Psyche, with the assistance of ants, a reed, and an eagle, completed three of the four tasks: sorting out a huge pile of seeds, filling a flask from the river Styx, and retrieving the Golden Fleece. The final task, returning from the Land of the Dead with a box containing some of Proserpine’s beauty, was accomplished with the help of Cupid himself after he left his mother’s home. And thus, this love story ends with Cupid and Psyche being officially married and living happily ever after among the gods and goddesses of Olympus.
The Characters and What They Represent
Venus, goddess of love and beauty, symbolizes the attributes of romantic love. Mortal men worship her at a distance by creating families, homes, and communities. She tells us that to love is to feel and that her presence is much like the ebb and flow of the earth’s tides. She teaches us that love believes she is entitled to admiration, commitment, and nourishment. Therefore, love is both vulnerable to and powerless over her perceptions of disloyalty, loneliness, and abandonment. Love is not immune to feelings of jealousy and rage. Love empowered by anger strives to correct a wrong; love intensified by jealousy seeks to reestablish her honored position. She alone is unable to control, define, or foresee the destiny of mortals. Thus, Venus’ powerlessness to change Psyche and mortal men within the first love triangle of this story gave birth to a second — Venus, Cupid, and Psyche.
Cupid, symbol of love, often is depicted as a beautiful winged and blindfolded adolescent. Mortals know there is no defense, either in heaven or on earth, against the ecstatic feeling of falling in love. Falling in love releases one from the haunting emptiness of being alone. Cupid’s arrow releases the expression of one’s deepest feelings and secret thoughts while suspending any concern about the less-than-perfect qualities of the beloved. There is an illusion that the newness of love and the desired attributes of the other will remain the same forever and ever.
When Cupid’s arrow pierces an adolescent’s heart, it also punctures the bindings of the childhood family. The arrow within this story tells us that young love creates an awareness of and focus upon life outside the family home, with a consequent emotional emptiness within that home. Parental reactivity to this familial emptiness delineates love as an attack upon and rebellion against family unity and togetherness. Thus, as Apollo’s oracle foretold, what emerges is a fearful beast, characterized by Venus as the “vilest and most despicable creature in the world.”
Psyche, symbol of the soul, gives form to idealized love. Idealized love awakens the human awareness of a life apart from self and family. She conveys the hope that somewhere on Mother Earth walks each person’s destined soul mate. Therefore, idealized love only needs to sit in wait for fate to deliver the experience of being passionately admired. She creates the myth that, without effort, one will have a life of perfect harmony. Idealized love foretells the birth of a union in which each will both live for and meet the other’s deepest desires. She illustrates how humans seek knowledge that serves to enlighten us about life’s meaning, purpose, and direction. She tells us that this awakening oftentimes is like a death when it defies a family’s spoken and unspoken myths, themes, and beliefs.
to be continued…