Apuleius: The Sleep of the Dead

Looking at this painting of Psyche, you might mistake her for another famous Greek mythological character — Pandora — who likewise could not resist taking a peek into something she was not supposed to open. If you are not familiar with Pandora's story, here it is 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 Sleep of the Dead

And with those words she unsealed the jar, but there was never a drop of beauty there, nothing but deathly, truly Stygian sleep. When the cover was lifted, slumber attacked her instantly, enveloping her entire body in a dense cloud of somnolence. She collapsed where she stood, fell on the path, and deep slumber overcame her. She lay there motionless, like a corpse, but fast asleep.

Cupid, feeling better now that his scar had healed, could no longer endure the absence of his beloved Psyche and dropped from the high window of the room where he’d been confined. With wings restored by his long rest, he flew all the more swiftly, and, swooping to Psyche’s side, he wiped away the sleep with care and returned it to the jar where it belonged.

Then he roused her with a harmless touch of his arrow, saying: “Look how you’ve nearly ruined yourself again, poor child, with that insatiable curiosity of yours. Now be quick and finish the task my mother assigned. I’ll take care of everything else.” With this he took lightly to his wings, while Psyche, for her part, swiftly carried Proserpine’s gift to Venus.

Now Cupid, pale of face, devoured by uncontrollable love, was so concerned by his mother’s sudden harshness he returned to his old tricks, quickly flying to heaven’s heights on his swift wings, kneeling before great Jove and attempting to win support for his cause.

Jupiter tweaked Cupid’s cheek, raised the lad’s hand to his lips, kissed it, and replied. “My dear son, despite the fact you’ve never shown the slightest respect granted me by all other deities, but wounded my heart again and again, and shamed me with endless bouts of earthly passion, I, who command the elements — I, who ordain the course of the stars — and despite the fact you defy the law, even the Lex Julia itself, and the rules that maintain public order, that you’ve injured my good name, and destroyed my reputation through scandalous adulteries, transforming my tranquil features vilely into snakes and flames, and birds and beasts, and even cattle — nevertheless, because of my sweet disposition, and the fact that you were cradled in my own arms, I’ll do as you ask. But only on one condition: that you beware of making me your rival by giving me, in payment for this favour, some other girl of outstanding beauty.”


(400 words)






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