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Psyche

PSYCHE (if'vx'fl), in Greek mythology, the personification of the human soul. The story of the love of Eros (Cupid) for Psyche is a philosophical allegory, founded upon the Platonic conception of the soul. In this connexion Psyche was represented in Greek and Graeco-Roman art as a tender maiden, with bird's or butterfly's wings, or simply as a butterfly. Sometimes she is pursued and tormented by Eros, sometimes she revenges herself upon him, sometimes she embraces him in fondest affection. The tale of Cupid and Psyche, in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, has nothing in common with this conception but the name. In it Psyche, the youngest daughter of a king, arouses the jealousy of Venus, who orders Cupid to inspire her with love for the most despicable of men. Cupid, however, falls in love with her himself, and carries her off to a secluded spot, where he visits her by night, unseen and unrecognized by her. Persuaded by her sisters that her companion is a hideous monster, and forgetful of his warning, she lights a lamp to look upon him while he is asleep; in her ecstasy at his beauty she lets fall a drop of burning oil upon the face of Cupid, who awakes and disappears. Wandering over the earth in search of him, Psyche falls into the hands of Venus, who forces her to undertake the most difficult tasks. The last and most dangerous of these is to fetch from the world below the box containing the ointment of beauty. She secures the box, but on her way back opens it and is stupefied by the vapour. She is only restored to her senses by contact with the arrow of Cupid, at whose entreaty Jupiter makes her immortal and bestows her in marriage upon her lover. The meaning of the allegory is obvious. Psyche, as the personification of the soul, is only permitted to enjoy her happiness so long as she abstains from ill-advised curiosity. The desire to pry into its nature brings suffering upon her; but in the end, purified by what she has undergone, she is restored to her former condition of bliss by the mighty power of love.

On this story see L. Friedlander, " Ueber das Marchen von Amor und Psyche " (in Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms, 1888, vol. i.; for a treatment of the Greek conception, see E. Rohde, Psyche, 1894). For Psyche in art see A. Conze, De Psyches imaginibus quibusdam (1855); Max Collignon, Essai sur les monuments grecs et remains relatifs au my the de Psyche (1877).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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