Apuleius: The Jealousy of Psyche's Sisters

ou will see the wind, Zephyr, here again. The Greeks had names for the four chief winds: Zephyr was the west wind, Eurus the east wind, Notus was the south wind, and Boreas was the north wind (as in the phrase "Aurora Borealis," the Northern Lights). You can read more about the Greek winds at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Cupid and Psyche unit. Story source: Apuleius's Golden Ass, as translated into English by Tony Kline (2013).

The Jealousy of Psyche's Sisters

Meanwhile her sisters hurried to the crag where Psyche had been abandoned and wept their eyes out, beating their breasts, till the cliffs and rocks echoed with the sound of their loud wailing. Then they called their poor sister’s name till Psyche came running from the palace, distraught and trembling, at the sound of their melancholy voices descending the slope.

“Why tear your selves apart with heart-wrenching grief?” she cried. “I who you mourn am here. Cease those sad sounds and dry your cheeks drenched in tears; you can embrace the girl for whom you weep.”

Then she summoned Zephyr, reminding him of her husband’s orders. He obeyed instantly and her sisters were wafted down to her, safely riding the gentlest of breezes. They all delighted in eager embraces and mutual kisses, and the flow of tears that had been stemmed returned at joy’s urging.

“Now enter my home, in happiness,” cried Psyche, “and ease your troubled minds beside me.”

So she showed them the noble treasures of the golden house and called up the throng of attendant voices. They refreshed themselves, luxuriating in a fragrant bath and tasting the delicacies of an out-of-this-world cuisine. And the result was that, overcome by the fine abundance of truly heavenly riches, they began to nurture envy deep in their hearts. They started to question her endlessly, inquisitively, and intensively. Who owned these divine objects? What sort of man was her husband and who on earth was he?

But Psyche could not banish the thought of her secret promise and violate her pledge to her husband, so she pretended he was a young and handsome man, with just the hint of a beard on his cheeks, who spent his days hunting over the fields and hillsides. But afraid of revealing something if the talk continued, and so betraying his trust, she heaped gold and jewelry in their hands, called there and then for Zephyr, and placed her sisters in his charge so he might return them.

Once this was done, those delightful sisters were victims of envy’s swelling bile and complained loudly to each other.

“O blind, cruel, iniquitous Fortune,” cried one, “Is it your pleasure that we, daughters with the very same parents, should suffer so different a fate? Are we the elder to live like exiles far from family, bound as slaves to foreign husbands, exiled from home and country, while she the youngest, the last creation of our mother’s exhausted womb acquires such wealth and a god of a husband? Sister, did you see all those fine gems lying around that palace? Did you see those gleaming clothes and sparkling jewels, and all that gold under our feet? Why she’ll not even know how to make use of it! If she keeps that handsome husband of hers, she’ll be the luckiest woman in the world, and perhaps she hopes if their marriage endures and his affection increases her divine husband will make her a goddess too. That’s it, that’s why she behaved and acted as she did! The girl’s already gazing heavenwards, aspiring to deity, with invisible voices serving her, and she giving orders to the breeze. While look at poor me, with a husband older than father, as bald as a pumpkin, and weak as a little child, who makes the house a prison with his bolts and chains!”

The other chipped in: “As for mine, he’s bent and bowed with arthritis, and scarcely ever pays homage to my charms. I’m forever massaging his twisted and frozen fingers, and soiling these delicate hands of mine with his odious fomentations, sordid bandages, and fetid poultices. Instead of playing the role of a normal wife, I’m burdened with playing his doctor. Decide for your self, dear sister, with how much patience and, let me be frank, servility you’ll endure this situation, but speaking for myself I won’t tolerate so delightful a fate descending on so undeserving a girl. Just think of the pride and arrogance she showed us, the haughtiness, the boastfulness of her immoderate display, the reluctance with which she threw us a few little trinkets from her caskets, and then, tired of our presence, quickly ordered us driven out, whistled off, and blown away! If there’s a breath left in me, as I’m a woman, I’ll see her cast down from that pile of gold. And if you feel the sting of her insults too, as you should, let’s devise a workable plan between us. Let’s keep from our parents that she’s alive, and hide these things she gave us: it’s enough that we two have seen all that we now regret seeing, let alone that we should bring glorious news of her to them and the world. There is no glory in unknown riches. She’ll discover we’re her elder sisters, not her servants. Now let’s return to our husbands and our plain but respectable homes, and once we’ve thought carefully about it, let’s return in strength and punish her arrogance.”

(800 words)

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