Source: A Book Of Myths
Those who read for the first time the story of Psyche must at once be struck by its kinship to the fairy tales of childhood. Here we have the three sisters, the two elder jealous and spiteful, the youngest beautiful and gentle and quite unable to defend herself against her sisters’ wicked arts. Here, too, is the mysterious bridegroom who is never seen and who is lost to his bride because of her lack of faith. Truly it is an old, old tale—older than all fairy tales—the story of love that is not strong enough to believe and to wait, and so to “win through” in the end—the story of seeds of suspicion sown by one full of malice in an innocent heart, and which bring to the hapless reaper a cruel harvest.
Once upon a time, so goes the tale, a king and queen had three beautiful daughters. The first and the second were fair indeed, but the beauty of the youngest was such that all the people of the land worshipped it as a thing sent straight from Olympus. They awaited her outside the royal palace, and when she came, they threw chaplets of roses and violets for her little feet to tread upon, and sang hymns of praise as though she were no mortal maiden but a daughter of the deathless gods.
There were many who said that the beauty of Aphrodite herself was less perfect than the beauty of Psyche, and when the goddess found that men were forsaking her altars in order to worship a mortal maiden, great was her wrath against them and against the princess who, all unwittingly, had wrought her this shameful harm.
In her garden, sitting amongst the flowers and idly watching his mother’s fair white doves as they preened their snowy feathers in the sun, Aphrodite found her son Eros, and angrily poured forth to him the story of her shame.
“Thine must be the task of avenging thy mother’s honour,” she said. “Thou who hast the power of making the loves of men, stab with one of thine arrows the heart of this presumptuous maiden, and shame her before all other mortals by making her love a monster from which all others shrink and which all despise.” With wicked glee Eros heard his mother’s commands. His beautiful face, still the face of a mischievous boy, lit up with merriment. This was, in truth, a game after his own heart. In the garden of Aphrodite is a fountain of sweet, another of bitter water, and Eros filled two amber vases, one from each fountain, hung them from his quiver, and
“Straight he rose from earth and down the wind
Went glittering ’twixt the blue sky and the sea.”
In her chamber Psyche lay fast asleep, and swiftly, almost without a glance at her, Eros sprinkled some of the bitter drops upon her lips, and then, with one of his sharpest arrows, pricked her snowy breast. Like a child who half awakes in fear, and looks up with puzzled, wondering eyes, Psyche, with a little moan, opened eyes that were bluer than the violets in spring and gazed at Eros. He knew that he was invisible, and yet her gaze made him tremble.
“They spoke truth!” said the lad to himself. “Not even my mother is as fair as this princess.”
For a moment her eyelids quivered, and then dropped. Her long dark lashes fell on her cheeks that were pink as the hearts of the fragile shells that the waves toss up on western beaches, her red mouth, curved like the bow of Eros, smiled happily, and Psyche slept again. With heart that beat as it had never beaten before, Eros gazed upon her perfect loveliness. With gentle, pitying finger he wiped away the red drop where his arrow had wounded her, and then stooped and touched her lips with his own, so lightly that Psyche in her dreams thought that they had been brushed by a butterfly’s wings. Yet in her sleep she moved, and Eros, starting back, pricked himself with one of his arrows. And with that prick, for Eros there passed away all the careless ease of the heart of a boy, and he knew that he loved Psyche with the unquenchable love of a deathless god. Now, with bitter regret, all his desire was to undo the wrong he had done to the one that he loved. Speedily he sprinkled her with the sweet water that brings joy, and when Psyche rose from her couch she was radiant with the beauty that comes from a new, undreamed-of happiness.
“From place to place Love followed her that day
And ever fairer to his eyes she grew,
So that at last when from her bower he flew,
And underneath his feet the moonlit sea
Went shepherding his waves disorderly,
He swore that of all gods and men, no one
Should hold her in his arms but he alone;
That she should dwell with him in glorious wise
Like to a goddess in some paradise;
Yea, he would get from Father Jove this grace
That she should never die, but her sweet face
And wonderful fair body should endure
Till the foundations of the mountains sure
Were molten in the sea; so utterly
Did he forget his mother’s cruelty.”
