Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Apuleius: Venus and Mercury

There are many gods and goddesses in the Greek and Roman traditions who are personifications of abstract concepts. The most famous is Fortuna, the goddess who is "Luck" personified. Here your will meet a goddess who is named Consuetudo in Latin, which Kline translates as "Familiarity," and this goddess is in turn a servant of the goddess Venus. Another translation of the name might be "Intercourse" (which fits the amorous context of course!), as the word consuetudo covers a wide range of meanings in Latin. You can read the entry for consuetudo in a Latin-English dictionary online here: Consuetudo.

[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).




Venus and Mercury

Terrified at this second shipwreck of her hopes, unable to find her winged husband, Psyche abandoned all thought of salvation and took counsel of her thoughts: “What else can I try? What other aid can ease my tribulations, since the goddesses, despite their favourable views, cannot help me? Where else can I turn caught in such a web? What roof can conceal me, what darkness can hide me from the all-penetrating eyes of powerful Venus? Why not pluck up courage, as a man would, and abandon idle hope? Go to your mistress willingly, though late, and by yielding to her furious pursuit mollify her. Besides, who knows that you may not find the one you’ve long searched for, there, in his mother’s house?”

So, ready to risk the unknown consequences of surrender, even destruction itself, she pondered how she should commence her imminent appeal.

Meanwhile Venus, abandoning all attempts to find her on earth, sought the heavens. She ordered her chariot readied that Vulcan the goldsmith had carefully wrought with subtle skill, offering it to her as a gift before they entered into marriage. It was noted for its filigree work and more valuable for the very gold removed by the refining file! Four white doves, with glad demeanour, emerged from the dovecote surrounding her chamber, offered their snowy necks to the jewelled harness, and then lifted the burden of their mistress and happily took flight. Sparrows rose in the chariot’s wake, chirping madly at its approach, and all the birds that sing so sweetly, great Venus’s retinue filled with song and unafraid of rapacious eagles or circling hawks along the way, echoed their delight with honeyed melodies. Thus the clouds parted, the Heavens opened to welcome their daughter, and the highest ether received the goddess with joy.

She went straight to Jove’s royal citadel and urgently demanded to borrow the services of Mercury, the messenger god. Nor was Jupiter’s celestial assent denied her. In triumph she descended from the sky, with Mercury too in her wake, and gave him careful instructions: “Arcadian, you know your sister Venus has never accomplished a thing without your presence, and no doubt you’re aware I’m trying in vain to find a runaway servant. So nothing remains but for you to publicly proclaim a reward for whoever finds her. Go carry out my order at once and describe her features clearly so that no one charged with wrongfully hiding her can claim ignorance as a defence.”

With that, she handed him the details, Psyche’s name and the rest, and promptly left for home.

Mercury rushed to comply, running here and there from person to person, fulfilling his task with this proclamation: “If any man knows the whereabouts of, or can arrest in flight, the runaway servant of Venus, the princess named Psyche, he should meet with Mercury, author of this announcement, by the shrine of Venus Murcia in the Circus Maximus. The reward offered is seven sweet kisses from Venus herself, and one more deeply honeyed touch of her caressing tongue.”

After his proclamation, the desire for so fine a reward roused the competitive instinct in every mortal man, and more than anything it put an end to Psyche’s previous hesitation. Familiarity, a servant of Venus, ran at her as she approached her mistress’ door and began shouting at the top of her voice: “So, you worthless girl, you’ve at last remembered you have a mistress! Just like your thoughtless behaviour to pretend ignorance of all the trouble we’ve endured, searching for you! But now you’ve fallen into my hands and a good thing too; now you’re in Death’s claws indeed, and you’ll pay the price for this endless defiance.”


(600 words)









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