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Cupid And Psyche







Once upon a time there lived a king who had three daughters. The two

elder girls were very fair, and many were their suitors, but the

youngest was so beautiful that it was whispered in the city that the

goddess Aphrodite was not her equal in loveliness, and as she walked

through the streets men touched their foreheads, and bowed low to the

ground, as if Aphrodite herself had passed by.



Now it was not long since the shepherd Paris had given the goddess the

golden apple, in token that neither on the earth nor even on Olympus was

a woman to be found as fair as she. And when she heard of the honours

paid to Psyche, she rose up in her wrath and sent a winged messenger for

Cupid, her son.



'Come with me,' she said, when Cupid appeared before her, 'I have

somewhat to show you'; and without further speech the two flew through

the air together, till they reached the palace where Psyche was

sleeping.



'That is the maiden to whom men pay the homage due to me alone,' she

whispered, while her grey eyes darted gleams like fire. 'I have brought

you hither that you may avenge me by pricking her with an arrow that

will fill her heart with love for one of the basest of mortals. And now

I must depart in haste, for Oceanos awaits me.'



Aphrodite vanished, but Cupid remained where he was, gazing on the

sleeping maiden and confessing in his heart that those who paid her the

honours due to his mother were not much to blame.



'Never will I do you such wrong,' he murmured, 'as to mate you with some

base wretch, who has no thought beyond the wine-cup. From me and my

darts you are safe. But am I safe from yours?' Then, fearing to stay any

longer, lest his mother should wax wroth with him, he also took his way

to the palace of Oceanos.






If Aphrodite had not been a goddess, and had known a little more about

the hearts of men, she might not have envied Psyche so bitterly; for,

though all men bowed down before her and worshipped her beauty, each

felt that she was too far above him to woo for his bride. So that, while

her sisters had homes and children of their own, Psyche remained unasked

and unsought in her father's palace.



At length the king grew frightened as months and years slipped by, and

Psyche was past the age when Greek maidens left the hearth where they

had grown into girlhood. He summoned some wise men to give him counsel,

but they shook their heads, and bade him consult the oracle of his

fathers. It was a three days' journey to his shrine, and then no man

knew when the oracle would speak, so the king took with him sheep and

oxen, and skins of wine for himself and his followers.



Ten days later he returned to the city with bowed head and white face.

The queen, with anxious heart, had been watching his arrival from the

roof of the palace, and awaited him at the door of the women's

apartments.



'What has happened?' she said, as she greeted him; but he drew her on

one side, where none might hear them.



'The oracle has spoken,' answered he, 'and decrees that Psyche shall be

left upon a barren rock till a hideous monster shall come and devour

her. And it is for this that men have paid her honours which were the

portion only of the gods! Far better had she been born with the hair of

Medusa and the hump of Hephaestos.'



At these dreadful tidings the queen and her maidens broke into weeping,

and when the news spread through the city no sounds but those of wailing

were heard. Only the voice of Psyche was silent among them. She moved

about as one that was sleeping, and indeed she felt as if the boat, with

its grim ferryman, had already borne her across the Styx. So the days

passed on, and one evening a white-clad priest arrived from the shrine

to bid the king tarry no longer.



That night a sad procession left the gates of the city, and in the midst

was Psyche, clad in garments of black, and led by her father, while her

mother followed weeping behind. Singers wailed out a dirge, which was

scarcely heard above the sobs of the mourners, and the torches burned

dimly and soon went out.



The sun was rising when they reached the bare rock on top of a high

mountain where the oracle had directed that Psyche should be left to

perish. She made no sign when her father and mother took her in their

arms for the last time, and, though they cried bitterly, she never shed

a tear. What was the use? It was the will of the gods, and so it had to

be!



Not daring to look back, the king and queen took their way home to their

desolate palace, and Psyche leaned against the rock trembling with fear

lest every moment the monster should appear in sight. She was very

tired, for the road to the mountain had been long and stony, and she was

likewise exhausted by her grief, so that slowly a deep sleep crept over

her, and for a while her sorrows were forgotten.



While she thus slumbered, Cupid, unknown to herself, had been watching

over her, and at his bidding Zephyr approached and played round her

garments and among her hair. Then, lifting her gently up, he carried her

down the mountain side, and laid her upon a bed of lilies in the valley.



While she slept, pleasant dreams floated through her mind, and her

terrors and grief were forgotten. She awoke feeling happy, though she

could not have told why, for she was in a strange place and alone. In

the distance, through some trees, the spray of a fountain glimmered

white, and she rose and walked slowly towards it. By the fountain was a

palace, finer by far than the one in which Psyche had lived, for that

was built of stone, while this was all of ivory and gold. Vast it was,

and full of precious things, as Psyche saw for herself when, filled with

wonder mixed with a little fear, she stepped across the threshold.






