The Tale of Cupid and Psyche (also referred to as The Tale of Amor and Psyche and The Tale of Eros and Psyche) first appeared as a digressionary story told by an old woman in Lucius Apuleius' novel, The Golden Ass, written in the second century A.D. Apuleius probably used an earlier tale as the basis for his story, modifying it to suit the thematic needs of his novel. Read on its own, it is for the most part a straightforward folktale.
The Abduction of Psyche by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Envious and jealous of the beauty of a mortal woman named Psyche, Venus asks her son Cupid to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the vilest creature on earth. Cupid agrees but then falls in love with Psyche on his own, when he leans over from a distance to view her, causing one of his own arrows to fall forward piercing him.
When all continue to admire and praise Psyche's beauty but none desire her as a wife, Psyche's parents consult an oracle, which tells them to leave Psyche on the nearest mountain, for her beauty is so great that she is not meant for man. Terrified, they have no choice but to follow the oracle's instructions. But then Zephyrus, the west wind, carries Psyche away to a fair valley and a magnificent palace where she is attended by invisible servants until night falls and in the darkness of night the promised bridegroom arrives and the marriage is consummated. Cupid visits her every night to make love to her, but demands that she never light any lamps, since he does not want her to know who he is.
Cupid even allows Zephyrus to take Psyche back to her sisters and bring all three down to the palace during the day, but warning that Psyche should not listen to any argument that she should not try to discover his true form. The two jealous sisters tell Psyche, then pregnant with Cupid's child, that rumor is that she had married a great and terrible serpent who would devour her and her unborn child when the time came for it to be fed. They urge Psyche to conceal a knife and oil lamp in the bedchamber, to wait till her husband was asleep, and then to light the lamp and slay him at once if it is as they said. Psyche sadly follows their advice. In the light of the lamp Psyche recognizes the fair form on the bed as the god Cupid himself. However, she accidentally pricks herself with an arrow, and is consumed with desire for her husband. She begins to kiss him, but as she does, a drop of oil falls from her lamp onto Cupid's chest and wakes him. He flies away, and she falls from the window to the ground, sick at heart.
Psyche then finds herself in the city where one of her jealous elder sisters lives. She tells her what had happened, then tricks her sister into believing that Cupid has chosen her as a wife instead. She later meets her other sister and deceives her likewise. Each returns to the top of the peak and jumped down eagerly, but Zephyrus does not bear them and they fall to their deaths at the base of the mountain.
Psyche searches far and wide for her lover, finally stumbling into a temple to where all is in slovenly disarray. As Psyche is sorting and clearing, Ceres appears, but refuses any help but advice, saying Psyche must call directly on Venus, the jealous shrew that caused all the problems in the first place. Psyche next calls on in her temple, but Juno, superior as always, says the same. So Psyche finds a temple to Venus and enters it. Venus orders Psyche to separate all the grains in a large basket of mixed kinds before nightfall. An ant takes pity on Psyche and with its ant companions separates the grains for her.
Venus is outraged at her success and tells her to go to a field where golden sheep graze and get some golden wool. A river-god tells Psyche that the sheep are vicious and strong and will kill her, but if she waits until noontime, the sheep will go to the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she can pick the wool that sticks to the branches and bark of the trees. Venus next asks for water from the flowing from a cleft that is impossible for a mortal to attain and is also guarded by great serpents. This time an eagle performs the task for Psyche. Venus, outraged at Psyche's survival, claims that the stress of caring for her son, made depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's lack of faith, has caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche is to go to the Underworld and ask the queen of the Underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a box that Venus gave to Psyche. Psyche decides that the quickest way to the Underworld is to throw herself off some high place and die and so she climbs to the top of a tower. But the tower itself speaks to her and tells her the route through that will allow her to enter the Underworld alive and return again, as well as telling her how to get by throwing him a cracker and by paying him a golden coin, how to avoid other dangers on the way there and back, and most importantly to eat of no food whatsoever; for otherwise she will dwell forever in the Underworld. Psyche follows the orders explicitly and eats nothing while beneath the earth.
However when Psyche has left the Underworld, she decides to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside, she can see no beauty; instead an infernal sleep arises from the box and overcomes her. Cupid (Eros), who had forgiven Psyche, flies to her, wipes the sleep from her face, puts it back in the box, and sends her back on her way. Then Cupid flies to Mount Olympus and begs [, to aid them. Jupiter (Zeus) calls a full and formal council of the gods and declares that it is his will that Cupid might marry Psyche. Jupiter then has Psyche fetched to Mount Olympus, and gives her a drink made from Ambrosia, granting her immortality. Begrudgingly, Venus and Psyche forgive each other.
Psyche and Cupid's daughter was Voluptas, the goddess of "sensual pleasures," whose Latin name means "pleasure" or "bliss".