Psyche and Eros

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Psyche and Eros
A king and queen had three fair daughters to marry off. The older two were shapelier than the common lot, and easily awarded to old kings with adjacent borders. But the youngest had a daunting beauty beyond description. Even inadequate words of her magnificence inspired curious citizens and strangers to throng the palace grounds. The least glimpse of her could arouse crowds to an astonished reverence and inspire offerings once meant for Aphrodite alone.
Word of this lovely upstart, who provoked the blasphemy of misdirected offerings, eventually reached Aphrodite. Rumors spread that a celestial quirk had caused her, a decadent seafoam goddess, to be replaced by an earthy mortal, still a virgin.
Aphrodite fumed as her statues and temples moldered bare of gifts, her cold altars lay unkempt, and a tedious silence replaced the chants of adulation that had soothed her. Even the regulars no longer came to Cithara to worship her. Everyone worshiped ‘the new Aphrodite.’ This mortal would have to suffer.
Aphrodite sought out her son, winged Eros, who reveled in creating improbable lusts. “This wretched wench, the so-called virgin Psyche, stole my rightful divinity. I can’t live like this. It’s your duty to your poor mother to get revenge. I want you to stick this Psyche person with your hot darts, and make her fall in love with some sleazy weasel.”
Eros pacified Aphrodite and then watched her march toward the ocean, her famous bottom quivering indignantly. Aphrodite called her entourage – singing Nereids, Portunas with barnacles clinging to his beard, Salita hugging struggling fish against her naked breasts, Palemon and his trained dolphins, trumpeting Triton, and some cranky honking swans – and they all splashed toward Cithara. Eros took interest in his mother’s tantrums only if they could result in unlikely unions. This one promised hilarity. There was nothing like watching mortals struggle with disgusting desires.
Meanwhile, Psyche wondered why, when all the citizenry worshiped her, no good-looking, wealthy young man asked to marry her. Her sisters had been married off early. True, their husbands were old and cranky, but they were also rich kings. Psyche was lonely and sometimes questioned the virtue of being so incredibly good looking. Her father grew tired of watching Psyche mope while the peasantry trampled his gardens. He feared divine envy, and went to consult the Oracle of Apollo. Apollo answered:

Dress Psyche in bridal mourning, set her out on that high rock

and say good-bye.

Her groom, fierce as a night-flying serpent,

isn’t human.

Gods fall to his might, shot through with fire

that blackens rivers into dark floods of pain.

Back home again, the king and queen encouraged the local citizenry to join them in several days of wild lamenting as they prepared for Psyche’s marriage. Black torches burned sweet myrrh, and heart-wrenching wedding songs ended in howls. On her wedding day Psyche watched them through her veil, impatient with their misery.

Her parents wailed as they led Psyche up the mountain. She pulled away from them as they reached the summit, saying, “Why are you carrying on this way? This is what you get for your pride in my beauty. You should’ve seen this coming when everyone called me the new Aphrodite, you should’ve started to mourn for me then. Obviously, Aphrodite is putting me on this rock, and may her revenge be a plague on all of you.
“This is my fortune alone, and I just want this awful wedding over. I want to see the husband who’s going to jump on my bones tonight. He can destroy the world, right? Now, why would I want to put off meeting a guy like that?”
Psyche’s family took in her fierce beauty one last time as she turned her back on them.
Psyche, alone and fuming, suddenly lifted from the rock on Zephyr’s gentle breath, floated leaf-like down and down. Pillowing flowers then held her, and she drowsed in their pungent scents. She awoke in a much better mood, took off her veil, and gave it a kick.
A short walk took her through woods to a visionary palace. The vaulted ceiling was of citron and ivory, the pillars of gold, the walls of silver, engraved with strange beasts. She walked on jeweled mosaics through the shimmering halls. It looked like things might turn out all right. A floating voice told Psyche that everything was at her command.

