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A certain king had three daughters who were known far and wide for their beauty. The most beautiful of all was the youngest,Psyche. When this youngest princess went into the temples, many people mistook her for Venus herself,and offered her the garlands which they had brought for the goddess of love and beauty.
The real Venus,much vexedby this,determined to be revengedon poor Psyche,who was in no way to blame. One day she told Eros, the god of love,to wound Psyche with one of his golden-pointed arrows,and make her fall in love with some wretched beggar,the most degradedthat could be found.
Eros took his arrows and went down to the earth to do his mother's bidding. As soon as he saw Psyche,he was so startled by her wonderful beauty that he wounded himself with his own arrow;consequently,instead of making Psyche fall in love with some ragged beggar,he himself fell in love with Psyche.
Long before this the two elder of the three beautiful sisters had been married to kings' sons,as befittedthe rank of princesses;but in spite of her superior beauty,no lovers came to suefor the hand of the youngest sister. The king,suspecting that this might be caused by the wrath of Venus,inquired of the oraclewhat he should do. The answer that he received allowed him no longer to doubt the anger of the gods. These were the words of the prophetess:
Dress thy daughter like a bride,
Lead her up the mountain-side,
There an unknown winged foe,
Feared by all who dwell below,
And even by the gods above,
Will claim her,as a hawk the dove.
The king was overcome with grief,but did not dare to disobey. Therefore one night Psyche's maids of honour dressed her in weddinggarments,and a long procession of her father's people escortedher to an exposed rock at the top of a high mountain,where they sadly extinguishedtheir torches,and left her alone in the darkness.
After the last sound of human footsteps had died away,Psyche sat weeping and trembling,fearing every moment that she might hear the rushing wings of some dragon,and feel his claws and teeth. Instead, she felt the cool breath and the downy wings of Zephyrus,the west wind,who lifted her gently from the rock,then puffed out his cheeks, and blew her down into a beautiful green valley,where he laid her softly on a bank of violets.
This moonlit valley was so sweet and peaceful that Psyche forgot her fears and fell asleep. When she woke in the morning,she saw a beautiful grove of tall trees,and in the grove a most wonderful palace with a fountain in front of it. The great arches of the roof were supported by golden columns,and the walls were covered with silver carving,while the floor was a mosaicof precious stones of all colours.
Psyche timidly entered the doors,and wandered through the great rooms,each of which seemed more splendid than the last. She could see no one,but once or twice thought she heard low voices,as if the fairies were talking together. It might have been voices,or it might have been the tricklingof water in the fountain.
Presently,she opened the door of a room,where a table was laid ready for a feast. Evidently only one guest was expected,for there was but one chair and one cover. Psyche,half afraid,seated herself in the chair,and the fairies of the palace,or the nymphs,or whatever beings the voices belonged to,came and waited on her,but not one of them could be seen. She enjoyed a most appetizing repast. After the last dish had been whisked away by invisible hands,she heard music-a chorus of singing voices,and then a single voice,accompanied by a lyre,which seemed to play of itself.
As the light faded away,and night came,Psyche began to tremble,for she feared that the owner of the palace might prove to be the winged monster of the oracle,and that he would come to claim her. There were no locks nor bolts,and the doors and windows stood wide open,as if no thief,nor evil creature of any kind,had ever lived.
When it had grown perfectly dark,so dark that she could not see her own hand,Psyche heard the sound of wings,and then footsteps coming down the great hall. The footsteps came lightly and quickly to the low seat where she was sitting,and then a voice which was sweet and musical said to her,"Beautiful Psyche,this palace and all it holds is yours,if you will consent to live here and be my wife. The voices you have heard are the voices of your hand-maidens,who will obey any commands that you give them. Every night I will spend here with you;but before day comes,I must fly away. Do not ask to see my face,nor to know who I am. Only trust me;I ask nothing more."
This speech took away Psyche's fear of being immediately eaten, at any rate;but still she could not be quite sure that this voice was not the voice of the monster.
Her mysteriouslover came to talk to her every night,as he had said he would do. Sometimes she looked forward to his coming with pleasure;at other times the sound of his wings filled her with terror.
