In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature
Apuleius: Questions 1
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.
In The Golden Ass,, the tale of Cupid and Psyche is told by an
old woman who recounts the story of "Cupid and Psyche" in order to quell the fears
of a terrified kidnap victim; we are going to read "Cupid and Psyche" as though it were
told directly by Apuleius. Let's remember, by effacing the context of the story, we are
inevitably distorting it; however, "Cupid and Psyche" does seem to stand on its own, and
our authority for reading it as such derives from precedent: it has been interpreted
as a unitary work since the fifth century when Fulgentius analyzed it as an allegory about
Christ--an ingenious Christian appropriation of a pagan tale that underscores for us its mythic power; in addition "Cupid and Psyche" has also been frequently published out of context, as
a self-contained story, Psyche et Cupido: there has even been an independent
publication of Graves’s translation,
the mediating story for our explorations of myth and children's literature.
Things To Do
- Read the story once for plot, character, setting, style, and other
conventions of Western narrative structure.
- After reading some of the critical and supplementary material noted below,
read the story again paying more attention to mythical and archetypal elements and symbollism, bearing in
mind that myth is not a representation of experience, it is about experience; it is
interpretive and therefore it is also about meaning.
- 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
Bettelheim. html, Neumann.html, etc.)
- To help focus on the mythic elements, look at my Mythic Elements
document, (myth.html); although these are not the only mythic elements in the story, these
are the ones for which you will be responsible.
- Think about the following questions (see also
- To some extent, every analysis of "Cupid and Psyche" must come to terms with the
allegorical implications of the characters’ names: Cupid or Eros
stands for passion and the body, while psyche is the Greek word for feminine or
spirit. The double-sense of "psyche" compels us to read the story as a double-allegory, telling
us about the development of the feminine, and, as well, about the development of spirit.
- What is the attitude of the story-teller to Psyche? Is he sympathetic or unsympathetic?
Is Psyche treated like a type or an individual--or does it matter?
- 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? What might be
its appeal as children's literature?
- 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 are: that it is
"only just possible to find words of praise to describe the elder two." Yet, what reader can
them as appearing anything other than homely? Does
Apuleius truly mean for us to envision them as beautiful?
Or, is Apuleius w I n k n g at us
(so to speak)? Is he implying that Psyche’s sisters are not really beautiful, but of course, a
less a story teller of elevated judgment--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 we CAN’T? And how does an unreliable
narrator help to expose the underlying presence of myth?
- 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 relationships between Venus and Psyche, or Cupid and Venus seem familiar.
Is Cupid a figure of reason or imagination? 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 unreal or, at any rate, less real
than Psyche? Are they less real than Cupid?
- 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—is
this "childish" behavior?
- 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, or is it
- Why does Apuleius say it is "lucky" to be addressed by Pan? Is it lucky for Psyche? How?