The heroine of a Greek allegory, Psyche represented the human soul, married to the loving heart personified as the god Eros. Psyche, the story goes, spent her days alone, making love each night in the darkness with a husband she never saw; only under these circumstances would he remain faithful to her. For awhile she lived happily enough. But finally a fearful curiosity about his identity and a deep spiritual loneliness drove Psyche to bring a lamp into the bedroom. Hardly had the woman seen the beautiful winged body of her lover than a bit of oil fell from her lamp, awakening him. Instantly Eros flew away. Thus the soul, the Greeks knew, could remain happy in romantic union, until unmet needs demanded conscious knowledge of the lovers real identity.
Next, the tale goes, Psyche was charged with many near-impossible tasks to gain back her beloved: sorting overnight a roomful of seeds; catching the sun-sheep’s fleece; traveling to the underworld to ask for magical beauty ointment for Eros’s mother, Aphrodite. Intent on regaining Eros, she overcame these obstacles one by one.
But as Psyche returned from Hades with Persephone’s ointment box, vanity overcame her. She opened the jar to run beauty cream on her weary face. Psyche fell into a swoon and might have died, but Eros persuaded the Olympian divinities that she had struggled enough. She ascended to heaven and was reunited with her lover, bearing two children named Love and Delight.
In this allegory, the Greeks produced a magnificent tale of the relations of heart and mind, journey through romance to real marriage, and the human joy born from a victorious struggle.