[Sidenote: Venus' birth.]
Venus (Dione, Aphrodite, Cytherea), the goddess of beauty, love,
laughter, and marriage, is said by some mythologists to be the
daughter of Jupiter and Dione, goddess of moisture: others report that
she sprang from the foam of the sea.
"Look, look, why shine
Those floating bubbles with such light divine?
They break, and from their mist a lily form
Rises from out the wave, in beauty warm.
The wave is by the blue-veined feet scarce press'd,
Her silky ringlets float about her breast,
Veiling its fairy loveliness; while her eye
Is soft and deep as the blue heaven is high.
The Beautiful is born; and sea and earth
May well revere the hour of that mysterious birth."
The ocean nymphs were the first to discover her, cradled on a great
blue wave; and they carried her down into their coral caves, where
they tenderly nursed her, and taught her with the utmost care. Then,
her education being completed, the sea nymphs judged it time to
introduce her to the other gods, and, with that purpose in view,
carried her up to the surface of the sea,--where Tritons, Oceanides,
and Nereides all crowded around her, loudly expressing their ardent
admiration,--and offered her pearls and choice bits of coral from the
deep, as a tribute to her charms.
[Illustration: FOURTH HOUR OF THE NIGHT.--Raphael.]
Then they pillowed her softly on a great wave, and intrusted her to
the care of Zephyrus, the soft south wind, who blew a gentle breath,
and wafted her to the Island of Cyprus.
The four beautiful Horæ (the Seasons), daughters of Jupiter and
Themis, goddess of justice, stood there on the shore to welcome her.
"An ethereal band
Are visible above: the Seasons four,--
Green-kirtled Spring, flush Summer, golden store
In Autumn's sickle, Winter frosty hoar."
And they were not alone to watch for her coming, for the three
Charites (Graces, or Gratiæ) were also present.
"'These three on men all gracious gifts bestow,
Which decke the body or adorne the mynde,
To make them lovely or well-favoured show;
As comely carriage, entertainement kynde,
Sweete semblaunt, friendly offices that bynde,
And all the complements of curtesie:
They teach us how to each degree and kynde
We should our selves demeane, to low, to hie,
To friends, to foes; which skill men call Civility.'"
Daughters of Jupiter and Eurynome, these maidens, who bore the
respective names of Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, longed to show
their love for their new mistress. When the wave upon which she
reclined came nearer still, the "rosy-bosomed Hours, fair Venus'
train," appeared. The wind finally brought the fair goddess in safety
to the shore; and, as soon as her foot touched the white sand, all
bent in homage to her surpassing beauty, and reverentially watched her
dry her hair.
"Idalian Aphrodite beautiful,
Fresh as the foam, new-bathed in Paphian wells,
With rosy slender fingers backward drew
From her warm brows and bosom her deep hair
Ambrosial, golden round her lucid throat
And shoulder: from the violets her light foot
Shone rosy-white, and o'er her rounded form
Between the shadows of the vine bunches
Floated the glowing sunlights, as she moved."
This hasty and somewhat primitive toilet completed, Venus and her
followers set out for Mount Olympus, and on their way thither were
joined by Himerus, god of the desire of love; Pothos, god of the
amities of love; Suadela, god of the soft speech of love; and Hymen,
god of marriage.
[Sidenote: Venus and Vulcan.]
A throne had been prepared for the expected goddess, and, when she
suddenly appeared to take possession of it, the assembled gods could
not restrain a rapturous murmur of admiration. Her beauty took them by
storm, and her grace won their hearts; but, although they one and all
expressed a desire to marry her, Venus scornfully rejected their
proposals. Even the king of gods was slighted, and, to punish her for
her pride, he decreed she should marry Vulcan, god of the forge, the
most ill-favored of all the heavenly council.
This compulsory union was anything but a happy one; for Venus never
showed any affection for her deformed consort, and, instead of being a
faithful wife, soon deserted him, and openly declared she would please
[Sidenote: Story of Alectryon.]
Her first fancy was for Mars, the handsome god of war, who was not
slow in reciprocating the fair goddess's affections, and many and
sweet were the secret interviews they enjoyed. Yet, fearful lest some
of the gods passing by should discover them together, Mars always
placed his attendant Alectryon on guard, bidding him give due warning
of any one's approach, and especially to call him before the sun rose,
as the lovers were particularly anxious that Apollo should not witness
their parting caresses.
