A Very Short Commentary on Amor & Psyche

Psyche Opening The Golden Box by John William Waterhouse

In the introduction to his excellent compilation of Classic French Fairy Tales Jack Zipes noted that Moliere and Corneille’s production of Psyche “played a role in the development of the beauty-and-the-beast motif in the works of Mme. d’Aulnoy”.  The tale referred to is “The Green Serpent” (also known as “The Green Snake”), written during the period of the French `salon faerie tales during the reign of the Sun King(Louis XIV) (which in its turn inspired a delightful movement in Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite). However, Laidronette is not the only tale that has been influenced by this legend. The beauty and the beast motif may in fact be found in various folktales. This tale type requires a quest, and an act of redemption via love and/or forgiveness. This includes the different variations of “The Beauty and the Beast” and the Norweigen folktale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. If we draw the connection even farther then indubitably, my favourite Scottish ballad “Tam Lin” also falls within this category of mysterious, magical lovers in beastly-or not so beastly garb. Coincidentally, all of them needed to be rescued, in some way. Which is probably what drew me in the first place, the very idea that fairytale damsels are not totally in distress. In fact, in an inordinate amount of tales they seem to be the hero!

One of the earliest, if not the first instance of the tale, or rather, allegory of Cupid and Psyche, appeared in Lucius Apuleius’s “The Golden Ass”. In Apuleius’s work, the allegory is related in the manner of a tale within a tale. The allegory here is of the human soul being tormented and then led onto the road to love. Psyche is also the Greek word for ‘soul’ while the Latins call love Cupido. I’ve always found it interesting that the embodiment of the human soul comes in the guise of a woman while love comes in the guise of a man (or an older woman, if you take into account the role Venus plays in these proceedings) — and in my old age I find that rather problematic.

Another haunting version of the myth may be found in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, a story that resonates deeply with me even though I read it after I had written my eighteen page long “Stormlight” epic poem in 1996, leading to the creation of my hypertext web which in its turn inspired my Watermaidens Trilogy (in progress), a three book long epic fantasy based in part on this mythic/folklore type.

Further Reading

Related Books: A Reading List

  1. Fable of Cupid and Psyche by Thomas Taylor (Translator), Adaurensis Apuleius, Manly P. Hall (Preface)
  2. The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius
  3. The Golden Ass of Apuleius: The Liberation of the Feminine in Man by Marie-Louise von Franz
  4. Till we have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S Lewis,Fritz Eichenberg (Illustrator)
  5. Beauty and the Beast : And Other Classic French Fairy Tales by Jack David Zipes (Editor)
  6. Amor and Psyche by Erich Neumann, Ralph Manheim (Translator)
  7. Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Fable; or Stories of Gods and Heroes by Thomas Bulfinch