Ever wonder why Cupid is associated with love (and Valentine’s Day)? He is one of the main characters in the story of Cupid and Psyche – a Greek mythology love story with a happy ending!
Most love stories in Greek and Roman mythology have unhappy endings. The Psyche and Cupid story, unlike most others (ie. the stories of Apollo and Daphne, and Aphrodite and Adonis) ends with the two lovers united.
This enduring and inspirational love story has even influenced modern day fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. Keep reading to learn more!
Is it Cupid and Psyche or Eros and Psyche?
While there are many similarities between Greek and Roman mythology, there are some points where they diverge. Greek mythology predates Roman mythology. When Roman mythology emerged, it reimagined some of the details of the Greek myths.
In the two types of mythology, names are often changed, and sometimes plot points differ. However, the Cupid and Psyche story is largely the same in both Greek and Roman mythology.
Who is Psyche Greek mythology?
There once were a mortal king and queen who had three daughters. All three daughters possessed great beauty, but the most beautiful of all was the youngest daughter named Psyche.
She was so beautiful that people began to forget about the goddess of love, Venus (Aphrodite). Instead of praying to Venus, and bringing her offerings, they turned their efforts towards Psyche.
This enraged Venus. With vengeance on her mind, Venus went to her son, Cupid (Eros). She asked Cupid to strike Psyche with one of his golden arrows of love and make her fall in love with a hideous monster.
Cupid dutifully obeyed his mother, and cloaked with invisibility, he flew down from Mount Olympus to find Psyche sleeping. When he aimed his arrow at her heart and she opened her eyes. Startled, he nicked himself with the arrow, falling in love with Psyche instantly.
Overcome with love, it was impossible for him to follow his mother’s instructions. He flew away and decided not to tell his mother of his failed attempt to avenge her honor.
The oracle of Apollo’s prophecy
After time, Venus noticed that Psyche hadn’t fallen in love with a monster, or anyone for that matter. Still bitter and jealous, Venus cast a spell on Psyche that prevented mortal men from pursuing her.
Psyche’s parents started to worry after both of their oldest daughters got married, while their youngest, most radiant, daughter remained unmarried. Terrified they had incurred the wrath of the gods, the king and queen consulted the oracle of Apollo.
The oracle of Apollo said that Psyche was destined to marry a creature who, feared by both mortals and gods, lived on a mountaintop and wielded powers not even immortal beings could evade.
Distraught by the oracle’s prophecy, but resigned to its truth, Psyche left her parents, and went to the mountaintop to await her fate.
While there, she felt a wind gentle blowing on her, which turned out to be Zephyrus, the god of wind. He gently lifted her off the ground, and carried her to a meadow filled with flowers. As her placed her softly on the grass, she fell asleep.
The story of Psyche and Cupid: the mountaintop
When she woke, her eyes revealed a lush green landscape with a palace in the distance. She walked to the palace and upon entering, noticed its immense splendor.
Invisible voices encourage her to make herself at home, informing Psyche that everything here belonged to her. The invisible voices served her a feast and waited on her. They even played music and sung to her.
Thinking of the oracle’s prophecy, Psyche found it hard to imagine that the monstrous being she was destined to marry would offer her such a kind reception. When night fell, she went to her sleeping chambers.
There, in the dark, she was visited by a being she could not see. It was the being that the oracle foretold. He said that he would always visit in the dark, and that she must promise to never try and see what he looked like.
Psyche began to look forward to his visits, but wished she could see the face of the man she was beginning to adore. After some time at the palace, she began to miss her family and yearned to see them.
The story of Cupid and Psyche: meeting Psyche’s sisters
When she asked her lover to be able to see her sisters, he obliged. He enlisted Zephyrus to bring the sisters, by wind, for a visit to the palace.
Psyche’s sisters saw all of the treasure and beauty in the palace, and became jealous. They interrogated Psyche about her husband-to-be, trying to find a flaw in her seemingly perfect life.
At first Psyche lied and said he spent all day hunting, and would come back at night. Eventually Psyche relented, and told her sisters that she had never seen him.
Delighted, by their sister’s misfortune, they reminded her of the prophecy’s description of the frightening monster she was to marry. The sisters insisted that Psyche see his face.
