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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Awakening of Cupid
By Apuleius (c. 125–c. 180)
 
        
From ‘The Metamorphoses’: translation of Bohn Library, revised
  
  [The radical difference in the constituent parts of the ‘Golden Ass’ is startling, and is well illustrated by the selection given previously and that which follows. The story of the “drummer” comports exactly with the modern idea of realism in fiction: a vivid and unflinching picture of manners and morals, full of broad coarse humor and worldly wit. The story of Cupid and Psyche is the purest, daintiest, most poetic of fancies; in essence a fairy tale that might be told of an evening by the fire-light in the second century or the nineteenth, but embodying also a high and beautiful allegory, and treated with a delicate art which is in extreme contrast with the body of the ‘Golden Ass.’ The difference is almost as striking as between Gray’s lampoon on “Jemmy Twitcher” and his ‘Bard’ or ‘Elegy’; or between Aristophanes’s revels in filth and his ecstatic soarings into the heavenliest regions of poetry.
  The contrast is even more rasping when we remember that the tale is not put into the mouth of a girl gazing dreamily into the glowing coals on the hearth, or of some elegant reciter amusing a social group in a Roman drawing-room or garden, but of a grizzled hag who is maid of all work in a robbers’ cave. She tells it to divert the mind of a lovely young bride held for ransom. It begins like a modern fairy tale, with a great king and queen who had “three daughters of remarkable beauty,” the loveliest being the peerless Psyche. Even Venus becomes envious of the honors paid to Psyche’s charms, and summons Cupid to wing one of his shafts which shall cause her “to be seized with the most burning love for the lowest of mankind,” so as to disgrace and ruin her. Cupid undertakes the task, but instead falls in love with her himself. Meanwhile an oracle from Apollo, instigated by Venus, dooms her to be sacrificed in marriage to some unknown aërial monster, who must find her alone on a naked rock. She is so placed, awaiting her doom in terror; but the zephyrs bear her away to the palace of Love. Cupid hides her there, lest Venus wreak vengeance on them both: and there, half terrified but soon soothed, in the darkness of night she hears from Cupid that he, her husband, is no monster, but the fairest of immortals. He will not disclose his identity, however; not only so, but he tenderly warns her that she must not seek to discover it, or even to behold him, till he gives permission, unless she would bring hopeless disaster on both. Nor must she confide in her two sisters, lest their unwisdom or sudden envy cause harm.
  The simple-hearted and affectionate girl, however, in her craving for sympathy, cannot resist the temptation to boast of her happiness to her sisters. She invites them to pass a day in her magnificent new home, and tells contradictory stories about her husband. Alas! they depart bitterly envious, and plotting to make her ruin her own joy out of fear and curiosity.]


“WHAT are we to say, sister, [said one to the other] of the monstrous lies of that silly creature? At one time her husband is a young man, with the down just showing itself on his chin; at another he is of middle age, and his hair begins to be silvered with gray…. You may depend upon it, sister, either the wretch has invented these lies to deceive us, or else she does not know herself how her husband looks. Whichever is the case, she must be deprived of these riches as soon as possible. And yet, if she is really ignorant of her husband’s appearance, she must no doubt have married a god, and who knows what will happen? At all events, if—which heaven forbid—she does become the mother of a divine infant, I shall instantly hang myself. Meanwhile let us return to our parents, and devise some scheme based on what we have just been saying.”
  1
  The sisters, thus inflamed with jealousy, called on their parents in a careless and disdainful manner; and after being kept awake all night by the turbulence of their spirits, made all haste at morning to the rock, whence, by the wonted assistance of the breeze, they descended swiftly to Psyche, and with tears squeezed out by rubbing their eyelids, thus craftily addressed her:—  2
  “Happy indeed are you, and fortunate in your very ignorance of so heavy a misfortune. There you sit, without a thought of danger; while we, your sisters, who watch over your interests with the most vigilant care, are in anguish at your lost condition. For we have learned as truth, and as sharers in your sorrows and misfortunes cannot conceal it from you, that it is an enormous serpent, gliding along in many folds and coils, with a neck swollen with deadly venom, and prodigious gaping jaws, that secretly sleeps with you by night. Remember the Pythian Oracle. Besides, a great many of the husbandmen, who hunt all round the country, and ever so many of the neighbors, have observed him returning home from his feeding-place in the evening. All declare, too, that he will not long continue to pamper you with delicacies, but will presently devour you. Will you listen to us, who are so anxious for your precious safety, and avoiding death, live with us secure from danger, or die horribly? But if you are fascinated by your country home, or by the endearments of a serpent, we have at all events done our duty toward you, like affectionate sisters.”  3
  Poor, simple, tender-hearted Psyche was aghast with horror at this dreadful story; and quite bereft of her senses, lost all remembrance of her husband’s admonitions and of her own promises, and hurled herself headlong into the very abyss of calamity. Trembling, therefore, with pale and livid cheeks and an almost lifeless voice, she faltered out these broken words:—  4
  “Dearest sisters, you have acted toward me as you ought, and with your usual affectionate care; and indeed, it appears to me that those who gave you this information have not invented a falsehood. For, in fact, I have never yet beheld my husband’s face, nor do I know at all whence he comes. I only hear him speak in an undertone by night, and have to bear with a husband of an unknown appearance, and one that has an utter aversion to the light of day. He may well, therefore, be some monster or other. Besides, he threatens some shocking misfortune as the consequence of indulging any curiosity to view his features. So, then, if you are able to give any aid to your sister in this perilous emergency, don’t delay a moment.”  5
 