One day,while she was gathering roses within sight of the rock from which Zephyrus had blown her into the valley,she saw her two sisters on this rock,weeping,beating their breasts,and crying out as if mourning for the dead. Hearing her own name,she knew that her sisters must be mourning for her, supposing that she had been devoured on this rock. These sisters of Psyche had not always been kind to her;but she now believed that they had really loved her after all.
That night,when her lover came in the dark,Psyche asked him if she might not see her sisters,and let them know that she was alive and happy. She received an unwillingconsent.
The next day the sisters came again to the high rock, and Zephyrus blew them down into the valley,just as he had blown Psyche down. They were very much surprised to see the good fortune that had befallentheir little sister;but instead of rejoicing at it as they should have done,they were envious of her. They asked her a great many questions,and were particularly curious about the owner of the palace. Psyche told them that he was away hunting on the mountains. Then Zephyrus,thinking that they were getting too inquisitive,whisked them away to the rock,and that was the end of their visit.
After a time Psyche grew tired of being so much alone,and wished to see her sisters again. Her lover gave his consent a second time,but warned her not to answer or even to listen to any questions about himself,and told her,above all,that if she ever tried to see him face to face,he should be forced to fly away and leave her,and that the palace also would vanish.
The next day Zephyrus brought the sisters into the valley as before. These envious women had broodedover their sister's superior fortune till their minds were full of wicked thoughts,and between them they made a plan by which they meant to destroy Psyche's happiness. They told her that the owner of the palace was,without doubt,a most horrible winged serpent,the nameless monster of the oracle,and that the people who lived on the mountain had seen him coming down into that valley every day toward dusk."Although he seems so kind,"said they,"he is only waiting his time to devour you. He knows that you would be terrified by his ugly scales,and this is the reason he never allows you to see him. But listen to the advice of your sisters,who are older and wiser than you. Take this knife,and while your pretended friend is asleep,light a lamp and look at him. If our words prove to be true,strike offhis head,and save yourself from an awful death."
With these words her sisters left Psyche the knife and hurried away. When they had gone,poor Psyche could not rid her mind of the fears their words had raised. Her faith was gone. If all were wrong, why was her lover so anxious to be hidden in the darkness? Why did he fear her sisters' visits? Why did he have wings? Worst of all,she remembered,with a shudder,that she had once or twice heard a sound like the gliding of a serpent over the marble floors.
Soon it grew dark,and she heard her lover coming. That night she would not talk to him,therefore he went into a chamber where there was a couch,lay down and fell asleep.
Then Psyche,trembling with fear,lighted her lamp,took the knife,and stole to the couch where he lay. The light of the lamp fell full on his face,and Psyche saw no scalyserpent,but Eros,or Love himself,the most beautiful of the gods. Golden curls fell back from his wonderful face;his snow-white wings were foldedin sleep,while the down on them-as delicate as that on the wings of a butterfly-stirredfaintly,set in motion by his quiet breathing. At his feet lay his bow and arrows.
Psyche dropped her knife,in horror at the deed it might have done. Then taking up an arrow curiously,she pricked her finger on its golden point. Holding her lamp high above her head,she turned to look at Eros again,and now for the first time in love with Love,gazed at him in an ecstasyof happiness;but her hand trembled,and a drop of hot oil fell on the shoulder of the god. He opened his eyes,looked at her reproachfully,and then flew away without a word. The beautiful palace vanished,and Psyche found herself alone.
Then Psyche began long search for her lost Eros. She met Pan, Ceres,and Juno,one after another,but none of them could help her. At last she went to Venus herself,thinking that the mother of Love would be kind to her for Love's sake.
Eros,at this time,lay in the palace of Venus,suffering from the wound caused by the burning oil. Venus knew all that had happened,for a gullhad flown to her and told her. She was very angry,and as a punishment imposed certain almost impossible tasks upon Psyche.
First,the goddess pointed to a great heap of seeds,the food of the doves that drew her chariot, and of the little sparrowsthat accompanied her on her journeys. It was composed of wheat,barley, millet,and other kinds of seed,all mixed carelessly together."Take these,"said Venus,"and separate them grain by grain;place each kind by itself,and finish the task before nightfall."
