It was evident the girl had been crying earlier, but this made no difference to Charon. She composed herself, looked into his terrible visage, and replied:
“I seek passage to the underworld.”
There was a long pause. Slowly, Charon shook his head in puzzlement.
“You will eventually arrive there anyway. All mortals do. Most are not so eager for me to take them across the River Styx. Or if they are, they use other methods that are just as effective in ending their lives. Why do you, so young and full of life, wish to enter the land of the dead while still living.”
“It is a sad tale. A very sad tale,” the woman signed. “I am here because I love someone so much, I cannot bear the thought of living without him. But in order to win him, I must enter the underworld and complete a special task, otherwise I will lose him forever. Better to remain with the dead if that were to happen, because I could not live with my grief.”
There was another long pause as Charon considered this information. Finally, he said:
“I have never done it before, but I know of no law which forbids me from taking a living mortal to the underworld. I suppose the gods never considered that a mortal would be so determined. Or foolish.”
The girl stepped forward, but Charon abruptly extended a cadaverous hand, open and waiting. The girl sighed, tears welling in her eyes once more.
“I do not have the payment,” she said, weeping. “Before I arrived, I was waylaid by thieves, who stole all the money I had.”
“That is unfortunate, but not my concern,” Charon said. “All who ride in my boat must pay the toll of the dead. There are no exceptions.”
The girl’s crying now turned to bitter sobs.
“Please kill me now,” she begged. “Even if I have to wander the earth as a spirit, better that than to live without my love.”
“I do not kill, girl,” Charon rasped. “Nor do you need me. There many ways in which you could end your life easily. Still, that would be a great waste, and while I do not concern myself with the petty lives of mortals, I can appreciate the great risk and possible sacrifice you are undertaking for another. So I will make you a bargain. You say the reason you are here is a sad tale – well, tell it to me then. If I find it entertaining, I will consider it sufficient payment to ferry you across the Styx.”
“All right,” the woman replied. “It will do no harm to tell you. My name is Psyche, and I suppose you could say I was born under a curse. A curse of being too beautiful…”
The Foolishness of Youth
Psyche told Charon that she a princess of Attica, the only child of King Xanthus and Queen Callista. Even as a little child, Psyche explained, she had always been told she was beautiful.
“I guess I was a little spoiled,” she admitted. “Because I never saw the danger when it started.”
Psyche explained that everything was fine in her life until her fifteenth birthday. Like all children, Psyche’s parents held a coming of age party to celebrate her reaching maturity.
“A few boys, the ones who were always trying to get my attention, decided to build a shrine in my honor,” she explained. “One boy declared himself my ‘high priest,’ while others announced their worship of me.”
“Unfortunate,” Charon observed, who had previously heard of such things.
“I told them they are were being foolish. And silly,” she sighed. “But they would not listen. When I told them I was not a goddess, they insisted that only a true goddess would deny her divinity. I found such attention very flattering, so I just laughed and made little attempt to discourage it. But what started as harmless teasing grew more serious over time. My ‘worship’ spread as people built more shrines to me as well as small temples, declaring that I was as beautiful as Aphrodite.
“Very unfortunate, and very foolish,” Charon said.
“I know, I know. And my parents, who have always been proud of my beauty, did nothing to discourage this. I know now that both they and I should have taken steps to stop things before they went too far. But it seemed so harmless at the time, and I enjoyed it so much that we never saw or sensed the danger.”
The full realization of the danger came a few years later, during a feast of celebration in honor of Aphrodite, Psyche explained. During the annual holiday, it was customary for worshipers to bring food, money and beautiful objects of art to the goddess’ great temple in Attica for tribute. The ruling family traditionally performs important ceremonial functions during the celebration, Psyche said. And it was during those functions that things went horribly wrong…
“Psyche, keep looking straight ahead and hold your head high,” Queen Callista whispered to her daughter as they stood before the statue of Aphrodite in the center of the temple. The statue was over 20 feet tall and beautifully crafted in white marble, dominating the room with its towering presence. It was said that the goddess herself had posed for the artist who carved the statue, and all who saw it believed the story, for it seemed to breathe and appeared to be on the verge of speaking at any moment. At the foot of the statue was an altar, and the king, queen, and Psyche were about to present their sacrifices to Aphrodite, signaling the beginning ceremonies which highlighted the celebration.
“I present this tribute, unworthy as it is, to the great Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, of whom I am but nothing in her sight,” King Xanthus intoned. Carefully, the king placed several precious stones – all flawless, of course – on the altar and bowing, stepped away. Cheers and salutations to the king were made by many of the hundreds gathered in the temple, taking part in the ceremony.
Queen Callista next stepped forward.
“I present this tribute, unworthy as it is, to the great Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, of whom I am but nothing in her sight,” she said, placing on the altar jewelry of the highest quality that she had crafted especially for the occasion. More cheers, this time in the queen’s honor, were made by those attending the event.
Psyche came forward, carrying four pure white doves – the sacred birds of the goddess – which had been specially bred and raised for her offering. She was about to make the incantation of tribute to the goddess, when someone called out:
“All hail, Psyche, the living embodiment of Aphrodite!”
A horrified hush fell over the room. Psyche never learned who said it, although she was certain it was one of her friends. Such things had been said about her before, but it had been done in a private, teasing way and she had laughed it off while giving them a gentle chiding. But this, said in public during a religious ceremony to Aphrodite, was the height of sacrilege to the goddess. Confused, Psyche remained motionless, wondering if she should complete her part of the ritual, or call out a denial about what had been said.
Then, a low rumbling began throughout the temple, as the floor began to shake and heave. People screamed the statue shifted on its base, tilting dangerously toward Psyche in the process. The girl was barely able to get out of the way in time as it fell to the floor with a loud crash, shattering in the process.
The statue’s head skidded to a halt at Psyche’s feet, the once lovely face now cracked and warped into a mask of malice which seemed to glare hatefully at girl.
The priests were darting among the worshipers, informing them that they must leave the temple immediately. King Xanthus turned to leave, but the high priest came over and spoke in angry terse whispers, pausing occasionally to give Psyche a disapproving glare.
“Psyche, go home,” King Xanthus finally said.
But Father, I…” she began.
“Go!” he ordered in a voice he had never used on her before. “Your mother and I will join you when we can, but we must wait here until the priests take the omens. After you arrive home, do not leave until we return. Understand?”
Wordlessly, Psyche nodded, embracing her father and mother briefly before leaving the temple. Obediently, she went straight home, went to her room, and lay down in bed, trembling in fear as she wondered what would come. For she could not get that terrible image out of her mind – the face of Aphrodite’s statue after it had fallen to the floor.
The hours dragged by and Psyche eventually fell asleep, exhausted from the day’s events.
The next thing the girl knew, she was awakened by a gentle shake on the shoulder by Queen Callista.
Oh Mother, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said.
“It’s all right, child. Your father and returned last night. We decided to let you sleep until sunrise,” queen said.
“Sunrise? You mean I slept the night? I didn’t realize…”
“Never mind Psyche, it is of no importance,” Queen Calllista said. “We have to prepare for a journey.”
“A journey? Where are we going, Mother?”
“To a summit, overlooking a valley, about a day’s ride from here,” Queen Callista explained.
“What are we going to do once we get there?” Psyche asked.
Callista signed, then took a deep breath.
“After you left the temple Psyche, the priests consulted the omens, then informed us what Aphrodite has commanded be done in order to appease her,” Callista said. “Your father and I must escort you to the summit, Psyche, then leave you to your fate.”
“Mother, please, I did nothing wrong,” Psyche began.
“I know, I know, Psyche. But it makes no difference to the goddess. If we disobey her orders, Aphrodite has threatened to inflict Attica with pestilence, plagues and other catastrophes. Your father and I love you Psyche with all our hearts, and we would both gladly die for you. But that would not be enough, if Aphrodite’s commands are not carried out, she will no doubt destroy the entire kingdom out of spite. That cannot be allowed to happen.”
Callista began to weep, causing Psyche to embrace her.
“I understand, Mother. If it is my duty to be sacrificed for the good of Attica, then so be it.”
“Spoken like a true daughter of noble blood,” Callista said. “You make me so proud.”
Psyche bathed and changed in preparation for the trip. But in choosing what to wear, Callista presented the girl with a special dress she had not seen before.
“I hoped to give it to you on a happier occasion,” the queen said, once more fighting sobs. “But I give it now in honor of the sacrifice you are about to make.”
The dress was pure white, long and flowing and made of the softest material Psyche had ever felt.
“It looks like a wedding dress,” Psyche observed after she put it on.
“Yes it does,” Callista said, then quickly left the room, not wanting her daughter to see her again burst into tears.
Psyche gathered a few items she thought she would need on the trip, and then went into the main room where she found her mother waiting. Xanthus entered a few moments later.
“Did you tell her?” the king asked his wife. Callista nodded.
“Even…,” he began.
“Psyche,” Callista said abruptly, cutting her husband off. “Could you please check with the royal groom and make certain all our mounts are ready for the trip. We will be leaving shortly.”
Puzzled, the girl did as she was told. It was even more puzzling when the groom informed her all the horses had been ready since the king gave him the order to prepare them an hour before. But Psyche decided not to press the issue when her parents came out and they wordlessly mounted and road toward their destination in silence.
The trip was a gloomy affair, but uneventful, as they traveled across the countryside. Normally, guards or troops would have accompanied them, but Xanthus informed Psyche he felt it best they travel alone. It was late in the afternoon when they arrived at their destination – a high cliff overlooking a deep valley with no road or path offering access.
Both Xanthus and Callista embraced the girl and said their farewells.
“I am sorry, Psyche, truly sorry to do this. If there was some other way, I swear to you, I would take it,” the king said.
“Everything will be all right, Father,” Psyche assured. “I will wait here and meet my fate bravely. Do you know how long I will have to wait?”
