In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature


J. Schroeder Het Sprookje van Amor en Psyche in het licht der Psychoanalyse (1917)

Schroeder views the marriage of "Cupid and Psyche" as reminiscent of the Greek myth of Andromeda. Just as Andromeda was tied to a rock awaiting a sea-monster sent by Neptune, so Psyche was left alone at the top of the hill waiting for the serpent spoken of in Apollo’s oracle. Aphrodite’s jealousy of Psyche also echoes Neptune’s wrath against Andromeda’s mother, who boasted that she was more beautiful than Juno. Schroeder sees the timeless psychological significance of this mythical marriage to a monster as a symbolic portrait of an adolescent girl’s initial fear of the male’s sex drive. At first the girl unconsciously pictures the unknown aspects of sexual love as something monstrous, but once her initial anxiety is overcome, she learns to see the would be monster in a different light. (Het Sprookje van Amor en Psyche in het licht der Psychoanalyse. Baarn, Netherlands, 1917: p. 27-28)

Schroeder also focuses on the theme of the lover’s disappearance in the Eros and Psyche story, which he calls the Melusina motif. Here he refers to the tale of the fairy princess Melusina, from whom the kings of Albania are said to be descended. As a punishment for having shut her father in a mountain, Melusina was changed into a snake from the waist down every Saturday and she could be released from this punishment only if she married a man who never saw her in serpent’s form. She found such a man, but one day when his curiosity was aroused by her unusual ways, he looked at her while she was bathing and consequently she fled in her serpent form. In Schroeder’s view, Melusina’s situation is very much like the crucial lamp scene where Psyche breaks the taboo against seeing the god Eros, thereby causing him to depart and thus ending her paradise of love with him. When Eros (a god) disappears as a result of Psyche (a mortal) looking at him, this is directly parallel to the way Melusina (a fairy) disappears when her husband (a mortal) looks at her.

… For Schroeder, both the Eros and Psyche tale and the Melusina story are nightmares insofar as the lover disappears when a taboo is broken. The sudden, shocking sense of loss is at the heart of these nightmares.

Insofar as Schroeder sees the Eros and Psyche tale as an erotic dream, or rather, an erotic nightmare, Eros as a woman’s lover in the night is very much an expression of her own sexual drive. Here Schroeder has in mind not the marriage-of-death scene, but rather the phantom-lover-in-the-magical-castle scene. Freud’s definition of dream as the "hidden fulfillment of a repressed wish" sheds light on Schroeder’s understanding of this myth as a dream, since the wishful element is so strong in the Eros and Psyche myth.

Chapter One: "Cupid and Psyche"

Course Outline

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Erich Neumann

Bruno Bettelheim