Monday, February 28, 2011
Introducing Mythology Mondays. The frequency of Mythology Mondays has yet to be determined. Perhaps weekly, but I'm anticipating something more on the order of alternate Mondays or even only once a month.
I wasn't quite sure where to start with Mythology Mondays (do I start from Zeus and work down or pick random stories?). When I discovered last week that there was a connection between Beauty and the Beast (which was the story featured on Fairy Tale Fridays) and the story of Cupid and Psyche, I decided that was the perfect place to kick off my study of mythology and to end up the month of love. The story of Cupid and Psyche was originally found in the 2nd century tale Metamorphoses (or The Golden Ass) by Apuleius. He used their story as part of his larger tale but it is believed that the story was around before this.
There once was a king who had three daughters but the most beautiful was Psyche. She was so beautiful that people began worshiping her beauty instead of that of Venus, the goddess of love. This made Venus so jealous that she sent her son, Cupid (he of the arrows that make people fall in love), to earth to shoot Psyche with an arrow that would make her fall in love with a monster. But when Cupid laid eyes on Psyche, he found himself smitten. When he accidentally woke Psyche up, it caused him to prick himself with his arrow and fall deeply in love with her.
Although Psyche was very happy, she became homesick and talked her husband into letting her sisters visit. When they saw how she was living, it was their turn to be jealous. They convinced Psyche that her husband was a monster who would try to kill her while she slept. They convinced her that she must kill him first. So one night she hid a knife and an oil lamp when she went to bed. Once her husband was asleep, she lit the lamp but when she saw her husband was Cupid she was so surprised that she dripped some hot wax on him. He awoke and was so angry to find that she had disobeyed him that he left immediately and the palace disappeared.
Psyche searches for him every where and eventually goes to Venus to implore her to help. Venus, clever goddess that she is, says that she'll help if only Psyche will complete one impossible task after another. With the help of ants, an mysterious voice and an eagle. Finally Venus tells Psyche that she must go to the Underworld and bring Venus back some beauty in a box. Once again, Psyche is helped in her task and returns safely.
But Psyche could not leave well enough alone and opened that box, only to find that it didn't contain any beauty but instead a deep sleep. Cupid, who could no longer live without her, found Psyche and put the sleep back in the box. Then he went to Jupiter (the big guy, The God) seeking his help. Cupid agreed to stop his mischievous ways and Jupiter agreed that Cupid and Psyche should be wed. And they all lived happily ever after. Except, you've got to imagine that Venus was still just a little miffed about the whole thing.
And what have we learned from the tale of Cupid and Psyche? "Curiosity killed the cat" comes to mind. What a little lesson about vanity? Or, have we instead learned that from the beginning of time, men were most interested in the outside package? Oh, you men are all so shallow!
The story of Cupid and Psyche is both a part of mythology and a fairy tale so I've paired the actual tale with
Francesca Lia Block's short story Psyche's Dark Night, found in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.
Block adapts the story of Cupid and Psyche to modern times. The pair meet online, Psyche sees a therapist, Cupid goes to AA. In Block's version, the two actually never do see each other in the daylight until well into the story when Psyche does exactly what Psyche does in the original tale and lets her curiosity get the better of her. An argument ensues, an argument that most adults readers will recognize as having had themselves, and the two part ways. But they never stop thinking about each other. Psyche feels that she is in darkness but eventually, through therapy and diligence, begins to find a version of herself that is much more whole. Cupid also searches deep within himself. Over time the two begin exchanging brief emails and finally meet, during the day. Things go well, very well, and both Cupid and Psyche finally act like the grownups they are. I thoroughly enjoyed Block's take on the story in which she incorporated so much of the original story while making it her own.