“Not long, not long at all,” Xanthus gasped, struggling to maintain control. Callista was crying softly in her hands, and the king gestured to her. The two silently mounted their steeds, taking Psyche’s horse with them, leaving their daughter standing on the summit.
“I believe we should have told her,” Xanthus said when they were safely far enough away.
“What good would it have done,” Callista said, shaking her head sadly.
“She is entitled to know her fate,” Xanthus observed.
“Her fate? Her sentence, you mean,” Callista said bitterly. “Sentenced by a jealous goddess; cursed to fall in love with the most ugly, hideous monster in all creation before the day is out. A creature that will devour her, if she is fortunate, and if not – Oh Lord Zeus, please have mercy on my child’s soul!” Callista wailed.
Blissfully unaware of this, Psyche waited patiently back at the summit. She wondered what Aphrodite would do, and considered other fates the gods had decreed for mortals who had offended them. Psyche had heard a tale of another mortal woman whose hair had been transformed into snakes by Aphrodite, and she shuddered at the thought.
Having no other way to pass the time, Psyche began to sing to herself. Her song rose and filled the area. Several butterflies flew up to her and landed on her shoulders and head. This brought a smile and some pleasant memories that helped lessen some of the sadness she was feeling. Psyche recalled how her mother told her that when she was born, a swarm of butterflies flew into the room, inspiring Callista to give Psyche her name.
More time passed, and the shadows grew longer. Psyche began to wonder if she would have to spend the night on the cliff, and wished that Aphrodite would implement whatever fate she had planned for her.
“Great Aphrodite, hear me.” Psyche called. “I did not mean any disrespect to you at the temple, and I am truly sorry for what happened. But if you cannot forgive me, at least do what you have to do. Please, I beg of you, let it be done quickly.”
Silence. And yet, Psyche began to sense that something was amiss. She had a feeling that she was being watched intently by unseen eyes. Suddenly, she saw some nearby trees move gently, even though there was no wind. Then, just below the threshold of her hearing, Psyche felt a whisper of laughter traveling through the air.
“Who is there? Please show yourself,” Psyche said.
Again, silence. But this time, Psyche was certain something was nearby, something which was moving closer. She looked around, wondering if she should flee, but then thought the better of it. Whatever Aphrodite had planned, Psyche knew it could easily find her no matter where she tried to hide. Better to face her fate bravely than to be run down like some hunted animal.
“Whoever or whatever you are, please reveal yourself and do what you have to do,” Psyche pleaded. “Do not use me like a cat uses a mouse, finish this now, I beg of you!”
At that moment, the sun-god Helios finished his daily trip across the sky, disappearing below the horizon in the west, and the night ruled throughout the area. In the darkness, a great wind abruptly sprang up, but Psyche had no time to scream, as she was lifted from the ground. As the air swirled swiftly around her, Psyche sensed that someone or something was carrying her, and she started to struggle. But then, a voice whispered in her ear.
“Be not afraid.”
Psyche relaxed, and the unseen thing carried her through the sky. The trip lasted only a short time, and Psyche soon realized they were descending gently to the earth as the swirling winds died away as abruptly as they had come. Psyche felt herself being lowered and then felt wonderfully soft cushions surrounding her body.
“Rest now, Psyche, you are quite safe. Nothing will harm you here,” the voice said.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“A friend, a good friend,” the voice replied. “I will return tomorrow after nightfall, and we will speak of many things. Sleep now, beloved, and in the morning you will see your new home. All your needs will be provided for, I promise.”
Psyche then heard a sound which seemed to indicate movement. Although she could not see, Psyche sensed that the unseen person had left.
The day’s events had tired the girl out, and so she had little trouble falling asleep. Before she did, though, Psyche pondered the mysterious voice, wondering to whom it belonged. It was male, that much she was certain, and it had a youthful ring to it. But there was nothing else she could tell about her unknown benefactor. But as she drifted off, one thing kept running through her mind – why had the voice referred to her as “beloved?”
The next morning, Psyche arose and discovered she was in a spacious room. A luxurious divan had served as her bed, and she saw a second one nearby as well. She intended to go exploring, but before she could do so, a door opened and two young women, just a few years younger than herself, entered with food and clothing.
“My lady, we are your handmaidens,” the first girl said. “I am Seneca and this is my sister Saylor. We are to attend to your needs and see that you have everything you desire.”
Psyche thanked the two young women, and realizing that she had not had anything to eat since the day before, eagerly accepted the meal the two offered for breakfast. Afterward, Seneca and Saylor helped Psyche bath and change, and then took her on a tour of the house.
The building was spacious and airy, extremely bright and cheerful, with many statues and other works of art throughout the premises. Her handmaidens explained that the house was located in the valley beneath the summit where she had been waiting the day before. The girls also explained that the valley was isolated and very difficult to enter, making it almost impossible for anyone to find them.
As she spoke to them, Psyche began to notice something a bit strange about her handmaidens. Both were polite and pleasantly obeyed all her commands. However, when she asked them about the mysterious being who had brought her to the valley, neither were able to answer the question. In addition, when Psyche asked about who they were and where they had come from, both answered that they did not know. The two had no memory of anything else. At first, Psyche thought they might be teasing or deliberating hiding the truth. But when she studied them further, she noted that neither girl did anything independently, each waited patiently until Psyche gave them a specific order, and they cheerfully performed it. Each seemed to have no life other than seeing to Psyche’s needs.
When she explored her new home, one thing Psyche noted was there were no torches, hearth, or any other means of making fire in or around the premises. Thus, when night once again arrived, the entire area was plunged into an stygian darkness, forcing the girl to remain on the divan where she had previously slept. But she did not have to wait long, the mysterious voice once again spoke the moment Psyche completely lost her vision in the gloom.
“I hope everything went well with you today,” the voice said, softly.
“It did,” Psyche replied. “The women you sent to be my handmaidens were very helpful.”
“Excellent. If they have made you happy, I am pleased.”
“What would truly please me now are some answers,” Psyche said. “Who are you, and what do you want with me?”
“I am your husband, Psyche,” the voice said.
“My husband?” Well, if I am your wife, that certainly is a surprise to me, considering I do not even know what you look like.”
“Ah, patience, my beloved, patience. I will deny you nothing, but for the moment I must ask you to allow this mystery between us. But I promise you, all will be revealed in time to your great satisfaction,” the voice replied.
“Very well,” Psyche signed. “I suppose I do not have much choice. But until I have that answer, I do not see any reason to consummate my ‘marriage’ until I take my wedding vows.”
“Very well, my beloved,” the voice sighed, after a long pause. “I will respect your wish, and I respect you for your desire to remain chaste, despite the fact that your great beauty makes me seethe with desire. But I will remain with you each night until morning, and we will speak of many things.”
“Do you have a name?” Psyche inquired.
“I do indeed, but once more I must ask your patience. You will find out eventually, but until then, if you do not wish to call me husband, why not call me friend.”
Psyche learned nothing more about the identity of her mysterious friend, despite numerous attempts to pry more information from him. He steadfastly refused to answer her questions on the matter, however, putting her off with assurances that she would learn when the time was right.
So instead, Psyche talked about herself, which delighted her unknown benefactor, telling him that although her parents had attempted several times to find a suitable husband for her, they had always been thwarted by the fact that every prospective groom had been completely intimidated once each one saw her.
“This is most unfortunate, Psyche” her friend said. “Or perhaps, most fortunate, for me. Men have always loved great beauty, but always seem to shy away from possessing it. I think they fear of not being worthy of a treasure such as yourself.”
“You are not afraid of me?” Psyche asked.
“No, never. To have you near me, to hear your voice, brings me the greatest joy possible. That is why I know our love was meant to be.”
Psyche did not dispute this, because as the days passed into weeks, she too could sense a bond forming between herself and her unknown companion. His voice in the darkness was like a caress, and when he touched her – on the face, on her shoulders, or took her hands – a delicious thrill ran through her, making her want to spend more and more time with him.
During their nightly conversations, Psyche eventually learned why the goddess Aphrodite had become so enraged during the incident at the temple.
“What happened was not your fault, Psyche,” the voice explained to her. “Sadly, Aphrodite is a very jealous goddess. Those who set up temples in honor of you also began to accept sacrifices in your name.”
“That was foolish,” Psyche said. “I am not a goddess, and sacrificing to me did none of them any good.”
“That is true, but mortals are often foolish in such fashions,” the voice said. “Your beauty inspired them, and they found it easier to worship you, as opposed to Aphrodite, whom they had never seen. As a result, Aphrodite’s sacrifices began to decline, and the gods will not tolerate such things. What happened at the temple was merely the end of number of transgressions Aphrodite had marked against you, and that was why she called for your death that day.”
“Then why am I still alive? Are you protecting me?
There was a long pause.
“Yes,” the voice finally said. “I am perhaps revealing too much, but I will tell you this. I was to be the instrument of your death that day on the summit Psyche. But when I saw you, and heard you sing, I fell in love with you immediately. But even if I had not, it would have been impossible for me to kill you. Because it would have been a terrible tragedy to destroy one as lovely as you.”
Psyche felt herself blushing in the darkness but said nothing further.
The days, and nights, passed quickly. After their conversations, Psyche could sense that her unseen companion was sleeping in the second divan next to hers. Occasionally, she would her a strange sound, like a rustling, but never could tell exactly what it was or what caused it. Each morning, she always found herself alone in the room, until she summoned her handmaidens to attend to her needs. They always provided her with food, clothing, and anything else she asked for, but could never tell her anything further about the mysterious master of the house.
One night, after several weeks, Psyche spoke about another matter which had been troubling her of late.
“You tell me to be patient,” Psyche said. “And I am trying to be.”
“ I know, my love. I know it is not easy for you, but a little longer, please, I beg of you. I cannot explain now, but you will understand why, in time,” the voice said.
