Apuleius: The Mysterious Husband

In this part of the story you will see a standard fairytale plot element: the prohibition, which will be followed by a transgression of that prohibition. Cupid gives Psyche some very good advice, but the forward movement of the story depends on the fact that of course she is not going to be able to do as he tells her!

[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 Mysterious Husband

When these delights were ended, prompted by the sight of the evening star, Psyche retired to bed. Now, when night was well advanced, gentle whispers sounded in her ears, and all alone she feared for her virgin self, trembling and quivering, frightened most of what she knew nothing of.

Her unknown husband had arrived and mounted the bed and made Psyche his wife, departing swiftly before light fell. The servant-voices waiting in her chamber cared for the new bride, no longer virgin. Things transpired thus for many a night, and through constant habit, as nature dictates, her new state accustomed her to its pleasures, and that sound of mysterious whispering consoled her solitude.

Meanwhile her father and mother, mourning and grieving ceaselessly, aged greatly. The story had spread far and wide, and her elder sisters, learning of all that had occurred, abandoned their own homes, and sorrowing and lamenting, vied with each other in bringing solace to their parents.

One night Psyche’s husband spoke to her, though she could not see him, knowing him nonetheless by touch and hearing.

“Sweetest Psyche,” he said, “my dear wife, cruel Fortune threatens you with deadly danger, which I want you to guard against with utmost care. Your sisters think you dead and, troubled by this, they’ll soon come to the cliff-top. When they do, if you should chance to hear their lament, don’t answer or even look in their direction, or you’ll cause me the bitterest pain and bring utter ruin on yourself.”

Assenting, she promised to behave as her husband wished. But when he had vanished with the darkness, she spent the day weeping and grieving wretchedly, repeating again and again that she was truly dead, caged by the walls of her luxurious prison, bereft of human company and mortal speech, unable to tell her sisters not to mourn for her and, worse, unable even to see them. She retired to bed once more, with neither bath nor food nor any drink to restore her, and there she wept profusely. Soon her husband came to join her, earlier than was his wont and, finding her still crying, clasped her in his arms and scolded her.

“Is this what you promised me, dear Psyche? What can I expect or hope from you? Day and night you never stop tormenting yourself even in the midst of our love-making. Well, do as you wish — obey your heart’s fatal demands! But remember my dire warning when, too late, you repent.”

But Psyche pleaded with him, threatening to die if he would not agree to her desire to see her sisters, speak with them, and ease her sorrows. So he acceded to his new bride’s prayers and also said she could give them whatever gold or jewelry she wished. But he warned her, time and again, often with threats, never to yield if her sisters gave her bad advice or urged her to investigate his appearance. Otherwise, through curiosity, her act of sacrilege would hurl her from the heights of good fortune, and she would never enjoy his embraces more.

She gave him thanks and, happier now, cried: “I’d rather die a hundred times than be robbed of your sweet caresses. Whoever you are, I love you deeply and adore you as much as life itself. Not even Cupid could compare to you. But grant me this favour, I beg: let your servant Zephyr waft my sisters here just as he wafted me.”

And she began to offer alluring kisses, smother him with caressing words, and wrap him in her entwining limbs, adding to her charms with phrases like: “My honey-sweet, dear husband, your Psyche’s tender soul.”

He succumbed reluctantly to the strength and power of her seductive murmurs, promising to agree to everything, and then, as daylight drew near, vanished from his wife’s embrace.

(600 words)

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