Psyche and Cupid story: revealing the monster’s face
The sisters devised a plan for Psyche to execute that night. They instructed her to take a knife and oil lamp to her bedroom at night. She was to light the lamp when he fell asleep, and carry the knife as protection.
At first Psyche protested, but that night when her love fell asleep, curiosity took over and she lit the oil lamp. Holding it over him, the light revealed not a hideous monster, but the strikingly handsome god of love, Cupid.
Distracted by his good looks, she didn’t notice the hot oil that fell from the lamp and burned Cupid. He woke to see her with a knife, having defied his orders, looking upon his face.
Hurt (physically and emotionally) he vowed never to see her again, and flew out of the window. Psyche, heartbroken, went out searching for him.
Cupid and Psyche story: the temple of Ceres
She visited both of her sisters and told them all about Cupid. The story of Cupid’s beauty made her sisters even more envious. After Psyche left, both sisters went up to the mountaintop, to try and win Cupid for themselves.
Each sister jumped off the mountain, asking Zephyrus to carry them by wind to Cupid in place of Psyche. Zephyrus did not assist either of them, and both sisters plummeted to their deaths in the rocky sea below.
Psyche, still searching for Cupid, came across the temple of Cerces (Demeter), goddess of the harvest. She noticed the temple was in disarray and began to put everything back in order.
Suddenly, a voice startled her, and she turned to see Cerces. Psyche asked for help finding Cupid, and while Cerces believed Psyche was deserving of help, she also believed Psyche had wronged Venus.
Cerces advised Psyche to find Venus and ask for her help to find Cupid. Psyche found Venus, apologized and asked for her guidance.
Story of Psyche and Cupid: Venus and Psyche meet
Upon seeing Psyche, Venus was once again overcome with anger towards her. Venus told her that Cupid was still hurt and recovering, and that Psyche should prove her worthiness and love by completing a series of tasks.
Psyche quickly agreed and Venus assigned Psyche three increasingly difficult tasks, each destined for failure.
For the first task, Venus took Psyche to an enormous pile of grains, beans, barley and lentils, all mixed together. Venus instructed Psyche to separate all the grains for Venus’s birds, and required the task to be done by nightfall.
Psyche looked at this impossible task and felt despair. As she began sorting the grains, she noticed a colony of ants had come to assist her.
The ants helped carry the grains to separate piles, and by the time Venus returned at night, they were all sorted. Venus was enraged, saying there was no way Psyche could have completed this task herself.
Story of Cupid and Psyche: The second task
In the morning, Venus assigned the second task. She instructed Psyche to gather wool from the golden fleece of every sheep grazing in the field on the other side of the river. Venus said if Psyche could not complete the task, she shouldn’t return.
Psyche thought this seemed like an easy task, and began to cross the river. The reeds in the river started to shake, as the river nymphs appeared to warn her.
The nymphs said that the rising sun made the sheep vicious, and that the rams would try to destroy any mortal that came into the field. They advised her to wait until noon when the sun rose, and the sheep ventured off to the shade of the trees to sleep.
Psyche followed their advice, and was able to collect golden fleece from each of the sheep. She returned to Venus who, once again, was incredulous that Psyche completed the task.
Psyche and Cupid: Venus assigns the final task
Venus assigned Psyche the final task. Venus lamented that her own beauty had wained in caring for her ailing son. Psyche was to go to the underworld and ask its queen, Proserpina (Persephone), to place some of her beauty in a box that Venus supplied.
Psyche knew no mortal could make it to the underworld and return. However, she knew she had to try, to win back Cupid. She was ready to throw herself off a tower to get to the underworld when she heard a voice.
The voice told her how to get to the underworld, and make it safely to Proserpina. She followed the voice’s instructions and Proserpina placed some of her beauty in the box Psyche offered her.
Psyche then followed the voice safely back out of the underworld. Before disappearing, the voice warned her not to open the box. However, as Psyche began walking, she thought of Cupid.
She wanted him to still desire her, and thought that taking a little beauty from the box might help. When she opened the it, she fell instantly into a deep, death-like sleep.
Greek mythology love story: the resolution
At this point, Cupid had healed from his wound. He flew out of the window in his mother’s home, and found Psyche asleep. He drew the sleep away from her, and returned it to the box.