“Then I must ask something of you in return,” Psyche said. “I have been away from my mother and father for some time now, and they have no idea of my fate. Please, let me return to them so I can tell them all is well with me.”
“Ah Psyche, I would not advise that,” the voice said. “Although your concern for your parents is quite admirable, there is a possibility that great misfortunate would occur if you returned to them at this point. You will eventually see them again, and they will know then that you are safe.”
“No,” Psyche said firmly. “They thought I was going to die when they left me. I cannot continue staying here with you, knowing that they believe I am dead. If you truly love me as you say, then let me go to them to show them I am alive and happy. I promise I will return to you after I have seen them.”
“Very well, Psyche,” the voice said, after a long time. “I am still greatly concerned about this, but because I do love you, I will grant your request.”
There was a sudden rush of wind, and Psyche again felt herself lifted into the air. Everything was a blur as she felt herself traveling far above the ground through the darkness. She still could not see her benefactor, only sensing a dark shape which held her firmly as they flew. Abruptly, they descended, and Psyche realized they were on the summit where she had first seen the valley.
“It will be morning soon,” the voice said. “When the sun rises, you will find a steed that will take you to Attica. When the sun sets tomorrow, mount him again, and he will return here where I will be waiting.”
Psyche felt a rush of air, and then she realized her unseen friend had left. But she did not have to wait long, the sun rose a short time later, and nearby she discovered a fine white stallion tethered to a tree. Psyche mounted the steed, grabbed the reins and the horse bolted forward. The girl could hardly catch her breath as the stallion’s hooves barely touched the ground, their speed rivaling the wind’s as they traveled across the countryside. Although Psyche’s trip to the summit had taken the better part of a day, her return trip was made in less than an hour. Her friend had made her promise to do nothing but visit her parents, so when the horse stopped in front of her parent’s house, Psyche dismounted and immediately entered the dwelling.
“Oh praise the gods, it is a miracle,” Psyche’s mother said, over and over when she saw her daughter.
“Psyche, we thought you were lost to us forever,” Xanthus said.
“I thought I was going to die too the day you left me, Father,” Psyche said. “I was prepared to do so, but something happened that day, something strange and well…wonderful!”
Psyche then told her parents what had happened to her since the day they left her on the summit. When she told them about the mysterious voice and how she had never seen its owner because he only came at night, a shadow fell over her parent’s faces, and they exchanged worried, knowing glances.
“Mother, Father, what is wrong?” Psyche asked, sensing their concern.
“Psyche, when we took you to the summit that day, there is something we neglected to tell you,” Xanthus finally said. “Forgive me, but we thought it would be best to spare you such knowledge. Now I deeply regret the act.”
“What is it?” Psyche asked.
“When the priests at the temple told us Aphrodite was displeased, and that you had to die as a result, they also told us the goddess had a most terrible fate planned for you,” Callista said. “They said that Aphrodite was going to curse you by making you fall in love with the most hideous monster that ever walked the earth. It was predicted that the monster would either devour you, or…”
The queen broke off, unable to complete the thought.
“No!” Psyche cried. “I do not believe this. There is no monster. He could not possibly be a monster. He has always been very gentle and kind and…and loving each time he has come to me at night.”
“Yet Psyche, why does he only come to you at night,” Castilla said.
“Yes, why has he never shown himself to you,” Xanthus said. “He tells you to wait, but surely if he loves you, he would reveal himself to you.”
For the rest of the day, Xanthus and Castilla tried to convince Psyche not to return to the summit. However, the girl was adamant.
“Mother, Father, I gave my word,” she finally said. “You have always told me that a person’s honor is one of the few truly valuable things in this world. Do you want me to throw that honor away?”
“Ah, Psyche, you make a father proud,” Xanthus said. “And you are correct. It does not matter who stays with you during those nightly visits, you have promised to return, and so return you must.”
By then, the day was growing short, and Psyche prepared to return to the summit. However, just before she left the house, her mother pressed a small cloth bag into her hands. Castilla told her daughter what the bag contained, and gave instructions on how to use it.
A neigh outside told Psyche the stallion had returned, and, after bidding her parents a tearful farewell, she ran outside, mounted the steed, and it sped away as fast as it had come.
For a few long moments, Xanthus and Castilla stared wordlessly out the door where they had last seen Psyche when she departed.
“Do you think I did the right thing,” Castilla finally asked.
“It does not matter now, for the die is already cast,” Xanthus said. “Let us pray the fates continue to favor her, for if things change, I fear that nothing short of mighty Zeus himself would be able to save her now.”
Meanwhile, the white stallion bore Psyche back to the summit as swiftly as they had come. Night had just fallen when they arrived, and the moment Psyche dismounted, she again felt herself lifted gently into the air.
“I am glad you have returned. I missed you,” the voice whispered into her ear.
“I was not away that long,” Psyche protested, as they descended. Although she could not see, Psyche could feel the divan she had slept and sat upon these many nights.
“Every moment away from you is an eternity,” the voice said.
“Oh, please!” Psyche said, attempting to sound indignant, but failing. In truth, she was delighted by the flattery, and her mysterious benefactor knew it.
“I hope your parents are well, and they were happy to see you,” the voice said.
“Yes, and I am so glad they know I am not dead,” she said. “But they wonder who are you and why you hide yourself from me.”
“Ah, they are good parents. But once again dear Psyche, I must ask you to be patient, just a little longer. True, I keep saying that, but I assure you, there are good reasons for the delay. Soon, all will be revealed, to your satisfaction, I promise.”
Psyche did not press the matter further, for she feared her benefactor would start questioning her about the other things she had discussed with her parents. Instead, she spoke about her life with him, and how she appreciated everything he had done to please her and see to her comfort.
Eventually, the two of them went to bed. But this time, Psyche forced herself to stay awake. She waited in the darkness, her heart beating faster and faster in anticipation of what she was about to do. Her heart began to beat so quickly she began to fear that her mysterious “husband” would hear her on the divan next to hers. However, all she heard was an even breathing, and knew that he must have fallen asleep.
Although she was quivering with anticipation, Psyche forced herself to wait even longer. She knew it would be important that her unknown companion be in a deep sleep before she dared attempt what she was going to do.
An hour passed, and Psyche decided that the time had come. Carefully, she opened the cloth bag that her mother had given her before she left Attica. Inside were two objects — a small oil lamp and a long heavy dagger. Psyche turned away from the divan where her companion lay sleeping, then, as silently as possible, lit the oil lamp. Immediately, the room was bathed in a soft glow of light. Steeling herself, Psyche grasped the heavy knife, turned, and looked full upon the figure with whom she had spent so many nights these past several weeks.
And what she saw made her gasp.
For there on the divan was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. His red-gold hair fell in waves to his shoulders, perfectly complimenting his angelic face and slender yet well-proportioned body. What stood out about him, though, was a pair of large white bird-like wings that emerged from his shoulders and were spread evenly on the divan on either side of his body.
Although this was the first time Psyche had actually seen him, she knew immediately who he was from the descriptions made by the priests and the story-tellers. This was Eros, the god of love, and son of Aphrodite. Eros, who could make any mortal fall in love with anything by shooting an arrow into the heart.
No arrow was necessary for Psyche; the moment she saw Eros her heart melted, and she threw the knife onto the divan on which she had slept these many nights. For several moments all she could do was stand awe-struck, as her eyes feasted on the handsome boyish face and lithe youthful figure. Then she was seized by an overpowering urge. A number of times in the darkness, Eros had asked if he could kiss her, but she had steadfastly refused, telling him she first must see what he looked like. That requirement now fulfilled, Psyche now wanted more than anything to grant that wish, even if Eros was asleep when she did it.
Carefully, Psyche bent over the sleeping form, and then gently and lovingly pressed her lips to his. Eros stirred in his sleep, and Psyche saw the beginning of a smile pulling at his mouth. But then, still asleep, Eros shifted his body, and his arm came up and knocked Psyche’s arm. This jostled her slightly, but it was enough to cause the lamp to spill and a drop of hot oil struck Eros’ bare shoulder. Instantly, he awoke with a cry.
“Oh my foolish beloved, do you know what you have done?” Eros wailed. “All I asked is that you wait for a short time. Now you have undone us both!”
“I am sorry,” Psyche said now as frantic as Eros when she saw how upset he was. “But I do not understand. My mother and father told me I was suppose to fall in love with a monster, but I find you. Why did you hide from me.”
“It was I who was suppose to make you fall in love with that monster,” Eros said. “Mother ordered me to do so, figuring that when you suffered such a terrible fate, no mortal would ever dare compete with her again. I was going to do so, I had knocked an arrow in my bow and was prepared to send it into your heart. But you are so beautiful, I realized I could never do such a thing. Not to you. Oh Psyche, I have loved you from the first moment I saw you. But now, our love may never be.”
“Why not? I love you too. What is to stop us?” Psyche said.
“My mother,” Eros said. “I was able to shield your presence from her – she thought you were dead. But only as long as you did not know who I am. Now that you have seen me, she will be able to sense your presence and…”
Eros stopped, an expression of terror coming over his face. He looked up and around fearfully for several seconds.
“She already knows!” Eros exclaimed. “She knows you are alive and what I have done. Oh Lord Zeus help us, she knows!”
Eros swept the girl into his arms, and Psyche was too startled and frightened to resist. With a flurry of his wings, he bore the girl up and out of the dwelling that had served as their home for the past several weeks, and Psyche suddenly realized what had caused the rustling sounds she had heard when they were together. Eros carried Psyche once again to the summit, and deposited her gently on the ground. The girl started to speak, but then suddenly Eros was enveloped in a nimbus of blinding light. The young god disappeared in the glare, but the light continued and seemed to burn even brighter. Then its shape pulsed, shifted and coalesced, and in the process solidifying into human form. The form a woman – the most beautiful Psyche had ever seen. Her long, blonde hair flowed like waves, completely covering her back. Her glorious face, Psyche had seen previously, although only in the statue that had previously graced Aphrodite’s temple in Attica, before it had been destroyed.