'This palace is as large as a city,' the maiden said aloud, as she

passed from room to room without coming to an end of the marvels; 'but

how strange to find that there is no one here to enjoy these treasures,

or to guard them!' She started, as out of the silence a voice answered

her:



'The palace with all it contains is yours, lady. Therefore, bathe

yourself, if you will, or rest your limbs upon silken cushions, till the

feast is prepared, and we your handmaids clothe you in fine raiment. You

have only to command, and we obey you.'



By this time all fear had departed from Psyche, and with gladness she

bathed herself and slept. When she opened her eyes she beheld in front

of her a table covered with dishes of every kind, and with wines of

purple and amber hues. As before, she could see no one, though she heard

the sound of voices, and when she had finished, and lay back on her

cushions, unseen fingers struck a lyre, and sang the songs that she

loved.



So the hours flew by, and the sun was sinking, when suddenly a veil of

golden tissue was placed on her head, and at the same time a voice that

she had not heard spoke thus:



'Dip your hands in this sacred water'; and Psyche obeyed, and, as her

fingers sank into the basin she felt a light touch, as if other fingers

were there also.



'Break this cake and eat half,' said the voice again; and Psyche did so,

and she saw that the rest of the cake vanished bit by bit, as if someone

else were eating it also.



'Now you are my wife, Psyche,' whispered the voice softly; 'but take

heed to what I say, if you would not bring ruin on yourself, and cause

me to leave you for ever. Your sisters, I well know, will soon seek you

out, for they think they love you, though their love is of the kind that

quickly turns to hate. Even now they are with your parents weeping over

your fate, but a few days hence they will go to the rock, hoping to

gather tidings of your last moments. It may chance that at last they may

wander to this enchanted place, but as you value your happiness and your

life do not answer their questions, or lift your eyes towards them.'



Psyche promised she would do her unseen husband's bidding, and the weeks

slipped swiftly by, but one morning she felt suddenly lonely and broke

into wailing that she might never look on her sisters' faces again, or

even tell them that she was alive. All the long bright hours she sat in

her palace weeping, and when darkness fell, and she heard her husband's

voice, she put out her arms and drew him to her.



'What is it?' he asked gently, and she felt soft fingers stroking her

hair.



Then Psyche poured out all her woe. How could she be happy, even in this

lovely place, when her sisters were grieving for her loss? If she might

only see them once, if she might only tell them that she was safe, then

she would ask for nothing more. If not--why, it was a pity the monster

had not devoured her.



There was a silence after Psyche had poured forth her entreaties, and

then the bridegroom spoke, but his voice seemed somehow changed from

what it had been before.



'You shall do as you wish,' he said, 'though I fear that ill will come

of it. Send for your sisters if you please, and give them anything that

the palace contains. But once again let me beseech you to answer nothing

to their questions, or we shall be parted for ever.'



'Never, never, shall that be,' cried Psyche, embracing her husband with

delight. And, whoever and whatever you may be, I would not give you up,

even for the god Cupid. I will tell them nothing, but bid, I pray you,

Zephyr, your servant, to carry them hither to-morrow, as he carried

me.'



Next morning Zephyr found the two sisters seated on the rock, tearing

their hair and beating their breasts with sorrow. 'Psyche! Psyche,' they

cried, and the mountains echoed 'Psyche! Psyche,' but no other sound

answered them. Suddenly they felt themselves gently lifted from the

earth, and wafted through the air to the door of the palace, where stood

Psyche herself.



'Psyche! Psyche!' they cried again, but this time with joy and wonder,

and for a while they forgot everything else in the world. Then Psyche

bade them tell her of her father and mother, and how the days had passed

since she had left them, and she pictured to herself their gladness when

they heard how different had been her fate from that which the oracle

had foretold.



After her sisters had made known to her everything they had to tell,

Psyche invited them to see the palace, and, calling to the voices,

ordered them to prepare baths with sweet-smelling spices, and to set

forth a banquet for her guests. At these tokens of riches and splendour,

envy began to arise in their hearts, and curiosity also. They looked at

each other, and the glances of their eyes promised no good to Psyche.



'But where is your husband?' asked the eldest. 'Are we not to see him

also?'



'Yes,' said the other, 'you have not even told us what he is like, and

our mother will assuredly wish to know that.'



Their questions recalled to Psyche's mind the danger against which she

had been warned, and she answered hastily:



'Oh, he is young and very handsome--the handsomest man in all the world,

I think. But he spends much of his time in hunting, and has now gone far

into the mountains to chase the boar. It was thus that, feeling myself

lonely, I sent a messenger for you. And now, come and choose what you

will out of the treasure-chamber, for the hour of your departure draws

nigh!'



The sight of gold and precious stones heaped up in the treasure-chamber

only made the sisters more jealous than before; but their jealousy did

not prevent their carrying off the most splendid necklaces they could

find before Psyche summoned Zephyr to bear them unseen back to their own

homes.



