Psyche and Cupid Revisited

Dancer, by Carol O. Cole

Dancer, by Carol O. Cole

by Katharine C. Otto

Here’s a myth written by a man.

Venus, Roman goddess of love, sends son Cupid to skewer beautiful, mortal Psyche with one of his famous love arrows, so she will fall in love with some ugly old coot and age quickly. Unfortunately, Cupid botches the job, ends up sticking himself with one of his own arrows, and falls in love with his mother’s rival.

Next, he abuses his immortal power by lying to Psyche and her family. He has the oracle say her destined mate is a monster. She resigns herself to her fate, and her family abandons her on a mountainside.

Cupid marries Psyche and whisks her off to his mountaintop estate, far away from everyone she knows and loves, except him. She isn’t allowed to see his face. He buys her anything she wants, but he is not there for her. He comes home only at night, after she’s asleep, spends the night, and is gone by morning.

She’s unhappy with this arrangement. She communicates she is lonely, so he agrees to bring her sisters up for a visit. They fill her mind full of doubts and remind her of the oracle.

So, Psyche lights a lamp in the middle of the night and looks at him. Shocked by his beauty, her hand falters, and she spills a drop of hot oil on him.  He wakes up, is offended by her audacity, and runs home to Mama to have his burn cared for.

“Love cannot live where suspicion lies,” he moans, as he flies out the window, thereby getting the last word. Psyche is expelled from the mountaintop estate and must work for a living.

Venus takes advantage of the marital conflict and sets Psyche to work. She orders her to perform a number of inane tasks, but Psyche, being mortal, knows her limitations and is not afraid to ask for help. Even the ants pity her and help her sort a pile of small seeds, one of the endless meaningless tasks Venus inflicts. Finally, after ten years, Cupid rescues his wife from his mother.

Now, the testosterone-poisoned would have us believe that Psyche did something wrong by looking at her husband. You’re supposed to believe she didn’t trust him enough, so she ended up having to prove her love.

This is a con.

It wasn’t Psyche’s fault Cupid was a bad aim, abducted her under false pretenses, set unreasonable rules for her behavior, and wasn’t there for her except at night and on his terms. A lesser woman would have used that lamp to set fire to his bed.

Psyche knew this was Cupid’s way of saying “I love you,” but she was fed up with the lies, discovered the truth, and paid the consequences. Psyche was ultimately granted immortality too, so she and Cupid can live happily ever after.

Fortunately for her, she gets more freedom. We must suppose she is now allowed to see her husband in broad daylight, perhaps even have breakfast with him, and enjoy his company outside the bedroom. The myth doesn’t say how often Venus comes around, but Psyche’s mother-in-law issues are another story.

The point is that Psyche does the only thing she can do to avoid becoming a bitter old woman. She breaks the rules before they break her. She pays the price to earn fulfillment, happiness, and love. Good thing, too, since the alternative would make for a miserable eternity.

This is good for humanity as well, since the word “psyche” has come to stand for the human soul, the mind, and mental life. It is the basis of the words “psychiatry,” “psychology,” “psychic,” and others.

Psyche did us all a favor by daring to challenge the gods’ authority. She pushed the envelope, and pierced the veil of mortality. Her experience offers promise of light beyond the darkness, for those who have the courage to persist.

16 thoughts on “Psyche and Cupid Revisited

  1. Lala Simon

    Ah. This is a much different version of the story.
    Her parents threw -her- off a cliff.
    Cupid after pricking himself and accidentally falling in love with her It was cupid who petitioned Zeus to stop Venus and grant her immortality.
    She sent Psyche on these quests. One of which was bringing a box back she wasn’t supposed to open.
    Venus Is testing her and knows Psyches curiosity will prevail and thus tricks her into opening a box which makes her fall asleep.

    So, passed out and unconscious, she can’t continue the quest.
    Cupid was legit in love with her but wouldn’t allow Psyche to see him because he would always be suspicious of whether she loved him for the right reasons.

    Now, let us hypothetically imagine she never dropped accidentally dropped the wax on him in the first place.

    Love can not live where suspicion lies and it works both ways.
    Cupid appealed to Zeus to tell his mom to Chill. It was his mom that was Jealous and set the whole domino effect up. It was SHE who told the oracle to tell Psyche she’d fall in love with a monster. It was VENUS and her vanity, selfishness and jealousy that stood in the way.
    As usual. Used her child’s only purpose was to use him to do her “grunt work” Because she didn’t like Psyche competing with her beauty, societies or her son’s affections.

    It is in this scenario, Venus, who is being a complete asshole.This story is isn’t as chauvinistic as you may first think.

    Now. Let’s go back to the scenario where she never dropped the wax and woke him up, saw his face, and entertains Cupid’s insecurity and months later she tells cupid, “Dude, I saw your face, like, forever ago. You can chill now it’s getting annoying.”

    Dropping the wax was an accident. Surely if this scenario were to be done over I think Psyche wouldn’t dare drop the wax. Especially if she’s learned her Venus lesson.

