Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 

Cupid and Psyche

Part I

THERE was sometimes a certain King, inhabiting in the west parts, who had to wife a noble Dame, by whom he had three daughters exceeding fair: of whom the two elder were of such comely shape and beauty, as they did excel and pass all other women living; whereby they were thought, worthily, to deserve the praise and commendation of every person, and deservedly to be preferred above the residue of the common sort: yet the singular passing beauty and maidenly majesty of the youngest daughter, did so far surmount and excel them two, as no earthly creature could by any means sufficiently express or set out the same. By reason whereof, after the fame of this excellent maiden was spread abroad in every part of the city, the citizens and strangers there, being inwardly pricked by zealous affection to behold her famous person, came daily by thousands, hundreds, and scores, to her father's palace; who as astonied with admiration of her incomparable beauty, did no less worship and reverence her, with crosses, signs and tokens, and other divine adorations, according to the custom of the old used rites and ceremonies, than if she were Lady Venus indeed. And shortly after the fame was spread into the next cities and bordering regions, that the Goddess whom the deep seas had borne and brought forth, and the froth of the spurging waves had nourished, to the intent to show her high magnificence and divine power on earth, to such as erst did honour and worship her, was now conversant amongst mortal men: or else that the earth and not the seas, by a new concourse and influence of the celestial planets, had budded and yielded forth a new Venus, endowed with the flower of virginity. So daily more and more increased this opinion, and now is her flying fame dispersed into the next Island, and well-nigh into every part and province of the whole world. Whereupon innumerable strangers resorted from far countries, adventuring themselves by long journeys on land, and by great perils on water, to behold this glorious Virgin. By occasion whereof such a contempt grew towards the Goddess Venus, that no person travelled unto the town Paphos, nor to the Isle Gindos, no, nor to Cythera, to worship her. Her ornaments were thrown out, her temples defaced, her pillows and quishions torn, her ceremonies neglected, her images and statues uncrowned, and her bare altars unswept, and foul with the ashes of old burned sacrifice. For why, every person honoured and worshipped this maiden instead of Venus; and in the morning at her first coming abroad, offered unto her oblations, provided banquets, called her by the name of Venus which was not Venus indeed, and in her honour presented flowers and garlands in most reverent fashion.

This sudden change and alteration of celestial honour did greatly inflame and kindle the mind of very Venus, who, unable to temper herself from indignation, shaking her head in raging sort, reasoned with herself in this manner: "Behold the original parent of all these elements, behold the Lady Venus renounced throughout all the world, with whom a mortal maiden is joined now partaker of honour; my name registered in the city of heaven, is profaned and made vile by terrene absurdities. If I shall suffer any mortal creature to present my majesty in earth, or that any shall hear about a false surmised shape of my person: then in vain did Paris that shepherd, in whose just judgment and confidence the great Jupiter had affiance, prefer me above the residue of the Goddesses for the excellence of my beauty. But she, whatsoever she be that hath usurped mine honour, shall shortly repent her of her unlawful estate." And by and by she called her winged son Cupid, rash enough and hardy, who by his evil manners, contemning all public justice and law, armed with fire and arrows, running up and down in the nights from house to house, and corrupting the lawful marriages of every person, doth nothing but that which is evil; who although that he were of his own proper nature sufficient prone to work mischief, yet she egged him forward with words and brought him to the city, and showed him Psyche (for so the maiden was called), and having told the cause of her anger, not without great rage: "I pray thee (quoth she), my dear child, by motherly bond of love, by the sweet wounds of thy piercing darts, by the pleasant heat of thy fire, revenge the injury which is done to thy mother, by the false and disobedient beauty of a mortal maiden, and 1 pray thee without delay, that she may fall in love with the most miserable creature living, the most poor, the most crooked, and the most vile, that there may be none found in all the world of like wretchedness." When she had spoken these words, she embraced and kissed her son, and took her voyage towards the sea.

When she was come to the sea, she began to call the Gods and Goddesses, who were obedient at her voice. For incontinent came the daughters of Nereus singing with tunes melodiously; Portunus with his bristled and rough beard; Salatia with her bosom full of fish; Palemon the driver of the Dolphin, the trumpeters of Triton leaping hither and thither, and blowing with heavenly noise: such was the company which followed Venus marching towards the ocean sea.

In the mean season Psyche with all her beauty received no fruit of her honour. She was wondered at of all, she was praised of all, but she perceived that no king nor prince, nor any of the inferior sort did repair to woo her. Every one marvelled at her divine beauty, as it were at some image well painted and set out. Her other two sisters which were nothing so greatly exalted by the people, were royally married to two kings; but the virgin Psyche sitting at home alone lamented her solitary life, and being disquieted both in mind and body, although she pleased all the world, yet hated she in herself her own beauty.

Whereupon the miserable father of this unfortunate daughter, suspecting that the Gods and powers of heaven did envy her estate, went into the town called Miletus to receive the oracle of Apollo, where he made his prayers and offered sacrifice, and desired a husband for his daughter: but Apollo though he were a Grecian and of the country of lonia, because of the foundation of Miletus, yet he gave answer in Latin yerse, the sense whereof was this --

Let Psyche's corpse be clad in mourning weed
And set on rock of yonder hill aloft;
Her husband is no wight of human seed,
But serpent dire and fierce, as may be thought,
Who flies with wings above in starry skies,
And doth subdue each thing with fiery flight.
The Gods themselves and powers that seem so wise
With mighty love be subject to his might.
The rivers black and deadly floods of pain
And darkness eke as thrall to him remain.

The King sometimes happy, when he heard the prophecy of Apollo returned home sad and sorrowful, and declared to his wife the miserable and unhappy fate of his daughter; then they began to lament, and weep, and passed over many days in great sorrow. But now the time approached of Psyche's marriage: preparation was made, black torches were lighted, the pleasant songs were turned into pitiful cries, the melody of Hymen was ended with deadly howling, the maiden that should be married did wipe her eyes with her veil; all the family and people of the city weeped likewise, and with great lamentation was ordained a remiss time for that day, but necessity compelled that Psyche should be brought to her appointed place according to the divine commandment.

And when the solemnity was ended, they went to bring this sorrowful spouse, not to her marriage, but to her final end and burial. And while the father and mother of Psyche did go forward, weeping and crying to do this enterprise, Psyche spake unto them in this sort: "Why torment you your unhappy age with continual dolour? why trouble you your spirits, which are more rather mine than yours? why soil ye your faces with tears, which I ought to adore and worship? why tear you my eyes in yours? why pull you your hoary hairs? why knock you your breasts for me? Now you see the reward of my excellent beauty: now, now, you perceive, but too late, the plague of envy. When the people did honour me and call me new Venus, then you should have wept, then you should have sorrowed, as though I had been then dead: For now I see and perceive that I am come to this misery by the only name of Venus, bring me, and as fortune hath appointed, place me on the top of the rock; I greatly desire to end my marriage, I greatly covet to see my husband. Why do I delay? why should I refuse him that is appointed to destroy all the world?"

Thus ended she her words, and thrust herself amongst the people that followed. Then they brought her to the appointed rock of the high hill, and set her thereon and so departed. The torches and lights were put out with the tears of the people; and every man gone home, the miserable parents well-nigh consumed with sorrow gave themselves to everlasting darkness.

Next: Part II