Apuleius: The Magical Palace

Traditional versions of the European fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast" also feature invisible servants, just as here in Apuleius. For an example, see this item from the Europa unit in this class: Beauty and the Beast.

[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 Magical Palace

Psyche, pleasantly reclining in that grassy place on a bed of dew-wet grass, free of her mental perturbation, fell peacefully asleep, and when she was sufficiently refreshed by slumber, she rose, feeling calm. She saw a grove planted with great, tall trees; she saw a glittering fount of crystal water.

At the very centre of the grove beside the flowing stream was a regal palace, not made by human hands, but built by divine art. You knew from the moment you entered you were viewing the splendid shining residence of a god. There were coffered ceilings, exquisitely carved from ivory and citron-wood supported on golden pillars; the walls were covered with relief-work in silver, wild beasts in savage herds met your gaze as you reached the doorway. They were the work of some eminent master, or a demigod or god perhaps, who with the subtlety of great art had made creatures all of silver. Even the floors were of mosaic, pictures patterned from precious stones cut into tiny tiles. Blessed twice over or more are those who tread on shining jewels and gems! The length and breadth of the rest of the house was equally beyond price, the walls constructed of solid gold gleaming with their own brilliance, so that even without the sun’s rays the house shone like day. The rooms, the colonnades, the very doorposts glowed. And every other feature matched the house in magnificence, so you would have thought, rightly, that this was a heavenly palace made for Jove to use on his visits to the world.

Seduced by the attractions of this lovely place, Psyche moved closer and, gaining confidence, dared to cross the threshold. Now her desire to gaze on all these beautiful things led her to examine every object closely. On the far side of the palace she found storerooms made with noble skill, heaped to the roof with mounds of treasure. All that existed was there. And beyond her amazement at the vast quantities of riches, she was especially startled to find not a lock, or bolt or chain to defend this treasure-house of all the world.

As she looked around her, in rapturous delight, a bodiless voice spoke to her: “Lady, why are you so surprised at all this vast wealth? All that is here is yours. So retire to your room, and ease your weariness on the bed, and, when you wish, you can bathe. The voices you may hear are those of your servants, we who wait on you willingly, and when your body is refreshed, we will be ready with a feast.”

Psyche felt blessed by divine providence and, obeying the guidance of the disembodied voice, eased her weariness with sleep and then a bath. Nearby she found a semi-circular table, and, judging from the dinner setting that it was meant for her, she promptly sat down to wait. Instantly trays loaded with food and cups of nectar appeared, without trace of servants, they were wafted and set before her as though by a breath of air. No one was visible, but words could be heard from somewhere; her waiters were merely voices. And after a sumptuous meal, someone invisible came and sang, and someone played a lyre, invisible too. And there came to her ears the interweaving melodies of some large throng, some invisible choir.

(600 words)