The story of Psyche has captured the imaginations of audiences for centuries. It is a legend that closely resembles a traditional folk or fairy tale (e.g. the Norwegian fairy tale "Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon"), but its origins are actually in Classical mythology. And indeed, our best ancient source for the tale of Psyche is the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. In this book, the author weaves a spell-binding story about Psyche and her love affair with Cupid (also known as Eros in Greek myth). So let us proceed to explore the relationship of this legendary mythical pair in more depth.
According to the story told in the Metamorphoses , Psyche was the youngest daughter of a king (incidentally, she had two older sisters). Psyche was so stunningly beautiful that her appearance rivaled that of a goddess. Indeed, the simple people of her county were so in awe of Psyche's grace and beauty that they stopped worshipping Aphrodite (the real goddess) and paid their honors instead to the daughter of a king. In her defense, it should be noted that Psyche was a modest girl, and she resisted this improper attention. However, the damage had been done - Aphrodite took notice of this insult of being overthrown in popularity by a mere mortal, so the goddess decided to punish her rival. And her punishment was swift and severe. Aphrodite commanded her son Eros to do her dirty work in this situation, and insisted that Eros use his powers as the god of desire to make Psyche fall in love with the most terrible and grotesque thing on earth.
As fate would have it, Eros fell victim to Psyche's beauty himself. He simply could not resist her charms. However, loving the mortal girl meant disobeying his powerful mother and making Aphrodite angry - and no one wants to anger a goddess. But Love will find a way...
Eros thought of a cunning plan to win Psyche for himself while keeping his mother Aphrodite ignorant of his actions. The god of love and desire arranged to have Psyche brought to a desolate area. Here, the innocent girl was told, she would become the bride of an evil being. Psyche waited for her doom dressed in a wedding gown. In time, Zephyrus led her gently into a valley in which a majestic and grand palace dominated the landscape. The girl was awed by the magical palace, but she soon found that this place was her new home.
Clever Eros then came to Psyche when she had gone to bed that night. The bedroom was dark - too dark to see anything - when the god of love entered. Eros used the darkness to his advantage in order to conceal his identity from the girl. He whispered in Psyche's ear that he was her husband and that she must not under any circumstances look upon him or seek to know who he was.
Psyche enjoyed her life with her unseen husband, but for one minor detail - she came to feel isolated and homesick. She begged to see her sisters. Although Eros did not want to comply, he could not deny his beloved anything. So Psyche's sisters were invited to the palace. Once there, they saw the grand lifestyle of their younger sister and quickly became jealous of Psyche's good fortune. Together the pair of sisters persuaded Psyche that her husband was dangerous and that she must rid herself of him immediately. And Psyche, innocent and trusting girl that she was, believed the horrible stories told by her sisters.
When she next went to bed, Psyche took with her a lamp, which she lit when she was assured her husband was asleep. When Psyche gazed upon the god, however, she was stunned by the grace and perfection of his divine features - he was definitely no monster! In her surprise she let a drop of oil fall from the lamp, and this woke Eros. Realizing what had happened, Eros immediately departed.
Psyche was beside herself with grief. She was now alone and abandoned by her husband. She searched for her lost love, but could not find him anywhere. In desperation Psyche asked the goddesses Demeter and Hera for assistance, but neither goddess was willing to risk the wrath of Aphrodite. So finally, left with no other options, Psyche went to see Aphrodite herself.
Aphrodite decided to punish the girl a bit more. Psyche - the daughter of a king - was made into a slave by the goddess of love. And indeed, Aphrodite added insult to injury by requiring Psyche to perform tasks that seemed impossible. For example, Psyche had to sort, grain by grain, an entire room full of seeds in the span of a single day. This task might well have been impossible if it had not been for the help of some industrious ants - with their assistance, Psyche achieved her goal.
One other fiendishly devious task assigned by Aphrodite was that Psyche must fetch a jar that contained beauty from Persephone . Now, Persephone was the Queen of the Underworld, which meant that (at least part of the year) she lived and ruled in the gloomy realm of the dead. Naturally, Psyche despaired of accomplishing this goal. But in the end, she was given instructions on how to descend to the Underworld while still alive and approach Persephone.
In the meantime, Eros suffered from the separation from his beloved as well. He finally went to Zeus to beg for mercy. Zeus listened to the story that Eros told, and decided to grant the god of love's wish - that the couple should be reunited and joined in marriage. And this is exactly what happened. In the end, Eros and Psyche were allowed to be together and Aphrodite gave up her anger in order to welcome her new daughter in law into the family.
It is also worth noting that the word psyche means soul in Greek.