In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature
Apuleius: Questions 2
This group of questions will help to focus on the mythic contents of "Cupid and Psyche," and
continues the questions given on "Apuleius: Questions 1".
- Psyche's 'marriage to death' (an alternative name for marriage to the monster husband)
occurs on a mountain top; when she attempts to slay herself
after Cupid abandons her, Psyche resorts to throwing herself from a precipice. Later, a friendly
tower gives her advice. Do you see an iconic significance Apuleius may be emphasizing?
Or, to ask the same question a different way, why does Apuleius repeatedly refer to the symbol
of the high place,
and why so ambivalently? What kind of symbolism traditionally attaches to towers, mountains,
trees, etc.? (See Guerin, p. 153, for example).
- When the "meddlesome" white gull exposes Cupid's deception to Venus, his (his?)
description of the deserted earth is reminiscent of the
archaic vegetation myths (see "ground" myths); however, his terms are
urbane and idiomatic: "Pleasure, Grace and Wit have disappeared from the earth and everything
there has become ugly, dull and slovenly. Nobody bothers any longer about his wife, his friends
or his children; and the whole system of human love is in such complete disorder that it is now
considered disgusting for anyone to show even natural affection" (p. 122-23). Putting yourself
in the place of a 2d century Roman sophisticate, how would you respond to Apuleius's
modernization of the old story?
- What does Apuleius valorize by this allusion? What does he mean by "natural affection?"
- In pre-Socratic Greece myth functioned as supportive material for philosophic standpoints.
What philosophic standpoint is Apuleius buttressing with his invocation of the old
- (Note: on p. 127, Apuleius alludes to the Demeter (Ceres) Core/Persphone story. What is
the effect of this repetition?)
- When Psyche begins her quest, Apuleius portrays her as self-effacing and powerless--yet
resolute, pledged to accomplish the impossible, as if her
innocence prepared her to outface the futility of her plight. Is this a characteristic
we conventionally assign to youth? To maturity?
- How does this compare with her attitude in Part I, when she marches to her doom?
- Guerin observes (see p. 155) that the myth critic sees
literature "holistically, as the manifestation of vitalizing, integrative forces arising from
the depths of humankind's collective psyche." [my italics--clues! clues!!]
In what senses are the tasks Psyche performs "integrative"? (Read over--with a critical
Neumann's analysis of Psyche's tasks.)
- How does Psyche's journey to the Underworld compare with the journeys of her mythical
antecedents? (see Myth of Inanna,
and The Descent of Ishtar,
- What is the significance of the rather strange characters that belabor Psyche on her
- Why must Psyche refrain from eating the food of the dead? (Graves's forward to his
translation of the the Transformation offers one ingenious possilibity.)
- As Jane Ellen Harrison notes, in Mythology (New York: Harcourt, 1924, 1963),
"The Hebrew word for "good" meant primarily "good to eat" (p. x). Thus, perhaps, to some
extent, the meaning of "good" continues on some subliminal level to point toward the idea
"good to eat." Let's think about this:
The divinely inspired Tower's advice to Psyche, that she must refuse the "magnificent meal"
Proserpine offers her emphasizes that, in Tartarus, no matter how things may appear, Psyche is
threatened by what is NOT good. And, earlier in the tale, when her sisters bully Psyche into
believing their gross fabrications about Cupid, they warn her that he is about to eat
her--that "a woman far gone in pregnancy" constitutes his favorite food. One might argue that
on some level, "Cupid and Psyche," is a story about EATING. Where else in the text
do food images appear? Do they contribute to one of our allegorical readings of the story? How
does Neumann relate eating to psychic development?
(See AQ1, question 1.)
- What is the resemblance between Psyche's investigation of the box and earlier Greek myth?
(See, for example The myth of Pandora.)
- What is the nature of Prosperine's "beauty"? Why does the Tower warn Psyche it is not for her
to explore? Is this advice Psyche should heed?
- In Robert Graves's interpretation of the myth of Pandora, he makes a claim that Pandora is
a type of the Great Goddess--The Mother of All Things. Psyche's comparison to the Great
Goddess would be both appropriate and inappropriate in the context of this story: explain.