Thursday, May 21, 2020

Eros and Psyche: Love and the betrayal of trust

Although we often see Eros, Roman Cupid, depicted as a chubby little winged child, he was also prominently portrayed in ancient literature as the adult husband of Psyche.  The longstanding folktale, codified in Apuleius' Latin novel, The Golden Ass, relates a quest for love and trust between Eros and Psyche. Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of the mortal princess Psyche, as men were leaving her altars barren to worship a mere human woman instead, and so Aphrodite commanded her son Eros, the god of love, to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest creature on earth. But instead, Eros falls in love with Psyche himself and spirits her away to his home. Their fragile peace is ruined by a visit from Psyche's jealous sisters, who cause Psyche to betray the trust of her husband. Wounded, Eros leaves his wife, and Psyche wanders the Earth, looking for her lost love. Eventually, she approaches Aphrodite and asks for her help. Aphrodite imposes a series of difficult tasks on Psyche, which she is able to achieve by means of supernatural assistance. After successfully completing these tasks, Aphrodite relents and Psyche becomes immortal to live alongside her husband Eros. Together they had a daughter, Voluptas or Hedone (meaning physical pleasure, bliss), the basis for our word hedonistic.

Aphrodite, Eros and Pan, 1st century BCE at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor zde.

 Eros (Cupid) and Psyche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Antonio Canova, 1794, courtesy of the museum.

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