Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 54

“A lonely flower he spied,
A meek and forlorn flower, with naught of pride,
Drooping its beauty o’er the watery clearness,
To woo its own sad image into nearness:
Deaf to light Zephyrus it would not move;
But still would seem to droop, to pine, to love.”
Pygmalion and Galatea.

Pygmalion, King of Cyprus, was a very celebrated sculptor. All his leisure moments were spent in the faithful portrayal of the [121] gods and goddesses. One day his practiced hand fashioned an image of Galatea. It was so beautiful that even before it was entirely finished its author loved it. When completed, Pygmalion admired it still more, deemed it too beautiful to remain inanimate, and besought Venus to give it life, stating that he wished a wife just like it.

As Pygmalion had always been an obdurate bachelor, and had frequently declared he would never marry, Venus was delighted to see him at last a victim of the tender passion, and resolved to grant his request. Pygmalion clasped the exquisite image to his breast to infuse some of his own warmth into the icy bosom, and pressed kiss after kiss upon the chiseled lips, until at last they grew soft and warm at his touch, and a faint color flushed the pale cheeks, as a breath dilated her lungs, and sent her blood coursing along her veins,—

“As once with prayers in passion flowing,
Pygmalion embraced the stone,
Till, from the frozen marble glowing,
The light of feeling o’er him shone.”

Pygmalion’s delight at seeing his fair image a living and breathing maiden was unbounded, and after a short but passionate wooing the object of his affections became his happy wife.

Cupid and Psyche.

In those same remote ages of “sweet mythology” there lived a king whose three daughters were world-renowned on account of their matchless beauty. Psyche, the youngest of the sisters, was so lovely, that her father’s subjects declared her worthy to be called the Goddess of Beauty, and offered to pay homage to her instead of to Venus. Offended by this proposal, which Psyche had good sense enough to refuse, Venus resolved to demonstrate forcibly to that benighted race that the maiden was mortal. She therefore bade her son Cupid slay her.

Armed with his bow and arrows, and provided with a deadly poison, Cupid set out to do her bidding, and at nightfall reached [122] the palace, crept noiselessly past the sleeping guards, along the deserted halls, and came to Psyche’s apartment, into which he glided unseen. Stealthily he approached the couch upon which the fair maiden was sleeping, and bent over her to administer the poisoned dose.

A moonbeam falling athwart her face revealed her unequaled loveliness, and made Cupid start back in surprise; but, as he did so, one of his own love arrows came into contact with his rosy flesh, and inflicted a wound, from which he was to suffer for many a weary day.

All unconscious of the gravity of his hurt, he hung enraptured over the sleeping maiden, and let her fair image sink into his heart; then, noiselessly as he had entered, he stole out again, vowing he would never harm such innocence and beauty.

Morning dawned. Venus, who had expected to see the sun illumine her rival’s corpse, saw her sporting as usual in the palace gardens, and bitterly realized that her first plan had completely failed. She therefore began to devise various torments of a petty kind, and persecuted the poor girl so remorselessly, that she fled from home with the firm intention of putting an end to the life she could no longer enjoy in peace.

To achieve this purpose, Psyche painfully toiled up a rugged mountain, and, creeping to the very edge of a great precipice, cast herself down, expecting to be dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks below; but Cupid, who had indignantly though helplessly seen all his mother’s persecutions, had followed Psyche unseen, and, when he perceived her intention to commit suicide, he called to Zephyrus (the South Wind), and entreated him to catch the maiden in his strong yet gentle arms, and bear her off to a distant isle.

Consequently, instead of a swift, sharp fall and painful death, Psyche felt herself gently wafted over hill and dale, across sparkling waters; and, long before she wearied of this new mode of travel, she was gently laid on a flowery bank, in the midst of an exquisite garden.

[123] Bewildered, she slowly rose to her feet, rubbed her pretty eyes to make sure she was not dreaming, and wonderingly strolled about the beautiful grounds. Ere long she came to an enchanted palace, whose portals opened wide to receive her, while gentle voices bade her enter, and invisible hands drew her over the threshold and waited upon her.

When night came, and darkness again covered the earth, Cupid appeared in search of his beloved Psyche. In the perfumed dusk he confessed his love, and tenderly begged for some return.

Now, although the fading light would not permit her to discern the form or features of her unknown lover, Psyche listened to his soft tones with unconcealed pleasure, and soon consented to their union. Cupid then entreated her to make no attempt to discover his name, or to catch a glimpse of his face, warning her that if she did so he would be forced to leave her, never to return.

“‘Dear, I am with thee only while I keep
My visage hidden; and if thou once shouldst see
My face, I must forsake thee: the high gods
Link Love with Faith, and he withdraws himself
From the full gaze of Knowledge.’”
Lewis Morris.

Psyche solemnly promised to respect her mysterious lover’s wishes, and gave herself up entirely to the enjoyment of his company. All night long they talked; and when the first faint streak of light appeared above the horizon, Cupid bade Psyche farewell, promising to return with the welcome shades of night. All day long Psyche thought of him, longed for him, and, as soon as the sun had set, sped to the bower where the birds were sleepily trilling forth their evening song, and breathlessly waited until he came to join her.

“Now on broad pinions from the realms above
Descending Cupid seeks the Cyprian grove;
[124] To his wide arms enamor’d Psyche springs,
And clasps her lover with aurelian wings.
A purple sash across His shoulder bends,
And fringed with gold the quiver’d shafts suspends.”

Although the hours of day seemed interminable, spent as they were in complete solitude, Psyche found the hours of night all too short in the sweet society of Love. Her every wish was gratified almost as soon as expressed; and at last, encouraged by her lover’s evident anxiety to please her, she gave utterance to her longing to see and converse with her sisters once more. The ardent lover could not refuse to grant this request, yet Psyche noticed that his consent seemed somewhat hesitating and reluctant.

The next morning, while enjoying a solitary stroll, Psyche suddenly encountered her two sisters. After rapturous embraces and an incoherent volley of questions and answers, they settled down to enjoy a long talk. Psyche related her desperate attempt at suicide, her miraculous preservation from certain death, her aërial journey, her entrance into the enchanted palace, her love for her mysterious nightly visitor,—all, in short, that had happened since she had left her father’s home.