April 20th, 2006



Have you ever written, rewritten, and rewritten a section so often that you can't tell if you've sucked all the juice out of it or polished it?

I've been running over the same set of tracks for two weeks now. I'd hoped being mostly-gone a few days would help, but I just sat back in the saddle and found the whole chapter curiously flat, like a carving one has kept whittling until one's peeled away too much wood.



Psyche's story is told in Apuleius' The Golden Ass. It's a long romance.

The early part is in an odd way the paradigm for the Beauty and the Beast story. Psyche, youngest and most beautiful of three sisters, is carried off by Cupid. She winds up in a castle with invisible servants and never sees her husband, she only feels him at night. He commands her never to look upon him. Eventually he lets her invite her sisters for a visit, but they are secretly jealous of her wealth, and sow the seeds of doubt: what if her husband is a horrible monster? So she lights a lamp while he is asleep and discovers he's not a monster, but a god; unfortunately hot oil drips on his shoulder, and he flees.

Then we get the wicked stepmother story. Psyche yearns to win her lover back, but she has to undergo several awful ordeals first. Aphrodite won't give up her son easily. All the ordeals are supposed to be fatal, but Psyche keeps getting aid from unlikely places. The ants help her sort a bag of mixed grains. An eagle helps her get water from the Styx. I can't remember what helps her pluck wool from the golden carnivorous goats (another odd staple of Greek myth).

At any rate, the last task is for Psyche to go into the underworld and retrieve a box which Aphrodite had loaned Persephone (or possibly the other way around). Psyche gets past the ferryman and Cerebus and faces all the dangers of Hades alone. On the way back, however -- as Aphrodite had intended -- Psyche can't resist a peek in the box. She is killed instantly.

Cupid can't stand it any longer. As a god, he's not supposed to become too attached to mortals -- he has duties, he is NOT mortal. Zeus' idle flings are the only acceptable form of immortal/mortal intercourse. One isn't supposed to fall in love with them. But when Psyche finally dies for him, he throws all that to the wind, swoops down, scoops her up in his arms, and restores her to life, duties be damned.

I have been thinking of Orpheus and Eurydice all along while writing the Resurrection story, but I see a few faint parallels with Psyche's ordeals as well.

Like most archetypes, though, there's a great many differences too. :)

The odd thing is, I'm suddenly taking a very deep and thoughtful class on psychology and the Orpheus myth and the way Orpheus continues to manifest in poetry and life to this day.