All prospered according to their desires, until one night the
unfortunate Alectryon fell asleep; and so profound were his slumbers,
that he did not even stir when Aurora flung open the gates of the
east, and Apollo flashed forth to receive the melodious greetings of
the feathered denizens of the forest.
The sun god drove rapidly on, glancing right and left, and taking note
of all he saw. Nothing escaped his bright and piercing eye, as it
flashed its beams hither and thither, and he was soon aware of the
sleeping watchman and of the guilty lovers. As fast as his
fleet-footed steeds could carry him, Apollo hastened to Vulcan, to
whom he vividly described the sight which had greeted his eyes.
The irate husband lost no time, but, seizing a net of linked steel,
went in search of his runaway wife. Stealthily he approached the
lovers' bower, and deftly flung the net over both sleepers, who were
caught in its fine meshes, and could not escape; and there he kept
them imprisoned, in spite of their entreaties, until all the gods had
seen their humiliating plight, and turned them into ridicule. But when
he at last set them free, Mars darted away, vowing vengeance upon the
negligent sentinel, who was still blissfully sleeping. Pouncing upon
him, Mars awakened him roughly, administered a sharp reproof, changed
him into a cock, banished him into the barnyard, and condemned him to
give daily warning of the sun's approach.
"And, from out a neighboring farmyard,
Loud the cock Alectryon crowed."
[Sidenote: Venus' children.]
Several beautiful children were born to Mars and Venus. Hermione, or
Harmonia, their daughter, married Cadmus, King of Thebes; and Cupid
(Cupido, Eros, Amor), their little son, was appointed god of love.
Although nursed with tender solicitude, this second-born child did not
grow as other children do, but remained a small, rosy, chubby child,
with gauzy wings and roguish, dimpled face. Alarmed for his health,
Venus consulted Themis, who oracularly replied, "Love cannot grow
In vain the goddess strove to catch the concealed meaning of this
answer. It was only revealed to her when Anteros, god of passion, was
born. When with his brother, Cupid grew and flourished, until he
became a handsome, slender youth; but when separated from him, he
invariably resumed his childish form and mischievous habits.
[Sidenote: Venus and Adonis.]
Venus, however, did not lavish all her love upon Mars, for she is said
to have felt a tender passion for a young man named Adonis, a bold
young hunter, whose rash pursuit of dangerous game caused Venus many
anxious alarms. In vain she besought him to forego the pleasures of
the chase and remain with her. He laughingly escaped, and continued to
join the other hunters in his favorite sport. But, alas! one day,
after an exciting pursuit, he boldly attacked a wild boar, which,
goaded to madness, turned upon him, buried his strong tusk in the
youth's unprotected side, and trampled him to death.
"The white tusk of a boar has transpierced his white thigh.
* * * * *
"The youth lieth dead while his dogs howl around,
And the nymphs weep aloud from the mists of the hill."
Bion (Mrs. Browning's tr.).
Venus ran straight to the scene of his tragic death, rushing through
underbrush and briers, tearing her delicate skin, and her blood
tingeing all the white roses along her way to a faint pink. When she
arrived, she found her beloved Adonis cold in death, and her
passionate caresses met with no response. Then she burst into such a
passion of tears, that the wood and water nymphs, the gods, men, and
all nature in fact, joined with her to mourn the beloved youth.
"Her loss the Loves deplore:
Woe, Venus, woe! Adonis is no more."
Bion (Elton's tr.).
[Illustration: SLEEPING LOVE.--Perrault.]
Very reluctantly Mercury at last appeared to lead the soul of the
departed down into the Infernal Regions, where it was welcomed by
Proserpina, queen of the realm, and led to the place where pure and
virtuous mortals enjoyed an eternity of bliss. Venus, still
inconsolable, shed countless tears, which, as they dropped upon the
ground, were changed to anemones, while the red drops which had fallen
from Adonis' side were transformed into red roses.
"As many drops as from Adonis bled,
So many tears the sorrowing Venus shed:
For every drop on earth a flower there grows:
Anemones for tears; for blood the rose."
Bion (Elton's tr.).
As time did not soften Venus' grief, but, on the contrary, made it
more and more unendurable, she went to Olympus, where she fell at
Jupiter's feet, imploring him to release Adonis from death's embrace,
or allow her to share his lot in Hades.
