Cupid and Psyche: A Story of Love (Part 2)

by Brenda Kofford

In Part 1, we learn that men traveled from far and wide to admire the grace and beauty of Psyche, an astonishingly attractive mortal woman. In despair over the fact that his daughter did not fall in love and was not loved by any mortal man, Psyche's father goes to Apollo's oracle, who predicts that Psyche will marry a fearful winged serpent. At the close of Part 1, we find Psyche living with her immortal husband in a place of abundance and beauty. Her husband's sole request is that Psyche not gaze upon him when he lies beside her each night.

A Tearful Homecoming

When Psyche saw her two sisters, with tears of grief in their eyes, standing at the summit where she had been carried away by the wind, she went to them with joy in her heart. To comfort their sorrow and uncertainty, she described her beautiful home and told them of her marriage. Yet, feelings of anxiety and mistrust arose within her as she heard her sisters tell of how the oracle described her husband as a winged serpent whose appearance was appalling to the human eye. Doubts began to overshadow her husband's declarations of love as her sisters questioned why she had never seen her husband and asked why she had only been with him in darkness. Eventually, terror filled her heart with the belief that she was to be devoured by her husband in the dark of night. Psyche's sisters persuaded her to see her husband for the monster they thought him to be and to kill him so that she might live.

Betrayal, Regret, and Recompense

Soon afterwards, within the darkness of her home, Psyche stood beside her sleeping husband with a lighted candle in one hand and a knife in another. As she held the candle high above him, rapture filled her heart as she saw that her husband was not a hideous serpent, but rather the strikingly beautiful god of love, Cupid. As she bent to be closer to her husband, a drop of hot wax fell upon Cupid's shoulder and wakened him. When he saw his wife standing above him, his belief that she had been unfaithful caused him to flee their home, crying, "Love cannot live where there is no trust."

Psyche, torn by her failure to trust the god of love, set out alone on a journey to find him. She was determined to make herself so lovely that he would fall in love with her once more. After a long futile search, she reasoned that Cupid had gone to his mother's home and so too did she to meet with Venus, the goddess of love. She stood before the goddess and pleaded with her to help her reunite with her husband. To demonstrate her worthiness to reunite with Cupid, an immortal being, the scheming Venus set out four tasks for Psyche to accomplish, tasks so challenging that no mortal could accomplish them alone.

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 romantic attributes of 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, is often 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.

A Critical Transition

Cupid's desire to remain unseen by his beloved tells us that, while romantic love eases separateness and loneliness, it also aggravates fears of exposure, rejection, and vulnerability. To limit the expression of love to physical passion suggests that romantic love cannot exist in a light that exposes the true, less-than-perfect self to the other. The wish to shield or keep the "true" self hidden from the other instead leads to a loss of self and a relationship tainted by mistrust and anxiety. Ultimately, the feeling of ecstatic love fades and there is an awakening to the reality that the lovers are, once again, separate people.

In concrete terms, he wants to have sex; she doesn't. She wants to spend Christmas with her family, he doesn't. He wants a new car; she wants a house. She wants to talk about her feelings; he wants to watch the football game. She doesn't like his friends; he doesn't like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their own hearts, realize that their beloved has and will continue to have individual opinions, tastes, prejudices, and shortcomings. Gradually or suddenly, they fall out-of-love and either find a way to end the relationship, remain with the other with a secret hope that ecstatic love will return, or begin taking steps to build a new relationship defined by mature love.

Attaining Mature Love

It is through the interactions between Venus and Psyche that we identify the tasks that lead to mature love. Venus knew that Psyche began her search for Cupid because she was in love, not with Cupid, but with idealized romantic love. Growth for Psyche was the awakening to all of life from the gods and goddesses of the heavens to the smallest creatures on earth and the consciousness of an interdependence among all of these elements. Maturity requires the ability and will to sort through the seeds of family beliefs, values, and principles so that childhood myths and illusions about relationships can be discarded. To love is to extend ourselves beyond our fear of being vulnerable to seek the good we each desire within ourselves and in the other. To have our love endure, there is a need to develop the strength and resources to survive times of famine. To love another is to relinquish the hope that the other will be our idealized beloved; therefore, mature love rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of lost illusions.

Mature love began for Cupid when he resolved his ambivalence about leaving his childhood home. Legend also tells us that when Venus tired of Cupid's immaturity, she released him from his only-child status through the birth of his brother, Anteros, the god of reciprocal love. Therefore, love that lasts requires an acknowledgement that adult relationships are independent of those we have with parents, children, and friends. Mature love does not grow from a posture of dependency and physical appearances; it builds upon the growing autonomy of each so that one will survive the death of the other. To love another is to relinquish the intention to change the beloved. Mature love arises from the death of belief in one's own god-like powers as it flies towards the future on autonomous wings.

What can the story of Cupid and Psyche tell us about how to live "happily ever after"? Their story demonstrates that romantic love begins with idealized passions and physical attraction. And yet, it is only through the commitment of each lover to a process of integrating the internal awareness of love and soul individually that a mature union can emerge between them. It is mature love that provides children with a model by which to develop future relationships. Therefore, it is mature love that lives happily ever after in the generations yet to come.

Adapted, with permission, from Brenda Kofford's "Women in . . . Series eBook store" Web site, located at:

Date published: 3/1/01
Last updated: 30 Apr 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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