She bathed with assistance from invisible beings. She sat down to eat as food and drink came to her on a breeze. Invisible instruments played, and soft, constant murmurings reminded Psyche that this was her wedding night.

At last, alone again and fearful, Psyche crawled in bed. Her new husband arrived in the unfamiliar darkness and, to her amazement and great relief, her hidden wedding night was perfection. He left before daylight.
In the months that followed, Psyche’s nights were unending pleasure and her days were solitary. She deeply loved her dark husband’s words and touch, but he always insisted on leaving before dawn. She had to promise not to try to see his face, not even to ask his name, leaving her with imaginings that only increased her yearnings to bring the light of day into their union.
She also was not allowed to invite anyone to the palace. Despite endless luxuries and ardent nights, Psyche felt increasingly lonesome and imprisoned. When she told her husband that she worried about the family she had scorned on her wedding day, he said, “You’re in danger from your sisters who are looking for you. If you hear them, don’t answer – they want to destroy you.”
She couldn’t believe that her family would willfully harm her, and she began to beg and sob on her husband’s shoulder. “Is this how you’re going to keep your promises to me,” he said, “with this kind of carrying on? Go ahead then, do what you want, and when everything goes wrong, you’ll remember what I said, but it’ll be too late.”
Somewhat mollified, Psyche, with kisses and hugs, tried to make a deal that wouldn’t upset her husband. At last he agreed that she could see her sisters in the palace, and even said that Psyche could give them heaps of expensive gifts. He reminded her not to answer questions about her life and husband. Psyche, stroking him, again made promises, saying, “I’m bound to your heart, I love you, you are my husband and my god.”
Meanwhile, the sisters were irked and curious about the disappearance of Psyche from the mountain. They found the rock where Psyche had vanished, stood on it, and called her name. Again, Zephyr appeared and carried them to the palace, where they greeted Psyche with hugs and tears. It was a splendid afternoon, lacking only an introduction to the new husband. As they splashed about in the bath, attended by invisible servants, the sisters asked about him. Psyche said, “Oh, he’s young and handsome and rugged and loves to hunt. That’s where he is right now, he’s hunting.” Wanting to change the subject, she stood up from the water, grabbed a towel, and said, “It’s getting late, and I’ve got so many presents for you.” She hurried her sisters to get dressed, heaped them with jewels, and called Zephyr to take them back to the rock.
As the sisters stumbled back down the mountain, careful not to drop a single bauble, they grumbled about Psyche’s good luck compared to their own. “She’s got this great hunter husband, and we’re stuck with old farts.” “She’s no good at handling wealth.” “She’s got all those invisible servants, while we’re rubbing salve on our husbands’ achy butts.” “She acts like a goddess, bossing the wind around.” “She’s just arrogant, throwing all this gold at us. I’m going to have to use some of this to pay off my own dowry.” “The little bitch obviously got tired of us and had us flown away, just like that.”
They stopped, panting, at the bottom of the mountain, and stared at each other. “Let’s not tell our parents we saw her.” “I can’t stand to see her so happy.” They each hid their presents, tore their hair, and, as they plotted against Psyche, continued to wail about her to their parents and anyone else who would listen.
Psyche told her husband about the wonderful afternoon, and how she lied about him to her sisters. “You’ve got to understand that they’re terrible sisters,” he said, “they’re going to set traps for you. They’ll try to convince you to see my face, and you know our deal. If you really have to see them again, don’t talk about me.” He patted the little swelling in Psyche’s stomach. “If you keep our secrets, this child will be divine. If you don’t, the kid will be just one more floundering mortal.” Psyche loved the prospect of mothering a divine being.
Soon the wicked sisters were on the road again. Psyche’s husband repeated his warnings. She repeated her promises, but added that she wanted her poor parents to know about the baby. “Please believe that I can see my sisters and keep our secrets.” She could tell he was worried. Stroking his dark face, she said, “My sisters can’t tempt me to see you. I don’t need to see your face to know our love is perfect. I know the beating of your heart. I don’t mind the darkness, and I will soon see you in our baby’s form.” Her husband, holding her close, brushed away her tears, and sighed.
The sisters’ next visit to the palace was another luminous day, with the additional joy of the impending birth. But talk of family matters again led to questions about Psyche’s husband. She forgot what she had said about him earlier, and described him as a middle-aged merchant, away on business. The sisters left with even more gold, but also clues about Psyche’s life. “She’s lying about what he looks like!” “What if she’s never seen him? What if he’s a god?” “If she gives birth to a god, I’ll kill myself.”
On the next trip to the valley, the sisters showed up in tears. “We found out that your husband is really a poisonous serpent.” “Who knows what that baby inside you is like.” “When it’s born, your husband is going to eat both of you, everybody says so.” “You may like all this luxury, but it hides terrible danger, and when you give birth to a snake, don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