To allow Beauty to desert the earth was not possible, nor could he
resist her pleading: so he finally decreed that Adonis should be
restored to her longing arms. But Pluto, whose subject he had now
become, refused to yield up Adonis; and after much dispute a
compromise was agreed upon, by virtue of which Adonis was allowed to
spend one half of the year on earth, providing he spent the remaining
six months in the Elysian Fields.
In early spring, therefore, Adonis left the Lower World, and came with
bounding tread to join his beloved. On his path the flowers bloomed
and the birds sang, to show their joy at his coming. An emblem of
vegetation, which rises from the ground in early spring to deck the
earth with beautiful foliage and flowers, and cause the birds to sing
for gladness, Adonis reluctantly returned to Hades, when Winter, the
cruel boar, slew him again with his white tusk, and made nature again
droop, and mourn his departure.
"But even in death, so strong is Love,
I could not wholly die; and year by year,
When the bright springtime comes, and the earth lives,
Love opens these dread gates, and calls me forth
Across the gulf."
[Sidenote: Venus and Anchises.]
The Goddess of Beauty also loved Anchises, Prince of Troy, but,
ashamed of lavishing favors upon a mere mortal, extorted from him a
promise that he would never reveal their secret marriage.
Unfortunately, however, Anchises was of a boastful disposition, and
ere long yielded to temptation and revealed the secret, incurring her
wrath to such an extent, that some mythologists accuse her of
borrowing one of Jupiter's thunderbolts and slaying him. Others,
however, report that Anchises lived to a ripe old age, and escaped
from burning Troy on his son Æneas' back. Venus' love was, however,
all transferred to her son Æneas, whom she signally protected
throughout his checkered career.
[Sidenote: Story of Hero and Leander.]
Venus' most ardent admirers and faithful worshipers were the young
people, for she delighted in their youthful sentiments, and was ever
ready to lend a helping hand to all true lovers when apparently
insurmountable obstacles appeared on their path.
This was the case with a lovely maiden by the name of Hero, who was
dedicated by her parents to Venus' service, and, as soon as old
enough, spent all her time in the temple, ministering to the goddess,
or in a lonely tower by the sea, where she dwelt alone with her aged
"Honey-sweet Hero, of a princely race,
Was priestess to Queen Venus in that place;
And at her father's tower, by the sea set--
Herself a Queen of Love, though maiden yet--
The maiden's beauty increased with her years, until the fame of her
loveliness spread throughout her native city Sestus, and even passed
over the Hellespont and reached Abydus, where Leander, the bravest
and handsomest youth of the town, was fired with a desire to view the
charming young priestess.
Just at that time a solemn festival in honor of Venus was to be
celebrated at Sestus, to which all the youths and maidens were
cordially invited. Under pretext of paying homage to the goddess,
Leander entered her temple, and saw the young priestess, whose charms
far surpassed all descriptions.
Venus, as has already been stated, was always deeply interested in
young lovers; and when she saw these two, so well matched in beauty
and grace, she bade Cupid pierce them with his love darts, which
behest the mischief-loving god immediately obeyed.
"God Eros, setting notch to string,
Wounded two bosoms with one shaft-shooting,
A maiden's and a youth's--Leander he,
And lovely Hero, Sestos' sweetest, she;
She of her town, and he of his, the boast;
A noble pair!"
An undying passion was thus simultaneously kindled in both young
hearts; and, thanks to Venus' assistance, Leander managed to exchange
a few words with Hero, declared his love, implored her to view his
suit kindly, and, above all, to grant him a private interview, or he
would surely die.
The maiden listened to his pleading with mingled joy and terror, for
she knew her parents would never consent to their union. Then, afraid
lest some one should notice that she was talking to a stranger, she
bade him depart; but he refused to go until he had learned where she
lived, and proposed to swim across the Hellespont when the shades of
night had fallen, and none could see his goal, and pay her a visit in
her lonely tower.
"'Sweet! for thy love,' he cried, 'the sea I'd cleave,
Though foam were fire, and waves with flame did heave,
I fear not billows if they bear to thee;
Nor tremble at the hissing of the sea!
And I will come--oh! let me come--each night,
Swimming the swift flood to my dear delight:
For white Abydos, where I live, doth front
Thy city here, across our Hellespont.'"