“Vainglorious little strumpet,” the goddess said with cold contempt. “Not only do you dare think yourself my equal, but you also have the effrontery to steal my son away from me!”
“Please, great Aphrodite, I…” Psyche began.
“Silence, you miserable little trollop,” Aphrodite ordered. “To think that he would disobey me, over the likes of you! By the Fates I will send you to Hades. That will end his madness!
Aphrodite, who towered over the girl, raised her hand, and Psyche knew that a single blow from the goddess would end her life.
“But I love him, and he loves me,” Psyche protested. “Does the Goddess of Love kill to prevent love?”
The goddess lowered her hand, and Psyche sensed that her rage was being replaced by a cold fury.
“You make a valid point, curse you,” Aphrodite finally said. “It would not be seemly or wise for me to destroy love, no matter how much I despise you for it. But there is nothing to prevent me from putting what you say to the test. You say you love my son, girl. Very well, let us see how much.”
Aphrodite pointed east, toward the rising sun.
“Three days’ journey from here is a small temple, dedicated to me. It is isolated, but it will suffice for what I have in mind. How you arrive there is up to you, but I will expect you in three days. There we will see if your love for Eros is as strong as you say. But be warned, girl, I intend to prove to my son how foolish he has been by pining for someone as worthless as you!”
There was another flash of light, and Aphrodite vanished as Eros had done previously. The horse which had carried Psyche to and from Attica had vanished, so she had no choice but to walk to her goal.
It was not an easy thing to do. Psyche had no food or supplies, and there were no villages or any other human habitations along the route. By the second night the girl felt herself reaching the limit of her endurance.
In the darkness, Psyche saw a small building, next to the road. At first she thought it might be the temple Aphrodite had spoken of, but when she approached, Psyche realized it was too small – the structure was merely a large shrine. However, the roof afforded some shelter, and Psyche, by now too weary to care, lay down and entered a deep yet troubled sleep.
She was awakened the next morning by the rising sun. Although sleep had allowed her to regain some strength, Psyche was still ravenous from hunger – a hunger made even sharper by the smell of fresh grains and milled flour nearby.
Investigating the shrine, Psyche found the bags of grain and flour, arranged almost carelessly by the altar. She realized that whoever had left the offerings had done so without performing the proper rituals. As a member of a royal house, Psyche had been carefully trained by her parents in such procedures, and she now carefully gathered up the grain and flour, arranging them properly, and paying homage to the god to whom the shrine was dedicated. The wonderful smell of the grains was excruciating, but Psyche made no move to eat anything, because that would have been a sacrilege.
Her task complete, Psyche turned to go, but was stopped by a woman standing before her.
“Oh I am sorry, I did not…” Psyche began.
The woman merely smiled, and handed the girl a loaf of bread.
“Eat child, you need this, and have earned it.” the woman said. “I am Demeter, goddess of the harvest, and this is my shrine you have put in order.”
Psyche eagerly accepted the gift, and consumed the bread while the goddess continued.
“You plight is not unknown on Mount Olympus,” Demeter explained. “Many of the gods are buzzing about what has been occurring between you and Aphrodite.”
“Please great lady, can you help me?” Psyche asked as she continued to eat. “I did not mean to offend great Aphrodite, and I only want to see her son again.”
“Alas child, I cannot grant your request, even though it is a very just and reasonable one,” Demeter said sadly. “It is the will of Zeus that we gods cannot interfere with each other’s affairs. This is a challenge that you will have to face alone. But, the Fates willing, may you find the courage to meet that challenge.”
Demeter then embraced the girl, and Psyche felt the same warm wonderful feeling each time her mother had embraced her when she was a little girl. The goddess then informed Psyche that Aphrodite’s temple was but a short distance away and gave her directions on how to find it. Then she vanished, as silently as she had appeared.
Once again, Psyche set out on her journey. It wasn’t long before she came to a small temple, which were adorned with images of Aphrodite. Steeling herself, Psyche entered the building. There were no priests or attendants in sight, and Psyche guessed the goddess had dismissed them in anticipation of her coming. An altar was in the main room, and Psyche placed a ring she was wearing on it, as an offering to the goddess.
“Keep your petty homage, it will do you no good,” a voice said behind her.
Psyche turned and saw Aphrodite had appeared behind her.
“Great Lady, I…” Psyche began.
“Silence!” Aphrodite ordered. “I see you had the courage to come here. Or the foolhardiness. But that also will do you no good. You are here of your own free will, and I can do with you as I please. Is that clearly understood, girl?”
Wordlessly, Psyche nodded, afraid even to speak.
“Good. You had two servants when you were…entertaining… my son, so I can do no less than provide the same.”
Aphrodite clapped her hands, and two women suddenly appeared. Both were older, and each had a drawn, worn-out look about them.
“You wonder why they are not beautiful,” Aphrodite said, voicing Psyche’s thoughts. “These are special handmaidens that I have picked out especially for you. May I introduce Grief and Woe, and they shall attend to you every need.”
The mocking way that Aphrodite spoke indicated to Psyche that her new handmaidens would be doing anything but serving her needs.
“I thank you for such a lovely gift, great Aphrodite,” Psyche replied. “I appreciate the fact that you would take the time and trouble for someone such as myself.”
Psyche had spoken meekly, but this only stoked the goddess’ fury. Aphrodite seized the girl by the throat, and lifted her off her feet.
“Little strumpet, you dare mock me,” Aphrodite said. “I will teach you your place here, oh yes!”
The goddess lowered Psyche to her feet, then gave instructions to the handmaidens. The woman came forward, removed Psyche’s clothing, then roughly dragged her between to pillars, where they bound each of her hands. Helpless, Psyche watched as Aphrodite picked up a long cruel-looking whip and approached her.
“By your own free will you are here,” Aphrodite said. “You can leave at any time. But if you do so, you must forever forswear your love to Eros. Just say the word, I will release you, and you can go in peace.”
“Great Lady forgive me, but I cannot,” Psyche said, starting to weep. “I love him and I would rather die than forsake him.”
“Little fool, I will make you regret those words,” Aphrodite said. “I will flail the skin off your back, and then let us see how much you love my son.”
Aphrodite stepped behind Psyche and the girl could hear the sound of the whip being unfurled. She braced herself for what she knew would be the beginning of a terrible ordeal. There was a sharp crack, which Psyche knew was the snapping of the whip. But there was no pain, for nothing had struck her.
Again, a sharp crack, and again nothing. Psyche heard a gasp of surprise escape from Aphrodite. Again, and again, and again Psyche heard the snap of the whip as it hissed close behind her, but each time the cruel thin pieces of leather failed to find their mark, leaving her untouched.
“Impossible,” Aphrodite declared and renewed her efforts. For several minutes Psyche heard the sound of the whip cracking over and over, but not once did the terrible sting of the lash touch her back.
Finally, Aphrodite tossed the whip away in disgust. She walked in front of Psyche, grabbed her face with one hand, and lifted her head, so that the two were looking into each other’s eyes.
“By the sea foam which bore me, you really are perfect,” Aphrodite said, half in frustration and half in wonderment. “When I heard about you, I thought it was simply the vainglorious prattling of mortals. And I thought my son had just accidentally struck himself with one of his arrows. But the true reason is, by whatever fantastic decree of the Fates, your beauty is absolutely flawless.”
At Aphrodite’s signal, the two handmaidens came forward and released Psyche, then returned her clothing to her.
“I would have noticed what you are earlier, if it had not been for my rage,” Aphrodite mused as Psyche got dressed. “You wonder why, girl, I cannot harm you. It should be obvious. How can I, the goddess of love and beauty, destroy such perfection. It just cannot be done.”
“My Lady, I…”
“I did not give you permission to speak! If you think what I just told you will help you, girl, guess again. I may not be able to harm you, but I can demonstrate to my son how unworthy you are of him. Tomorrow I will set you a task and by the Fates you had better complete it to my satisfaction.”
With that, Aphrodite vanished, leaving Psyche with her two handmaidens. The two were sullen and refused to speak, or provide her with even the smallest of comforts. All they did was lead her to a small straw pallet, which Psyche guessed was her bed. Psyche signed, but made the best of what had been provided, and prepared as best she could for whatever ordeal that lay ahead.
The First Test
The next morning, Aphrodite appeared. Her handmaidens had only provided stale bread and water, but Psyche devoured them without complaint.
On the floor were several different sacks of grain, and Aphrodite split them open and scattered their contents, thoroughly mixing together oats, barley, wheat and others.
“As a goddess, you should find this task a simple one,” Aphrodite said, mockingly. “All you have to do is return the grains unmixed to their bags. But not one grain must be left behind, and not one grain must be mixed with another. I will expect the task to be completed when I return tomorrow morning.”
With that, Aphrodite vanished. Grief and Woe, her handmaidens, stood by silently, but did nothing to help. Psyche started her task, but it seemed insurmountable. Carefully, she began picking up each individual grain, sorting them, and placing each in the proper bag. But so much time and effort was required that by sunset, Psyche had only managed to gather handful of each type of grain. She threw herself on her straw mat and began to cry bitterly, for she knew that it would be impossible to gather the grain the darkness, much less be finished by morning. Then someone whispered in her ear.
“Have faith. Sleep now, and in the morning, all will well.”
The voice had been so low Psyche could not identify it. But she did as she was told, wondering how such a monumental task could be accomplished.
