Apuleius: The Third Task

You may have seen a sculpture or painting of the famous moment when the eagle, Jupiter's favorite bird, snatched up Ganymede to carry him up to Jupiter in the heavens. You can read more about Ganymede at Wikipedia, and you will see Jupiter's eagle in action in this part of the story. The heroes and heroines of fairy tales often have magical animal helpers, which is the role played by Jupiter's eagle here.

[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).

Task Accomplished

Psyche, determined now if she failed to end her wretched life at last, clambered swiftly and steadfastly towards the mountain summit. But when she neared the ridge that was her goal, she saw the vast difficulty of her deadly task. A high and immense rock wall, jagged, precarious, and inaccessible, emitted dread streams from jaws of stone, flowing downwards from their precipitous source through a narrow funnel they had carved and sliding unseen down to the gorge below.

On either side fierce serpents slithered from holes in the cliffs, extending their heads, eyes given to unblinking vigil, their pupils on watch at every moment. Even the waters were alive and on guard, crying out: “Off with you! Where are you going? See here! What are you doing? Beware! Be gone! You’ll die!”

As if changed to stone though present in body, the helpless Psyche took leave of her senses and, overwhelmed by the threat of inescapable disaster, lacked even the last solace of tears.

But the sharp eyes of kindly Providence saw an innocent soul in trouble. Mighty Jupiter’s royal eagle, wings outstretched, was there to aid her: the raptor recalled that time long ago when, at Cupid’s command, he had served to carry Ganymede, the Phrygian cup-bearer, through the heavens to Jove.

Now he brought timely assistance, honouring Cupid’s claim on him. Seeing the ordeal the god’s wife was enduring, he left the bright roads of high heaven and, circling above her, called: “Simple and innocent as you are, do you really expect even to touch, never mind steal, a single drop from that most sacred and cruel of founts? Jupiter himself and all the gods fear these Stygian waters. Surely you know that, just as you swear by the power of the gods, so the gods in turn swear by the power of Styx. Now, pass me that phial!”

He snatched it from her hand and swept off to fill it from the stream. Balanced on his great sweeping wings, he flew beyond the serpents’ reach, those savage jaws, those incisors, those triply-grooved flickering tongues, swerving to right and left. The water rose and threatened to harm him if he did not desist, but he gathered them, claiming he sought them at Venus’ orders, acting on her behalf, and was granted easier access on that account.

(400 words)

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