Psyche stared at them, horrified. She confessed that she had never seen her husband, that he threatened great risks if she ever spied on him. “What’ll I do? What’ll I do?” she whispered.

The sisters had always delighted in Psyche’s gullibility. “Here’s the solution. Take this razor and oil lamp, and hide them in your bedroom. When he’s asleep, light the lamp so you can see what you’re doing, and cut off his head.” They hugged Psyche encouragingly.
And Zephyr carried the sisters off again.
Psyche hid the lamp and razor in her bedroom, still not sure she should trust her sisters. She decided to peek at her husband, in case they were right. She had to protect herself and her unborn baby. If she were pregnant with a snake, well, that would have to be dealt with later.
That night, as her husband took her in his arms, he said, “Psyche, I’m trusting you always to do the right thing.” Thinking that this might be their last night together, Psyche tried to memorize his every move and touch. He felt so perfect inside her – could he really be a serpent? She wanted to tell him one last time how much she loved him, but her throat was tight with fear.
Then he slept. Psyche crept to the curtain where the razor and lamp waited for her. The lamp flared, and she shielded the light as she walked slowly back to the bed. Bit by bit she let the light fall on him, revealing Eros himself, brighter than the lamp, glowing like the honey she had tasted in the dark. She wanted to stab her own heart for its faithlessness. She stepped closer, examining the flesh and hands that so aroused her. As Eros turned in his sleep, Psyche saw the feathered wings growing from his shoulders. Recalling how her own hands had searched his body night after night, she thought, “How could I not have noticed these?” She leaned close to watch the down where the wings met his shoulders tremble gently as he breathed. She touched her stomach in wonder for the hidden baby.
Psyche saw his bow and arrows gleaming at the foot of the bed. She gingerly touched an arrow, which thrust forward and pricked her finger. She started, and looked at Eros to see if he had awakened. The tiny prick loosed all the strength of Eros’ powers in Psyche, and with that glance, her turbulent love now turned uncontrollable. She bent over him, unmindful of anything but her own desire, and the lamp’s burning oil poured down his shoulder.
Eros started up with a howl. He stared at Psyche in silent fury, grabbed his quiver, and strode to the window. She begged him to listen, grabbed his leg, and hung on as he flew. But she soon dropped in exhaustion, hitting the ground hard. Eros followed her down and sat in a tree. “You fool,” he raged, “I fell in love and disobeyed Mother for you. I wounded myself with my own weapons to ensure my passion for you, and this is what I get. Did I ever seem like such a monster that you would need to cut off my head? I loved you. I tried to protect you, and now I’m so angry I can’t even look at you.” And he disappeared in the dark sky.
Psyche sat crying until dawn revealed a river before her. She jumped in, prepared to die. The river pitied her, and tossed her back up on the shore. Pan was sitting on the bank, playing his pipes and watching his goats. “You seem to suffer from a dissipation of love,” he said, scratching his grizzled neck. “Take it from me, don’t kill yourself over it. High drama’s a waste of time. You’ll have more luck if you are patient and devoted.” Psyche wrung out her skirt a bit, gave a little bow to the rustic god, and walked away in search of her husband.
She had no idea where she was. She entered the first city she came to, and recognized it finally as the home of one of her sisters. Psyche, full of revenge, found her sister’s palace. She told her so sympathetic sister the sad story of her parting with Eros, changing the ending. “Eros told me to leave. He said he wants to marry you instead, and he had Zephyr carry me away and dump me in the river. Certainly, you must go to him.”
“You’re so right, I must. He’s a god, after all. Well, I’m sorry about your marriage. I guess looks aren’t everything. I’m sure you’ll find another guy. You’re still young. Well, sis, gotta go. Kiss, kiss.”