In the morning, Psyche was awakened by the rising sun, and she gasped in amazement when she looked at the floor and saw it was bare. Then she spotted the last few grains seemingly making their way into the bags from which they had come. In wonderment, Psyche moved closer, and saw that each grain was being carried by an ant. She then realized that thousands of the insects must have come in the night, picked up each individual grain, and put each into its proper bag.
Psyche barely had time to tie the bags up properly before Aphrodite appeared. Wordlessly she inspected the floor and examined the bags.
“Well done,” Aphrodite finally said. “As a goddess, you accomplished your task with ease. Therefore, I think it only fitting that I arrange something a bit more challenging.”
“Yes, my lady,” Psyche said.
“Oh do not worry. I expect someone of your talents should accomplish this with ease. To the north is a river, and several miles up river is a large island. On the island are a very special breed of sheep. Instead of white fleece, their wool is like spun gold. I desire a dress from this material, so you will fetch a large basket of it for me and return tomorrow evening. Without fail,” Aphrodite ordered.
“As my lady wishes,” Psyche said, humbly.
“Oh, and it is only fair that I tell you everything about these sheep, for they are unique in other ways,” Aphrodite continued. “They do not eat grass, like other sheep. Their diet consists strictly of flesh – animal and human. Their fierceness rivals that of any lion and many mortals have lost their lives and been devoured trying to obtain some of their wool. But as I said, a goddess such as yourself should have no trouble accomplishing the task.”
The Second Test
Once again, Psyche was given bread and water, but nothing else, and she started north on her journey to the island indicated by Aphrodite. She trembled at the thought of facing the sheep described by the goddess, but resolved to collect the wool or die in the attempt. About an hour after she set out, Psyche found the river, and saw a large island in the center. Psyche realized this must be her destination, because she could hear the sheep bleating in the distance. However, these bleats sounded more like roars, and the girl knew that Aphrodite had not exaggerated about their fierceness. A small boat was tied near the shore, and Psyche prepared to use it, even though she was certain she would not return. However, the was stopped when a voice again whispered in her ear.
“Wait,” the voice said. “Do not cross yet.”
Psyche looked around, but saw no one.
“Wait until Helios the sun-god reaches his zenith in the sky,” the voice continued. “The sheep will become drowsy in the heat of the day. You will find bushes on the island, and on those bushes will be bits of the golden wool. Fill your basket as quickly as possible, then leave, because the sheep will not remain docile for long.”
There was nothing more, and Psyche waited as instructed. At noon, she climbed into the boat and rowed over to the island. She noted grimly that there were many human bones scattered throughout the island, bones of those who had come before her and had been devoured in their attempt to gather the golden wool. But as the voice informed her, the sheep were dozing in the heat of the sun, and Psyche carefully made her way among the bushes. Again as the voice indicated, there were bits of the sheep’s wool clinging to the briars and thorns growing on the bushes, and she quickly gathered what she needed. Just as her basket was full, the sheep began to stir, and Psyche ran back to the boat and headed back to the opposite shore. It was just in time too, because the sheep once again began to bleat and move about, and Psyche knew if she had waited much longer, she would have been devoured.
Basket in hand, Psyche hurried back to temple, and presented it to the goddess. Aphrodite inspected the wool, making certain the basket was full, then turned to Psyche.
“Who has been helping you, girl,” Aphrodite demanded. “It cannot be my son, because I have him locked securely away.”
“Great Lady, I…” Psyche began.
“Never mind. I do not expect an honest answer. But whoever your benefactor is, by the Fates let them attempt to help you with this one,” Aphrodite said firmly. “My beauty has suffered these past several days, due to the strain of having to deal with the likes of you.”
“My Lady, I see no change in you, your beauty is unsurpassed,” Psyche protested.
“Spare me your useless flattery. I expect no better from you, girl,” Aphrodite said, scornfully. “There is one thing and one thing alone that will restore my full glory. It is know as Dark Beauty, a very rare and wondrous thing indeed. Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, is the only one who possesses it. You will journey there and fetch some of the Dark Beauty for me.”
“But what if Persephone refuses such a request,” Psyche protested, trembling at the thought of traveling alive into the Land of the Dead.
“That is your concern, girl, not mine. I do not care how you accomplish your task, but you must return here with the Dark Beauty, if you wish to see Eros again,” Aphrodite said.
Aphrodite gave Psyche instructions on where to find the Styx, the river of death which separates the land of the living from the underworld. Then she turned and vanished once more, leaving Psyche with only her two sullen handmaidens for company.
The final test
The day was growing short, and so Psyche decided it would be best to wait until morning before starting out. She wept as she lay on the straw mat, because as difficult as her previous tasks had been, this one seemed truly insurmountable. For how could a living person survive the unspeakable horrors in the land of the dead?
When Psyche awoke the next morning, she found a small cloth bag next to her bed. She looked at Grief and Woe, but the two remained as silent and sullen as ever. Then she heard the voice again.
“In the bag, you will find what you need to enter the underworld,” it said softly. “There is a cake that you must throw to Cerberus, the guardian dog. There are also two gold coins that you must give to Charon – one for him to transport you across the river into the underworld, and the other to take you back to the land of the living.”
“Thank you, whoever you are. You have been most kind,” Psyche said.
“One more thing. Do not eat or drink anything when you enter the underworld, and no matter what you see or hear, remain on the path that leads to the throne room. If you stray from it, you will be lost forever.”
There was nothing more, so Psyche picked up the cloth bag and started out on her journey, following the directions Aphrodite had given her the day before. As she walked, the girl sensed that unknown mystical forces must be at work, because although she was certain she had walked a long way, the trip seemed to take no time at all. Eventually, she spotted a high mountain in the distance, and Psyche knew that the River Styx emerged from that mountain, leading down into the underworld.
Psyche started toward her destination, when she suddenly heard yells, shrieks and screams coming from behind her. Turning, she saw five women, dressed in leopard skins, carrying long staves and snakes, dancing, leaping and running toward her. Psyche felt a cold knot of horror forming in her stomach. These were maenads, the mad female followers of Dionysus, whose drunken frenzies were unrivaled in their fierceness and ferocity, and woe betide any unarmed person they came upon in their travels.
Psyche looked about frantically for a place to hide, but it was too late. One of the women spotted her, gave a shriek, and pointed toward her.
“A sacrifice, sisters,” she screamed. “A lovely sacrifice to the great and glorious Dionysus.”
Howling, the women rushed forward. Her mind racing, Psyche reached into the cloth bag she was carrying, and pulled out the two gold coins. She threw the coins at the women’s feet and they rolled off the road and into the bushes.
Although they were mad, the maenads still appreciated the value of gold. The group changed direction, heading for the coins, and Psyche used that moment to turn and flee as fast as she could. Psyche heard screams of rage and pain behind her, and she realized the five women must be fighting among themselves over the two coins.
Psyche continued to run until she was almost ready to collapse with exhaustion. By the time she stopped, Psyche was close to the mountain, which cast a great grim shadow over the entire area. In the side of the mountain, Psyche saw a huge opening, and through that opening, dark and forbidding waters flowed.
Steeling herself, Psyche walked through the cavernous opening, taking care not to touch water which formed the River Styx. Dark shades skittered like smoke about her, but Psyche ignored them as she made her way along the river. Finally, she reached a point where she could walk no further, and waited patiently at that point for Charon the Ferryman to arrive.
Into the Land of the Dead
“So,” Charon said after Psyche finished. “You seek Queen Persephone, in the hopes she will give you some of her Dark Beauty for Aphrodite.”
“Yes,” Psyche said. “I beg of you, can you please take me to the underworld so I can seek an seek an audience with her?”
“Ummmm. Are you so certain you want to do this, mortal. Love is such a fickle and fleeting thing. You could no doubt find another to love you, once you returned to the land of the living,” Charon said.
“I do not want anyone else,” Psyche said, almost ready to burst into tears once more. “If I cannot have my beloved Eros, then life is not worth living. Please take me across the river, you promised.”
“I promised, if I found your tale sufficiently amusing,” Charon reminded. “Still, you have met that requirement. I will take you where you wish to go, mortal.”
“Oh thank you,” Psyche said.
“Spare me your gratitude,” Charon replied. “Before this is done, you will probably curse me for taking you to the Land of the Dead. Remember, though, this what you desired.”
Despite the chills of terror she felt traveling down her spine, Psyche stepped into the boat, and Charon pushed off the shore with his pole, sending the craft through the dark waters. Psyche remained at the bow, trying hard not to look down at the unspeakable horrors that swirled through the River Styx. Wordlessly, Charon continued to pole the boat across the river, as he had done countless times before.
Eventually, Psyche saw another large black opening in the twilight gloom that the river emptied into, and she knew this must be the entrance to Hades, the Land of the Dead. With long, even strokes, Charon poled the ferry toward the opening, which soon swallowed the craft, the ferryman and its passenger in silence.
Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus, other events concerning Psyche were being set in motion as well. In Aphrodite’s living quarters, a figure entered, limping along with a definite purpose in mind. This was Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s husband, who had stopped to see her while on an errand to Mount Olympus. He did not find her home, which did not surprise Hephaestus, but he continued shuffling his lame body from room to room, his homely face casting about, in the hopes of finding Aphrodite somewhere on the premises.
When he entered the main section of Aphrodite’s quarters, Hephaestus came upon an unexpected sight. There in the center of the room was a large golden cage with a door secured by three large locks, suspended in mid-air. And inside the cage was Eros, seated on a stool, looking very forlorn.
“Well bless me, what have we here, the proverbial bird in the gilded cage?” Hephaestus inquired.
“Father!” Eros said. “Oh praise the Fates. I beg you, ask Mother if she will please release me from this prison.”
“All right, but what have you done, boy, to deserve this?” Hephaestus asked.
“I have fallen in love with a mortal woman, and Mother is trying to keep us apart,” Eros explained.
“You! The God of Love in love? Oh that is most wondrous,” Hephaestus observed. “But why should your mother be upset about that?”
