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Cupid and Psyche
In a far country there was a king and queen who had three daughters: each of the maidens was beautiful; the youngest of them, how. ever, had such shape and lineaments that all words said in praise of beauty seemed but poor and empty when used about hers. Men came to where she dwelt as to a shrine; they would kiss the tips of their right hands at the sight of her, thus paying to this maiden (Psyche she was named) the same homage that was paid to Venus, the immortal Goddess.
Indeed, it began to be said that Venus had forsaken the courts of Heaven, and had come down to earth as a mortal maiden, and dwelt amongst men in the person of the youngest daughter of the king and queen of that far country. Then men sailed no longer to where there were the famous shrines of the Goddess Venus. The shrines in Paphos, and Cnidus, and Cythera were forsaken of worshippers, and men paid their devotions to a mortal maiden, to Psyche. When she went forth from her father's house in the morning the folk strewed flowers along the way, and sacrifices that should have been made to no one but to the immortal Goddess were made to her.
The rumours of such happenings soon reached to Venus herself. She said, "Shall I, judged the fairest amongst the immortal Goddesses by the Shepherd of Ida, shall I have mine honours taken away from me by an earthly girl? Not so. Little joy shall this Psyche have of the loveliness that the vain imaginations of the crowd have bestowed upon her." Thereupon Venus called to her son. She brought him with her to that far country, and she showed him the maiden Psyche as she walked the ways of the city. "I pray thee," she said, "to let thy mother have a vengeance that it is fitting she should have. See to it that this girl becomes the slave of an unworthy love." She embraced
him and she left him there, and she sailed for whatever shrine of hers had still some worshippers.
Her son was Cupid, that winged boy who goes through men's houses by night, armed with his bow and arrow, troubling their wedded lives. She left him there, gazing on the maiden Psyche. And gazing upon her, Cupid fell deeply in love with the maiden. He had no mind to carry out the command of his mother; he did not want to smite her mind with the madness of an unworthy love; rather he thought upon how he might win for himself the one who was fairer than any being upon earth or even in the heaven above.
And Psyche, adored by all for her beauty, had no joy in the fruit of it. She knew that she was wondered at, but wondered at as the work of the craftsman is wondered at that has in it some likeness of divinity. No man sought her in marriage. Her sisters were wedded, but she came to their age and passed their age and remained unasked for. She sat at home, and in her heart she cursed the beauty that pleased all men while it set her apart from the close thought of all. At last the king, her father, was forced to send and inquire of an oracle what he should do with this daughter of his. An answer came that meant a dreadful doom. "Let the maiden be placed on the top of a certain mountain, adorned as for marriage and for death, Look not for a son-in-law of mortal birth; he who will take her to his side is the serpent whom even the Gods are in dread of, and who makes the bodiless ones on the Styx afraid."
For many days after this doom had been made known there were lamentations in the king's household. Then, at last, knowing that the doom told might not be avoided, the queen brought out the adornments for her daughter's marriage and gathered a company to conduct the maiden to her dread bridal. All was made ready. But the torch lighted for the wedding gathered ashes and made a dark smoke; the joyful sound of the pipe changed into a wail; underneath her yellow wedding-veil the bride trembled and wept. The ceremonies for the marriage having been accomplished with hearts bowed down as at a funeral, Psyche was led from the city and to the place appointed on the mountain-top.
As she went she said to those who were with her, "This is the fruit of my much-talked-of loveliness! Ye weep for me now, but when the
folk celebrated me with divine honours--then was the time you should have wept for me as for one already dead! The name and titles given me have been my destruction! Lead me on and set my feet upon the appointed place! I am impatient to behold my bridegroom and give myself up to the serpent whom even the Gods are fearful of."
Then she said to her father and mother, "Do not waste what life you have weeping over me." She bade them good-bye. They left her on the mountain-top and went back mournfully to the city. Then night came down upon them there; they shut themselves in their house and gave themselves up to perpetual night.
As for Psyche, she stood upon the mountain-top in fear and trembling. The breeze came, the gentle Zephyrus. Zephyrus lifted Psyche up; he bore her, her bridal vesture floating on either side, down the side of the mountain, and he set her lightly amidst the flowers of the valley below.
Lightly was it all done. Psyche lay on a dewy bed in the valley, resting from the tumult of the days that had gone by. She awoke. She saw a grove with a fountain of water that was as clear as glass in the midst of it, and, by the fountain, a dwelling-place.
Psyche thought that this dwelling-place must be the abode of one of the immortal Gods. Golden pillars held up the roof. Cedar wood and ivory formed the arches. The walls were latticed with silver. Before the house, creatures of the wood and wild-rabbits, and squirrels, and deer sported, and all the birds that Psyche had ever seen or heard sang in the trees. And the very path that led to the house was set in stones that made pictures and stories.
Upon this path she went. She crossed the threshold of the house and went within. Beautiful things were there, and no locks, no chains, no guardian protected them. As she went through the house, drawn on by more and more delight, she heard a voice that said, "Lady and mistress! All that is here is thine! Rest now and relieve thy weariness. We whose voices thou hearest are servants to thee; when thou wilt, a feast fit for a queen will be made ready for thee."
Psyche went to sleep knowing that some divine being had care for her. She awoke and went to the bath; thereafter she sat down to the food that had been made ready for her--a banquet, indeed! Still she saw no one. She heard voices, but those who served her remained
invisible. When the feast was ended one whom she saw not entered and sang for her--sang to the chords of a harp that was played for her by one unseen. The night came and the lamps were lighted by unseen hands. Then they were quenched by unseen hands, and to Psyche, lying in her bed, the bridegroom came. He departed before the dawn, and she was a wife.
The day was before her, and the attendant minstrels sang to her; she heard their voices and she heard the music they made for her. The night came; the lamps were lighted and quenched, and to Psyche her husband came as before. And as before, he departed before the dawn came. And this went on for many nights. Then to his bride one night the bridegroom said, "O Psyche, my life and my spouse! Fortune is becoming ill-favored towards us! Thou art threatened with a danger that may be mortal. Harken! Thy sisters are about to go seeking for traces of thee. They will come to the mountain-top in their search. But if their cries come to thee in this abode, do not answer, nor go forth at all. If thou dost, it may be that thou shalt bring sorrow and destruction upon us both. But that shall be as thou wilt!"
Psyche promised that she would do all he would have her do. The bridegroom departed, going forth ere the darkness had gone. That day Psyche heard the voices of her sisters as they went calling her name. And in that house empty of all save voices, she thought that she was indeed dead and cut off from her sisters and her parents. She thought upon how they had wept for her, and she wept herself to think that she had no power to console them. In the night the bridegroom returned. Kissing her face, he found it wet with tears.
He blamed her; she wept the more. Then, as dawn came, he said, "Be it as thou wilt. Let thy pain cease, and do as thou dost desire. Yet wilt thou, Psyche, remember the warning I have given thee." All this he said when she told him that she would die unless she might see and speak with her sisters who were seeking for her.
"Yet one thing shall I say to thee," he said. "If they come here to thee give them all the gifts thou wilt; but do not yield thyself to their doubts about me. Thou knowest me, thy husband. Do not yield to the counsel of thy sisters and inquire concerning my bodily form. If thou dost, thou and I may never again embrace each other."
Then Psyche wept; she said she would die a hundred times rather than forego his dear embraces. In a while he relented, and he spoke less harshly. Then Psyche said, "For the sake of the love I have given thee bid thy servant Zephyrus bring hither my sisters as he brought me." Her husband promised that this would be done. Then, ere the light appeared, he vanished.