Apuleius: Psyche's Despair

The god Pan makes an appearance in this section of the story; you can read more about this rustic god at Wikipedia. You may be surprised to see Psyche get revenge on her sisters, using their own wicked desires against them.

[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).

Psyche's Despair

Psyche lay there, on the ground, watching her husband’s passage till he was out of sight, tormenting herself with the saddest lamentations. But once he was lost to view, sped onwards into the distance by his beating wings, she hurled herself from the margin of the nearest river. Yet the tender stream, respecting the god who can make even water burn, fearing for its own flow, quickly clasped her in its innocuous current and placed her on the soft turf of its flowery bank.

By chance, Pan, god of the wild, was seated on the shore, caressing Echo the mountain goddess, teaching her to repeat tunes in a thousand modes. By the river’s edge, wandering she-goats grazed and frolicked, cropping the flowing grasses. The goat-legged god, catching sight of the sad and weary Psyche, and not unconscious of her plight, called to her gently and calmed her with soothing words.

“Sweet lady, though I’m only a rustic herdsman, I benefit from the experience of many a long year. If I surmise rightly, though wise men call it not surmise but rather divination, by your weak and wandering footsteps, your deathly pale complexion, your constant sighs and those sad eyes, you are suffering from love’s extremes. But listen to what I say: don’t try to find death again by a suicidal leap or in some other way. Cease your mourning; end this sorrow. Rather pray to Cupid, greatest of the gods; worship him and earn his favour through blandishments and deference, for he’s a pleasure-seeking, tender-hearted youth.”

Psyche gave no reply to the shepherd god, but gave him reverence as he finished speaking and went her way. After she’d wearily walked a good deal further, not knowing where she was, she came at twilight to a city where one of her brother-in-laws was king. Realising this, Psyche asked that her arrival be communicated to her sister. She was quickly led to her, and when they were done with embraces and greetings, her sister asked the reason for her presence.

Psyche explained: “You’ll recall your counsel, when you both advised me to take a sharp razor and kill the monster that played the role of husband and slept with me before its rapacious jaws might swallow me whole. Well, I acted on that advice, with the lamp my accomplice, but when I gazed on his face I saw an utterly wonderful, a divine sight: Venus’s child, the goddess’s son, Cupid himself I say, lying there and sleeping peacefully. Roused by that blissful vision, disturbed by excess of joy, distressed at being unable to delight in him much longer, through dreadful mischance a drop of hot oil spurted onto his shoulder. The pain roused him from sleep and, seeing that I was armed with flame and steel, he cried: ‘For your wicked crime, you are banished from my bed; take what is yours and go. I shall embrace your sister now – he spoke your name formally – in holy matrimony.’ Then he ordered Zephyr to drive me from the palace.”

Psyche had barely finished speaking before her sister spurred on by raging passion and venomous jealousy had conceived a tale to deceive her husband. Pretending she had just had news of her parents’ deaths, she took ship and travelled to the cliff-edge. Though an adverse wind was blowing, filled with desire and in blind hope she cried: “Accept a wife worthy of you, Cupid: carry your mistress to him, Zephyr!” And she took a headlong leap. Yet even in death she could not reach her goal. Her body was broken and torn on the jagged rocks, as she deserved, and her lacerated corpse provided a ready banquet for the wild beasts and carrion birds.

Nor was the second sister’s punishment slow in arriving. Psyche wandered on to the city where her other sibling lived in similar style, who likewise roused by her sister’s story, eager to supplant her wickedly in marriage, rushed to the cliff and met the selfsame end.

(700 words)

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