Apuleius: Psyche's Prayer

In this section, Psyche, seeking protection from the goddess Venus, appeals to the two other great goddesses: Ceres (Demeter), the goddess of the harvest, and Juno (Hera), the queen of heaven and wife of Jupiter (Zeus). You will also see a reference here to Ceres's daughter, the goddess Proserpine (better known by her Greek name, Persephone), who endured great suffering as well; you can read the story of Persephone at Wikipedia.

[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 Prayer

Meanwhile Psyche wandered day and night, restlessly seeking her husband, eager if she could not mollify his anger with a wife’s caresses, at least to appease him with a devotee’s prayers. Spying a temple on the summit of a high mountain, she thought: “How do I know he might not live there?” Swiftly she moved towards it. Though she was wearied from her efforts, hope and desire quickened her step.

When she had clambered up to the lofty ridge, she entered the shrine and stood by the sacred couch. It was heaped with ears of wheat, some woven into wreaths, and ears of barley. There were sickles, and all the other harvest implements, but scattered about in total disorder, as if left there by the harvesters escaping the summer sun. Psyche sorted them all into separate piles, thinking she should not neglect the temples or rituals of any deity, but rather appeal to the kindness and mercy of them all.

It was bountiful Ceres who found her, carefully and diligently caring for her shrine, and called to her from afar: “Psyche, poor girl, what’s this? Venus, her heart afire, is searching intently for you. She wants to punish you severely, demanding vengeance with all her divine power. Yet here you are looking after my affairs. How can you think of anything but your own safety?”

Psyche drenched the goddess’s feet with a flood of tears and swept the temple floor with her hair as she prostrated herself on the ground, uttering countless prayers, seeking to win the deity’s favour: “I beseech you by the fruitful power of your right hand, by the joy-filled ceremony of the harvest, by the unspoken mystery of the sacred basket, by the winged flight of your dragon-servants, by the furrowed Sicilian fields and Pluto’s chariot and the swallowing earth, by Proserpine’s descent to a gloomy wedding, the torch-lit discovery of that same daughter of yours’ and her return, and by all the other secrets which your sanctuary in Attica, Eleusis, cloaks in silence! Oh, save the life of wretched Psyche, your suppliant. Let me hide for a few days here at least among your store of grain till the great goddess’s raging anger abates with the passage of time, or until my strength, exhausted by my long journey, is restored by a chance to rest.”

Ceres answered, “Your tears and prayers move me more than I can say, and I long to help you, but Venus is not simply my niece: we share ancient ties of friendship, and besides, she’s so good-hearted I can’t afford to offend her. I fear you must leave the shrine at once and count yourself fortunate not to be held here as my captive.”

Driven away despite her hopes, doubly afflicted with sorrow, Psyche retraced her steps. In the valley below, at the centre of a dimly-lit grove, she caught sight of another beautifully-fashioned temple. Not wishing to miss any path, however uncertain, that might lead to better expectations and happy to seek help from any deity, she approached the sacred doors.

There she saw rich offerings, gold embroidered ribbons, attached to the branches and the doorposts, whose lettering spelled the name of the goddess to whom they were dedicated, with thanks for her aid. So Psyche knelt and clasped the altar, still warm from sacrifice, in her arms, and then dried her tears and prayed: “Sister and consort of mighty Jove, whether you reside in the ancient sanctuary of Samos, which was granted the sole glory of your birth and  infant tears and nurturing, or whether you frequent the lofty site of blessed Carthage, where they worship you as a Virgin riding the Lion through the sky, or whether you are defending Argos’ famous walls beside the banks of Inachus, where they call you the Thunderer’s bride, queen of the gods, you whom the East adores as Zygia goddess of marriage, and the West as Lucina goddess of childbirth: be Juno the Protectress to me in my dire misfortune. I am so weary from my great troubles. Free me from the dangers that threaten, for I know you come willingly to the help of pregnant girls in peril.”

As she bowed in supplication, Juno appeared in all the glorious majesty of her divinity. “How I wish,” she cried at once, “I could match my will to your prayer. But it would bring me shame to go against the wishes of Venus, Vulcan’s wife and my daughter-in-law, whom I’ve always loved as if she were my own. And then the law prevents me harbouring another’s fugitive servant without their consent.”

(800 words)