Cupid and Psyche are characters in a myth told by the Roman writer Apuleius. Psyche was the youngest and most beautiful of a king’s three daughters. She was so beautiful that humans ceased worshiping Venus (the goddess of beauty, whom the Greeks called Aphrodite). This angered Venus, who told her son Cupid, the god of love, to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest creature in the world. But Cupid fell in love with Psyche himself and asked the god Apollo to help him win her.

Apollo ordered Psyche’s father to take her to a mountain where a winged serpent would take her for his wife. From the mountain, Psyche was taken instead on a gentle breeze to a fabulous palace. There a voice told her the palace belonged to her and that her every desire would be fulfilled. That night, Cupid came to her in the dark and told her that as long as she did not try to see him or find out who he was, she would be happy forever.

Psyche soon became lonely, however, and asked if her sisters might be allowed to visit her. When her sisters saw the palace, they became jealous and plotted to destroy her happiness. They discovered that Psyche had never seen her husband and convinced her that he was a serpent who would kill her. That night, Psyche took a lamp and a dagger to her bedroom, planning to kill her husband while he was asleep. As she lit the lamp, she saw that he was no serpent but was the handsome Cupid. Cupid awoke and, realizing that Psyche had discovered his identity, fled from her.

Psyche searched for Cupid but was unable to find him. She asked the gods for help, but none of them wanted to anger Venus by helping Psyche. Finally, she offered herself as a servant to Venus, hoping to soften the goddess’s anger. Venus, however, was still angry at Psyche and ordered her to perform several seemingly impossible tasks. Psyche managed to complete the tasks, aided each time by friendly spirits. Her final task was to bring Venus a box from Proserpina, queen of Hades (the kingdom of the dead). Psyche, curious about the contents of the box, opened it and was overcome by a deadly sleep. Cupid found the sleeping Psyche and woke her. He then convinced Jupiter, king of the gods, to make Psyche immortal*.

Now that Psyche was a goddess, Venus consented to her marriage to Cupid. This story has often been interpreted as an allegory* that tells how love (Cupid) and the soul (Psyche) overcome all obstacles to find each other. (See also Divinities; Myths, Roman.)

* immortal living forever

* allegory literary device in which characters represent an idea or a religious or moral principle

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