At last his prayers overcame the maiden's scruples, and she arranged
to receive him in her sea-girt tower, promising at a given hour to
light a torch and hold it aloft to guide him safely across the sea.
Then only he departed.
Night came on; darkness stole over the earth; and Leander impatiently
paced the sandy shore, and watched for the promised signal, which no
sooner appeared, than he exultantly plunged into the dark waves, and
parted them with lusty strokes, as he hastened across the deep to join
his beloved. At times the huge billows towered above his head; but
when he had escaped their threatening depths, and rose up on their
foamy crests, he could catch a glimpse of the torch burning brightly,
and pictured to himself the shy, sweet blushes which would dye Hero's
cheek as he clasped her to his passionate heart.
"Leander had no fear--he cleft the wave--
What is the peril fond hearts will not brave!"
Venus, from the top of "many-peaked Olympus," smilingly viewed the
success of her scheme, and nerved Leander's arm to cleave the rapid
current. At last he reached the tower steps, and was lovingly greeted
by Hero, whose heart had throbbed with anxiety at the thought of the
perils her lover was braving for the sake of seeing her once more.
It was only when the dawn began to whiten the east, that the lovers
finished their interview and parted, he to return to Abydus, and she
to prepare for the daily duties which would soon claim her attention.
But separation by day was all these fond lovers could endure, and
night after night, as soon as the first stars appeared, Hero lighted
her torch, and Leander hastened to her, to linger by her side till
"Thus pass'd the summer shadows in delight:
Leander came as surely as the night,
And when the morning woke upon the sea,
It saw him not, for back at home was he."
No one suspected their meetings; and all went well until the first
fierce storms of winter swept down over the Hellespont. Hero, in the
gray dawn of a winter's morning, besought her lover not to leave her
to battle against the waves, which beat so violently against the stone
tower; but he gently laughed at her fears, and departed, promising to
return at night as usual.
The storm, which had raged so fiercely already in the early morning,
increased in violence as the day wore on, until the waves were lashed
into foam, while the wind howled more and more ominously as the
darkness came on again; but none of these signs could deter Leander
from visiting Hero.
"There came one night, the wildest of the year,
When the wind smote like edge of hissing spear,
And the pale breakers thundered on the beach."
All day long Hero had hoped that her lover would renounce his nightly
journey; but still, when evening came, she lighted her torch to serve
as beacon, should he risk all to keep his word. The wind blew so
fiercely, that the torch wavered and flickered, and nearly went out,
although Hero protected its feeble flame by standing over it with
At sight of the wonted signal, Leander, who had already once been
beaten back by the waves, made a second attempt to cross the strait,
calling upon the gods to lend him their aid. But this time his prayers
were unheard, drowned in the fury of the storm; yet he struggled on a
while longer, with Hero's name on his lips.
[Illustration: HERO AND LEANDER.--Bodenhausen.]
At last, exhausted and ready to sink, he lifted his eyes once more to
view the cheering light. It was gone, extinguished by a passing gust
of wind. Like a stone Leander sank, once, twice, thrice, and the
billows closed forever over his head.
Hero in the mean while had relighted her torch, and, quite unconscious
of the tragedy which had taken place, stood on the tower, straining
her eyes to pierce the darkness. All night long she waited and watched
for the lover who did not come; and, when the first sunbeams shone
over the tossing sea, she cast an anxious glance over the waters to
Abydus. No one was in sight as far as she could see. She was about to
descend to pursue her daily tasks, when, glancing at the foot of the
tower, she saw her lover's corpse heaving up and down on the waves.
"As shaken on his restless pillow,
His head heaves with the heaving billow;
That hand, whose motion is not life,
Yet feebly seems to menace strife,
Flung by the tossing tide on high,
Then level'd with the wave."
Hero's heart broke at this sad sight, and she longed to die, too, that
she might not be parted from Leander. To hasten their meeting, she
threw herself into the sea, and perished in the waves, close by his
side. Thus lived and died the faithful lovers, whose attachment has
passed into a proverb.
Byron, the celebrated English bard, attempted Leander's feat of
swimming across the Hellespont, and, on his return from that dangerous
venture, wrote the following lines, which are so familiar to all
"The winds are high on Helle's wave,
As on that night of stormy water
When Love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave,
The lonely hope of Sestos' daughter.