    1. katharineotto Post author

      Okay. I’ve read different versions of these myths in different texts, and the translation from Greek to Roman is not precise. Another version has Psyche dripping candle wax instead of hot oil. For instance, how does Pandora’s box fit into this scenario?
      Also, don’t you think Cupid was being awfully darned controlling by not allowing her to see him? In my opinion, the “right reasons” are kissing someone with morning breath and liking it.

      1. Lala Simon

        Cupid was insecure because he had status.
        To him, he cursed himself with his own arrows of love.

        Cupid saved Psyche’s life and took care of her. That’s far more telling than kissing someone with “morning breath.”
        And “liking it”

        I think that statement sounds slightly immature and almost silly in this context.

        True love is a higher force. It doesn’t care what your breath smells like in the morning. True love is more powerful than morning breath.

        True love is mature enough to realizes morning breath is normal. If one cant realize this they’re reducing true love to something fickle and childish which, then, makes them seem like they’ve got a lot to learn.
        Oil and Wax is interchangeable. It’s not as important which is which in the context of the story. 😉

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Hey, lighten up. You’re taking me much too seriously. This was meant to be amusing and to re-cast these archetypes in a modern context. The beauty of archetypes is that they are so flexible. Different people can have different interpretations, and all have validity, on some level. I just know I would not want to marry Cupid. He sounds like a Mama’s boy.

      3. Lala Simon

        Cupid realizes, though, his mother isn’t really in control. He disempowers his mother when he appeals to Zeus.

      4. katharineotto Post author

        Cupid disempowers his mother more by marrying Psyche, which is symbolic of adulthood, trading mother for wife as his main love. However, he needed Psyche’s strength, persistence, and patience (10 years is a long time) to make it work. He obviously matured as much as Psyche did, or the marriage would not have survived, at least not happily (according to me).

      5. Lala Simon

        Yes! Agreed! Not every relationship works this way, though. Sometimes Eros can wind up being Peter Pan. 🙂

      6. Lala Simon

        And Psyche can say screw Eros I’m not going to deal with this drama.

        And if Psyche were more mature, like now, in my opinion with maturity I can see Eros for what he is.

        Entertain Eros’ insecurity to a point but after 10 years of torture Psyche would just be done.

        Psyche shouldn’t have to suffer because Eros is brainwashed and Venus is an asshole.

        Eros is lucky Psyche took him back after all that BS Eros put Psyche through.

        Similar situation, recently, in my life actually.

        Eros has to realize he’s a grown ass man and get off the teet.

        Otherwise Psyche would still be asleep.

        Since Psyche grew up and she sees the situation for what it is? She can avoid the situation entirely and move on with her life no matter how much it sucks.

        She can learn from it. Ero’s will either get over it or he wont. Psyche knows she put in the work and it’s not her fault Venus and Eros were immortal, yes. But they were both too self destructive to deserve immortality.

        Psyche has to realize her own power in the scenario.

        If Eros never comes back it wasn’t the love she deserved and it wasn’t “true”.

      7. Lala Simon

        Either way… Eros empowers her and she earned immortality and probably deserves it and earned it far more than someone born blue blooded. This is another “self made” aspect.

      8. Lala Simon

        I personally think Venus and Eros suck. I personally want to thank both of them. Thanks for my immortality “Zeus”. Eros thanks for screwing me over. Venus, you’re a fascist. I am immortal now and what I do with it afterwards is entirely up to me. Who’s got Hercules’ number? I wonder what he’s doing tonight? Haha… I crack myself up

      9. Lala Simon

        Also, different box. “The last trial Venus imposes on Psyche is a quest to the underworld itself. She is to take a box (pyxis) and obtain in it a dose of the beauty of Proserpina, queen of the underworld. Venus claims her own beauty has faded through tending her ailing son, and she needs this remedy in order to attend the theatre of the gods (theatrum deorum).”

  2. Lala Simon

    Psyche had curiosity (nothing wrong with curiosity) yet she did not have patience. Eros was really insecure.
    She did, however, have persistence and Ero’s love. This is why she won him back.

    Setting his mattress on fire is a little out of control.

  3. Lala Simon

    One of Venus’s lessons also symbolizes conquering jealousy, possessiveness and insecurity. Venus is often vain and impatient and never works for what she gets. She just makes other people do it for her. Shes a diva. She’s also graceful.

    Graceful people wont drop the wax if they’ve tamed their venus aspects. Thats what they mean by learning Venus lessons.

  4. Lala Simon

    “Cupid disempowers his mother more by marrying Psyche”- She could not marry him because she was a mortal. That’s the big issue over this… Aphrodite was Jealous of Psyche because she was said to be the “Second Coming of Venus” she was beautiful and she was being worshiped for her beauty but she isn’t a goddess.. Which, if you understand Aphrodite’s attitude, was the catalyst to the whole scenario and why she sent Cupid to “take care of her”… Same parallel to every Martyr story on the planet. Humility gets you killed. In fact, during the quest Psyche is secretly trying to kill herself in every situation. She wan’t to die and doesn’t care if she dies.
    That’s why she went on the quests. Trusting the person who was jealous of her by being humble towards them. She didn’t want to be a Goddess to have power… she wanted to be a Goddess to be with the man she loved. Pretty noble cause if you ask me.


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