The gloating sister went to the mountaintop, where she leaped off in anticipation of Zephyr carrying her to Eros. Zephyr was not there. She crashed down the mountain, was torn to bits by rocks, and eaten by birds, just as she deserved.

Psyche pulled the same trick on her other sister with the same satisfying results.

Eros sulked in bed, day after day, burned, feverish, humiliated, but most of all heartsick for Psyche. Meanwhile, his mother was splashing happily in Cithara’s fondling waves, admiring her splendid, perky breasts as the salty water ran down them. A gull called to her, saying there was serious news about her son. “Eros has been badly burned and might die. He won’t get out of bed. No one’s doing his job, so everyone’s become rude and quarrelsome. Marriages are so full of fights that no one wants to get married any more. Your detractors say that Eros was drunk and sleeping with a whore when he got burned and that you do nothing about love any more. You just work on your tan. Oh, and she’s knocked up and you are going to be a grandmother.”

Aphrodite began to shriek, “My son does not sleep with whores! He doesn’t have to. Who could’ve done this? A nymph? A muse? A goddess?”
The delighted gull said, “I don’t know her – I know her name is Psyche, and that’s all.” Aphrodite turned crimson as the veins swelled in her neck. “What! That – that divinity stealer, that cheap tramp, she’s supposed to be married off to some scum sucker! I’m going to wring her neck myself. Where’s Eros? I can’t have a moment’s peace without everything falling apart. As if I haven’t been through enough. Grandmother my ass!”
Aphrodite found her way to Eros in a bedroom at her palace. “It never ends with you, does, it?” she fumed. “You promised to marry this Psyche person to some lowlife, and now I find out from a gull – a gull, mind you – that you married her yourself!” She paced back and forth, as Eros plugged his ears under the covers. “You think I’m too old to have another son, and that you’re set for life, with your quiver and your arrows, and your capers. I’ll show you, mister, I’m going to adopt a servant, and he’ll get all your powers – the wings, the fire, the quiver, the whole works – everything your father and I ever gave you.

“You’ve offended every god and goddess, every human you ever met, you embarrass your father and me, and you constantly misuse your powers. All right then, you’re married, you will stay married, but it’ll turn very bitter, I’m warning you. I’m going to Sobriety right now, she’ll quench your fires, young man. Me, I’ll clip your wings and cut off your hair.”

