After a moment of uncertainty about Richard Armitage’s role, calm has been restored and I am good to go on another sleep themed foray into the classical tRAdition as shooting on Sleepwalker continues. Today’s installment is the mythological story of Cupid (Eros) and Psyche. In both the Greek and Roman pantheons, Cupid is a god associated with love…armed with a quiver of “love darts.” Although he is often depicted as a roly poly winged baby, there are probably as many depictions of the god as a beautiful young man. It is in this form that he appears the following story which survives only in the account of Apuleius within the 4th century AD novel The Golden Ass.
The full story begins at the end of Book IV and continues through Books V and VI and is well worth a read. I’m just going to highlight a small portion of it here:
“In a certain city there lived a king and queen, who had three daughters of surpassing beauty. Though the elder two were extremely pleasing, still it was thought they were only worthy of mortal praise; but the youngest girl’s looks were so delightful, so dazzling, no human speech in its poverty could celebrate them, or even rise to adequate description.“
Uh-oh. In myth, it is never a good sign when a human is so remarkable in anything as to attract attention away from the gods, and that is exactly what happens here. The beauty of the youngest daughter, Psyche, was so great that people began to slow down in their worship of Venus (the goddess of Love and Beauty) to instead pay homage to Psyche. Word got back to Venus and she was predictably offended and outraged. She sent Cupid as the instrument of her revenge, but instead of punishing the girl, he fell in love with her on sight and implemented a plan to have her for his own.
After a consult with the Delphic Oracle, Psyche’s father the king was told to prepare his youngest daughter for marriage to a monster…a dragon even. So, Psyche was dressed up in funeral clothes and set out on a rock to take one for the home team. Instead of her prophesized scaly groom, she was swept up by Zephyr (the West wind) and transported to a beautiful flowery field where she fell peacefully asleep. When she woke she found herself on the edge of a carefully tended copse, and upon exploration, she found a beautiful palace. It seems that her mysterious new husband planned to keep her in the lap of luxury. She is treated to a delicious banquet that served serves itself accompanied by the music of an invisible lyre.
Leery, but still curious, she consented to be led to a bedroom where her groom visited her in darkness to consummate the marriage. She quickly began to look forward to his visits, which always came in a darkness. Although he was tender and indulgent with Psyche, he warned her that she must never look at him in the light. Although Psyche seemed content with the arrangement, and even conceived a child, she was lonely and convinced her secretive husband to bring her sisters to the palace for a visit. From here, things began to unravel for Psyche. Jealous at the opulence in which Psyche lives, her sisters planted seeds of doubt about her attentive, but unseen husband. They convinced her to uncover his true identity lest he actually a be a monster who was planning to consume both Psyche and her unborn child.
Young and insecure, Psyche was swayed, and carried out a plan cooked up by her sisters. One night after her husband had fallen asleep, she retrieved a hidden lamp and a dagger to reveal and kill the monster in her bed.
Cupid and Psyche by Giuseppe Maria Crespi
When she held the light closer, instead revealing a monster, she saw the most beautiful creature that she has ever seen – Cupid.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume he looked like this…*cough*
Where was I? Oh, right…most beautiful creature and all. Anyway, Psyche was so startled by the sight that she pricked herself on one of Cupid’s arrows and spilled hot lamp oil onto her beautiful dreamer. Startled and angered by her mistrust, Cupid flew away from her. Psyche tried to follow him (and who wouldn’t if he looked like that ^^ ?) but even wounded, he alluded her and she was left alone.
What follows for Psyche was a series of wanderings and labors that rival those of Odysseus, Aeneas and Hercules. Despite the kindly wishes of Ceres and Juno on Psyche’s behalf, Venus remained unmoved and vindictively set her on a series of increasing impossible tasks until Cupid finally realized his love for Psyche was unchanged and intervened…cue super romantic reunion.
Psyche awakened by Cupid’s kiss by Canova
This story is a like a greatest hits album of classical literary themes…myth, tragedy, epic…with a little Roman style happy ending worthy of a Disney princess tale thrown in! So there you have it…in honor of Richard Armitage’s role in Sleepwalker, another slumber story from the classical tRAdition for your reading pleasure.