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Psyche – Fighting against your own perfections
Greek mythology has captivated our imagination for centuries, and its various interpretations by world-famous authors have only propelled it to universal acclaim among the masses. Almost everyone has heard of Zeus’ infamous infidelity, how Athens was formed, the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, Heracles’ 12 laborers, and the story of Perseus and Andromeda. Out of all these stories, Perseus’ story stands out the most among them, mainly because he was the only Greek hero who had a happy ending. Or so we thought.
Not many people know that Perseus was not the only one with a happy ending. There is another, more tragic story of a female hero who was so pretty, that she had to suffer because of it.
Sounds strange, right? Suffering for having something which is a boon for many people may not be a very common sight, but that is exactly what Psyche had to go through. She was born into a family of three siblings, with her two older sisters who were very jealous of her beauty. Psyche was so pretty that people worshiped her for it, and many ended up not only comparing her to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty but even mistaking her for it. Now, many would think that this would give her a lot of marriage prospects, but that wasn’t the case. Psyche was so divinely beautiful that no one wanted to marry her, only admire her for her beauty. In other words, the biggest challenge Psyche had to overcome was her strength and beauty, which makes her such a great hero/heroine.
Meanwhile, up on Mount Olympus, Aphrodite got to know about all of this happening down in the mortal realm, and sent her son Eros, the male god of love, to make Psyche fall in love with an ugly old man, to teach her a lesson. However, when Eros came down, he looked at her and almost immediately fell in love with her beauty, and decided to spare her. Meanwhile, Psyche’s father decided to consult the Oracle of Delphi regarding what to do with his daughter’s marriage. Apollo, speaking through the Oracle, said “Despair, king. Your daughter will marry a beast even the gods fear. Dress her in funeral clothes and take her to the tallest rock spire in the kingdom. There, she shall meet her doom.” The king returned heartbrokenly but obeyed God’s orders. However, this was done to mainly serve Eros’ purpose, as when Psyche got to the spire and waited, Zephyrus, god of the wind, carried her away to Eros’ palace, where she lived happily with Eros for a good amount of time. The catch here was that Psyche only ever met Eros under the cover of darkness, thus she didn’t know what Eros looked like and whether he was indeed a monster or not. They lived happily for some time until one day Eros told Psyche of her sisters, who missed her dearly and waited for her every single day on the rock spire, in the hopes that she did not die and was alive somewhere. To appease her, Eros allowed her to see her sisters but warned her of things they might say to her to try to break them apart. Psyche promised she could not be swayed and was thankful for the chance to see and talk to them. Her two sisters convinced her to see her husband’s true form, in case he was tricking her. In other versions, her sisters are jealous of the good fortune Psyche has had of not only being more beautiful than they are but getting to live such a lavish life. In anger and jealousy, they convince her that her husband is a monster and that she must see for herself who exactly she is married to. Thus, Psyche ended up being swayed by their advice, and that night, she came with an oil lamp to their bedroom to look at Eros’ face. However, when Psyche shone the light on her husband’s face, a small drop of hot oil fell onto his shoulder, awakening and burning him. Betrayed by his wife’s actions, Eros ran off to his mother, Aphrodite. After learning what she had done, Psyche was miserable. All this, just because she was beautiful.
But she didn’t give up. After mourning for a few days, she set out to find Aphrodite’s abode, hoping to find Eros. When she finally found Aphrodite’s house and entered in, Aphrodite was enraged at her audacity and made her suffer even further by making her do four impossible tasks, such as separating seeds from the wheat by hand, collecting wool from deadly sheep, drawing water from the underworld, and collecting a box of beauty from the underworld. However, she was able to persevere and complete all of these tasks, albeit with divine help. The first task had Athena, the goddess of wisdom, helping her separate the grains with the help of an ant colony, a river god helped out with the second task, and the third task involved Zeus’ intervention in the form of his Eagle. The fourth task, however, was the biggest intervention of them all, as Psyche was helped by none other than Eros in the form of a disembodied voice, as by then he had forgiven Psyche, moved by her perseverance. However, when she was near Olympus, Psyche opened the box of Persephone’s beauty, but the only thing inside was the essence of death, which was placed there in the hopes that Aphrodite might smell it. Psyche, thus, breathed her last. Eros, however, did not accept her death that easily, and ended up doing something so courageous that it was almost suicidal by Olympian standards: he ended up going to Mount Olympus and arguing with Zeus to make her a goddess so that she could be immortal. In the old myths, it was very well established that turning a mortal into a god was something very shunned at. But Zeus still ended up doing it, not because of what Psyche had to go through, but because of his fear of Eros and his powers of making anyone fall in love with anyone. In the end, Psyche became a goddess and lived with Eros on Mount Olympus forever.