Actual Size (W x H): 71cm x 109cm [ 27.97" x 42.95" ]
John William Waterhouse: Psyche Entering Cupids Garden - 1905
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The goddess Venus, jealous of the outstandingly beautiful mortal Psyche, asked her son Cupid to cause Psyche to fall in love with the vilest wretch alive. Cupid agreed.
When all continued to admire and praise Psyche's beauty but none desired her as a wife, Psyche's parents consulted an oracle which told them to set Psyche in mourning garments on top of a nearby peak as Psyche was destined for no mortal lover but for a monster who held even gods in thrall. So it was done. But then Zephyrus, the west wind, carried Psyche away to a fair valley and a magnificent palace where she was attended by invisible servants until night fell and in the darkness of night the promised bridegroom arrived and the marriage was consummated. The bridegroom visited her only by night and refused to let himself be seen.
The mysterious bridegroom even allowed Zephyrus to take Psyche back to her sisters and bring all three down to the palace during the day, only warning that Psyche should not listen to any argument that she should try to discover his true form. The two sisters, jealous of Psyche, returned, jumping down from that peak so that Zephyrus had to bear them up gently or let them die. The sisters told Psyche, then pregnant, that rumor was that she had married a great serpent who would devour her and her unborn child when her time came. They urged Psyche to conceal a knife and oil lamp in the bedchamber, to wait till her husband was asleep, and then to light the lamp and slay him at once if it was as they said. Psyche followed their advice. In the light of the lamp Psyche recognized the fair form on the bed as the god Cupid himself, but a drop of oil fell from Psyche's lamp and scalded Cupid. Cupid awoke and flew off with Psyche clinging to him until she could hold on no longer and fell to the earth, whereupon Cupid chastised Psyche for disobeying his charge though he himself had ignored his own mother's command, had descended from heaven to love her, had wounded himself with his own arrow.
The god Pan, who was nearby, advised Psyche to seek to regain Cupid's love through service.
Psyche returned to her old home and told her two, jealous, elder sisters what had happened; they rejoiced secretly and each separately attempted to return to the valley hoping for the love of the god, but this time Zephyrus did not bear them and they fell to their deaths.
Psyche searched far and wide for her lover, finally stumbling into a temple to Ceres where all was in slovenly disarray. As Psyche was sorting and clearing, Ceres appeared, but refused any help but advice, saying Psyche must call directly on Venus. Psyche next called on Juno in her temple, but Juno said the same. So Psyche found a temple to Venus and entered it. Venus damned Psyche as a whore but did accept her service and ordered Psyche to separate all the grains in a large basket of mixed kinds before nightfall. An ant took pity on Psyche and with its ant companions separated the grains for her. Venus was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. A voice from a reed in a river told Psyche that the sheep were vicious and strong and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go to the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Venus next asked for water from the Styx and Cocytus flowing from a cleft that was impossible for a mortal to attain and was also guarded by great serpents. This time an eagle performed the task for Psyche. Venus, outraged at Psyche's survival, claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Proserpina, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a box that Venus gave to Psyche. Psyche decided that the quickest way to the underworld would be to throw herself off some high place and die and so she climbed to the top of a tower. But the tower itself spoke to her and told her the route through Tanaerum that would allow her to enter the underworld alive and return again, as well as telling her how to get by Cerberus by throwing him a sop and Charon by paying him an obol and how to avoid other dangers on the way there and back. Psyche followed the orders explicitly and ate nothing while beneath the earth.
But when Psyche had got out of the underworld, she decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside she could see no beauty, rather an infernal sleep arose from the box and overcame her. Cupid, who had forgiven Psyche, flew to her, wiped the sleep from her face, put it back in the box, and sent her back on her way. Then Cupid flew to heaven and begged Zeus to aid them. Zeus called a full and formal Council of the gods (which parodies a meeting of the Greek senate), declared it was his will that Cupid might marry Psyche, told Venus that it would be respectable matrimony, had Psyche fetched to heaven, and gave her a drink of immortality.
The offspring of the marriage was Voluptas, that is, 'Pleasure'.
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