Quickly, Eros filled his father in on the events concerning himself and Psyche that had occurred over the past few weeks.
“So that is why you had me make those forge maidens for you, so they could serve the needs of your beloved,” Hephaestus said. “Ah well, your mother always has been the jealous type. Never could understand it, though. Lots of mortals compare themselves to her. ‘As beautiful as Aphrodite,’ they are always saying. That sort of thing. I have never seen the harm of it.”
“Please Father, ask Mother to let me out of here. She has placed a spell on this cage, and is the only one who can open it,” Eros begged.
“My son, you wound me,” Hephaestus said with mock indignation. “As the smith of the gods, you should know that there exists no lock that I cannot open. Observe.”
From a pouch at this side, Hephaestus produced a large key.
“But Father, Mother said she made these locks herself, and that only she could open…”
Eros’ voice died as he watched his father deftly fit the key into each lock, and with a turn each one fell away from the door, allowing it to swing open.
Eros joyously flew out, darting around the room like a newly freed sparrow, while Hephaestus watched with amusement.
“Why did you keep yourself hidden from the girl for so long,” Hephaestus asked when Eros finally calmed down. Why not just simply marry her and be done with it.”
“Because I knew that she would have to be protected from Mother’s wrath, and the only one who can do that is Lord Zeus. I have been trying to see him, but he has been away from Olympus on some adventure for the past several weeks.”
“Oh yes. Well he just returned today,” Hephaestus informed his son. “I am on my way to see him because he needs some more thunderbolts which I have forged…”
Hephaestus got no further, because he suddenly realized he was talking to empty air, as Eros took flight, heading for the Olympian throne room as fast as the four winds themselves.
“Good luck, my son,” Hephaestus said with a chuckle. Then his eyes fell upon the basket of golden wool which Psyche had gathered earlier for Aphrodite. A thought struck the smith of the gods, and with a smile he picked up the basket and headed to his workshop. He knew Lord Zeus would be preoccupied with Eros and other matters for a while, and so he could delay delivering the thunderbolts until later. That time, Hephaestus thought to himself, he would put to good use.
The Realm of the Damned
In the permanent twilight gloom, Psyche stepped off the ferry, onto a small path which led deeper into the underworld. Without a word, Charon pushed off and headed his boat back to the pickup point just outside the entrance, endlessly repeating his task of ferrying the dead to their final destination.
Psyche began to walk, heading toward the very center of the region, where she knew Lord Hades and Queen Persephone held court. How she would convince the goddess to grant her request, Psyche did not know, but she was determined to at least try to accomplish her task.
Nothing attacked or attempted to bother Psyche as she walked along the path, but what she saw would have made even those most harden warrior tremble in fear. At one point, she spotted a man, pushing a huge boulder up a hill. Just as before he reached the top, the boulder slipped out of his hands, and the man, wailing, walked down and started again to push it up the hill. Then his eyes fell on Psyche.
“Ah, dear lady,” the man said. “Would you be so kind as to assist me in this simple task? I am having a bit of trouble, and your help would be most welcome.”
Psyche started forward, but then remembered the warning the voice had issued to her.
“I am sorry, but I have to go,” Psyche said, as she turned and quickly walked away. Psyche sensed that she had almost doomed herself to becoming lost forever, and vowed to be more cautious as she traveled through the Land of the Dead.
Other sights which greeted Psyche were equally as depressing, and some very horrifying. In one area, she saw six beautiful women dipping sieves in a pool of water, each carrying their sieve to a tub, then turning it over to “empty” it. Although there was nothing in the sieves when each went to empty them, the women repeated the process over and over. At first, Psyche was puzzled, but then she remember a story her mother had told her when she was small. The story of six sisters who were betrothed to six bridegrooms that none of them liked. On their wedding day, the sisters murdered their new husbands while they slept in their beds. After the sisters died, Hades had ruled that — as punishment — each had to fill a tub with water to wash away their sins. But Hades had provided each sister with only a sieve for the task, which meant they would spend an eternity trying to accomplish it.
Many called to Psyche, begging and imploring her to help them, but she steadfastly refused to leave the path. Eventually, she came to a large palace, carved completely out of black obsidian. At the gate of the palace was a gigantic mastiff with three heads that turned and growled menacingly at her. This was Cerberus, the great guardian hound of the underworld.
With trembling hands, Psyche opened the pouch and removed the cake. Quickly, she threw it at the dog, who wolfed it down with one gulp of his center head. Cerberus then cast his glowing red eyes on the girl and growled once more, and Psyche felt the clutch of fear at her throat. However, the dog suddenly stretched, its three enormous heads yawning at once, then it lay down and went to sleep.
Queen of the Underworld
Carefully and quietly, Psyched tip-toed past the great hell-hound and into the forbidding black structure before her. There were no servants or guards to stop her as she made her way through a great hallway. At the end, she came to a huge room, the center of which was occupied by two large thrones. One throne was empty, but on the other side a tall regale-looking woman, whose face and expression were ice-cold, and yet at the same time, displayed a great sadness.
Taking a deep breath, Psyche boldly up to the figure on the throne, then knelt before it, waiting for permission to speak.
“Well, so you are the reason I have been sensing such warmth in the underworld,” the woman said. “This is most unprecedented, a living person coming to the Land of Dead. I am afraid though, Lord Hades is away at the moment. If you have come to see him, your trip has been for naught.”
“It is not with him that I crave an audience, Lady Persephone,” Psyche said humbly. “It is to you that I wish to speak, if you do not mind speaking to a living person.”
“Bless you, child, I do not mind,” Persephone said. “Have you forgotten? For half a year, I reign here with Hades, and for the other half I dwell in the land of the living. But what is it that you wish to speak to me about?”
“I crave a boon, great lady, and am hoping that somehow you will grant it,” Psyche said. She then explained to the goddess what she needed.
“The Dark Beauty,” Persephone mused. “How typically vain of Aphrodite. Trying to improve on perfection.”
“That is what I told her, my lady, but she would not listen,” Psyche said.
“I do not know, child,” Persephone said after some consideration. “The Dark Beauty is mine and mine alone. It is a unique product of the underworld, and it makes my time down here a bit more bearable, knowing that I have something Aphrodite wants but cannot possess.”
Psyche felt her heart growing heavy, and tried to think of something she could offer the goddess in exchange for the Dark Beauty. But this turned out to be unnecessary, for another voice suddenly spoke up on the twilight gloom.
“Let the girl have the Dark Beauty. A small sample will do. Aphrodite will only be able to enjoy possession of a it short time.”
“Mother!” Persephone said as she turned toward the voice. Psyche said that Demeter had appeared in the throne-room with them.
“In all the centuries, you have never visited me here before,” Persephone said, the barest hint of a smile appearing on her face. “Why do you do so today?”
“To help this mortal complete her task,” Demeter explained. “She is a sweet child and deserves the happiness she seeks. Her request is not an unreasonable one, Daughter. Let her have a small sample of the Dark Beauty for Aphrodite.”
Persephone nodded, then opened a large chest near her throne and began to rummage through it.
“Oh thank you, thank you Lady Demeter. But I thought you said you could not interfere.”
“Well, helping you accomplish a task is not interference,” Demeter said with a twinkle in her eye. “Sending some ants to gather up some grain is not interference, nor is providing advice about the sheep with the golden wool. And Persephone is my daughter, so recommending that she do you a kindness also is not interference. You undoubtedly wonder why I am helping you. Because I can tell you are a good-hearted girl, who does not deserve to face Aphrodite’s unjust wrath. Also, I have a special fondness for Eros, and I believe you will bring him much happiness.”
“As do I,” Persephone said as she handed Psyche a small golden box. “A small sample of the Dark Beauty is inside. Enough to satisfy Aphrodite. But a word of caution, girl. Do not open this box. The Dark Beauty is not something for the likes of a mortal. It’s potency is overwhelming.”
“Thank you again, thank you both,” Psyche stepped forward, intending to throw her arms around Persephone, but Demeter quickly moved in front of her, accepting the embrace.
“I appreciate your gratitude, girl, but you must not embrace me, not while I reign as queen of the underworld,” Persephone explained. “To do so would mean your death. One last thing you will need before you go.”
The goddess then handed Psyche a gold coin.
“Where did you get this,” Psyche asked, puzzled, because she saw that it was one of the coins she had thrown to escape from the maenads.
“One of the women pursuing you was killed in a fight between them for the coin,” Persephone explained. “But she swallowed it before she died, and brought it to the underworld with her. So I return it now to you, because you will need to give it to Charon for the return trip.”
After giving many more thanks and expressions of gratitude, Psyche then left the great forbidding castle, and headed back in the opposite direction, toward the land of the living.
Unlike the one in Hades, the great throne-room of Mount Olympus was a bright and cheery affair. Twelve thrones were arranged in a giant semi-circle, overlooking the great burning fire of the gods. Each throne was the seat of one of great gods of Olympus, with the largest and mightiest reserved for Zeus himself. At the moment, Zeus was seated on his throne, having just returned to Olympus from an adventure which had occupied his time for several weeks.
When the Lord of Olympus was in attendance, the rest of the gods were expected to conduct themselves in a stately dignified manner to allow the business of the heavens to be performed as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Any action not previously approved by Zeus was a serious breach of etiquette, so it was a great surprise when the thunder god saw a form burst into the throne room, flying at top speed toward him.
The form landed in front of the great throne, and Zeus could see that it was Eros.
“Great and mighty All-Father Zeus, please forgive me, I beg of you,” Eros said. “But it is of the utmost urgency that I speak with you.”
Before Zeus could answer, a beam of light struck Eros, enveloping and paralyzing him in the process.
“Lord Zeus, I ask forgiveness for my son for his transgression,” Aphrodite said coming forward. “He has been inflicted with a madness of late that I have been working very hard to cure. He will not bother you again, I promise you.”