Poor Psyche had no courageto begin the task,but sat with drooping head and folded hands. Then a little ant ran out from under a stone,and called the whole army of the ant people,who came for Love's sake,and quickly separated the seeds,laying each kind by itself.
When Venus came at the close of the day,and saw that Psyche's task was finished,she was very much surprised,and throwing the poor girl a piece of coarsebread,remarked that a harder task would be set for her in the morning. Accordingly,when morning came,Venus took Psyche to the bank of a broad river,and pointing to a grove on the opposite shore,where a flock of sheep with golden wool were feeding, said,"Bring me some of that wool."
Psyche would have plunged immediately into the river,if some reeds on the bank had not whispered to her,"Do not go near those sheep now. They are fierce creatures when the sun is high. Wait till the song of the river has lulled them to sleep;then go and pick all the wool you like from the bushes,where the sheep have left it clinging."So Psyche waited till the sun was low,then crossed the river and came back with her arms full of golden wool.
Venus,seeing Psyche return in safety,was angrier than ever."You never did this by yourself,"said she."Now we will see whether you are wise and prudentenough to become the bride of Eros. Take this crystal vase , and fill it with water from the Fountain of Forgetfulness."
This fountain was at the very top of a high mountain. The icy water gushed forth from a smooth rock,far higher than any one could climb,and as it rushed down its narrow channel it shouted,"Fly from me! Beware! Thou wilt perish! "On either side of the black stream was a cave,and in each cave lived a fierce dragon. When Psyche came to the place and saw all this,she was so horrifiedthat she could not move or speak. Nevertheless,she accomplished this task also;for Jupiter's eagle,to whom Love had been kind,took the crystal vase and filled it for her at the fountain.
Psyche ran back to Venus with the water,hoping to please her this time. But Venus was still angry."You are a witch,"said she,"or you could not do these things. However,here is one task more. Take this box,carry it down into the underworld,and ask Proserpine if you may not bring back to me some of her beauty."
When Psyche heard this,she felt sure that Venus meant to destroy her,and thinking that it was of no use to struggle longer against the persecutions of the goddess,she climbed up the stairway of a lofty tower,intending to throw herself down from the top. But the stones of the tower cried out to her,"Listen,Psyche! From yonder  dark chasmchoked with thorns,a path leads down to the underworld. Take a piece of barley-bread  in each hand,and two pieces of money in your mouth,then follow this rough path. When you come to the river of the dead,Charon will ferry you over for one of your pieces of money. When you reach the gate of Pluto's palace,where Cerberus keeps watch,give that fierce dog one of the pieces of bread,and he will let you pass. You can then enter the palace where Proserpine is queen. She will give you a portion of her beauty,shuttingit into the box,and you can return by the same way,giving the remaining piece of bread to Cerberus,and the remaining piece of money to Charon. One thing more. I charge you,do not,by any means,look into the box."
Psyche was thankful indeed for this advice,and followed it in every particular but one. When she was returning,she forgot the warning about not looking into the box. Since Love had flown away from her,her suffering had been so great that her beauty was nearly gone. Therefore,thinking that it might not be wrong to take a very little of Proserpine's beauty for herself,she raised the lidof the box. Whiff! A strange invisible something rushed from it and overcame her. She fell into a deep sleep,and might never have waked again if Love,cured of his wounds,had not passed by and seen her. The god shook her till she was awake again,then sent her back to his mother with the box,while he flew straight to Mount Olympus,and laid the case before Jupiter.
The king of the gods,after hearing the story,said that Psyche should be made immortal,and should become the brideof Eros.
Mercury was immediately sent to bring Psyche up to Mount Olympus,while the gods all gathered to a great feast. Jupiter himself handed to this mortal maid the cup of sacred nectar ,of which whoever drinks will live forever. Psyche drank from the golden cup, and straightway two beautiful butterfly-like wings sprang from her shoulders,and she became like the gods in all things.
After this,she was wedded to Eros,who never flew away from her again. Apollo sang,and Venus,her anger forgotten,danced at the wedding.

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