Cupid and Psyche
The primary text for this section of the course is the "Cupid and Psyche" section of The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass / a new translation by Robert Graves, from Apuleius, chapters 7,8 and 9. I have made this available as a web document (Apuleius.html); for easy reference, I have included the page numbers as they appear in the edition published by Farrar Straus, in 1951, eighth printing, 1972. These chapters have been published more recently as The Tale of Cupid and Psyche/ Lucius Apuleius; translated by Robert Graves. Boston: Shambhala, 1992. Glosses of the essential story (e.g., Bullfinch’s) are available as web documents on the internet, and are recommended reading.
Things To Do
Read Foundational myths (found.html)
Look on Internet for other versions of "Cupid and Psyche" (Bullfinch, etc.)
Read general theories of myth: read Guerin (guerin.html)
Read general psychoanalytic theories about Cupid and Psyche (see Bettleheim. html, Neumann.html, etc.)
Read Mythic Elements of Cupid and Psyche (Elements_html)
Be prepared to discuss the following questions:
What is the attitude of the story-teller to Psyche? Is he sympathetic or unsympathetic? Is Psyche treated like a type or an individual?
(In The Golden Ass, in which "Cupid and Psyche" first appears, the story-teller is an old woman who tells the story to a frightened kidnap victim; but we are going to read "Cupid and Psyche" as though it were being told directly by Apuleius. Admittedly, by effacing the context of the story, we are distorting it; however, our authority for doing this derives from precedent: "Cupid and Psyche" does seem to stand on its own, with a specific beginning and ending; it has been analyzed as a unitary work since the fifth century when Fulgentius analyzed it an allegory about Christ; in addition "Cupid and Psyche" has also been frequently published as a separate story: there has even been an independent publication of Graves’s translation. Last of all (and perhaps least of all), it will be infinitely less confusing to pose questions such as the above, and discuss the attitude of the narrator in the context of Apuleius’s ultimate authorship, and reflective of his point of view rather the point of view of a ghostly old woman.)
How would you characterize the tone of the story? Is it light-hearted? Morbid? Does its outward lightness mask its profundity, or do its serious moments simply temper its true spirit of gaiety and romance? Is it what 20th century critics might call "black comedy?" or might once have called "screwball comedy?" Or are we diverted by superficial resemblances and kept from acknowledging something darkly disturbing about this fairy tale?
While we are thinking about superficial resemblances and diversion . . . Apuleius begins "Cupid and Psyche by telling us how beautiful all of the king’s daughters were: that it was "only just possible to find words of praise to describe the elder two." Yet, who can think of them as appearing anything other than homely? Does Apuleius truly mean for us to envision them as beautiful—and thus CAN WE TRUST HIS JUDGMENT? Or, is Apuleius w I n k I n g at us (so to speak)? Silently acknowledging that of course Psyche’s sisters were not really beautiful, but of course, a sophisticated citizen—much less a story teller--mustn’t say that! Soooo, hmmmm. If Apuleius is telling us one thing while implying its opposite, does that mean we CAN TRUST him, or CAN’T?
Think why the relationship between Psyche and Cupid seems familiar. Are they the "type" of doomed young lovers? (A 2nd century Romeo and Juliet, for example?)
Think why the relationship between Venus and Psyche seems familiar. How about Cupid and Venus? Is there a point of view ascribed to Cupid, or is he simply two-dimensional, a pretty face, as it were?
Think about other literary characters you have encountered that reflect aspects of Cupid, Psyche and Venus as they relate to each other (a good entry into possible paper topics! ;>)
When Psyche arrives at Cupid’s Temple she becomes the ward of a host of invisible attendants. Who are these guys, anyway? Are they real?
Psyche’s commitment to Cupid seems—let us say "dynamic": by turns she is enraptured by his words and deeds, then terrified by what he might be. What sort of person behaves this way—how are such people generally classified?
Speaking of instability, what kind of a husband keeps himself from his wife in the manner Cupid keeps himself from Psyche? (On the other hand, which of us is happy all the time?!)
When Psyche resolves to look for Cupid, where does she go? Where would one begin to look for a god? Is this moment of hopelessness characteristic of the tone of the story?
Why does Apuleius say it is "lucky" to be addressed by Pan? Is it lucky for Psyche? How?
More to follow . . .