In fact Psyche had nearly reached the palace of Venus all by herself, when she felt herself being grabbed by the hair. It was one of Venus' less prepossessing slaves, who dragged her in front of the dread goddess. Did he get the promised reward? History, I'm afraid is silent on the matter!
"So, slut, you've come to introduce yourself to your mother-in-law at last, have you? Or have you come to see your husband, whose still very seriously ill because of that burn you gave him. But make yourself at home, do!" She shouted for her slaves. Their names were Pain and Agony - and they lost no time in carrying out their mistress' pleasure. Psyche was taken off and kicked, whipped and tortured. When they brought her back, Venus laughed maniacally.
"Look at the whore's belly. Tried to make grandmother of me did she? Me! A grandmother at my age! Some chance - even if I allow you to have the brat, it'll never be immortal. Your child will be a mongrel bastard!" And she flew at poor Psyche and ripped off her clothes, pulling her hair out in handfuls, and shaking her until she nearly shook her head right off. Then she decided to continue her revenge by more cunning means.
She led Psyche to a mixed heap of grains and seeds - wheat, barley, millet, lentils, beans, chickpeas and told her to sort them into separate piles - by nightfall. Psyche was too weak and depressed to do anything, but a friendly nest of ants set to work, and soon had it done for her. When Venus came home, a bit tipsy and reeking of perfume, she shouted at the poor girl: "You never did this yourself, you lazy slut. You seduced some poor wretch into doing it for you, you cheat!" Psyche went to bed, alone, thinking of her beloved - under the same roof, but so far away still.
Next day Venus had another job for her. She pointed to a wood by a stream. "There are some golden sheep in that wood. Go fetch me a tuft of their wool. Now!" Psyche went down to the stream - intending to have another shot at drowning herself. But some friendly reeds whispered to her: "We know how you're suffering, but don't kill yourself in our stream! And keep away from the wood. While the sun is high the sheep are mad killers - they butt any human who comes near them to death, or bite them with their poisonous teeth. Wait until the cool of evening - then they go to sleep, and you can pick up as much wool as you like where it's stuck on the thorn-bushes." So that's what she did, and took a while armful of golden wool back to the goddess.
"You don't fool me," she said. "You got some poor sucker to do it for you, didn't you, you cheat! So here's a real test for you. See that mountain? At the top there's a stream that gushes out of the rock, before tumbling down a cliff into the gorge below. Take this crystal pot, and fill it with ice-cold water from the place where the stream comes out of the mountainside." A terrible punishment lay in store if she came back empty-handed.
She set off - with suicide again in her thoughts. As she came close to the mountain, she realised what an impossible task it was. But help was at hand. An eagle, Jupiter's own pet, saw her and flew down. "Don't you realise that stream is the Styx? Even the gods are terrified of its waters. But I can reach it for you!" And he snatched the little jar, and - though not without difficulty - came back with it filled.
Venus was beside herself with rage when she discovered Psyche had achieved this task, too. "Here's one last task for you, sweetie," she hissed. "Take the jar to the Underworld. Give it to Queen Proserpine. Ask her to swap it for a little box of her special beauty, because Venus has none of her own left, after sitting up night after night with her sick son. And hurry up! I need it tonight."
Psyche realised this was a none-too-subtle death sentence. She decided that the quickest route to the Underworld would be to throw herself off a tower. But the tower was a friendly one, and gave some advice. "Yes, miss, you'll get there quick enough, but if you want to be able to come back, this is what you must do. Go to Taenarum, at the southernmost point of Greece. There you'll find a hole. Climb down into it, and you'll find a road that leads direct to King Pluto's palace. Take with you two pieces of barley bread, soaked in honey-water, and two coins. Carry a piece of bread in each hand, and the coins in your mouth. Venus will try to make you drop the bread - she'll send all sorts of apparitions, who'll try to make you feel sorry for them - a lame ass-driver, a poor floating corpse, three old ladies weaving cloth. You must ignore them all. The coins are for Charon, the ferryman who'll take you across the Styx - if you pay him.The sops are for Cerberus, the three-headed hound who guards the gates of Hell; throw him one, and he'll let you pass. Proserpine will give you what you ask for. Take it, and use the second sop, and the second coin to get out again safely. One last thing. Do not open the box on any account. Good luck!"
Well, what a nice tower! Psyche had done exactly as she's been told, and had got the box from Proserpine. She'd passed the dog, and crossed back over the Styx, and was very nearly home. But did I tell you she was stupid? She reasoned to herself: "It's silly not to have a quick peek inside the box - I could certainly use a tiny spot of that beauty to help me get my lover back." And so she opened it. She couldn't see any beauty inside it - or anything else. It contained an invisible cloud of Deathly Sleep, which enveloped her. She collapsed with the open box beside her.
Cupid was by now better. And desperate to find his love. His wings - all the stronger for their long rest carried him swiftly to where Psyche lay, wrapped in Sleep. He briskly brushed the Sleep off her, and put it back in the box. He woke Psyche with a tiny prick from one of his arrows. "No time to talk now," he said. "Finish the job my mother gave you, and leave the rest to me!"
He flew straight up to heaven, and threw himself at Jupiter's feet. Jupiter, despite the tricks which Cupid had played on him in the past had a soft spot for the boy. "I'll try to forget all those times you involved me in sordid affairs with mortal ladies," he chuckled. "What if I did have to turn myself into insects, swans or a farmyard bull? But let's put all that behind us. Find me a really attractive young mortal girl - whoever's the one they're all talking about at the moment, and leave your mother to me."
All the Immortals were officially commanded to come to Olympus. When they'd got themselves comfortable, Jupiter made an announcement. "You all know Cupid, that mischievous brat who's always tempting one or other of us to some sinful liaison with some mortal or other. Well, the time has come to domesticate him. Married, with a family and responsibilities of his own, he won't be able to do so much damage. I sentence him to live for ever with the girl he seduced. She is his to have and to hold from this time forth." Seeing Venus squirming he turned to her and said: "Don't fret, my dear. Your son will not be marrying beneath him." And he had Mercury fetch Psyche. He took a cup of divine nectar and handed it to her. "Come Psyche my sweet," he boomed. "Drink this, and become immortal! Cupid will be your husband now and for ever."
There followed a feast - wines by courtesy of Bacchus, food served by Vulcan; flowers by the Hours and Graces; music by Apollo. Thus Psyche was married again, properly this time, to Cupid. Skillful dress-making concealed her bulge - but in much less than nine months she produced Venus' first grandchild, a beautiful girl they called Pleasure.
|Read the book? (The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves)?||See the credits?|