Psyche and her two sisters

Once a king and queen had three beautiful daughters. The two elder ones were so stunning it was only just possible to find words to describe them - but Psyche, the youngest, well, she just took away the power of speech entirely from all who set eyes on her. From all over her father's kingdom, and from abroad too tourists queued up in their thousands daily just to catch a glimpse of her. Rumours flew: some said she was Venus herself, come down to earth in mortal guise. Others said she was a new goddess of Love, who, because she was a virgin, was better even than Venus. Soon Venus' own temples and shrines were ignored as more and more people flocked to adore the princess. No one even bothered to sweep them or clean up the bird-droppings any more - and gradually the temples themselves became neglected ruins.

Whenever she left the palace the young princess was followed by crowds of admirers; on every walk she collected armfuls of flowers presented by her worshippers. Naturally the real Venus began to get more and more jealous, and more and more furious. She said to herself: "Who is this mortal girl who dares to seduce my worshippers? I'm supposed to be happy with whatever's left when they've finished their sacrifices to her? It's ridiculous! I'm the one who won the golden apple! I'm the most beautiful thing in the universe! It's not fair! I'll soon make this pathetic little tart sorry - she'll wish she was ugly as a toad before I've finished with her." These and other nasty vindictive thoughts surged through the goddess' mind.

At once she sent for her son, Cupid, that evil brat of hers who spends his time breaking up marriages and ruining decent people's lives with his little bow and arrows. How he'd enjoy tormenting the young princess, she thought. "Darling, I know how much your mummy means to you. That horrid girl whose cult is now bigger than mine - I want you to make sure she falls in love. With a man who is a loser, a total waster, a reject, an utter tosspot and complete scumbag. The ugliest man in the entire world."

Venus kissed her son and took off, flying lightly over the waves, as all the sea-gods and sea-goddesses calmed the ocean for her, singing in harmony as they bobbed above the waves.

Meanwhile Psyche was getting sick and tired of all the unwelcome attention. Everyone stared at her, but no one dared speak to her, let alone ask her out. Not even visiting kings and princes from other lands. What made it worse was that her less gorgeous sisters had already found royal husbands, and moved away. She stayed at home, alone, miserable and depressed, and began to hate her beauty. She fell ill, and nothing seemed to make her feel any better. Her father, worried that her sickness was due the gods' anger in some way, went to the oracle of Apollo at Miletus, begging the god to tell him where his poor daughter would find a husband. This was the reply:

Dress up the girl for her wedding now
Take her to a mountain's lofty brow.
No mortal man will Psyche wed
An evil beast shall claim her bed.
This devil's winged and carries arms
Not even the gods escape his charms.
Jupiter loathes this flying blight
And Hell itself can't stand the sight.

The poor king, usually a laid-back kind of guy, was mightily upset by this news. But they couldn't waste time brooding - the oracle had to be obeyed. Poor Psyche's wedding procession was more like a funeral. The bride was in tears, and the streets were lined with mourners, as the dreadful procession headed towards the mountain. She told her parents: "It's too late to do anything now: you should have acted when the people started treating me like a goddess. You should have stopped it. My wedding is Venus' revenge - I see it now. But I am not afraid. I am looking forward to meeting my new husband, even if he is the destroyer of the universe." She said this bravely, not really believing it, and marched on to the top of the hill, where they had to leave her. Everyone went home. Her parents locked up the palace, and just sat there in the dark, utterly dejected.

Psyche was now alone on the hilltop, weeping and trembling. Gradually a breeze sprang up. It played with her dress, blowing gently underneath it, until it lifted her off the ground and softly carried her down into a valley beneath the hill, where she found herself delicately laid down in a forest glade, on a beautiful soft grassy bank, amid flowers in profusion.

It was so lovely and cool that she began to feel better. She stopped crying and fell asleep. When she woke up, she started walking through the forest. She came to a stream she couldn't cross, so she followed it. Soon, through the trees she saw a palace - so much more beautiful even than her father's that she knew it must be the home of some god. The doors were open, and she felt herself drawn inside - she walked entranced through the large light rooms. The floors were covered in the most marvellous mosaics, and the walls seemed to be made of blocks of gold. Each room had costly furniture, hangings - and unimaginable treasures of unbelievable value were there for anyone to see - or steal. But there was not a single lock, nor any sign of guards or even servants.

Suddenly a soft female voice came out of nowhere: "Are you surprised? All this, and all these treasures are yours. Why not go to your bedroom and rest? You must be so tired. When you wake up, your bath will be ready. And after that it will be time for the wedding banquet."

She couldn't resist the invitation. She found her bedroom, and was amazed to find wardrobes crammed with fashionable clothes, and drawers full of delicious underwear. And all her size! She dozed again, and then found herself being undressed by unseen hands, led to her bath, washed, and dressed in the most wonderful wedding dress. As she wandered out of the bathroom, she saw a table, with a chair in front of it. She sat down and at once exotic delicacies to eat and delicious wines appeared - but the waiters or waitresses were invisible. After the meal was cleared away - by unseen hands - a lyre began to play, joined by an invisible choir. When the performance ended, she moved back to her bedroom and undressed.

It was after midnight when she realised she was not alone! Someone was in bed with her, whispering, caressing her, making love to her. It must be her husband (she hoped!), her unknown husband. But well before dawn he was gone, and she was left alone again. She fell into a deep sleep.

Psyche asleep