  [One of them replies:—]  6
  “Since the ties of blood oblige us to disregard peril when your safety is to be insured, we will tell you the only means of safety. We have considered it over and over again. On that side of the bed where you are used to lie, conceal a very sharp razor; and also hide under the tapestry a lighted lamp, well trimmed and full of oil. Make these preparations with the utmost secrecy. After the monster has glided into bed as usual, when he is stretched out at length, fast asleep and breathing heavily, as you slide out of bed, go softly along with bare feet and on tiptoe, and bring out the lamp from its hiding-place; then having the aid of its light, raise your right hand, bring down the weapon with all your might, and cut off the head of the creature at the neck. Then we will bring you away with all these things, and if you wish, will wed you to a human creature like yourself.”  7
 
  [They then depart, fearing for themselves if they are near when the catastrophe happens.]  8
  But Psyche, now left alone, except so far as a person who is agitated by maddening Furies is not alone, fluctuated in sorrow like a stormy sea; and though her purpose was fixed and her heart was resolute when she first began to make preparations for the impious work, her mind now wavered, and feared. She hurried, she procrastinated; now she was bold, now tremulous; now dubious, now agitated by rage; and what was the most singular thing of all, in the same being she hated the beast and loved the husband. Nevertheless, as the evening drew to a close, she hurriedly prepared the instruments of her enterprise.  9
  The night came, and with it her husband. After he fell asleep, Psyche, to whose weak body and spirit the cruel influence of fate imparted unusual strength, uncovered the lamp, and seized the knife with the courage of a man. But the instant she advanced, she beheld the very gentlest and sweetest of all creatures, even Cupid himself, the beautiful God of Love, there fast asleep; at sight of whom, the joyous flame of the lamp shone with redoubled vigor, and the sacrilegious dagger repented the keenness of its edge.  10
  But Psyche, losing the control of her senses, faint, deadly pale, and trembling all over, fell on her knees, and made an attempt to hide the blade in her own bosom; and this no doubt she would have done had not the blade, dreading the commission of such a crime, glided out of her rash hand. And now, faint and unnerved as she was, she felt herself refreshed at heart by gazing upon the beauty of those divine features. She looked upon the genial locks of his golden head, teeming with ambrosial perfume, the circling curls that strayed over his milk-white neck and roseate cheeks, and fell gracefully entangled, some before and some behind, causing the very light of the lamp itself to flicker by their radiant splendor. On the shoulders of the god were dewy wings of brilliant whiteness; and though the pinions were at rest, yet the tender down that fringed the feathers wantoned to and fro in tremulous, unceasing play. The rest of his body was smooth and beautiful, and such as Venus could not have repented of giving birth to. At the foot of his bed lay his bow, his quiver, and his arrows, the auspicious weapons of the mighty god.  11
  While with insatiable wonder and curiosity Psyche is examining and admiring her husband’s weapons, she draws one of the arrows out of the quiver, and touches the point with the tip of her thumb to try its sharpness; but happening to press too hard, for her hand still trembled, she punctured the skin, so that some tiny drops of rosy blood oozed forth. And thus did Psyche, without knowing it, fall in love with Love. Then, burning more and more with desire for Cupid, gazing passionately on his face, and fondly kissing him again and again, her only fear was lest he should wake too soon.  12
  But while she hung over him, bewildered with delight so overpowering, the lamp, whether from treachery or baneful envy, or because it longed to touch, and to kiss as it were, so beautiful an object, spirted a drop of scalding oil from the summit of its flame upon the right shoulder of the god…. The god, thus scorched, sprang from the bed, and seeing the disgraceful tokens of forfeited fidelity, started to fly away, without a word, from the eyes and arms of his most unhappy wife. But Psyche, the instant he arose, seized hold of his right leg with both hands, and hung on to him, a wretched appendage to his flight through the regions of the air, till at last her strength failed her, and she fell to the earth.  13
 
 
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