Aphrodite made a gesture, but Eros pushed forward, and it was evident he was fighting to remain in the throne room with every fiber of his being.
“Wait,” Zeus said, and although he spoke softly, there was a booming quality in his voice which commanded both obedience and respect. “What is the meaning of this?”
“It is merely a family matter, Lord Zeus, something that is beneath your concern, I assure you,” Aphrodite said quickly.
“That is not true,” Eros managed to gasped. “Please my lord, hear me, because…”
“Silence, you worthless offspring, or I will..,” Aphrodite began.
“Silence, both of you,” Zeus ordered, raising his voice significantly. He gestured, and Eros felt the force which had been holding him melt away. Then Zeus studied the two of them for a few moments before speaking again.
“It must be an urgent matter indeed Eros for you to risk my wrath by making your request in such an unorthodox manner. So therefore, tell me what is so important.”
“All-Father, I have found a girl, the most wonderful and beautiful mortal in all the world,” Eros began. “It is my desire that we live together as husband and wife.”
“Well, the God of Love finally chooses a mate! This is happy news indeed. But you do not need my permission to marry her, my son. We gods mate with mortals all the time, you know that.”
“My Lord Zeus,” Aphrodite said. “You must not allow such a travesty to come to pass. Although only a mortal, this girl has gathered followers who have built temples to her, worshiping her as a goddess.”
“This is most serious,” Zeus said, a frown appearing on his bearded face. “We gods can never afford such effrontery. Mortals must always know and remain in their place.”
“All-Father, hear me, please,” Eros began again. He told Zeus everything, insisting throughout the story that he was certain Psyche was innocent of any wrong doing, for she had done nothing to encourage those who attempted to worship her.
“So they worshiped the girl because she is so beautiful,” Zeus reflected. “Well, there must be some justification, considering she has managed to bewitch you,” he said to Eros.
“My Lord, surely you are not going to allow this strumpet, this trollop to…” Aphrodite began, but then her voice died away when she saw how intently Zeus was looking at her.
“You are jealous,” Zeus said with a booming laugh. “By my titan sire, this is most amusing indeed. The Goddess of Love and Beauty, whose name is a by-word for such things, is envious of a mortal girl! I thought only mortals could behave in such a foolish manner.”
Glowering, Aphrodite backed away, but said nothing further.
“Go to your bride, my son,” Zeus said, turning to Eros. “I am certain she will make you a fine wife, and you will enjoy many happy years together.”
“Please, All Father Zeus, there is one more thing I crave, that you, and only you can grant. I cannot bear the thought of marrying her, then watching as the years devour her until death comes to make its claim,” Eros pleaded. “By your will, Lord Zeus, I wish her youth and beauty to never fade, and that she remain by my side through all eternity.”
There was a collective gasp everyone in the throne-room. Zeus looked at Eros for what seemed like an eternity itself, before speaking again.
“Do you realize what you are asking, Eros?” Zeus asked.
“Yes my lord, yes. I want you to grant Psyche the gift that you alone can give, the gift of immortality!”
“This girl must indeed be very special. It is a wonder that I have not noticed her myself,” Zeus said. This earned him a hard look from Hera, his wife. But he continued.
“All right, where is this mortal woman who has so captured your heart, Eros?”
“I do not know my lord,” Eros replied. “She has disappeared from the earth, and I have not yet been able to locate her.”
“She is in the underworld, Lord Zeus,” said Demeter, stepping forward from her throne. This brought a cry of anguish from Eros, but the goddess continued.
“Fear not, she is still alive, although she is far from safe.”
Demeter informed Zeus and the rest what had occurred between Psyche and Persephone. This caused a frown to break out on Aphrodite’s face, but she remained silent.
“You entered the underworld and helped the girl?” Zeus asked Demeter, a disapproving tone entering his voice.
“My lord, I only wanted to visit my daughter,” Demeter said smoothly. “When I arrived, the girl was there, and I did not see any harm in convincing Persephone to give her what she needed to fulfill Aphrodite’s quest.”
“You strain the boundaries of the law, my lady,” Zeus said. “You know no god — not even I — is allowed to enter the underworld without Hades’ specific permission. Still, if he does not complain about this transgression, I see no reason to purse the matter further.”
Zeus considered this information carefully, and the rest of the gods waited patiently in silence.
“The girl actually went into the underworld to complete her task,” Zeus said thoughtfully. “Even for the mightiest of heroes that would take the courage of a god. So that decides the matter. Eros, if the mortal successfully completes her task, I decree that she will have more than earned the gift of immortality, and I will gladly grant it to her.”
“Oh Lord Zeus, a thousand, thousand thanks,” Eros said. “I will fetch her and bring her to Mount Olympus immediately.”
“No, not yet,” Zeus warned. “You may fetch her only when she has left the underworld and re-entered the land of living. If you go into the underworld now, it would again violate Hades’ law concerning the gods, and I do not think my brother would be so tolerant of two transgressions occurring so close to each other.”
“But my lord, what if Psyche does not make it out of the land of dead,” Eros said.
“Then she will have to remain there forever,” Zeus replied. “I am sorry, but I will not risk a war of the gods, even for love. But do not despair, my boy. From what I have heard, the girl is extremely brave and resourceful, and I believe she will have no trouble returning from the underworld. And no one here will interfere with her.”
Zeus looked meaningfully at Aphrodite as he said this. But the goddess merely bowed in compliance, then silently left the throne room.
At that moment, Psyche was stepping off Charon’s boat, having used the ferryman’s services to transport her back across the River Styx.
“This is the first time since I can remember of having transported someone out of Hades,” Charon rasped. “Still, you have paid the toll, and there is nothing in the rules which says I cannot do it. So I suppose there is a first time for everything.”
Without another word, Charon poled his boat from the shore, continuing his never-ending task of transporting the dead to their final destination in the underworld. Her heart beating quickly, Psyche made her way along the shore of the Styx, toward the opening leading back to the land of the living.
Psyche could still sense the terrible things which dwelled in the dark waters of the Styx, and occasionally one raised its head – or what she thought was its head – out of the water. Although the sight brought a cold fear to her, Psyche continued to push on toward the entrance.
As she was walking, Psyche eagerly thought of when she and Eros would finally be reunited. But then a disturbing thought entered her mind. She had not heard from her beloved since he had disappeared that day on the summit. She began to wonder – had Eros grown cold toward her? Or worse, had he found someone else? Psyche had heard many stories about how the gods could be fickle toward their mortal lovers, and she could not help but wonder if Eros’ passion for her had cooled considerably since she saw him last.
With a sign, the girl stopped for a moment in the twilight gloom. Psyche kept telling herself she was being foolish, yet she could not rid herself of the nagging doubt that Eros no longer cared for her. She kept wondering why he had not made any attempt to contact her or help her since they had been separated.
Finally, Psyche came to a decision. Despite Persephone’s warning, Psyche carefully opened the box of Dark Beauty she was carrying. The girl reasoned it would do no harm to use a tiny amount of it to improve her appearance, and give the rest of it to Aphrodite. No one ever need know, she thought.
Psyche looked inside the box, whose contents shimmered and pulsed, almost like a think alive. Enthralled by what she saw, Psyche carefully drew a small dab of the Dark Beauty from the box with her finger. The dab continued to pulse and shimmer like the rest in the box, and Psyche applied it to her face. Then she fell down, unconscious..
Helpless, Psyche lay on the path next to the river. Minutes passed, but the girl did not move, completely overwhelmed by the power of the Dark Beauty. And nearby, the dark waters of the Styx began to roil and churn, as the denizens of the river, sensing a victim close by, began to move toward her.
In his workshop on Mount Olympus, Hephaestus was busily at work at the forge. Occasionally he would turn a critical eye on the fire, and blow the bellows, and then add some special ingredient to his project which was concealed by the heavenly flames. As he was testing the consistency of the material with a pair of tongs, Aphrodite entered the workshop.
“I would have words with you,” Aphrodite said firmly.
“Oh really, wife. You honor me with your presence,” Hephaestus said cheerfully.
“Spare me the platitudes,” Aphrodite snapped. “I know it was you who freed Eros from the cage. Only you could have done it so easily.”
“Yes, you are correct, I did free him,” Hephaestus replied. “I thought it was most inappropriate to keep him locked up like that.”
“You dare interfere…” Aphrodite began.
“He is my son, too. Or have you forgotten,” Hephaestus said quietly. “Why do you hate that girl so much? I would have thought you would be pleased, knowing that he has finally chosen a mate. Does it not seem strange to you that the God of Love should be unmarried?”
“My temples lost worshipers because of her,” Aphrodite snapped. “And they compared her beauty — a mortal’s — to me. How can I tolerate such insolence?”
“Oh nonsense,” Hephaestus said. “Mortals are always comparing themselves to you, you know that. And as far as your worshipers are concerned, the point will soon become moot. If the girl marries Eros, she becomes part of our family, and by extension her worshipers become yours once more. You will have lost nothing. So stop being so jealous of her.”
“That is just what Lord Zeus said,” Aphrodite said.
“There you see, the All-Father agrees with me. Jealousy does not become you, my dear. In fact, I believe it is very bad for you. If you really do not wish to lose your mortal worshipers, then I suggest you stop acting in such a spiteful and vengeful manner. You will only end up making Eros hate you, and making those who worship you question whether you are really as lovely and beautiful as you claim to be.”
For a long time Aphrodite was silent, staring at Hephaestus as he continued to work the forge.
“What are you working on so diligently,” she finally asked.
“Oh, just a little project, something that recently inspired me. I am almost finished. I am glad you are here, because I will definitely be interested in your opinion of it, once it is complete.”
Hephaestus busied himself again at the forge, tweaking and tapping and adding the necessary items to the mysterious project, as only the smith of gods could perform. Finally, Aphrodite spoke again.
