IN SEARCH OF CUPID AND PSYCHE
The Prodigal Daughter
Alice's Adventure as Rite of Passage
Cupid and Psyche in Modern Dress
Cupid and Psyche Undercover
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November 30, 1998.
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The following questions have been taken from the focus questions that accompany each chapter of the course.
- Think why the relationship between Psyche and Cupid seems familiar. Are they the "type" of doomed young lovers? (A 2nd century Romeo and Juliet,
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
detachment!--Erich 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, for
- 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.)
- The Prodigal Daughter includes archetypal characters and archetypal plot elements. What are the similarities shared by the prodigal daughter and Psyche?
- How does the Devil/gentleman fulfill the role of the Monster Husband?
- Whom does the PD’s mother resemble? Her alternating disciplinary and tender behavior toward the PD suggests versions of The Good Mother and The Terrible
Mother as described by Guerin. Explain. Compare her relationship to her daughter with Venus' relationship to Psyche. (Look at the way in which each mother
figure addresses the younger woman.)
- Vertical geography plays an important symbolic part in "Cupid and Psyche." Besides going down into the underworld, Psyche ascends and descends a mountain,
throws herself down into a river, receives encouraging advice from a tower and, of course, ascends to Olympus. Does The Prodigal Daughter exhibit a similar sense of
symbolic geography? (Consider this question in reference to the following sentence from Guerin: "Tree: In its most general sense, the symbolism of the tree denotes
life of the cosmos: its consistence, growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes. It stands for inexhaustible life, and is therefore equivalent to a symbol
of immortality" (J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, trans. Jack Sage [New York: Philosophical, 1962]: 328.
- In "Cupid and Psyche," Psyche violates a taboo by gazing at the sleeping Cupid a violation that some critics view as a necessary assertion of independence, a
corollary to personal growth. What is the taboo the PD violates? Does the story suggest that this is either necessary or good?
- What does the adaptability of the Cupid and Psyche story suggest about the nature of Truth? (hint: relate this to Eliade’s argument that myth "means a ‘true story’
and, beyond that, a story that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, significant" (see The Structure of Myths.)