She stormed out, calling her menservants, who were all hiding. She ran into Hera and Demeter instead. “Thank goodness I’ve found you. You’ve got to help me find this horrible Psyche,” Aphrodite said, “Perhaps you know about her and Eros?”
They did know. Everyone knew.
Neither Hera nor Demeter wished to get on the bad side of Eros. They were high-profile goddesses and wished to keep the public humiliation of Eros-induced passions to a minimum. “Listen, Aphrodite, you’re a reasonable woman,” Hera said. “Certainly you can see that Eros is a grown man who should make his own decisions. You shouldn’t pry into his personal life. Why do you want to deny him the love that you encourage in everyone else? He’s your son, for heaven’s sake. Why do you want to take vengeance on the woman he loves?”
“Can’t you see that your quarrels with him make everyone miserable? How do you think this makes you look? You’re ruining your own career. What’s the point?” asked Demeter.
“I’ve never been able to count on either one of you, you’ve never taken me seriously,” Aphrodite fumed, and she flounced off toward the sea.
Psyche still searched for Eros, thrilled that her sisters could no longer inflict their wicked wills on her life and proud of her final tricks on them. “I never was as dumb as they wanted to believe,” she thought, “I was the pretty one and the smart one.” Her encounter with Pan gave her the idea of winning favor with the gods to counteract Aphrodite's rage. Psyche had never given prayer much thought, having been for the most part an object of worship, not a worshiper. But she knew how beguiling smarmy obeisance could be, so she went in search of temples.
The first temple, devoted to Demeter, was knee-deep in corn and grains, with scythes and sickles strewn throughout, poking their sharp blades in the air. Psyche thought that if she tidied the place, the goddess might look on her favorably. As she took pains to pile up the corn without cutting herself on tools, Demeter entered. “Psyche, dear girl, here you are working away to please me even as Aphrodite seeks to punish you.”
Psyche knelt weeping at Demeter’s feet, begging, “I pray by your generous right hand, the joyful rites of harvest and the secrets of your sacrifice, the chariots of your dragons, and your world-changing invention of plowing and all your corn – oh, and by the sacred marriage of your daughter to the god of the Underworld, by the powerful Elysian mysteries, take pity on me! Let me make this place more worthy of you, and then please let me hide in these sheaves for just a few days. Maybe Aphrodite will calm down.”
Demeter gently shook her foot out of Psyche’s grasp. “Listen, sweetie, I’d love to help you, but I have a rather complex peace treaty with Aphrodite, which states unequivocally that I cannot abet anyone with whom she’s quarreling. I’m obliged to advise you to leave this temple. Surely, you understand my predicament. I have my responsibilities to the harvests. I have to look at the larger picture.”
So Psyche was out in the woods again. The next temple she approached was hung extravagantly with offerings to Hera. Psyche worked up another prayer, and knelt at the altar. “Oh, great Goddess, wise and beautiful sister and wife of Zeus, brought to earth by the lion, worshiped by the rivers of Inachus, worshiped by pregnant women, of whom I am one by the way - oh, goddess of goddesses, all the world calls you light! You save women in danger, and so I pray for deliverance from Aphrodite.” Hera appeared and said, “This is so difficult for me, but Aphrodite is my daughter-in-law, you know. I love her as my own child, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything contrary to her will. Plus, I’d be breaking the de servo corrupto law, which forbids hiding a fugitive servant against his or her master’s will.”
Psyche thanked Hera for her time, and reluctantly hit the road again. “These cowardly gods are not going to help me,” she thought. “so why don’t I just ask Aphrodite’s forgiveness? I’ve nothing to lose, and maybe Eros is at her place.”
Creatures and forces of all sorts watched Psyche’s next adventures. As Aphrodite created travails for her hapless daughter-in-law, there was a collective yearning for Psyche to triumph.
Aphrodite had spread the word that anyone who brought Psyche to her would receive an award of seven kisses from the goddess of love, one of which would be full of the innermost honey of her throat. So every man and lots of women were incited to find Psyche. When Psyche finally approached Aphrodite’s house, a young serving wench ran toward her. “Ha! I win,” the wench cried, “Now you’ll get what’s coming to you. And I’ll get that sweet reward.” She grabbed Psyche by the hair, and dragged her into the palace.