Meantime it came to be known all over that land, and in other lands to which the fame of the fair Psyche had spread, that the mighty goddess Aphrodite had declared herself the enemy of the princess. Therefore none dared seek her in marriage, and although many a noble youth sighed away his heart for love of her, she remained in her father’s palace like an exquisite rose whose thorns make those who fain would have it for their own, fear to pluck it from the parent stem. Her sisters married, and her father marvelled why so strange a thing should come about and why the most beautiful by far of his three daughters should remain unwed.
At length, laden with royal gifts, an embassy was sent by the king to the oracle of Apollo to inquire what might be the will of the dwellers on Olympus concerning his fairest daughter. In a horror of anxiety the king and his queen and Psyche awaited the return of the ambassadors. And when they returned, before ever a word was spoken, they knew that the oracle had spoken Psyche’s doom.
“No mortal lover shall fair Psyche know,” said the oracle. “For bridegroom she shall have a monster that neither man nor god can resist. On the mountain top he awaits her coming. Woe unutterable shall come to the king and to all the dwellers in his land if he dares to resist the unalterable dictum of the deathless gods!”
“... Of dead corpses shalt thou be the king,
And stumbling through the dark land shalt thou go,
Howling for second death to end thy woe.”
Only for a little while did the wretched king strive to resist the decrees of fate. And in her own chamber, where so short a time before the little princess had known the joy of something inexpressible—something most exquisite—intangible—unknown—she sat, like a flower broken by the ruthless storm, sobbing pitifully, dry-eyed, with sobs that strained her soul, for the shameful, hideous fate that the gods had dealt her.
All night, until her worn-out body could no longer feel, her worn-out mind think, and kind sleep came to bring her oblivion, Psyche faced the horror for the sake of her father and of his people, that she knew she could not avoid. When morning came, her handmaids, white-faced and red-eyed, came to deck her in all the bridal magnificence that befitted the most beautiful daughter of a king, and when she was dressed right royally, and as became a bride, there started up the mountain a procession at sight of which the gods themselves must have wept. With bowed heads the king and queen walked before the litter upon which lay their daughter in her marriage veil of saffron colour, with rose wreath on her golden hair. White, white were the faces of the maidens who bore the torches, and yet rose red were they by the side of Psyche. Minstrels played wedding hymns as they marched onwards, and it seemed as though the souls of unhappy shades sobbed through the reeds and moaned through the strings as they played.
At length they reached the rocky place where they knew they must leave the victim bride, and her father dared not meet her eyes as he turned his head to go. Yet Psyche watched the procession wending its way downhill. No more tears had she to shed, and it seemed to her that what she saw was not a wedding throng, but an assembly of broken-hearted people who went back to their homes with heavy feet after burying one that they loved. She saw no sign of the monster who was to be her bridegroom, yet at every little sound her heart grew sick with horror, and when the night wind swept through the craggy peaks and its moans were echoed in loneliness, she fell on her face in deadly fear and lay on the cold rock in a swoon.
Yet, had Psyche known it, the wind was her friend. For Eros had used Zephyrus as his trusty messenger and sent him to the mountain top to find the bride of him “whom neither man nor god could resist.” Tenderly—very tenderly—he was told, must he lift her in his arms, and bear her to the golden palace in that green and pleasant land where Eros had his home. So, with all the gentleness of a loving nurse to a tired little child Zephyrus lifted Psyche, and sped with her in his strong arms to the flowery meadows behind which towered the golden palace of Eros, like the sun behind a sky of green and amber and blue and rose. Deeply, in the weariness of her grief, Psyche slept, and when she awoke it was to start up with the chill hands of the realisation of terrible actualities on her heart. But when her eyes looked round to find the barren rocks, the utter forsakenness, the coming of an unnameable horror, before her she saw only fair groves with trees bedecked with fruit and blossom, fragrant meadows, flowers whose beauty made her eyes grow glad. And from the trees sang birds with song more sweet than any that Psyche had ever known, and with brilliant plumage which they preened caressingly when they had dipped their wings in crystal-sparkling fountains. There, too, stood a noble palace, golden fronted, and with arcades of stainless marble that shone like snow in the sun. At first all seemed like part of a dream from which she dreaded to awake, but soon there came to her the joy of knowing that all the exquisite things that made appeal to her senses were indeed realities. Almost holding her breath, she walked forward to the open golden doors. “It is a trap,” she thought. “By this means does the monster subtly mean to lure me into his golden cage.” Yet, even as she thought, there seemed to be hovering round her winged words, like little golden birds with souls. And in her ears they whispered, “Fear not. Doubt not. Recall the half-formed dreams that so short a time ago brought to thy heart such unutterable joy. No evil shall come to thee—only the bliss of loving and of being loved.”