Oh! when alone along the sky
Her turret torch was blazing high,
Though rising gale, and breaking foam,
And shrieking sea-birds warn'd him home;
And clouds aloft and tides below,
With signs and sounds, forbade to go,
He could not see, he would not hear,
Or sound or sign foreboding fear;
His eye but saw that light of love,
The only star it hail'd above;
His ear but rang with Hero's song,
'Ye waves, divide not lovers long!'
That tale is old, but love anew
May nerve young hearts to prove as true."
[Sidenote: Pyramus and Thisbe.]
An equally loving and unfortunate pair were Pyramus and Thisbe.
Although no waves divided them, and they had the good fortune to
occupy adjoining houses in Babylon, their parents having quarreled,
they were forbidden to see or speak to each other. This decree wrung
their tender hearts; and their continuous sighs finally touched Venus,
who prepared to give them her aid. Thanks to this goddess's kind
offices, a crack was discovered in the party wall, through which the
lovers could peep at each other, converse, and even, it is said,
exchange a kiss or two.
Sundry stolen interviews through this crack made them long for
uninterrupted and unrestrained meetings: so they made an appointment
to meet on a certain day and hour, under a white mulberry tree, just
without the city gates.
Thisbe, anxious to see her lover, was the first to reach the trysting
place, and, as she slowly paced back and forth to while away the time
of waiting, she wondered what had happened to delay Pyramus. Her
meditation was suddenly broken by a rustling sound in some neighboring
bushes; and, thinking Pyramus was concealed there, she was about to
call to him that he was discovered, when, instead of her lover, she
saw a lion emerge from the thicket and come towards her, slowly
lashing his sides with his tail, and licking his bloody jaws. With one
terrified shriek the girl ran away, dropping her veil, which the lion
caught in his bloody mouth and tore to shreds, before beating a
retreat into the forest.
Shortly after, Pyramus came rushing up, out of breath, and full of
loving excuses for Thisbe, who was not there, however, to receive
them. Wondering at her absence, Pyramus looked around, and after a
short investigation discerned the lion's footprints and the mangled
veil. These signs sufficed to convince him that Thisbe had perished,
and in a fit of despair he drew his dagger from its sheath and thrust
it into his heart.
A few minutes later, Thisbe cautiously drew near, peering anxiously
about to discover whether the lion were still lurking near. Her first
glance showed her Pyramus stretched dead beneath the mulberry tree,
with her bloody veil pressed convulsively to his lips. With a cry of
terror she flew to his side, and tried to revive him; but, when
assured that all her efforts were in vain, she drew the dagger from
his breast, and, plunging it into her own bosom, fell beside him quite
"In her bosom plunged the sword,
All warm and reeking from its slaughtered lord."
Ovid (Eusden's tr.).
Since that ominous day the fruit of the mulberry tree, which had been
white, assumed a blood-like hue, dyed by the blood which flowed from
the death wounds of Pyramus and Thisbe.
[Sidenote: Echo and Narcissus.]
The lovely and talkative nymph Echo lived free from care and whole of
heart until she met Narcissus, hunting in the forest. This frivolous
young lady no sooner beheld the youth, than she fell deeply in love
with him, and was proportionately grieved when she saw that he did not
return her affections.
All her blandishments were unavailing, and, in her despair at his
hard-heartedness, she implored Venus to punish him by making him
suffer the pangs of unrequited love; then, melancholy and longing to
die, she wandered off into the mountains, far from the haunts of her
former companions, and there, brooding continually over her sorrow,
pined away until there remained naught of her but her melodious voice.
The gods, displeased at her lack of proper pride, condemned her to
haunt rocks and solitary places, and, as a warning to other impulsive
maidens, to repeat the last sounds which fell upon her ear.
"But her voice is still living immortal,--
The same you have frequently heard
In your rambles in valleys and forests,
Repeating your ultimate word."
Venus alone had not forgotten poor Echo's last passionate prayer, and
was biding her time to punish the disdainful Narcissus. One day, after
a prolonged chase, he hurried to a lonely pool to slake his thirst.
"In some delicious ramble, he had found
A little space, with boughs all woven round;
And in the midst of all, a clearer pool
Than e'er reflected in its pleasant cool
The blue sky here, and there, serenely peeping
Through tendril wreaths fantastically creeping."