Aphrodite stood, arms akimbo, adopting her famous well-honed hauteur. “Well, well, look at the young ‘goddess’ now. I suppose you’re still looking for the husband you tried to slaughter like a goat. My only son! My precious child! How do expect me to treat a daughter-in-law like you? You’re lucky to be alive, you know.”
The servant finally let go of Psyche’s hair so that she could stand straight. Aphrodite and Psyche stared each other in the eye for the first time. Aphrodite was dumb-struck at Psyche’s beauty, even though Psyche was unwashed, exhausted, furious, her face bloated from crying. Aphrodite had two of her maids, Sorrow and Sadness, beat Psyche with rods, but still she was radiant. Aphrodite said, “You think because of your big belly, which you got by being a whore, that I’ll pity you and want to be a grandmother to that bastard. Do you think I want to be called granny at my age? I don’t need to claim that child. Yours is a union of unequals, made in a ditch, no doubt, without witnesses, and no consenting parents. I’ll show you exactly who you are.”
Then Aphrodite pulled Psyche by the hair to the ground. She called for great quantities of wheat, barley, poppy seeds, peas, lentils, and beans to be mixed in a great heap in front of Psyche. “A peasant like you better be good at drudgery if you’re going to be good for anything. Sort this grain, seed by seed, into neat piles, and get it done by morning.”
And off Aphrodite strode. The young wench who brought Psyche to Aphrodite trotted after her, calling, “What about my sweet reward, mistress?” Without stopping, Aphrodite glared at the girl’s rough skin and thick ankles, and said, “I think not.”
Psyche, stunned by Aphrodite’s cruelty, sat and did nothing. A small ant who had observed the scene, and, like most creatures, had fallen in love with Psyche, gathered an army of his pals, saying, “Have pity on this poor girl, sons of the ground! We can sort this grain before daybreak. Move it! Move it!” The ants ran to sort the grain and get back in their hills before Aphrodite returned.
Aphrodite stumbled in at dawn, still drunk from a banquet. When she saw the neat piles of grain, she sneered, “You didn’t do this. You suckered some of your low-life admirers into it.” She tossed a piece of bread at Psyche and went to bed. She had taken to bolting Eros in his room at night, so now the two lovers slept unknowingly near each other, locked apart.
The sun was high when Aphrodite returned, looking pretty good considering her night out. She said to Psyche, “You peasants are good with sheep, I’m told. See that forest down there along the river? Wild sheep that shine like gold live there. I command you to bring me some of their wooly golden fleece!”
Psyche walked along the river, once again thinking it a final refuge. But a green reed piped, “Oh, Psyche, don’t trouble my waters with your corpse. Listen to me, don’t go near the sheep either, not when the sun is high. They’re murderous in this heat, with those sharp horns and stony hooves. They’ll come down here soon to drink from the river, and after they leave, you’ll easily pull wool from the briars near the banks. Hide with me now.”
So Psyche washed her face, drank deeply of the cool water, and curled up by the kind reed. Soon the reed whispered to her to awaken and gather the wool, which Psyche did, pulling golden threads from the brown thicket until her apron was full and gleaming.
“Well, I can just guess who helped you with this!” Aphrodite sniffed. “You’re obviously very good at getting other people to do your chores. You still haven’t proven anything worthwhile to me.” She pointed at a dark hilltop. “See that water rushing there? It feeds the river Styx and the Stygian fields. Fill this bottle and bring it to me. Don’t break it!” she said as she threw a crystal bottle at Psyche.
When Psyche came closer to the river, she could see serpents with lidless eyes creeping from between the rocks to ogle her. They were everywhere along the river, guarding to keep it flowing between the banks. As Psyche tried to pick her way toward the water’s dark spume, the river roared at her, “Get out! Why’re you here? I’ll destroy you.” Psyche felt she would turn to stone as the bloody-necked serpents snaked their heads curiously toward her. But Zeus’s eagle saw her, and swooping close, said, “Don’t be an idiot. You could never get even one foul drop of that water. Even the gods fear this torrent. Just give me the bottle.” The eagle snatched the bottle, winged his way through the cringing serpents, filled the bottle, and returned it to Psyche.
