Apuleius: Psyche's Husband Warns Her

Apuleius uses various mythological metaphors to express the wickedness of Psyche's sisters. You will see them compared to Harpies here, to Furies, and to Sirens. Harpies were female monsters who had the bodies of birds but the faces of women. Their name comes from the Greek verb, harpazein, which means "to snatch," so they were "snatchers." The Sirens were also bird-like monsters, either with women's faces, or with women's heads, or the bodies of women but with the legs of birds. They were famous for their "Siren song," an singing that men could not resist, and with their singing the Sirens would lure sailors to their deaths. The Furies (Erinyes in Greek) were goddesses who had snakes for hair and the wings of bats. They were the agents of divine vengeance, pursuing wrong-doers without mercy. Although they were agents of divine justice, they were also horrifying creatures, female monsters of the most frightening kind.

[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).

Psyche's Husband Warns Her of Danger

This wicked scheme greatly pleased the two wicked sisters. They hid all the costly gifts and, tearing their hair and lacerating their cheeks, as they deserved to do, falsely renewed their lamentations. They soon frightened their parents into reopening the wound of their sorrow also. Then swollen with venom, they hastened home to plan their crime against an innocent sister, even to murder.

Meanwhile, her unseen husband, on his nightly visit, warned Psyche once more: “See how much danger you’re in. Fortune is plotting at a distance, but soon, unless you take firm precautions, she’ll be attacking you face to face. Those treacherous she-wolves are working hard to execute some evil act against you, by tempting you to examine my features. But do so and, as I’ve told you, you’ll never see me again. So if those foul harpies armed with their noxious thoughts return, as I know they will, you must hold no conversation with them. And if in your true innocence and tender-heartedness you can’t bear that, then at least, if they speak of me, don’t listen, or if you must don’t answer. You see our family will increase, and your womb, a child’s, must bear another child, who if you keep our secret silently will be divine, though if you profane it, mortal.”

Psyche blossomed with joy at the news, hailing the solace of a divine child, exulting in the glory of the one to be born and rejoicing in the name of mother. She counted the swelling days and the vanishing months, and as a beginner knowing nothing of the burden she bore was amazed at the growth of her seething womb from a tiny pinprick.

But those foul and pestilential Furies, her sisters, breathing viperous venom, were sailing towards her with impious speed. Now for a second time her husband warned Psyche in passing: “The fatal day, the final peril, the malice of your sex and hostile blood have taken arms against you, struck camp, prepared for battle, and sounded the attack. Those wicked sisters of yours with drawn swords are at your throat. What disaster threatens, sweet Psyche! Take pity on yourself and me. With resolution and restraint you can free your home and husband, yourself, and our child from the imminent danger that threatens. Don’t look at or listen to those evil women who, with their murderous hostility, their disregard of the bonds of blood, you should not call sisters, as they lean from the cliff-top like Sirens and make the rocks echo with that fatal singing.”

Her answer almost lost in tearful sobbing, Psyche replied: “Once before you asked for proof of my loyalty and discretion, now too you will find me just as resolute. Give your servant Zephyr his orders one more: let him perform his task, and if I am not to see your sacred face, grant me at least a glimpse of my sisters. By those cinnamon-perfumed locks that adorn your head, by those softly rounded cheeks like my own, by your breast so warm, so wonderfully aflame; as I hope to find your looks in my unborn child’s, at least, I beg you, yield to the loving prayers of a yearning suppliant and allow me the pleasure of sisterly embraces. Fill your dedicated and devoted Psyche’s spirit with joy once more. I’ll ask no more regarding your appearance. Clasping you in my arms, not even the darkness of the night can hurt me now, my light.”

Bewitched by her words and her sweet caresses, her husband wiped away her tears with his hair and gave her his agreement, vanishing swiftly before the light of the new-born day.

(600 words)