strong gaze
into its depths, and learn that knowledge and
remembrance are one.
With timid steps did Psyche cross the hall, and knelt
upon the steps of the throne.
"Child of Earth, what dost thou here?", asked the
queen. "This is no place for living souls."
"O mighty one, 'tis a boon I beg of thee," said Psyche,
and drew from her bosom Aphrodite's casket. "Give me,
I pray thee, the gift of undying beauty in this casket,
that I may return above worthy of my lord."
" 'Tis a great boon thou askest. Nevertheless,
for thy bravery's sake I will give it thee. For many
 who set out to find it, but few have the heart to come
Thereupon she took the casket in her hands, and
breathed into it, and her breath was as the smoke of
incense on the altar.
"Take it and return swiftly whence thou camest, and see
thou open it not till thou comest upon earth. For in
the land of the dead my breath is death, but above it
is life and beauty immortal. Fare thee well."
With a glad heart Psyche rose from her knees, and sped
through the silent palace. She threw the second loaf
to Cerberus as she passed, and for the second coin of
gold Charon took her once more across in his boat.
This time no sad phantoms cried to her for help, and
she knew that it was for the sake of the earth-grown
meal that they had stood in her path before.
At last she stood once more in the sunlight, and joy
lent wings to her feet as she sped across the plain and
away to Aphrodite's pleasant vale. With the casket in
her hand, she knelt before the throne, but Aphrodite
put out her hand and raised her up.
"Kneel no more to me, Psyche, for now thou art one of
us. But open the casket and drink into thy very soul
the life and beauty that will never die."
Her smile was brighter than sunshine on the shimmering
waves, and the touch of her hand made Psyche's blood
run like fire through her veins. Scarce knowing what
she did, she opened the casket. The fumes rose up in a
cloud about her head, and she knew no more till she
felt herself moving upwards, upwards. As life came
slowly back she opened her eyes, and looked into the
face of him she had
 seen but once. His rainbow wings were spread above
her, and his strong arms held her close, and he looked
into her eyes with the look that mingles two souls into
"Beloved," he whispered, "Love has conquered all
things. In thy darkest hour of trial I watched over
thee, and gave thee strength, and now we two will dwell
for ever in the courts of heaven, and teach the hearts
of men to love as we love."