The Trial Of Psyche:

: Good Stories For Great Holidays

Over mountains and valleys Psyche journeyed alone until she came to the

city where her two envious sisters lived with the princes whom they had

married. She stayed with them only long enough to tell the story of her

unbelief and its penalty. Then she set out again to search for Love.

As she wandered one day, travel-worn but not hopeless, she saw a lofty

palace on a hill near by, and she turned her steps thither. The p

seemed deserted. Within the hall she saw no human being,--only heaps

of grain, loose ears of corn half torn from the husk, wheat and barley,

alike scattered in confusion on the floor. Without delay, she set to

work binding the sheaves together and gathering the scattered ears of

corn in seemly wise, as a princess would wish to see them. While she

was in the midst of her task, a voice startled her, and she looked up

to behold Demeter herself, the goddess of the harvest, smiling upon her

with good will.

"Dear Psyche," said Demeter, "you are worthy of happiness, and you may

find it yet. But since you have displeased Venus, go to her and ask her

favor. Perhaps your patience will win her pardon."

These motherly words gave Psyche heart, and she reverently took leave of

the goddess and set out for the temple of Venus. Most humbly she offered

up her prayer, but Venus could not look at her earthly beauty without


"Vain girl," said she, "perhaps you have come to make amends for the

wound you dealt your husband; you shall do so. Such clever people can

always find work!"

Then she led Psyche into a great chamber heaped high with mingled grain,

beans, and lentils (the food of her doves), and bade her separate them

all and have them ready in seemly fashion by night. Heracles would have

been helpless before such a vexatious task; and poor Psyche, left alone

in this desert of grain, had not courage to begin. But even as she sat

there, a moving thread of black crawled across the floor from a crevice

in the wall; and bending nearer, she saw that a great army of ants in

columns had come to her aid. The zealous little creatures worked in

swarms, with such industry over the work they like best, that, when

Venus came at night, she found the task completed.

"Deceitful girl," she cried, shaking the roses out of her hair with

impatience, "this is my son's work, not yours. But he will soon forget

you. Eat this black bread if you are hungry, and refresh your dull mind

with sleep. To-morrow you will need more wit."

Psyche wondered what new misfortune could be in store for her. But when

morning came, Venus led her to the brink of a river, and, pointing to

the wood across the water, said: "Go now to yonder grove where the sheep

with the golden fleece are wont to browse. Bring me a golden lock from

every one of them, or you must go your ways and never come back again."

This seemed not difficult, and Psyche obediently bade the goddess

farewell, and stepped into the water, ready to wade across. But as Venus

disappeared, the reeds sang louder and the nymphs of the river, looking

up sweetly, blew bubbles to the surface and murmured: "Nay, nay, have a

care, Psyche. This flock has not the gentle ways of sheep. While the

sun burns aloft, they are themselves as fierce as flame; but when the

shadows are long, they go to rest and sleep, under the trees; and you

may cross the river without fear and pick the golden fleece off the

briers in the pasture."

Thanking the water-creatures, Psyche sat down to rest near them, and

when the time came, she crossed in safety and followed their counsel. By

twilight she returned to Venus with her arms full of shining fleece.

"No mortal wit did this," said Venus angrily. "But if you care to prove

your readiness, go now, with this little box, down to Proserpina and ask

her to enclose in it some of her beauty, for I have grown pale in caring

for my wounded son."

It needed not the last taunt to sadden Psyche. She knew that it was not

for mortals to go into Hades and return alive; and feeling that Love had

forsaken her, she was minded to accept her doom as soon as might be.

But even as she hastened towards the descent, another friendly voice

detained her. "Stay, Psyche, I know your grief. Only give ear and you

shall learn a safe way through all these trials." And the voice went on

to tell her how one might avoid all the dangers of Hades and come out

unscathed. (But such a secret could not pass from mouth to mouth, with

the rest of the story.)

"And be sure," added the voice, "when Proserpina has returned the box,

not to open it, ever much you may long to do so."

Psyche gave heed, and by this device, whatever it was, she found her way

into Hades safely, and made her errand known to Proserpina, and was soon

in the upper world again, wearied but hopeful.

"Surely Love has not forgotten me," she said. "But humbled as I am and

worn with toil, how shall I ever please him? Venus can never need all

the beauty in this casket; and since I use it for Love's sake, it must

be right to take some." So saying, she opened the box, heedless as

Pandora! The spells and potions of Hades are not for mortal maids, and

no sooner had she inhaled the strange aroma than she fell down like one

dead, quite overcome.

But it happened that Love himself was recovered from his wound, and he

had secretly fled from his chamber to seek out and rescue Psyche.

He found her lying by the wayside; he gathered into the casket what

remained of the philter, and awoke his beloved.

"Take comfort," he said, smiling. "Return to our mother and do her

bidding till I come again."

Away he flew; and while Psyche went cheerily homeward, he hastened up to

Olympus, where all the gods sat feasting, and begged them to intercede

for him with his angry mother.

They heard his story and their hearts were touched. Zeus himself coaxed

Venus with kind words till at last she relented, and remembered that

anger hurt her beauty, and smiled once more. All the younger gods were

for welcoming Psyche at once, and Hermes was sent to bring her hither.

The maiden came, a shy newcomer among those bright creatures. She took

the cup that Hebe held out to her, drank the divine ambrosia, and became


Light came to her face like moonrise, two radiant wings sprang from her

shoulders; and even as a butterfly bursts from its dull cocoon, so the

human Psyche blossomed into immortality.

Love took her by the hand, and they were never parted any more.