THUS DID PSYCHE LOSE HER FEAR, AND ENTER THE GOLDEN DOORS
Thus did Psyche lose her fear, and enter the golden doors. And inside the palace she found that all the beautiful things of which she had ever dreamed, all the perfect things for which she had ever longed, were there to greet her. From one to another she flitted, like a humming-bird that sucks honey from one and then from another gorgeous flower. And then, when she was tired with so much wearing out of her thankful mind, she found a banquet ready spread for her, with all the dainties that her dainty soul liked best; and, as she ate, music so perfect rejoiced her ears that all her soul was soothed and joyous and at peace. When she had refreshed herself, a soft couch stood before her, ready for her there to repose, and when that strange day had come to an end, Psyche knew that, monster or not, she was beloved by one who had thought for her every thought, and who desired only her desire.
Night came at last, and when all was dark and still, and Psyche, wide awake, was full of forebodings and fears lest her happy dreams might only be misleading fancies, and Horror incarnate might come to crown her peaceful day, Eros softly entered the palace that was his own. Even as he had gone to the palace of her father he went now, and found Psyche lying with violet eyes that stared into the velvety darkness, seeking something that she hoped for, trembling before something that brought her dread.
His voice was as the voice of spring when it breathes on the sleeping earth; he knew each note in Love’s music, every word in the great thing that is Love’s vocabulary. Love loved, and Psyche listened, and soon she knew that her lover was Love himself.
Thus, for Psyche, did a time of perfect happiness begin. All through the day she roamed in her Love’s dominion, and saw on every side the signs of his passion and of his tenderness. All through the night he stayed by her, and satisfied all the longing of her heart. Yet always, ere daybreak, Eros left her, and when she begged him to stay he only made answer:
“I am with thee only while I keep
My visage hidden; and if thou once shouldst see
My face, I must forsake thee; the high gods
Link Love with Faith, and he withdraws himself
From the full gaze of knowledge.”
So did time glide past for Psyche, and ever she grew more in love with Love; always did her happiness become more complete. Yet, ever and again, there returned to her the remembrance of those sorrowful days when her father and mother had broken their hearts over her martyrdom, and her sisters had looked askance at her as at one whose punishment must assuredly have come from her own misdoing. Thus at length she asked Eros to grant her, for love’s sake, a boon—to permit her to have her sisters come to see for themselves the happiness that was hers. Most unwillingly was her request granted, for the heart of Eros told him that from their visit no good could come. Yet he was unable to deny anything to Psyche, and on the following day Zephyrus was sent to bring the two sisters to the pleasant valley where Psyche had her home. Eagerly, as she awaited them, Psyche thought she might make the princely palace wherein she dwelt yet fairer than it was. And almost ere she could think, her thoughts became realities. When the two sisters came, they were bewildered with the beauty and the magnificence of it all. Beside this, their own possessions were paltry trifles indeed. Quickly, in their little hearts, black envy grew. They had always been jealous of their younger sister, and now that they found her, whom all the world believed to have been slain by a horrible monster, more beautiful than ever, decked with rare jewels, radiant in her happiness, and queen of a palace fit for the gods, their envy soon turned to hatred, and they sought how best to wreak their malice upon the joyous creature who loaded them with priceless gifts. They began to ply Psyche with questions. He who was her lord, to whom she owed all her happiness, where was he? Why did he stay away when her sisters came to be presented to him? What manner of man was he? Was he fair or dark? Young or old? And as they questioned her, Psyche grew like a bewildered child and answered in frightened words that contradicted one another. And well the wicked sisters, who brooded evil in their hearts, knew that this husband whom Psyche had never seen must indeed be one of the deathless gods. Wily words they spoke to her then.
