Cupid and Psyche - The
Trial of Psyche
by Josephine Preston Peabody
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
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
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 task completed.
"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. Tomorrow 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 do so."
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
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 immortality.
Love took her by the hand, and they were
never parted any more.