Once upon a time there was a king and a queen in a kingdom, who had three beautiful daughters. Among the sisters, the youngest was so unearthly beautiful that people started to adore and worship her instead of Venus (Aphrodite). At this, Venus felt insulted and sent her son Cupid (Eros) to use his arrows of desire to ensure Psyche fall in love with the ugliest creature in the world. However, Cupid was so much distracted by the angelic beauty of the princes, that instead of using his arrow, he unmindfully scratched himself with it and fell deeply in love with Psyche.
With time, the elder sisters got married, but the idolized Psyche was yet to find her love. Her worried parents apprehended that Psyche's beauty and attractiveness must have incurred the wrath of the gods. To know the truth, they consulted the oracle of Apollo. They were told that the virgin is destined to be the bride of a monster, who awaits her on the top of the mountain, whom neither the gods nor the inhabitants of the underworld can resist.
Dressed in funeral attire, Psyche was conveyed by a procession to the peak of the mountain. Zephyr, the west wind, came and swept the princess gently from the mountain top down to a striking valley, in the center of which stood an amazing Palace. As she entered inside, a faceless voice told her to make herself comfortable and assured her to be the owner of the beautiful palace. The faceless stranger started to visit her every night to make love in the darkness and depart before the sunrise. He implored Psyche never to try to see what he looks like. Psyche loved him, but could never see him, and despite his nighttime tenderness, she was always haunted by the oracle's claim that her lover was not a man, he is a monster.
After spending several days in the lonely Palace, Psyche requested her invisible lover to allow her sisters to visit her. He agreed reluctantly and asked Zephyr to float them down. However, the sisters became jealous of her abundance and started to question about her husband. Eventually, Psyche admitted that she could never see him, as he only comes to her in the darkness of the nights.
The sisters reminded her of the prophecy and insisted that Psyche's husband really is a monster and she should find out the truth. That night, when her lover was asleep, Psyche brought out a hidden lamp and a dagger, in order to see him and if necessary to kill the monster. But as the light revealed the truth, she was so startled by the mesmerizing beauty of Cupid, that she spilled a drop of hot oil from the lamp on his body. Cupid woke up immediately and distressed by her betrayal, flew away from the window, leaving Psyche all alone.
Poor Psyche travelled for many days looking for her lost love, till she came upon a deserted temple of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. As advised by Ceres, Psyche surrendered to Venus and begged to be excused. However, the goddess of love told Psyche in an unpleasant manner that to prove herself worthy to be Cupid's wife, she should complete three specific tasks. First, from the mixed pile of barley, millet, beans, and other grains in the storehouse of the temple, she should sort the grains in separate piles. Second, Psyche should steal golden wool from the back of every sheep in a herd. Finally, Psyche was ordered to go to the world of the dead to see Proserpine, the queen of the underworld and wife of Pluto (Hades), and bring a little bit of Queen Proserpina’s for her in a box. The last task included a further challenge, since the box containing the beauty of Prosepina and meant for Venus, should be tightly closed, for fear of terrible repercussions.
Psyche did not know, but throughout these trails Cupid was constantly at her aid. He instructed ants to help her to sort the grains. At his request the river god offered her the clue as to how to steal the prize fleece from the shepherd. Finally, Psyche was given divine advice on how to surpass the dangers of Hades. Yet, she failed finally. Though a voice warned her not to open the box of beauty received from Prosepina, she opened the lid of the box out of curiosity. She found nothing inside but an "infernal and Stygian sleep,” which took over her and immediately she plunged into a deep sleep, collapsing in the middle of the road.
At this point, Cupid directly came to rescue Psyche. He drew the sleep from her face and replaced it in the box, and then he lifted Psyche to heaven and pleaded to Jupiter to help them to come out from the wrath of his mother. At the instance of Jupiter, Venus lifted her curse on the poor girl, and as she woke up, Jupiter gave her some ambrosia, which made her immortal, so the couple can be united in marriage as equals. Finally, Jupiter's word was solemnized with a gala wedding banquet.
The story of Cupid and Psyche is originally from the Metamorphoses (also known as Golden Ass) written by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis (or Platonicus) in the 2nd century AD. The story is all about the overcoming of obstacles to the love between Psyche (Soul or Breath of Life) and Cupid (Desire) or Amor (Love, Eros), and their ultimate union. However, reference of Eros and Psyche is evident in Greek art as early as the 4th century BC. The story has been retold many times in poetry, drama, opera, and depicted widely in painting and sculpture.