Psyche gave the bottle to Aphrodite, who was furious. She called Psyche a witch to be able to do such a thing. “I’m tired of this nonsense. You and your little tricks bore me. One more task and that’s it. You must go to Hades, find Persephone, and tell her please to give you a box with a day’s worth of beauty in it. I’ve lost that much over you and my son, believe it or not. Get going, and make it snappy, I’ve got a Theater of the Gods thing tonight.”
Psyche had no idea how to approach Hades quickly except to jump out a window. She climbed up the nearest tower and as she gripped the windowsill, the tower said, “This isn’t a good plan. If you jump, you’ll separate your body from soul. Once your soul flies out your mouth for good, you’ll go straight to Hades, and you’ll never return.”
The tower gave Psyche directions to a hill where a hole led to Hades’ palace. “Don’t go empty-handed,” said the tower, “open this cupboard and take the two sops soaked in honey in your hand, and the two coins in your mouth. The sops are for the three-headed dog Cerberus. The coins are for Charon the ferryman – that cheap sonofabitch won’t let people die without paying for it. And don’t talk to anyone, not one word, until you find Persephone. Aphrodite will set up tricks to make you fail.”
Psyche found the hole easily enough. It was small, she barely slipped through, but then a broad nether world opened up. She walked through a low, stinking fog toward the distant river Styx. A shriveled man with a cane and a limping donkey appeared, saying, “Please, help me pick up the sticks that are falling, I need them for a fire, I’m so cold, so cold, and all alone.” Psyche walked quickly away as he wailed after her. She finally came to the Styx, where she gave Charon a coin and stepped in the ferry. She was the only passenger, much to her relief. Halfway across the river, two hands rose from the water and grabbed the side of the boat. An old man’s head appeared, “Please pull me in, I am drowning. I am too weak to swim and so cold, so cold and all alone.” Psyche cringed, moved to the other side of the boat. He kept appearing and crying out, but they finally arrived at the far shore. Psyche hurriedly left the ferry. When she looked back at the river, the old man in the water was gone. On the bank, the slobbering three-headed dog was woofing at her. She tossed him a honeyed sop, which he bolted down. There was suddenly an old woman at a spinning wheel. “Please help me with my spinning, I need this yarn to make a shawl. My crooked hands ache and I am so cold, so cold and all alone.”
But Psyche could see Hades’ dark shimmering palace through the miasma and she ran toward it. The halls were filled with dim still shapes who stared at her dully. It was easy to find Persephone, who had kept the pigs that followed her to the nether world so that her glowing chambers rang with squeals.
“Well, will you look at this, it’s a living person! That’s rarer than hen’s teeth down here. Can I offer you something?” Persephone was thrilled to have a visitor from “up top,” as she called it. “Sit down. Wow. I mean, wow. Can I offer you some retsina? How about a nice ouzo? Cocktail time!”
Psyche politely said no thanks. She sat at Persephone's feet and quickly made her request. “Sure thing, you bet,” said Persephone, and fetched a mystical beauty box. “There you go, don’t open it though. And come back when you can stay for dinner. Or drinks. Let’s do drinks.” Psyche said she would just love to see Persephone again, and quickly left, carefully avoiding the nosy pigs.
Again, Psyche gave the sop to drooling Cerberus, the coin to skinflint Charon, and ferried across the Styx. After she found the hole and squeezed her way through to the upper world, she sat down in the blinding light to enjoy the spiky grass, warm stones, and breeze on her face. The beauty box, tight in her arms, prickled. “Maybe I should take just a little beauty back in my apron to put on when I see Eros again. I’m sure he’d like that. What could it hurt to take just a little. Just a dab.” Psyche opened the box, but saw nothing inside. Instead, an infernal sleep invaded her and she slumped to the ground.
