CUPID AND PSYCHE
BY JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
THE ENCHANTED PALACE
ONCE upon a time, through that Destiny that overrules the
gods, Love himself gave up his immortal heart to a mortal
maiden. And thus it came to pass:—
There was a certain king who had three beautiful daughters.
The two elder married princes of great renown; but Psyche,
the youngest, was so radiantly fair that no suitor seemed
worthy of her. People thronged to see her pass through the
city, and sang hymns in her praise, while strangers took her
for the very goddess of beauty herself.
This angered Venus, and she resolved to cast down her
earthly rival. One day, therefore, she called hither her
son, Love (Cupid, some name
 him), and bade him sharpen his weapons. He is an archer more
to be dreaded than Apollo, for Apollo's arrows take life,
but Love's bring joy or sorrow for a whole life long.
"Come, Love," said Venus. "There is a mortal maid who robs
me of my honors in yonder city. Avenge your mother. Wound
this precious Psyche, and let her fall in love with some
churlish creature mean in the eyes of all men."
Cupid made ready his weapons, and flew down to earth
invisibly. At that moment Psyche was asleep in her chamber;
but he touched her heart with his golden arrow of love, and
she opened her eyes so suddenly that he started (forgetting
that he was invisible), and wounded himself with his own
shaft. Heedless of the hurt, moved only by the loveliness of
the maiden, he hastened to pour over her locks the healing
joy that he ever kept by him, undoing all his work. Back to
her dream the princess went, unshadowed by any thought of
love. But Cupid, not so light of heart, returned to the
heavens, saying not a word of what had passed.
Venus waited long; then, seeing that Psyche's heart had
somehow escaped love, she sent a spell upon the maiden. From
that time, lovely as she was, not a suitor came to woo; and
her parents, who desired to see her a queen at least, made a
journey to the Oracle, and asked counsel.
 Said the voice: "The Princess Psyche shall never wed a
mortal. She shall be given to one who waits for her on
yonder mountain; he overcomes gods and men."
At this terrible sentence the poor parents were
half-distraught, and the people gave themselves up to grief
at the fate in store for their beloved princess. Psyche
alone bowed to her destiny. "We have angered Venus
unwittingly," she said, "and all for sake of me, heedless
maiden that I am! Give me up, therefore, dear father and
mother. If I atone, it may be that the city will prosper
So she besought them, until, after many unavailing denials,
the parents consented; and with a great company of people
they led Psyche up the mountain,—as an offering to the
monster of whom the Oracle had spoken,—and left her there
Full of courage, yet in a secret agony of grief, she watched
her kindred and her people wind down the mountain-path, too
sad to look back, until they were lost to sight. Then,
indeed, she wept, but a sudden breeze drew near, dried her
tears, and caressed her hair, seeming to murmur comfort. In
truth, it was Zephyr, the kindly West Wind, come to befriend
her; and as she took heart, feeling some benignant presence,
he lifted her in his arms, and carried her on wings as even
 as a sea-gull's, over the crest of the fateful mountain and
into a valley below. There he left her, resting on a bank of
hospitable grass, and there the princess fell asleep.
When she awoke, it was near sunset. She looked about her for
some sign of the monster's approach; she wondered, then, if
her grievous trial had been but a dream. Near by she saw a
sheltering forest, whose young trees seemed to beckon as one
maid beckons to another; and eager for the protection of the
dryads, she went thither.
The call of running waters drew her farther and farther,
till she came out upon an open place, where there was a wide
pool. A fountain fluttered gladly in the midst of it, and
beyond there stretched a white palace wonderful to see.
Coaxed by the bright promise of the place, she drew near,
and, seeing no one, entered softly. It was all kinglier than
her father's home, and as she stood in wonder and awe, soft
airs stirred about her. Little by little the silence grew
murmurous like the woods, and one voice, sweeter than the
rest, took words. "All that you see is yours, gentle high
princess," it said. "Fear nothing; only command us, for we
are here to serve you."
Full of amazement and delight, Psyche followed the voice
from hall to hall, and through
 the lordly rooms, beautiful with everything that could
delight a young princess. No pleasant thing was lacking.
There was even a pool, brightly tiled and fed with running
waters, where she bathed her weary limbs; and after she had
put on the new and beautiful raiment that lay ready for her,
she sat down to break her fast, waited upon and sung to by
the unseen spirits.
