This article is written by BerkOp's English columnist Jenny Han (한젠쓰).
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, a day full of pink and red hearts, ribbons, laces and frills, roses – full of love and full of lovers. This force of nature, love, is traditionally ascribed to the mythological god, Cupid – often portrayed as a cute little chubby boy with wings, a bow and arrow, as well as a mischievous smile. Often overlooked, Cupid has his own love story to tell:
Three princesses were born into a reverent kingdom. The elder two of the three possessed beauty and charms quite unexceptional and all too ordinary. The youngest, however, was bestowed a blessing of exquisite beauty, of grace and elegance. The fame of her beauty was so great that the sovereigns of neighboring kingdoms lined up outside the gates of her castle to have a glance. They gazed at her with amazement, with more respect and admiration for her beauty than that of Venus’s, the goddess of love and beauty.
Venus was quite offended, furious to find her altars deserted because of a mere mortal’s beauty. Shaking her luscious locks with indignation, she summoned her son Cupid, the winged god of desire, love, attraction and affection, demanding him to punish the princess of the name Psyche. Cupid, obeying the command of his mother, filled two amber vases from the fountains of Venus’s garden – one with sweet waters and the other of bitter.
Down on Earth, he found Psyche fast asleep in her chamber, and after a moment’s hesitation at the sight of her beauty, Cupid trickled few drops of the bitter fountain water over her lips and touched her with the point of his arrow. At the light touch, she startled awake and all too suddenly opened her eyes upon Cupid. Through her eyes, Cupid caught a glimpse of the reflection of her soul, laden with charms unimaginable in a mortal. Startled and distracted, instantly mesmerized by her soul – her inner beauty, Cupid pricked himself with his own arrow without realization.
Henceforth, enchanted with the bitter waters of Venus’s fountain, Psyche was left in solitude with no offers of a hand in marriage while her two older sisters of moderate charms both married to royal princes. Psyche’s beauty was made void of the ability to awaken love, at least in a mortal man. The king and queen soon decided to consult the oracle of Apollo to which he replied, “Her husband awaits her on the top of the mountain.”
So Psyche ascended the mountain, to its summit, where she was left alone with a sorrowful heart, waiting for her love. She stood on the ridge of the mountain, panting with fear and with eyes full of tears, when the god of the west wind Zephyr raised her from the earth. While she was enchanted in yet another enchantment – this time of sleep – he delivered her to the gardens of a magnificent palace, incomparable to any she has seen in her life: a porcelain fountain sending forth clear, crystal waters, golden pillars, walls with carvings and paintings.
While her eyes were fully occupied, her ears started to tickle with the uttering whispers, “All that you see is yours. Voices you hear are your servants and shall obey all your commands. Retire to your chamber and bathe. Supper will await you in the alcove.”
After a refreshing bath, Psyche seated herself in the alcove, where a table immediately presented itself from thin air, as well as the greatest delicacies of food and wines. Her ears, too, were feasted with music from invisible performers.
Such afternoons were repeated, but she never actually saw her destined husband. He only came in the hours of darkness and fled before the dawn of morning. Nonetheless, his accents full of love inspired passion and aroused reciprocal love in Psyche, and although Psyche many times begged him to stay, he kept fully concealed.
“Do you doubt my love for you?” he would ask. “Do you have any wish that is ungratified? If you saw me, you might have fear, and if not, you would treat me differently. This is why I keep concealed. All I ask of you is to love me as an equal.”
Quieted by his words, Psyche felt content for some time, but as the recurring routine of a day repeated on without her ever seeing her husband, Psyche was led to loneliness. The palace began to feel like prison.
Confinement and curiosity overcame her, and Psyche soon decided to take the advice of her two jealous sisters (they had come to visit) – to see her husband for herself while he was asleep using a lamp, then if he a monster, to cut off his head with a knife. The glowing light of her lamp, though, revealed not a monster but the most beautiful and charming of the gods, with his golden ringlets wandering over his snowy neck and crimson cheek, with two dewy wings on his shoulders, whiter than snow, and with shining feathers like the tender blossoms of spring.
A drop of burning oil fell on the shoulder of the god, startling him awake. Disappointment cast a shadow onto his face, his white wings spreading wide as he flew out of the window. “Oh foolish Psyche, is this how you repay my love? After I made you my wife, will you think me a monster and cut off my head? Go. Return to your sisters. I will leave you forever as the sole punishment to your distrust. Love cannot dwell with suspicion.”
Thus, Cupid left Psyche. However, Psyche, with discernment of true love for her husband Cupid, stayed devoted and faithful to him, trying with all her might to “prove herself worthy” to Venus by completing ridiculous tasks, and was reunited with him in time – even became immortal.
Psyche’s outward beauty was not enough to hinder Cupid from carrying out his mother’s command, but the beauty of her soul captivated him incontestably, sinking him into a distraction deep enough for him to make the mistake of shooting himself with his own arrow. In the reality of the modern world, it is often not so. There exists too much focus on beauty coming from outward adornment. Although requiring much time and lacking any anticipation, Psyche’s love came at last – as it will for all of us as long as we want it. When love itself came, though, Psyche felt the need to see Cupid, to have a concrete image of him for the love to continue – quite a paradox, maybe physicality does matter in such way. Further, Psyche learned that love cannot survive without the absolute trust between two people. After fulfilling his own love with Psyche, Cupid evidently goes around shooting his arrows at love birds – spreading love to others.
Have you ever been hit with one of these arrows? Who will be your Valentine this Valentine’s Day?
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