The Greek Mythology has been my favorite book since secondary school. I used to sleep with it under my head and memorized every little tale by heart. In fact, it had influenced my life a lot, especially when I was in college and even now I still think probably I’ll name my kids in the future after some of the heroes/heroines in there(!) To me it is the best literary work ever made and the best stories ever told.
And inspired by a blog post that I read recently “Why boys who play guitar are actually Greek Gods” in which the blogger mentioned Orpheus and his love for Eurydice I’ve decided to pick 3 love stories that I think are the most beautiful out of hundreds (or thousands) other mostly-sexual-love-affairs in the whole legend. Mind you, ancient people were the lucky ones. While in the modern time love is actually not the most important thing in a love story since it dies out easily over a couple of materialistic / realistic / practical reasons, in the old days when people were in love then love was the only thing that mattered.
1. Psyche and Cupid:
This is my favorite romance of all time. It’s not about how they fell in love but about how they fought to finally be together. There are many versions for this legend. Wikipedia has one of them, but I much prefer what I read in the Vietnamese version edited by Nguyen Van Khoa. That was a truly beautiful one.
“Once upon a time”.. Psyche was the little daughter among the 3 princesses of a king. Her fairness far outshone her sisters’ and any other girls’ in the mortal land and that made Venus (Aphrodite) – the Goddess of Love and Beauty – so envious and anxious because people forgot to worship her power. Thus, she told her son Cupid (Eros) – the winged God of Love – to shoot his arrows making Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man ever. However, the trouble was that Cupid also fell in love with Psyche from the very first time he saw her as if he had just shot himself (I think this is the best part of this version because the God of Love also got trapped in the “troubles” he brought to mortals and also love does happen even without getting shot with one of those invisible golden arrows).
So he begged for help from Apollo to fake an oracle telling the king that his little daughter had to marry a terrible serpent to save his people. Psyche accepted her fate because it was a princess’s responsibility and she even tried to console her parents’ grieve. She was left alone in a mountain, but no serpent came as said. She only felt a cool breeze taking her to a magnificent palace where she was served like a queen by invisible servants. Her husband only came to her at night and she never saw his face. However, she also quietly fell in love with him.
Then one day her husband allowed her to receive her two sisters as guests but he told her not to listen to them and try to find out who he was: “On the day you know who I am we’ll be parted forever”.
When seeing Psyche again, the two sisters became more envious of Psyche’s luxurious life than happy that she was still alive. They persuaded Psyche that her husband was actually a serpent and prompted her to kill him to save herself. Psyche was so naive that her faith was totally shaken by the evil words from her sisters. She couldn’t think about killing her husband who was very nice to her but at least she had to make sure he was not a monster.
One night Psyche waited for her husband to sleep soundly and came back with a lamp. Under the light she finally saw her husband’s face, as beautiful as he always was, the God of Love. She was deeply touched and her hands were trembling so hard that she dropped a bit oil from the lamp on his shoulder and awoke him. He immediately flew away and she could still hear his voice in the wind “Love can’t exist without honesty and trust”.
Psyche was brokenhearted. She loved her husband with all her heart and decided to go to look for him. Days, months and years passed by but she found no sight of her beloved husband. She asked all the Olympus Gods and Goddesses for help but no one spared her any sympathy because they didn’t want troubles with Venus. Thus, Psyche decided to search for Venus herself to beg her permit to meet Cupid again.
Meanwhile, Venus found out her son’s disobedience and locked him up in his room to prevent him from going for his wife. Then one day she finally met with Psyche. The envious Goddess thought she would challenge Psyche with difficult tasks so that she would either die or become so old and ugly that Cupid would not love her anymore.
She asked Psyche to separate a mess of grains; then to get some wool from the vicious golden sheep; and then bring back some water from the River Styx, the river lay between the mortal land and the Underworld. Amazingly, while all the Gods and Goddesses ignored the poor girl, all the little creatures sympathized with her and Psyche overcame all 3 tasks thanks to help from the ants, a little tree and an eagle.
Venus was so angry at Psyche’s success. She finally came up with the most wicked idea which was to challenge Psyche to go to the Underworld to ask for a bit of beauty from Queen Proserpina (Persephone). Psyche went on her long journey again and was shown how to go to the Underworld and come back alive by an old tower. Many days and difficulties went by and finally she met with Proserpina and had a piece of her beauty to put in a small box to go back to Venus. However, on the way back Psyche was curious and also she wanted to take a bit of that piece to beautify herself before seeing Cupid again. She opened the box but instead of something visible there was only an infernal sleep that took over her and get her into an eternal sleep that nobody could wake up from.
Luckily, Cupid had found the way out of his locked room. He had forgiven his wife and was flying around to look for her. He found Psyche sleeping and wiped out the sleep on her face. Putting the Proserpina’s beauty back into the box he told Psyche to come to Venus immediately while he came up to the Olympus mount to beg Jupiter (Zeus) to accept their marriage. After hearing everything Psyche had been through, the God decided that she were allowed to be married to an immortal God and became a Goddess. Only then had Venus have to obey Jupiter’s decision but she was also so impressed by Psyche’s will that she totally had no objections.
And so that was the end of the story.. Or no, not yet.. And “they lived happily forever after”..
So, I think the most awesome thing about this story is Psyche’s incredible power to overcome all the challenges and difficulties taking into account she was a princess at birth who had everything taken care of. Besides, I think she was quite blind too. Say, if she became ugly and old would Cupid still love her? Did she have a “plan B”? Obviously not. She only knew that her heart was beating for him so if Cupid didn’t love her anymore she would just simply die.
And it was also amazing how Cupid accused Psyche of dishonesty and untrustworthiness. It was clear that he was actually the one who started all the lies. He lied to his mother, to her father and especially he didn’t trust her, and then he gave himself the right to abandon Psyche, to leave her broken-hearted and feeling guilty about herself. And during her long journey where was he? Did he do anything? No! He only appeared at the end of the road being the prize for her difficult days. And mind you, even when Psyche opened that little box she also thought of him, how happy he would be if his wife became more beautiful. It was all for him / because of him.
Anyway, I still have to say I admire Psyche from the bottom of my heart. She was the purest, bravest, most beautiful, most adorable, most decisive female character of the whole Greek Mythology that I have read. I won’t say Cupid deserved her love totally though. However, if there were no Cupid probably Psyche would never be able to find her strong will and enormous power. And again, their love didn’t happen because of those invisible arrows. Magic! Maybe that’s why Cupid was a winged God. Love has to have wings to fly and to create beautiful and incredible things in life.
All photos from the internet.
Note: The names here are from Roman stories, not Greek. Venus, Cupid and Jupiter are Roman names for Aphrodite, Eros and Zeus. This was how I first read the story so I didn’t want to change the names into original Greek.
The 2nd and 3rd picks come in the next post.. (to be continued)
Read the 2nd story.
Read the 3rd story.