Surely he whom the Oracle had called her husband was no
monster, but some beneficent power, invisible like all the
rest. When daylight waned he came, and his voice, the
beautiful voice of a god, inspired her to trust her strange
destiny and to look and long for his return. Often she
begged him to stay with her through the day, that she might
see his face; but this he would not grant.
"Never doubt me, dearest Psyche," said he. "Perhaps you
would fear if you saw me, and love is all I ask. There is a
necessity that keeps me hidden now. Only believe."
So for many days Psyche was content; but when she grew used
to happiness, she thought once more of her parents mourning
her as lost, and of her sisters who shared the lot of
mortals while she lived as a goddess. One night she told her
husband of these regrets, and begged that her sisters at
least might come to see her. He sighed, but did not refuse.
"Zephyr shall bring them hither," said he.
 And on the following morning, swift as a bird, the West Wind
came over the crest of the high mountain and down into the
enchanted valley, bearing her two sisters.
They greeted Psyche with joy and amazement, hardly knowing
how they had come hither. But when this fairest of the
sisters led them through her palace and showed them all the
treasures that were hers, envy grew in their hearts and
choked their old love. Even while they sat at feast with
her, they grew more and more bitter; and hoping to find some
little flaw in her good fortune, they asked a thousand
"Where is your husband?" said they. "And why is he not here
"Ah," stammered Psyche. "All the day long—he is gone,
hunting upon the mountains."
"But what does he look like?" they asked; and Psyche could
find no answer.
When they learned that she had never seen him, they laughed
her faith to scorn.
"Poor Psyche," they said. "You are walking in a dream. Wake,
before it is too late. Have you forgotten what the Oracle
decreed,—that you were destined for a dreadful creature,
the fear of gods and men? And are you deceived by this show
of kindliness? We have come to warn you. The people told us,
as we came over the mountain, that your husband is a dragon,
 you well for the present, that he may feast the better, some
day soon. What is it that you trust? Good words! But only
take a dagger some night, and when the monster is asleep go,
light a lamp, and look at him. You can put him to death
easily, and all his riches will be yours—and ours."
Psyche heard this wicked plan with horror. Nevertheless,
after her sisters were gone, she brooded over what they had
said, not seeing their evil intent; and she came to find
some wisdom in their words. Little by little, suspicion ate,
like a moth, into her lovely mind; and at nightfall, in
shame and fear, she hid a lamp and a dagger in her chamber.
Towards midnight, when her husband was fast asleep, up she
rose, hardly daring to breathe; and coming softly to his
side, she uncovered the lamp to see some horror.
But there the youngest of the gods lay sleeping,—most
beautiful, most irresistible of all immortals. His hair
shone golden as the sun, his face was radiant as dear
Springtime, and from his shoulders sprang two rainbow wings.
Poor Psyche was overcome with self-reproach. As she leaned
towards him, filled with worship, her trembling hands held
the lamp ill, and some burning oil fell upon Love's shoulder
and awakened him.
He opened his eyes, to see at once his bride and the dark
suspicion in her heart.
 "O doubting Psyche!" he exclaimed with sudden grief,—and
then he flew away, out of the window.
Wild with sorrow, Psyche tried to follow, but she fell to
the ground instead. When she recovered her senses, she
stared about her. She was alone, and the place was beautiful
no longer. Garden and palace had vanished with Love.
THE TRIAL OF PSYCHE
Over mountains and valleys Psyche journeyed alone until she
came to the city where her two envious sisters lived with
the princes whom they had married. She stayed with them only
long enough to tell the story of her unbelief and its
penalty. Then she set out again to search for Love.
As she wandered one day, travel-worn but not hopeless, she
saw a lofty palace on a hill near by, and she turned her
steps thither. The place seemed deserted. Within the hall
she saw no human being,—only heaps of grain, loose ears
of corn half torn from the husk, wheat and barley, alike
scattered in confusion on the floor. Without delay, she set
to work binding the sheaves together and gathering the
scattered ears of corn in seemly wise, as a princess would
wish to see them. While she was in the midst of her task, a
voice startled her, and she looked up to behold
 Demeter herself, the goddess of the harvest, smiling upon
her with good will.
"Dear Psyche," said Demeter, "you are worthy of happiness,
and you may find it yet. But since you have displeased
Venus, go to her and ask her favor. Perhaps your patience
will win her pardon."
These motherly words gave Psyche heart, and she reverently
took leave of the goddess and set out for the temple of
Venus. Most humbly she offered up her prayer, but Venus
could not look at her earthly beauty without anger.
