Apuleius: Venus and Psyche

Here you will see the first of the fairy-tale type of tasks that the furious Venus assigns to her daughter-in-law. This first task might remind you of one of the tasks assigned to Cinderella! Cinderella's helpers are birds (here's the Brothers Grimm version), but you will see that Psyche has a different helper.

[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 Psyche

With that she seized her tight by the hair and dragged her inside. The unresisting Psyche was thrust into Venus’ presence. The goddess burst into savage laughter as women do when deeply enraged, beating her round the head and dragging her about by the ear, crying: “So you deign to call on your mother-in-law at last, do you? Or are you here to visit that husband of yours, laid low by your own hand? Don’t you worry, I’ll entertain you as a fine daughter-in-law deserves. Where are those attendants of mine, Anxiety and Sorrow?”

When they entered she handed the girl over to them for punishment. At the goddess’s command they flogged poor Psyche and tortured her in other ways, and then returned her to their mistress’s sight. Then Venus screeched with laughter again: “Look at her,” she cried, “trying to stir my pity with that offering, that swollen belly of hers! No doubt she thinks its illustrious origin might gladden its grandmother’s heart. Indeed what joy, in the very flower of my youth, to be known as a grandmother, with the offspring of a lowly servant as Venus’ own grandson! But how foolish of me to call it such since this ‘marriage’ of mortal and god took place in some country villa, with nary a witness, without the father’s consent. It was not done within the law, and your child too will be illegitimate, if indeed I allow the birth at all.”

Having launched this tirade, Venus flew at her, beat her about the head severely, tore her hair, and ripped her clothes to pieces. Then the goddess called for wheat, millet and barley, poppy-seeds, chickpeas, lentils and beans, and mixed the heaps all together in one pile. Then she returned to Psyche: “You look such a hideous creature you’ll only attract a lover by hard work. So I’ll test out your industriousness myself. Sort that pile into separate kinds, each in its own heap, finish it all by this evening, and show it me for approval.” With that Venus took herself off to a marriage feast.

Psyche sat there dumbfounded, gazing silently at that confused and inextricable mountain of a task, dismayed by its sheer enormity. But a passing ant, a little ant of the fields, pitied the great god’s bride, and seeing the intractable nature of the problem, condemned the goddess’s cruelty. Running this way and that, it summoned and gathered together a whole squadron of local ants, crying: “Nimble creatures of Earth, the Mother of all, take pity on this pretty girl in trouble, run swiftly now to the aid of the wife of Love himself!”  Wave after wave of the six-footed folk appeared, and with tireless industry took the heap apart piece by piece, and sorted it into differing piles each of a separate nature, then quickly vanished from sight.

(500 words)

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