“Alas! unhappy one,” they said, “dost think to escape the evil fate the gods meted out for thee? Thy husband is none other than the monster of which the oracle spake! Oh, foolish Psyche! canst not understand that the monster fears the light? Too great horror would it mean for thee to see the loathsome thing that comes in the blackness of night and speaks to thee words of love.”
White-lipped and trembling, Psyche listened. Drop by drop the poisonous words passed into her soul. She had thought him king of all living things—worthy to rule over gods as well as men. She was so sure that his body was worthy sheath for the heart she knew so well.... She had pictured him beautiful as Eros, son of Aphrodite—young and fair, with crisp, golden locks—a husband to glory in—a lover to adore. And now she knew, with shame and dread, that he who had won her love between the twilight and the dawn was a thing to shame her, a monster to be shunned of men.
“What, then, shall I do?” piteously she asked of her sisters. And the women, pitilessly, and well content, answered:
“Provide thyself with a lamp and a knife sharp enough to slay the man or monster. And when this creature to whom, to thy undying shame, thou belongest, sleeps sound, slip from thy couch and in the rays of the lamp have courage to look upon him in all his horror. Then, when thou hast seen for thyself that what we say is truth, with thy knife swiftly slay him. Thus shalt thou free thyself from the pitiless doom meted out by the gods.”
Shaking with sobs, Psyche made answer:
“I love him so!... I love him so!”
And her sisters turned upon her with furious scorn and well-simulated wrath.
“Shameless one!” they cried; “and does our father’s daughter confess to a thing so unutterable! Only by slaying the monster canst thou hope to regain thy place amongst the daughters of men.”
They left her when evening fell, carrying with them their royal gifts. And while she awaited the coming of her lord, Psyche, provided with knife and lamp, crouched with her head in her hands, a lily broken by a cruel storm. So glad was Eros to come back to her, to find her safely there—for greatly had he feared the coming of that treacherous pair—that he did not note her silence. Nor did the dark night show him that her eyes in her sad face looked like violets in a snow wreath. He wanted only to hold her safely in his arms, and there she lay, passive and still, until sleep came to lay upon him an omnipotent hand. Then, very gently, she withdrew herself from his embrace, and stole to the place where her lamp was hidden. Her limbs shook under her as she brought it to the couch where he lay asleep; her arm trembled as she held it aloft.
As a martyr walks to death, so did she walk. And when the yellow light fell upon the form of him who lay there, still she gazed steadily.
And, lo, before her she saw the form of him who had ever been the ideal of her dreams. Love himself, incarnate Love, perfect in beauty and in all else was he whom her sisters had told her was a monster—he, of whom the oracle had said that neither gods nor men could resist him. For a moment of perfect happiness she gazed upon his beauty. Then he turned in his sleep, and smiled, and stretched out his arms to find the one of his love. And Psyche started, and, starting, shook the lamp; and from it fell a drop of burning oil on the white shoulder of Eros. At once he awoke, and with piteous, pitying eyes looked in those of Psyche. And when he spoke, his words were like daggers that pierced deep into her soul. He told her all that had been, all that might have been. Had she only had faith and patience to wait, an immortal life should have been hers.
“Farewell! though I, a god, can never know
How thou canst lose thy pain, yet time will go
Over thine head, and thou mayst mingle yet
The bitter and the sweet, nor quite forget,
Nor quite remember, till these things shall seem
The wavering memory of a lovely dream.”
He left her alone then, with her despair, and as the slow hours dragged by, Psyche, as she awaited the dawn, felt that in her heart no sun could ever rise again. When day came at last, she felt she could no longer endure to stay in the palace where everything spoke to her of the infinite tenderness of a lost love. Through the night a storm had raged, and even with the day there came no calm. And Psyche, weary and chill, wandered away from the place of her happiness, onward and ever on, until she stood on the bank of a swift-flowing river. For a little she stayed her steps and listened to the sound of its wash against the rocks and tree roots as it hurried past, and to her as she waited came the thought that here had she found a means by which to end her woe.