"Vain girl," said she, "perhaps you have come to make amends
for the wound you dealt your husband; you shall do so. Such
clever people can always find work!"
Then she led Psyche into a great chamber heaped high with
mingled grain, beans, and lentils (the food of her doves),
and bade her separate them all and have them ready in seemly
fashion by night. Heracles would have been helpless before
such a vexatious task; and poor Psyche, left alone in this
desert of grain, had not courage to begin. But even as she
sat there, a moving thread of black crawled across the floor
from a crevice in the wall; and bending nearer, she saw that
a great army of ants in columns had come to her aid. The
zealous little creatures worked in swarms, with such
industry over the work they
 like best, that, when Venus came at night, she found the
"Deceitful girl," she cried, shaking the roses out of her
hair with impatience, "this is my son's work, not yours. But
he will soon forget you. Eat this black bread if you are
hungry, and refresh your dull mind with sleep. To-morrow you
will need more wit."
Psyche wondered what new misfortune could be in store for
her. But when morning came, Venus led her to the brink of a
river, and, pointing to the wood across the water, said: "Go
now to yonder grove where the sheep with the golden fleece
are wont to browse. Bring me a golden lock from every one of
them, or you must go your ways and never come back again."
This seemed not difficult, and Psyche obediently bade the
goddess farewell, and stepped into the water, ready to wade
across. But as Venus disappeared, the reeds sang louder and
the nymphs of the river, looking up sweetly, blew bubbles to
the surface and murmured: "Nay, nay, have a care, Psyche.
This flock has not the gentle ways of sheep. While the sun
burns aloft, they are themselves as fierce as flame; but
when the shadows are long, they go to rest and sleep, under
the trees; and you may cross the river without fear and pick
the golden fleece off the briers in the pasture."
 Thanking the water-creatures, Psyche sat down to rest near
them, and when the time came, she crossed in safety and
followed their counsel. By twilight she returned to Venus
with her arms full of shining fleece.
"No mortal wit did this," said Venus angrily. "But if you
care to prove your readiness, go now, with this little box,
down to Proserpina and ask her to enclose in it some of her
beauty, for I have grown pale in caring for my wounded son."
It needed not the last taunt to sadden Psyche. She knew that
it was not for mortals to go into Hades and return alive;
and feeling that Love had forsaken her, she was minded to
accept her doom as soon as might be.
But even as she hastened towards the descent, another
friendly voice detained her. "Stay, Psyche, I know your
grief. Only give ear and you shall learn a safe way through
all these trials." And the voice went on to tell her how one
might avoid all the dangers of Hades and come out unscathed.
(But such a secret could not pass from mouth to mouth, with
the rest of the story.)
"And be sure," added the voice, "when Proserpina has
returned the box, not to open it, ever much you may long to
Psyche gave heed, and by this device, whatever it was, she
found her way into Hades safely, and made her errand known
to Proserpina, and was
 soon in the upper world again, wearied but hopeful.
"Surely Love has not forgotten me," she said. "But humbled
as I am and worn with toil, how shall I ever please him?
Venus can never need all the beauty in this casket; and
since I use it for Love's sake, it must be right to take
some." So saying, she opened the box, heedless as Pandora!
The spells and potions of Hades are not for mortal maids,
and no sooner had she inhaled the strange aroma than she
fell down like one dead, quite overcome.
But it happened that Love himself was recovered from his
wound, and he had secretly fled from his chamber to seek out
and rescue Psyche. He found her lying by the wayside; he
gathered into the casket what remained of the philter, and
awoke his beloved.
"Take comfort," he said, smiling. "Return to our mother and
do her bidding till I come again."
Away he flew; and while Psyche went cheerily homeward, he
hastened up to Olympus, where all the gods sat feasting, and
begged them to intercede for him with his angry mother.
They heard his story and their hearts were touched. Zeus
himself coaxed Venus with kind words till at last she
relented, and remembered that anger hurt her beauty, and
smiled once more. All the younger gods were for welcoming
 Psyche at once, and Hermes was sent to bring her hither. The
maiden came, a shy newcomer among those bright creatures.
She took the cup that Hebe held out to her, drank the divine
ambrosia, and became immortal.
Light came to her face like moonrise, two radiant wings
sprang from her shoulders; and even as a butterfly bursts
from its dull cocoon, so the human Psyche blossomed into
Love took her by the hand, and they were never parted any