“I suppose you are right,” she said in a small voice. “I have been behaving very badly these past few weeks. I know the girl is indeed worthy of Eros, but I did want to admit it to myself. But I will make amends for what has been done.”
“From what Eros has told me, I am certain we will not be able to find a better daughter-in-law,” Hephaestus said. “Ah, it is ready!”
He took a pair of tongs and pushed them into the fire, using them to grasp what was inside and lifted it out. When Aphrodite saw it, she gasped in wonder and amazement. It was a dress, but none like she had ever seen before. It was made of pure gold, and it gleamed and shimmered and even seemed to breath like a thing alive.
“I made it from the wool that you had the girl gather from the deadly sheep,” Hephaestus explained. “The material was perfect for this project.”
“But I was going to have my weavers make the dress,” Aphrodite protested.
“Oh tush!” Hephaestus exclaimed. “What can mere weavers do compared to my talents? Surely this is something rare and wondrous, is it not?”
“It is indeed,” Aphrodite said. “I have many fine clothes, but I have never seen the likes of this before.”
This was true. The dress was such that it would hug the body like a golden skin, accenting the wearer’s form to an even greater height of beauty. Over the years, Hephaestus had made many things for Aphrodite – rings, bracelets, girdles – but none matched the sheer dazzling beauty of the dress.
“Well wife, do you think this would make a fine wedding dress?” Hephaestus asked.
“A wedding dress? You mean…” Aphrodite began.
“Oh, for you to wear, of course. But there is a small price that you will have to pay,” Hephaestus said.
“A price? What do you mean?” Aphrodite said.
“Oh nothing major, I assure you. But in light of what has occurred, I think it would only be appropriate that you perform a small task, to demonstrate that you are giving your blessing to our son’s nuptials.”
Hephaestus then named the price, and — with a smile – Aphrodite agreed to it, and eagerly took possession of the dress.
In the twilight gloom, Psyche still had not moved, and the dark, terrible denizens of the River Styx had made their way to the shore and were slowly moving closer and closer to the helpless girl. Normally, these shades would have been no threat to a living person, but Psyche, being unconscious, was unable to run or defend herself. The dark beings crept ever closer, eager to feast on the girl’s warm living form.
Now the shades were close enough to touch her, yet still Psyche did not move. They raised up as one, preparing to strike, when a ray of sunlight suddenly burst forth, bathing the girl in its glow. Despite the brightness, the underworld denizens still leaped toward the helpless girl. But all they received for their efforts was empty air, for at that moment, something swooped out of the sky with the speed of thought. The shades howled in frustrated rage, for they realized something had spirited the girl away before they could claim her.
High up in the sky, above the opening to the underworld, Eros carefully cradled Psyche’s form, examining her to make certain she was unhurt. When he realized what was causing her unnatural sleep, he gently descended to the ground. Carefully, he removed the Dark Beauty still glittering on Psyche’s face, and returned it to the box from whence it had come. Psyche’s eyes then fluttered open.
“Oh you have come for me,” she exclaimed.
“Yes, fortunately you applied the Dark Beauty right at the entrance to the underworld,” Eros said. “When the sunlight broke through, I was able to pick you up from where you had fallen. But if you had lost consciousness just a few steps earlier, I never would have been able rescue you, and you would have remained in the underworld forever,” Eros said.
“Oh, I am so sorry, but I just wanted to use the Dark Beauty to make myself more beautiful.” Psyche said. “I thought that would please you.”
“Now that is just so foolish,” Eros said. “How could you ever think that you could improve on perfection.”
Eros then gathered Psyche in his arms, and they took off, flying high and far above the trees.
“Where are we going?” Psyche said.
“To Olympus,” Eros explained. “We have a date with destiny.”
Psyche said nothing further, and in less time that it takes to tell, she found herself in the great throne room of the gods, with Eros beside her, standing in front of Lord Zeus himself.
“Well, I can see that the stories of your beauty are not exaggerated, child. In fact, they do not even come close to doing you justice,” Zeus said, after looking at her carefully.
Blushing, Psyche smiled, but lowered her head modestly.
“Ganymede, bring me my goblet,” Zeus ordered. A handsome youth appeared, carrying a large ornate golden cup, encrusted with many fine gems. But as lovely as it was, the cup’s beauty was surpassed by its contents. Inside was golden liquid, whose scent was more wondrous and intoxicating than all the perfumes of the earth.
“This is ambrosia, Psyche,” Zeus explained. “The nectar of the gods. At Eros’ request, I now offer it to you. Drink this, and you will never need fear death. Old Age will also remain a stranger to you for all eternity. But there is one thing. Because Eros has asked this for you, you will have to remain at his side, as his wife, through the ages, if you drink it. Is this what you want, Psyche?”
“Oh yes, Lord Zeus, yes. More than anything else, yes!” Psyche said.
“Then…drink!” said the Lord of the Gods.
Psyche took the goblet, which was so large for her she had to use both hands. She took a small sip, and felt a strange sweet fire traveling through her stomach.
“Drink more,” Zeus ordered. “Do not be afraid, drink deep to show your commitment to your new life.”
Psyche obeyed, this time draining the goblet of its contents.
“Oh my!” Psyche gasped, the fire now coursing sweetly through her veins. Suddenly, an unseen force lift the girl from the floor, and she remained suspended in mid-air.
“My lord, what is happening?” Eros cried.
“Do not panic,” Zeus said. “She is undergoing a metamorphosis. She will be all right.”
As Zeus spoke, two nimbuses of light erupted from each of Psyche’s shoulders. Each nimbus grew and spread out from Psyche’s body, then both took shape and solidified, forming into a huge pair of wings which glittered with the beautiful iridescence of a butterfly.
“Oh my,” Psyche said again, as she slowly descended to the floor. “I did not realize it would be like this.”
“Are you all right?” Eros asked.
“Oh yes, I feel wonderful. I just did not realize that this would happen,” Psyche said.
“It is fitting, child,” Zeus explained. “Eros has wings, so it is only appropriate that you his wife have them as well.”
“Oh I love them, Lord Zeus. I have always loved butterflies, and this seems so appropriate,” Psyche explained.
“No doubt, your love of butterflies influenced the form and shape of your new wings,” Zeus explained. “Now, we at Olympus have a new member in our ranks. Let the wedding ceremony begin.”
The ceremony was simply and straightforward, with Zeus officiating. Eros and Psyche stood before him, and pledged their love to each other, and at the end he pronounced them married. All the gods were in attendance, except one. Although Psyche was ecstatic, she could not help but notice that Aphrodite was absent from the proceedings.
After the ceremony concluded, the gods and goddesses came forward, all to wish the newlyweds well and present them with gifts. Psyche accepted each graciously, but then a forlorn look stole across her face.
“Why are you sad?” Eros said, sensing her thoughts.
“My mother and father. They should be here. Everything moved so quickly, I did not have time to think of them.”
“They are here,” Eros said. “I had Hermes fetch them, although I admit they were a bit out of breath and distraught when they arrived. But they have seen everything, and we will speak with them shortly.”
Eros suddenly found himself being rewarded for this thoughtfulness with a long passionate kiss from his bride.
A few moments later, Hephaestus shuffled forward and whispered a few words to Zeus.
“My friends,” Zeus announced. “In honor of this most momentous occasion, we have a very special form of entertainment. If you will all be seated, we shall see it momentarily.”
Everyone obeyed, with Psyche and Eros seated in a place of honor at the head of a table. Suddenly, music was heard throughout the room, although Psyche could not see any musicians or orchestra. The music was a fast, melody, something which made one want to get up and dance.
The reason for the music quickly became apparent. From seemingly out of nowhere, a figure appeared, whirling and dancing across the floor. The gods gasped in amazement, for they could see it was Aphrodite, wearing the golden dress Hephaestus had created. The dress — which looked like it had been painted onto Aphrodite’s body — shimmered and sparkled with a golden iridescent fire.
Aphrodite danced back and forth across the room, and those watching could tell she was putting all her talents and abilities into the performance. Faster and faster and faster she moved, yet all the time maintaining a grace and poise that she and only she could do. Psyche and others clapped with delight and many cheered Aphrodite’s performance. Finally, as the music reached a crescendo, Aphrodite began to whirl, her body blurring into a golden-colored flame. Then, just as the music ceased, Aphrodite stopped abruptly before Psyche, bowing her head.
There was a long silence. At Eros’ signal, Psyche stood up and approached the goddess.
“Well Daughter, what did you think,” Aphrodite said softly. Despite this, Psyche sensed that everyone could hear what was being said.
“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Truly.” Psyche said. “I would be most honored if you could teach me how to dance like that.”
“It would be my honor, child,” Aphrodite said with a smile.
“Oh, here is what you asked for,” Psyche said, remembering the Dark Beauty. She handed Aphrodite the box. The goddess opened it, took a small dab of the Dark Beauty, and applied it to her face.
“Well, what do you think,” Aphrodite said.
“My Lady, I….” Psyche began, searching for the words.
“Tell me the truth girl,” Aphrodite said. “It would not be wise to start our family with a lie.”
“Great Aphrodite, forgive me, but I think Lady Persephone said it best,” Psyche said.
“And that is?”
“She said, how can you improve on perfection, and that’s what I think you are, without the Dark Beauty.”
Again, there was a long silence. Suddenly, it was broken by the sound laughter, a deep throaty laughter coming from Aphrodite.
“By the sea foam which spawned, that is a good answer child,” Aphrodite said. She took another dab of the Dark Beauty and playfully flicked it onto Psyche’s face. This time, it merely glittered on Psyche’s cheek where it had struck, and both began to laugh.
For three days, the gods celebrated the wedding of Psyche and Eros.
A year after the marriage, Psyche gave birth to a girl, which she and Eros named Joy.