“I have lost my Love,” she moaned. “What is Life to me any longer! Come to me then, O Death!”
So then she sprang into the wan water, hoping that very swiftly it might bear her grief-worn soul down to the shades. But the river bore her up and carried her to its shallows in a fair meadow where Pan himself sat on the bank and merrily dabbled his feet in the flowing water. And when Psyche, shamed and wet, looked at him with sad eyes, the god spoke to her gently and chid her for her folly. She was too young and much too fair to try to end her life so rudely, he said. The river gods would never be so unkind as to drive so beautiful a maiden in rough haste down to the Cocytus valley.
“Thou must dree thy weird like all other daughters of men, fair Psyche,” he said. “He or she who fain would lose their lives, are ever held longest in life. Only when the gods will it shall thy days on earth be done.”
And Psyche, knowing that in truth the gods had spared her to endure more sorrow, looked in his face with a very piteous gaze, and wandered on. As she wandered, she found that her feet had led her near the place where her two sisters dwelt.
“I shall tell them of the evil they have wrought,” she thought. “Surely they must sorrow when they know that by their cruel words they stole my faith from me and robbed me of my Love and of my happiness.”
Gladly the two women saw the stricken form of Psyche and looked at her face, all marred by grief. Well, indeed, had their plot succeeded; their malice had drunk deep, yet deeper still they drank, for with scornful laughter they drove her from their palace doors. Very quickly, when she had gone, the elder sought the place where she had stood when Zephyrus bore her in safety to that palace of pleasure where Psyche dwelt with her Love. Now that Psyche was no longer there, surely the god by whom she had been beloved would gladly have as her successor the beautiful woman who was now much more fair than the white-faced girl with eyes all red with weeping. And such certainty did the vengeful gods put in her heart that she held out her arms, and calling aloud:
“Bear me to him in thine arms, Zephyrus! Behold I come, my lord!” she sprang from the high cliff on which she stood, into space. And the ravens that night feasted on her shattered body. So also did it befall the younger sister, deluded by the Olympians to her own destruction, so that her sin might be avenged.
For many a weary day and night Psyche wandered, ever seeking to find her Love, ever longing to do something by which to atone for the deed that had been her undoing. From temple to temple she went, but nowhere did she come near him, until at length in Cyprus she came to the place where Aphrodite herself had her dwelling. And inasmuch as her love had made her very bold, and because she no longer feared death, nor could think of pangs more cruel than those that she already knew, Psyche sought the presence of the goddess who was her enemy, and humbly begged her to take her life away.
With flaming scorn and anger Aphrodite received her.
“O thou fool,” she said, “I will not let thee die!
But thou shalt reap the harvest thou hast sown,
And many a day that wretched lot bemoan;
Thou art my slave, and not a day shall be
But I will find some fitting task for thee.”
There began then for Psyche a time of torturing misery of which only those could speak who have knowledge of the merciless stripes with which the goddess can scourge the hearts of her slaves. With cruel ingenuity, Aphrodite invented labours for her.
In uncountable quantity, and mingled in inextricable and bewildering confusion, there lay in the granary of the goddess grains of barley and of wheat, peas and millet, poppy and coriander seed. To sort out each kind and lay them in heaps was the task allotted for one day, and woe be to her did she fail. In despair, Psyche began her hopeless labour. While the sun shone, through a day that was for her too short, she strove to separate the grains, but when the shadows of evening made it hard for her to distinguish one sort from another, only a few very tiny piles were the result of her weary toil. Very soon the goddess would return, and Psyche dared not think what would be the punishment meted out to her. Rapidly the darkness fell, but while the dying light still lingered in some parts of the granary, it seemed to Psyche as though little dark trickles of water began to pour from underneath the doors and through the cracks in the wall. Trembling she watched the ceaseless motion of those long, dark lines, and then, in amazement, realised that what she saw were unending processions of ants. And as though one who loved her directed their labours, the millions of busy little toilers swiftly did for Psyche what she herself had failed to do. When at length they went away, in those long dark lines that looked like the flow of a thread-like stream, the grains were all piled up in high heaps, and the sad heart of Psyche knew not only thankful relief, but had a thrill of gladness.
