The Myth of Eros and Psyche
The myth of Psyche and Eros is probably one of the most beautiful Greek myths; it has been told and retold in several different versions and it has inspired artists all over the world.
Psyche was a woman gifted with extreme beauty and grace, one of the mortal women whose love and sacrifice for her beloved god Eros earned her immortality.
Psyche became, as Greek word “psyche” implies, the deity of soul. In modern days, the myth of Psyche symbolizes a self-search and personal growth through learning, losing, and saving pure love.
Living an ordinary life, Psyche became famous for her beauty. Being jealous due to men’s admiration for Psyche, Goddess Aphrodite asked her son, the powerful master of love, Eros, to poison men’s souls in order to kill off their desire for Psyche. But Eros also fell in love with Psyche and was completely mesmerized by her beauty.
Despite all the men coming her way, Psyche stayed unmarried, because she wanted to marry the man she would love. Her parents were worried about her destiny and became desperate. They had no choice but to ask for an oracle, hoping that they would manage to solve the mystery and give a husband to their daughter.
Eros guided Apollo to give the oracle that Psyche would marry an ugly beast whose face she would never be able to see, and he would wait for her at the top of the mountain.
It was not what Psyche’s parents were hoping for; on the contrary, they were completely devastated, as their daughter was not supposed to have such as fate, but they decided to go on and arranged the wedding of their beloved daughter with the beast.
After the wedding, Psyche was able to be with her husband only at night. His tenderness and the enormous love he showed to her made Psyche happy and fulfilled beyond her expectations and dreams. She talked about her happiness with her sisters and confided in them how sad she was that she couldn’t see his face.
Hence, the jealous sisters persuaded Psyche that her lover was not only an ugly beast but also a monster who would eventually kill her, advising her to kill him first to save herself.
With an oil lamp and a knife in her hands, Psyche was ready for murder, but when the light illuminated the face of her beast-husband, she saw a beautiful god. Caught by surprise, she spilled the oil on his face. Eros woke up, horrified. He flew away telling Psyche that she had betrayed him and they could never be together again.
Psyche was bereft and started searching for her lost love. She begged Aphrodite, who had imprisoned Eros in the Palace, to see him. Aphrodite gave her three impossible tasks to accomplish in order to prove her love.
Driven by her desire to reunite with Eros, she was fearless. After accomplishing the first two tasks, Psyche had to go to the Hades (Underworld) and bring the box with the elixir of beauty to Aphrodite, who ordered her not to open the box. Instead of the elixir, Morpheus (the god of sleep and dreams) was hiding in the box. The curious Psyche opened it, and she fell into a sleep from which she would never awaken.
When Eros found out what happened, he ran away from the Palace and begged Zeus for help to save Psyche. Amazed by their true love, Zeus went even further – he made Psyche immortal so that the two lovers could be together forever.
View this website for the full text of the Eros and Psyche myth, and for wonderful versions of other Greek myths.
Psyche and Eros, revisited by Veronica Verai
Psyche was a Greek princess who was so beautiful that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, grew jealous of her. The goddess sent her son, the winged god of love Eros, to strike the young princess with one of his arrows, making her fall unhappily in love. But when Eros saw Psyche, he fell in love with her himself and could not obey his mother.
As a gentle breeze he lifted Psyche and carried her to a secluded palace. Eros would come to his beloved every night, after dark; he was very kind and loving and she soon returned his feelings, although she was never allowed to see her lover. The god warned her that he would have to leave her for ever if she sees his face.
Later on, Psyche’s sisters came to visit and convinced her that she must see her lover, as he might turn out to be a dangerous monster. So Psyche saw Eros’ face by the light of a candle, while he was sleeping, and discovered that he was not the monster she feared but a magnificent god. After that Eros left her and she was very unhappy.
Desperate to bring him back, Psyche went to Aphrodite to ask for her help, but the goddess remained indifferent to her suffering and gave her impossible tasks to fulfil. However, Psyche succeeded in all of them, as Eros was secretly watching over her and helping her. In the end, Zeus decided that the lovers proved their devotion for each other and united them for eternity, granting Psyche immortality. They lived happily ever after and a beautiful child was born to them, whose name was Voluptas (Pleasure).
This is an allegorical tale with many levels of meaning. It is about the union between Eros (masculine principle, erotic passion) and Psyche (feminine principle, the soul), that at the end engenders bliss.
There is also a lot of truth about relationships in it. While they love each other and defend their love, Eros and Psyche grow and develop, becoming more forgiving (Eros), and stronger (Psyche). Thus, through their relationship they overcome their own weaknesses, evolving into better and complete personalities.
Although Greeks emphasized physical beauty, as a symbol and quintessence of all virtue, the story shows that true love goes beyond the superficiality of physical attraction (Psyche falls in love with Eros without seeing him). Love requires trust (Psyche is forbidden to see Eros) and once the trust is broken it is difficult to get it back.
In relationships, one should not let other people interfere (such as Psyche’s sisters) but make one’s own decisions. Where there is love, there is forgiveness also (Eros is still watching over Psyche, after she disobeyed him). Joint effort can create strength to solve even insurmountable problems (the impossible tasks set by Aphrodite).
To Greeks, romantic love was the single most important ingredient of human happiness. In their view, true love should be rewarded, so at the end of the story the union of Eros and Psyche is blessed and protected by the gods for eternity.
1. Photograph by Ed Snyder, copy of the famous Antonio Canova sculpture “Eros and Psyche”, atop a tomb at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
2. Photograph by Himadhu Kottege, Cardova’s “Eros and Psyche” at Musee du Louvre
3. Sculpture by Antonio Canova, “Eros and Psyche”. 1793