Time & Culture Specific© 2013, Nabila Islam
“Cupid and Psyche” is classified as Aarne-Thompson Tale Type 425A, Search for Lost Husband, under the category of “Supernatural or Enchanted Relative,” and sub-category of “Husband,” but it falls under ATU 425B, “Son of the Witch” as well. This tale comes from Apuleius’s version of “Cupid and Psyche;” a tale set within his novel Metamorphosis. Apuleius was a Latin writer and Greek sophist who was a North African native and a Roman citizen. Although Apuleius wrote his novel in 2 A.D., there is evidence of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche in 4th century B.C. Greek art. Apuleius’s version gained popularity during the Renaissance when Greco-Roman antiquities were received by later cultures (Classical tradition), following which the story was retold through various artistic mediums. Apuleius’s tale of “Cupid and Psyche” is similar to a Hittie tale on the god Telepinus from the 2000 B.C. While it is not quite the same, the metaphors and motifs align, suggesting roots as ancient as these Anatolian people from the 18th century B.C.
However, there are differences between Apuleius’s and Lang’s texts. Writing during the Fin de Siècle for a different audience, Lang had to make this tale more suitable for Victorian children. That meant changing the prophesized non-human dragon bridegroom to a monster which shall devour Psyche. Lang downplayed the description of Psyche’s fated husband, which is typical, considering the disapproval Victorian society held for violent content; they felt that such material was unsuitable for children. Lang also removed the section where Psyche seeks retribution from her two elder sisters who caused her to doubt her husband and thus lose him. Such deception and unmerciful deaths would not have been appropriate. However, the most significant difference in the two tales is regarding Psyche’s pregnancy. As Lang is writing a romantic tale for the consumption of children, he eliminated any mention of Psyche’s sexual interaction with Cupid and the subsequent pregnancy.
On her search for Cupid, Psyche must face trials set for her by Aphrodite. Where Apuleius’s Venus sets four tasks, the fourth being a trip to the Underworld, Lang limits Psyche’s trials to the rule of three. Likewise, Lang shortens the tale by relegating a few paragraphs to Cupid and Psyche’s reunion, Cupid’s request for forgiveness and immortality for Psyche. Apuleius, writing for an adult readership, included a magnificent wedding feast with the gods of Olympus.
Apuleius’s tale was seen as an allegory for immortality granted to the soul as a reward (for sexual commitment). This was later adapted into a Christian allegory. Lang’s adaptation of “Cupid and Psyche” might have provided Victorian children with entertainment; however, it might also have instructed young girls to be good, well-behaved children who trust their parents, and later, their husbands; to remain committed to their husbands in all circumstances.