She woke, grateful to see Cupid standing there. He told her to return the box to Venus, and that he would find her again once he enlisted help to soothe his mother’s temper.
Cupid flew to Olympus and appealed to Jupiter (Zeus) to help him be with his love, Psyche. Jupiter, touched by his story, agreed to help.
Jupiter summoned Venus, and reminded her that anger dulls beauty. He kindly persuaded Venus to let Psyche and Cupid be happy together.
Once Venus agreed, Psyche was brought to Olympus, for a celebratory feast. One of the gods gave her a cup of ambrosia to drink. Once the cup touched her lips, Psyche became immortal.
Everyone rejoiced for the happy couple. Cupid and Psyche were later married, and lived happily ever after!
Comparing Cupid and Psyche to modern fairy tales
The story of Cupid and Psyche first appeared in written form in the 2nd century CE. It appeared in Lucius Apuleius’s book The Golden Ass (also known as Metamorphoses). In Apuleius’s book, one of the characters recounted the Cupid and Psyche story to other characters.
Though the written account of the Cupid and Psyche myth dates back to the 2nd century, it was present long before then in early Greek and Roman societies.
Greek mythology influences the way we tell stories in modern times. Elements from early mythology are frequently taken as inspiration for modern stories.
Details of the story of Cupid and Psyche are featured in four modern fairy tales that have even been made into popular Disney movies.
While sadness is attributed to almost every Greek mythology love story, the Psyche and Cupid myth has a happy ending. This allowed it to be adapted easily into a fairytale.
The stories of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty all draw inspiration from the Cupid and Psyche myth.
The Cinderella fairytale draws parallels to the Psyche and Cupid story in its depiction of the relationship between sisters.
While Psyche’s sisters are blood related, and Cinderella’s sisters are step-sisters, the way they treated their youngest sister was the same.
In both stories, Psyche and Cinderella had older sisters that were envious of them and acted with malicious intent. The older sisters tried to steal happiness from their youngest, most beautiful, sister and failed.
Cinderella’s evil step-sisters and Psyche’s two older sisters also tried to steal the man their younger sister had fallen in love with.
Fortunately for Cinderella and Psyche, both stories have happy endings where the the young princess is reunited with her love interest.
Beauty and the Beast
Another popular fairy tale that draws inspiration from the Psyche and Cupid story is Beauty and the Beast. In both stories, a beautiful young woman was held captive in the home of a “beast”.
The home of the beast was run by a staff of unconventional beings who made things happen as if by magic. They also showed kindness to the young girl trapped inside by entertaining her by singing to her.
The beast in both stories was, at first, depicted as a monster. After time, it was revealed that he was actually a handsome, desirable man.
Both Belle and Psyche ended up falling in love and living happily ever after with their (now handsome, and less beastly) love interests.
Sleeping Beauty & Snow White
In Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the story of Psyche and Cupid, all three princesses fell into a deep sleep that could only be broken by their male love interest rescuing them.
Psyche fell asleep after looking in the box containing Proserpina’s beauty. The beauty, too strong for any mortal to view, put her into a deep sleep. Cupid ended up finding her and returning the sleep to its box, waking his love.
Snow White fell into a deep sleep after biting into a poisoned apple the evil queen gave her. Sleeping Beauty fell asleep by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. Both Disney princesses only woke when kissed by their handsome prince.
Facts about Cupid and Psyche
Did you enjoy learning about the Psyche and Cupid story? Here are some more for you to enjoy!
- Greek and Roman mythology both tell similar stories but in each type of mythology, the characters names are changed. However Psyche is referred to as “Psyche” in both stories.
- Cupid (Greek: Eros) is associated with Valentine’s Day because he is the god of love. His arrows hold the power to make mortal and immortal men fall in love!
- Most Greek mythology love stories have tragic endings. The Cupid and Psyche story is one of the few with a happy ending.
- Modern fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty take inspiration from the story of Cupid and Psyche.
- Cupid means “passionate desire” in Greek. He is also called “Amor” in Latin. With those names, it makes sense that he is the god of love.
- Psyche means “soul” in Greek, which is appropriate, as she is the goddess of soul.
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About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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