Cupid and Psyche - The Enchanted
by Josephine Preston Peabody
Once upon a time, through that Destiny
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
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 once more."
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
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
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
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 questions.
"Where is your husband?" said
they. "And why is he not here with you?"
"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, who feeds
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
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.