“Eros sent them to me:” she thought. “Even yet his love for me is not dead.”
And what she thought was true.
Amazed and angry, Aphrodite looked at the task she had deemed impossible, well and swiftly performed. That Psyche should possess such magic skill only incensed her more, and next day she said to her new slave:
“Behold, on the other side of that glittering stream, my golden-fleeced sheep crop the sweet flowers of the meadow. To-day must thou cross the river and bring me back by evening a sample of wool pulled from each one of their shining fleeces.”
Then did Psyche go down to the brink of the river, and even as her white feet splashed into the water, she heard a whisper of warning from the reeds that bowed their heads by the stream.
“Beware! O Psyche,” they said. “Stay on the shore and rest until the golden-fleeced sheep lie under the shade of the trees in the evening and the murmur of the river has lulled them to sleep.”
But Psyche said, “Alas, I must do the bidding of the goddess. It will take me many a weary hour to pluck the wool that she requires.”
And again the reeds murmured, “Beware! for the golden-fleeced sheep, with their great horns, are evil creatures that lust for the lives of mortals, and will slay thee even as thy feet reach the other bank. Only when the sun goes down does their vice depart from them, and while they sleep thou canst gather of their wool from the bushes and from the trunks of the trees.”
And again the heart of Psyche felt a thrill of happiness, because she knew that she was loved and cared for still. All day she rested in the wood by the river and dreamt pleasant day-dreams, and when the sun had set she waded to the further shore and gathered the golden wool in the way that the reeds had told her. When in the evening she came to the goddess, bearing her shining load, the brow of Aphrodite grew dark.
“If thou art so skilled in magic that no danger is danger to thee, yet another task shall I give thee that is worthy of thy skill,” she said, and laid upon Psyche her fresh commands.
Sick with dread, Psyche set out next morning to seek the black stream out of which Aphrodite had commanded her to fill a ewer. Part of its waters flowed into the Styx, part into the Cocytus, and well did Psyche know that a hideous death from the loathly creatures that protected the fountain must be the fate of those who risked so proud an attempt. Yet because she knew that she must “dree her weird,” as Pan had said, she plodded onward, towards that dark mountain from whose side gushed the black water that she sought. And then, once again, there came to her a message of love. A whirring of wings she heard, and
“O’er her head there flew the bird of Jove,
The bearer, of his servant, friend of Love,
Who, when he saw her, straightway towards her flew,
And asked her why she wept, and when he knew,
And who she was, he said, ‘Cease all thy fear,
For to the black waves I thy ewer will bear,
And fill it for thee; but, remember me,
When thou art come unto thy majesty.’”
And, yet once again, the stricken heart of Psyche was gladdened, and when at nightfall she came with her ewer full of water from the dread stream and gave it to Aphrodite, although she knew that a yet more arduous task was sure to follow, her fear had all passed away.
With beautiful, sullen eyes, Aphrodite received her when she brought the water. And, with black brow, she said: “If thou art so skilled in magic that no danger is known to thee, I shall now give thee a task all worthy of thy skill.”
Thereon she told her that she must seek that dark valley where no silver nor golden light ever strikes on the black waters of Cocytus and of the Styx; and where Pluto reigns in gloomy majesty over the restless shades. From Proserpine she was to crave for Aphrodite the gift of a box of magical ointment, the secret of which was known to the Queen of Darkness alone, and which was able to bring to those who used it, beauty more exquisite than any that the eyes of gods or of men had as yet looked upon.
“I grow weary and careworn,” said Aphrodite, and she looked like a rose that has budded in Paradise as she spoke. “My son was wounded by a faithless slave in whom, most weakly, he put his trust, and in tending to his wound, my beauty has faded.”
And at these scornful words, the heart of Psyche leaped within her.