Meanwhile, back at Aphrodite’s palace, Eros, burns almost healed, could no longer bear the absence of Psyche. He found his wings hidden in a large urn, climbed out the window, and flew in search of his bride. The hills, trees, animals, nymphs and fauns pointed the way, and soon he saw Psyche on the ground, a butterfly on her chin, gently fanning its wings. Eros quickly wiped the sleep off Psyche’s face, and shoved it back in the box.
Psyche opened her eyes to see for the first time Eros in daylight. He lifted his wife to her feet and they held each other tightly. “Psyche, my treasure, your curiosity got the better of you again. But it’ll all be for the best. Go, give the beauty box to Mother. I’m going to take this issue right to the top. If Mother gives you any grief, tell her I’ve gone to see Zeus!” Giddy with joy, Psyche rushed away, her sash knotted tightly around the box.
Zeus knew everything, of course, feeling it was his divine duty to follow the adventuring of beautiful women, but he wanted to hear Eros’s version of things. He also wanted to hear Eros beg. Zeus loved it when gods begged. He grinned mightily as Eros went down on one knee, told his story, and pleaded to have both divine and legal status for marriage to the mortal Psyche. In so doing, Psyche could rightfully become immortal as suits the wife of a god, therein escaping the fatality that haunts mortal beauty.
Zeus hooted to hear Eros, who always delighted in flaunting the legalities and social mores of marriage as he shot his arrows, plead the law. “I love you, Eros, even though you’ve never given me proper respect. You’re a thorn in my side. You’ve undone not only my work but that of the stars and their influence. Your constant assaults of luxury and sensuality have been against all laws, disciplines and public welfare. You have forced the transformations of law-abiding humans into serpents, savages, fires, beasts, birds and bulls. But, I’m a just and compassionate leader, and I’ve cared for you since you were an infant, fed you with my own hands, so I’ll grant you the divine and legal protections that ensures happiness in your eternal marriage. You do understand what it means to be married for all eternity to the same person, don’t you? Never mind. In return for my largess, please keep me in mind when you come across young beauties. You know what I like.”
And so it was settled. Zeus called the gods to counsel. He reminded them of Eros’s notoriety. “You know full well what he can do. Boys will be boys, but I have often wondered if I shouldn’t somehow restrain him. Now his adulterous living and outrageous tricks might be constrained by marriage. He has a beautiful woman who loves him and will do anything for him. He’s defied his mother, the mighty Aphrodite, for this woman. This is Psyche, who will soon bear his child. Let him have her forever for his pleasure.” The gods, greatly relieved to have Eros’s attentions focused somewhere besides their own divine antics, voted their approval.
Just then Aphrodite paraded in, honking swans and all, waving and smiling, holding Psyche’s hand. Psyche’s heart was triumphant, but she was still wary, with particular disbelief in Aphrodite’s complete reversal in the matter of her son’s marriage.
“You’re all here,” said Aphrodite, “oh, this is so fabulous. I want you all to meet my daughter-in-law Psyche, isn’t she just the prettiest thing? Oh, and I’m going to be a grandmother! Can you imagine – me, a grandmother! But secretly I’ve so looked forward to this day, to my precious Eros finding the terrific woman he deserves. It doesn’t get any better than this, right? You must all come to the wedding party. We’re going to start preparations immediately.” And Aphrodite paraded out again, swans and all.
The gardeners festooned the divine banquet hall. Hephaestus cooked a grand gourmet feast. Ganymede poured wine for Zeus, and Dionysus poured wine for everyone else. Psyche liked Dionysus best of all the gods, next to her husband. He was a fun guy, with his leopards and cymbals and all. Apollo, Pan and Orpheus provided music. Aphrodite danced with everyone, as well as all by herself. Psyche’s stomach was a bit unsettled from drinking a pot of immortality, and she leaned back in Eros’s arms on the marriage couch. She had no idea what to say to the divinities, but she was happy. Her parents were at the other end of the long table, with a few mortal friends and a number of nymphs and oreads, all waving and nodding, beaming at her proudly.
This is how Psyche and Eros were finally wed. They named their baby girl Hedone, a child of pleasure. And through eternity endures the harmonious marriage of Psyche and Eros.
Marcia Scanlon

December 6, 2009

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