'Why has Fortune treated her so differently from us?' cried the eldest,

before they were out of sight of the palace. 'Why should _she_ have

boundless riches, and be married to a man who is young and handsome, and

own slaves who fly through the air as if they were birds? Far indeed are

the days when she sat in our father's house, and no suitor came to woo!

But, though she was lonely and forlorn enough in the city, here she is

treated as if she were a goddess, while I am linked to a husband whose

head is bald, and whose back is a hump!'



'My plight is worse than yours,' groaned the other sister, 'for I have

to spend my time nursing a man who is always ill and rarely suffers me

to leave his side. But do not let us flatter her pride by telling our

father and mother of the honours Fate has heaped on her. Rather let us

consider how best to humble her and bring her low.'



Meanwhile night had fallen, and Psyche's husband came to her side.



'Did you take heed to my warnings,' asked he, 'and refuse to answer the

questions of your sisters?'



'Oh yes,' cried Psyche; 'I told them nothing that they wished to know. I

said that you were young and handsome, and gave me the most beautiful

things in the world, but that they could not see you to-day, for you

were hunting in the mountains.'



'So far it is well, then,' sighed he; 'but remember that even at this

moment they are plotting how they may destroy you, by filling your heart

with their own evil curiosity, so that one day you may ask to see my

face. But recollect, the moment you do this I vanish for ever.'



'Ah, you do not trust me,' sobbed Psyche; 'yet I have shown you that I

can be silent! Let me prove it again by suffering Zephyr to bring my

sisters once more, and then never, never will I crave another boon from

you.'



For long her husband refused to grant her what she asked, but at last,

wearied by her tears and prayers, he told her that this once she might

bid Zephyr bring her sisters to her. Eagerly they ran through the garden

into the palace, and greeted Psyche with warm embraces and gentle words,

while she on her part did everything she could think of to give them

pleasure. As before, she bade them choose whatever they most desired,

and when they had returned from the treasure-chamber and were eating

fruit under the trees by the fountain the elder sister spoke:



'How it grieves me to see you the victim of such deceit, and how I long

to be able to ward off the danger!'



'What do you mean by such words?' asked Psyche, turning pale. 'No one is

deceiving me, and no goddess could be happier than I.'



'Ah! you do not know--I dare not tell you,' gasped the other in broken

accents. 'Sister, you try; I cannot shape the words.'



'It is hard, but my duty demands it of me,' said the second sister. It

is--oh, how shall I tell it?--your husband is not such as you think, but

a huge serpent whose neck swells with venom, and whose tongue darts

poison. The men who work in the fields have watched him swimming across

the river as darkness falls, at the moment that he goes to seek you!'



Their groans and sobs, no less than their words, convinced Psyche, who

fell straightway into the pit they had digged for her.



'It is true,' she said with a trembling voice, 'that never yet have I

beheld my husband's face, and that many times he has warned me that the

moment my eyes light upon him he will abandon me for ever. His words

were always sweet and gentle, and his touch hardly resembles the skin of

a serpent. It is not easy to believe; but yet, if you know, I pray you,

of your love for me, to come to my aid in this deadly peril.'



'Ah, hapless one, it is for that we are here,' answered the elder; 'and

this is what you must do. This very night, fill a lamp full of oil, and

cover it with a dark cloth, so that not a ray of light can be seen; then

take a sharp knife and hide it in your bosom. After the serpent is sound

asleep, steal softly across the room, and snatch the cloth from the

lamp, so that you may see where to strike home, for if he should wake

before you have cut off his head your life will be forfeit.'



Having said this, they both hurriedly embraced their sister, and were

wafted home on the wings of Zephyr.



Left alone, Psyche flung herself on the ground, and for many hours lay

trying to subdue her misery. At one moment she thought that she could

not do it--that her sisters might be wrong after all. But her faith in

them was strong, and as night approached she rose up to do their

bidding.



So well did she feign happiness that her husband heard no change in her

voice as she bade him welcome, and, having travelled far that day, he

soon laid himself down on the couch and fell sound asleep. Then Psyche

seized the lamp and snatched off the covering, but by its light she saw

stretched on the cushions, not a huge and hideous serpent, but the most

beautiful of all the gods, Cupid himself.



At this sight her knees knocked together with surprise, and she gave a

step backwards, and the lamp, trembling in her hand, let fall a drop of

burning oil on Cupid's shoulder. He sprang to his feet, and with one

reproachful look he turned, and would have flown away had not Psyche

grasped his leg, and was borne up with him into the air, till at length

her strength gave way and she fell to the ground, where for some time

she remained unconscious.