“In helping his mother, I shall help him!” she thought. And again she thought, “I shall atone.” And so, when day was come, she took her way along the weary road that leads to that dark place from whence no traveller can ever hope to return, and still with gladness in her heart. But, as she went onward, “cold thoughts and dreadful fears” came to her.
“Better were it for me to hasten my journey to the shades,” she thought.
And when she came to an old grey tower, that seemed like an old man that Death has forgotten, she resolved to throw herself down from it, and thus swiftly to find herself at her journey’s end. But as she stood on the top of the tower, her arms outstretched, like a white butterfly that poises its wings for flight, a voice spoke in her ear.
“Oh, foolish one,” it said, “why dost thou strive to stay the hope that is not dead?” And while she held her breath, her great eyes wide open, the voice spoke on, and told her by what means she might speedily reach Hades and there find means to face with courage the King of Darkness himself and his fair wife, Proserpine.
All that she was bidden to do, Psyche did, and so at last did she come before the throne of Proserpine, and all that Psyche endured, all that she saw, all that through which she came with bleeding heart and yet with unscathed soul, cannot here be written.
To her Proserpine gave the box of precious ointment that Aphrodite described, and gladly she hastened homeward. Good, indeed, it was to her when again she reached the fair light of day. Yet, when she had won there, there came to Psyche a winged thought, that beat against the stern barriers of her mind like a little moth against a window.
“This ointment that I carry with me,” said Psyche to herself, “is an ointment that will bring back to those all faded by time, or worn by suffering, a beauty greater than any beauty that has joyed the Immortals!” And then she thought:
“For my beauty, Eros—Love—loved me; and now my beauty is worn and wasted and well-nigh gone. Were I to open this box and make use of the ointment of Proserpine, then indeed I should be fair enough to be the bride of him who, even now, believes that he loves me—of Eros whose love is my life!”
So it came to pass that she opened the fateful box. And out of it there came not Beauty, but Sleep, that put his gyves upon her limbs, and on her eyelids laid heavy fingers. And Psyche sank down by the wayside, the prisoner of Sleep.
But Eros, who had loved her ever, with a love that knew the ebb and flow of no tides, rose from his bed and went in search of her who had braved even the horrors of Hades for his dear sake. And by the wayside he found her, fettered by sleep. Her little oval face was white as a snowdrop. Like violets were her heavy eyelids, and underneath her sleeping eyes a violet shadow lay. Once had her mouth been as the bow of Eros, painted in carmine. Now either end of the bow was turned downwards, and its colour was that of a faded rose-leaf.
And as Eros looked at her that he loved, pity stirred his heart, as the wind sweeps through the sighing, grey leaves of the willow, or sings through the bowing reeds.
“My Belovèd!” he said, and he knew that Psyche was indeed his beloved. It was her fair soul that he loved, nor did it matter to him whether her body was like a rose in June or as a wind-scourged tree in December. And as his lips met hers, Psyche awoke, and heard his soft whisper:
“Dear, unclose thine eyes.
Thou mayst look on me now. I go no more,
But am thine own forever.”
Then did there spring from the fair white shoulders of Psyche, wings of silver and of gold, and, hand in hand with Eros, she winged her way to Olympus.
And there all the deathless gods were assembled, and Aphrodite no longer looked upon her who had once been her slave with darkened brows, but smiled upon her as the sun smiles upon a new-born flower. And when into the hand of Psyche there was placed a cup of gold, the voice of the great Father and King of Olympus rang out loud and clear:
“Drink now, O beautiful, and have no fear!
For with this draught shalt thou be born again,
And live for ever free from care and pain.”
In this wise did Psyche, a human soul, attain by bitter suffering to the perfect happiness of purified love.
And still do we watch the butterfly, which is her emblem, bursting from its ugly tomb in the dark soil, and spreading joyous white and gold-powdered wings in the caressing sunshine, amidst the radiance and the fragrance of the summer flowers. Still, too, do we sadly watch her sister, the white moth, heedlessly rushing into pangs unutterable, thoughtlessly seeking the anguish that brings her a cruel death.
Next: The Calydonian Hunt
Previous: Apollo And Daphne