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Tales beyond belief

The Myth of Psyche
Psyche was the most beautiful maiden in Greece. So rare and wonderful was her beauty, and so sweet her temper, that everybody loved and praised her; and although there were many people who were unwise enough to express their opinions, even to the fair Psyche herself, she was not spoiled. She remained gentle and helpful, spinning and working in her father's palace.

Her fame went abroad, until at last the goddess Aphrodite heard of the Grecian maiden, whose beauty was said to excel even her own. She determined to punish Psyche for daring to be so beautiful, for Aphrodite was very jealous. Even since Paris had given her the golden apple, which bore the inscription. 'For The Fairest," and which Eris had thrown into the midst of a feast among the gods and goddesses,

Aphrodite had had no rival in beauty; and it angered her greatly that a mortal should dare comparison with her. So she called Eris, and bade him punish Psyche. Eris took two vases, and filled one with sweet, and the other with bitter water from the two fountains in Aphrodite's garden; and finding Psyche fast asleep, he poured some of the bitter water on her lips, which were as pretty and as pink as an opening rosebud. In doing so, he touched Psyche with one of his arrows, and she awoke. He could not bear to harm the little maiden, so he poured all of the sweet water over her golden curls, so that Aphrodite's charm could do her no harm. Then he ran away.

But Aphrodite was cruel. She sent troubles into Psyche's home, and by and by Psyche found out that she was the cause; and this so grieved her that she could not stay any longer where her presence brought harm to those she loved. One night she stole softly away, and wandered off by herself upon a lonely mountain. She climbed its rugged sides until she was too weary to go farther, and sitting down to rest, fell asleep. When Psyche awoke, she found herself in a beautiful garden. There were shady paths, sparkling fountains, and joyous songs from many birds. She wandered along one of the paths until she came to a beautiful palace. The steps were of pink and blue and white onyx. There were columns of onyx, with golden capitals and bases richly inlaid with gold. Before the door were hung rich draperies, which waved gently to and fro. Psyche was charmed.

While she was wondering who lived in the palace, a voice from an invisible some one said, " Fair lady, all that you see is yours. Enter, and be content." Psyche went into the palace, and wandered, delighted, through all of its rooms. She stopped in the banqueting hall, where a feast was spread, which was served by unseen hands. That evening as she sat alone, a pleasant voice again addressed her: "Fair Psyche, this is your home, and I am your friend. I will come often to talk with you, so that you shall never be lonely. But you must promise neither to try to see my face, nor to find out my name."

This was a strange request, but Psyche willingly promised. Many happy hours they spent in the gardens and in the halls of the palace. When Psyche heard the voice, always in the dusk of the evening, she sought not to find out whence it came. But, at her birth, Psyche had received another gift than that of beauty. This was not a desirable one. and had been given by an envious old woman. It was the dangerous gift of curiosity. For a long time she satisfied this in finding out many new and wonderful things about the palace. But at length she began to I wonder about her friend, and one evening she hid a little lamp in one of the vases in the court.

After talking with her invisible friend for some time, she stole softly forward and took the lamp from the vase. And whom do you think she saw? The rosy, blue-eyed little boy, Eros, who had taken this mode of getting Psyche out of the way of Aphrodite's anger. But when he saw the light, he knew that Psyche trusted him no longer; and without a word, he turned and flew away from the palace. Psyche ran swiftly after him, calling to him to come back : " Come back, Eros! I will trust vou. I will be kind to you, and we shall still be friends!" But Eros would not return.

Psvche ran far down u the mountain side; but though she wandered about for a long time, she searched in vain, for she could find no trace of her little friend. At length she came to the temple of Aphrodite; and hoping to gain the favor of the goddess by offering her service, she entered. Aphrodite said that she would forgive Psyche, but that she must first prove herself worthy by doing some difficult tasks.

She took Psyche into her store-room, where there were many large jars of mixed grains. "You must separate the grains and put them into these smaller vases," said Aphrodite. Psyche could never have done so great a task had it not been for the kindness of the tiny black ants, which left their sand cities and came to help her. So that at night, when Aphrodite came back, the task was done.

Yet another task Psyche performed by the help of the river-god, that of gathering the golden fleece from a flock of wild sheep. A third and more difficult task remained. Psyche's courage almost failed when Aphrodite bade her go to the regions of Hades in the Under-world, and ask Proserpine for a box of precious ointment. Proserpine, you know, was the princess who ruled for six months down in Hades' kingdom, because she ate the six pomegranate seeds, poor child! and during the other six months, she gladdened the earth and her mother, Demeter, with her smiles.

The way to Hades' kingdom, the Underworld, was difficult indeed. It was guarded by Cerberus, a three-headed monster; and there was a dark river, the Styx, across which Psyche was sure she could not pass. But when she arrived at the cave where the dog Cerberus lived, she found the three heads asleep, and gliding swiftly by, soon stood on the river's brink. "Who are you?" asked the dark ferryman, Charon. "I am Psyche, and am sent with a message to Proserpine. I beg you, good Charon, do not delay, but ferry me across." So Charon ferried Psyche across the Styx, and she soon found herself in Proserpine's glittering palace.

They made her welcome, and bade her partake of the feast which was spread beneath the dark arches of a splendid hall. Psyche did not tarry. She begged the ointment for the lady, Aphrodite, which Proserpine gave gladly, only saying, ' Do not open the box, Psyche. Be sure that it be kept carefully closed. ' Psyche promised, and hastened to return. Again she passed the dark river and the sleeping Cerberus in safety, and would have returned to Aphrodite with the ointment, if curiosity, her most fatal gift, had not again conquered.

She longed to see what the precious ointment was like, and lifting the lid, peeped in. At once a drowsiness took possession of her. She fell into a deep sleep from which she did not awaken until Eros found her. Shaking some drops of sweet water over her face, he said, Foolish Psyche! You have again been punished; but I will stay with you now. We will carry this to Aphrodite, and I am sure she will forgive you." So Eros and Psyche went together to Aphrodite, who had begun to feel quite ashamed of her selfishness, for she saw that Psyche really desired to be useful as well , as beautiful. She gave Psyche some of the nectar which made her immortal; and they were all very happy after that in their palace on Mount Olympus. 

The Legend and Myth about Psyche

The Myth of Psyche
The story of Psyche is featured in the book entitled Stories of Old Greece by Emma M. Firth first published 1895.

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