The Union of Cupid and Psyche, part 4/4: Psyche in Hell, and the Wedding of Cupid and Psyche

Psyche in Hell:

So far, with the help of the ants, the reeds, and Zeus himself, Psyche had completed all of Aphrodite’s increasingly demanding tasks. For the fourth task however, Aphrodite’s plan took a decidedly dark turn:

She told Psyche that healing her son, Cupid, had drained of her beauty and vitality. The only person who could restore her was Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.

Given that the Gods were planning a feast, she needed to regenerate. If only Psyche could help her, maybe she could be persuaded to bless their union…

Psyche knew that this was a trap. While a few people had made the return trip from Hades – Orpheus being one example – it was usually a one-way journey. She had already skirted the Underworld and had only survived by the grace of Zeus. This time, she would have to physically pass the threshold, and entreat Persephone herself.

Once again, Psyche despaired. She climbed up a tower, and prepared to throw herself to her death, much as she had before Cupid had rescued her.

As she prepared to hurl herself to her fate, the Tower spoke…

The Tower:

The tower gave her directions to the Underworld. He then gave her further counsel:

Besides taking a box to bring back Persephone’s gift, she was instructed to take honeyed barley cakes to distract Cerberus, the three headed Hellhound that guards Hades. She was also to take two coins, hidden in her mouth, to pay Charon, the ferryman, to safely bring her back and forth across the River Styx.

More importantly, she was told to ignore the pleas of the damned, pitiable as they might be. She would cross a lame man driving a mule burdened by sticks, a dead man swimming in the waters, and crones toiling at the looms.

Given this information, Psyche headed to beg Persephone’s help in Hell…

Psyché dans les Enfers – Eugène Ernest Hillemacher, 1818-1887. Charon rows her; note the box she holds, the dead man in the water, the old weavers on the shore and Cerberus in the background.


The Box:

Persephone was moved by Psyche’s plea, as well as her courage in coming so far for love.

She filled the box and sent Psyche on her way.

Interestingly enough, Persephone is one of the less vengeful Goddesses in the Greek cannon, especially considering her role as Queen of the Damned. However, there are usually conditions attached to her boons; once again, consider Orpheus and Eurydice.

Also consider Pandora*, which begs the question:

Do the Greeks ever read their own myths?

Apparently not…

Was Psyche trying to steal Aphrodite’s beauty? Was she just curious about what was in the box?

Regardless of her motivation, her action seems as inevitable as Orpheus’ turning around at the last moment, dooming his wife to stay trapped in Hades.

As soon as she was back in the world of the living, she peered into the box.

All she found was…


*[technically, Pandora had a vase, not a box. But the question still stands: why open a potentially cursed object?]


The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche

In the meantime, Cupid’s burns had healed, and he fled from Aphrodite’s house in search of Psyche. Finding her in a death-like trance, he used one of his arrows to wake her, and escorted her to present Aphrodite with the box.

He then went straight to Zeus.

Zeus, being Zeus, made Cupid a deal. If Cupid promised to help him with his next sexual conquest, he would put Aphrodite in her place, and bless Cupid’s union with Psyche.

Cupid readily agreed.

Zeus convened a feast of the Gods. There, he gifted Psyche with Ambrosia, making her immortal and thereby Cupid’s equal. He also made a comment – rather cynically – that this marriage would hopefully calm Cupid down and redeem him for all of the adultery he had caused in the past.

And so, for once, we have a Greek myth with a happy ending…

Banchetto nuziale – The Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche, Raphael, 1517


Cupid and Psyche’s Daughter:

And so, what came of this union?

The Goddess of Pleasure, Enjoyment and Delight.

Praised by the Epicureans, despised by the Stoics, she is a Goddess whose altar we have all probably visited…

Some of us more than others…

Her name:

Hedone (Voluptus for the Romans).

So, if anyone accuses you of being a hedonist (or better yet, an Epicurean (‘all things in moderation, including moderation’)), just remember:

We can all blame Psyche and Cupid…

Amor and Psyche, Jacopo Zucchi, 1589; housed in the Borghese Gallery, Rome.

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