When her senses came back, she was so miserable that she sought eternal

forgetfulness in a neighbouring stream, but the river, in pity, carried

her gently along and placed her on a bank of flowers. Finding that even

the river would have none of her, she rose up, and resolved to wander

night and day through the world till she should find her husband.



* * * * *



The first spot at which she halted was a temple on the top of a high

mountain, where, to her surprise, she saw blades of wheat, ears of

barley, sheaves of oats, scythes and ploughs, all scattered about in

wild confusion. Never before had she seen such disorder about a temple,

and, stooping down, she began to separate one thing from another and to

place them in heaps.



While she was busy with this, a voice cried to her from afar:



'Unhappy girl, my heart bleeds for you! Yet even while you are pursued

by the wrath of Aphrodite, you can labour in my service. May you find

some day the rest that you deserve! But now, quit this temple, lest you

draw down on me the anger of the goddess.'



With despair in her soul, Psyche wandered from one place to another, not

knowing and not caring whither her feet might lead her. At length she

was tracked and seized by one of Aphrodite's attendants, who dragged her

by the hair into the presence of the goddess herself. Here she was

beaten and scourged, both by whips and by cruel words, and, when every

kind of suffering had been heaped on her, Aphrodite took a number of

bags containing wheat, barley, millet, and many other seeds, and,

tumbling them all into one heap, bade her separate and place them each

in its own bag by the evening.



Psyche stood staring where Aphrodite had left her, not even trying to

begin a task that she knew to be hopeless.



She would certainly be killed, thought she, but, after all, death would

be welcome; and she laid her weary body on the floor and sought sleep.

At that moment a tiny ant, which had been passing through the storehouse

on his way to the fields, and saw her terrible straits, went and fetched

all his brothers, and bade them take pity on the damsel, and do the work

that had been given to her.



By sunset every grain was sorted and placed in its own bag, but Psyche

waited with trembling the return of Aphrodite, as she felt that nothing

she could do would content her.



And so it happened, when Aphrodite entered, and thirsting for vengeance,

cried with glee, 'Well, where are my seeds?' Psyche pointed silently to

the row of bags against the wall, each with its mouth open, so that at

the first glance it could be seen what kind of seed it contained. The

goddess grew white with rage, and screamed loudly, 'Wretched creature,

it is not your hands that have done this! you will not escape my anger

so easily'; and, tossing her a piece of bread, went away, locking the

door behind her.



Next morning the goddess bade one of her slaves bring Psyche before her.



'In yonder grove,' she said, on the banks of a river, feed sheep whose

wool is soft as silk and as bright as gold. Before night I shall expect

you to return with as much of this wool as will make me a robe. And I do

not think that you will find any one to perform your task this time!'



So Psyche went towards the river, which looked so clear and cool that

she stepped down to the brink, meaning to lay herself to rest in its

waters. But a reed sang to her, and its song said:






'O Psyche, do my bidding and fear nothing! Hide yourself till evening,

for the sheep are driven mad by the heat of the sun, and rush wildly

through the bushes and thickets. But when the air grows fresh they sink

exhausted to sleep, and you can gather all the wool you want from the

branches.'






Then Psyche thanked the reed for its counsel and brought the wool safely

back to the goddess; but she was received as before with scornful looks

and words, and ordered to go to the top of a lofty mountain and fill a

crystal urn from a fountain of black water which spouted from between

walls of smooth rock. And Psyche went willingly, thinking that this time

surely she must die.



But an eagle which was hovering over this dark and awful place came to

her aid, and taking the urn from her he bore it in his beak to the

fountain, which was guarded by two horrible dragons. It needed all his

strength and skill to pass by them, and indeed it was only when he told

them that Aphrodite needed it to give fresh lustre to her beauty that

they ceased to snap at him with their long fangs.



Joyfully the eagle bore back the urn to Psyche, who carried it back

carefully in her breast. But Aphrodite was still unsatisfied. Again and

again she found new errands for Psyche, and hoped that each one might

lead her to her death, though every time birds or beasts had pity on

her.



If Cupid had only known his mother's wicked schemes, he would have

contrived to stop them and to deliver Psyche. But the wound on his

shoulder where the burning oil had fallen took long to heal, and for

some time he was in ignorance of all that Psyche was suffering. At last,

however, the pain ceased, and his first thought was to visit Psyche,

who, nearly fainting with joy at the sound of his voice, poured forth

all that had happened since that dreadful night which had destroyed her

happiness.



'Your punishment has been sore,' said he, 'and I have no power to save

you from the task my mother has set you. But while you fulfil this I

will fly to Olympus, and beseech the gods to grant you forgiveness, and,

more, a place among the immortals.'



And so the envy and malice of Aphrodite and the wicked sisters were

brought to nought, and Psyche left the earth, to sit enthroned on

Olympus.



[_Apuleius._]





Next: Sir Bevis The Strong

Previous: Havelok And Goldborough



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