Quickly he knelt upon the grass, and bent over the pellucid waters to
take a draught; but he suddenly paused, surprised. Down near the
pebbly bottom he saw a face so passing fair, that he immediately lost
his heart, for he thought it belonged to some water nymph gazing up at
him through the transparent flood.
With sudden passion he caught at the beautiful apparition; but, the
moment his arms touched the water, the nymph vanished. Astonished and
dismayed, he slowly withdrew to a short distance, and breathlessly
awaited the nymph's return.
The agitated waters soon resumed their mirrorlike smoothness; and
Narcissus, approaching noiselessly on tiptoe, and cautiously peeping
into the pool, became aware first of curly, tumbled locks, and then of
a pair of beautiful, watchful, anxious eyes. Evidently the nymph had
just concluded to emerge from her hiding place to reconnoiter.
More prudent this time, the youth gradually bent further over the
pool; and, reassured by his kindly glances, the nymph's whole head
appeared. In gentle tones the youth now addressed her; and her ruby
lips parted and moved as if she were answering, though not a sound
came to his ear. In his excitement he began to gesticulate, whereupon
two snowy arms repeated his every gesture; but when, encouraged by her
loving glances and actions, he tried once more to clasp her in his
arms, she vanished as rapidly as the first time.
Time and again the same pantomime was enacted, and time and again the
nymph eluded his touch; but the enamored youth could not tear himself
away from the spot haunted by this sweet image, whose sensitive face
reflected his every emotion, and who grew as pale and wan as
he,--evidently, like him, a victim to love and despair.
Even the shades of night could not drive Narcissus away from his post,
and, when the pale moonbeams illumined his retreat, he bent over the
pool to ascertain whether she too were anxious and sleepless, and saw
her gazing longingly up at him.
There Narcissus lingered day and night, without eating or drinking,
until he died, little suspecting that the fancied nymph was but his
own image reflected in the clear waters. Echo was avenged; but the
gods of Olympus gazed compassionately down upon the beautiful corpse,
and changed it into a flower bearing the youth's name, which has ever
since flourished beside quiet pools, wherein its pale image is clearly
"A lonely flower he spied,
A meek and forlorn flower, with naught of pride,
Drooping its beauty o'er the watery clearness,
To woo its own sad image into nearness:
Deaf to light Zephyrus it would not move;
But still would seem to droop, to pine, to love."
[Sidenote: Pygmalion and Galatea.]
Pygmalion, King of Cyprus, was a very celebrated sculptor. All his
leisure moments were spent in the faithful portrayal of the gods and
goddesses. One day his practiced hand fashioned an image of Galatea.
It was so beautiful that even before it was entirely finished its
author loved it. When completed, Pygmalion admired it still more,
deemed it too beautiful to remain inanimate, and besought Venus to
give it life, stating that he wished a wife just like it.
As Pygmalion had always been an obdurate bachelor, and had frequently
declared he would never marry, Venus was delighted to see him at last
a victim of the tender passion, and resolved to grant his request.
Pygmalion clasped the exquisite image to his breast to infuse some of
his own warmth into the icy bosom, and pressed kiss after kiss upon
the chiseled lips, until at last they grew soft and warm at his touch,
and a faint color flushed the pale cheeks, as a breath dilated her
lungs, and sent her blood coursing along her veins,--
"As once with prayers in passion flowing,
Pygmalion embraced the stone,
Till, from the frozen marble glowing,
The light of feeling o'er him shone."
Pygmalion's delight at seeing his fair image a living and breathing
maiden was unbounded, and after a short but passionate wooing the
object of his affections became his happy wife.
[Sidenote: Cupid and Psyche.]
In those same remote ages of "sweet mythology" there lived a king
whose three daughters were world-renowned on account of their
matchless beauty. Psyche, the youngest of the sisters, was so lovely,
that her father's subjects declared her worthy to be called the
Goddess of Beauty, and offered to pay homage to her instead of to
Venus. Offended by this proposal, which Psyche had good sense enough
to refuse, Venus resolved to demonstrate forcibly to that benighted
race that the maiden was mortal. She therefore bade her son Cupid slay
Armed with his bow and arrows, and provided with a deadly poison,
Cupid set out to do her bidding, and at nightfall reached the palace,
crept noiselessly past the sleeping guards, along the deserted halls,
and came to Psyche's apartment, into which he glided unseen.
Stealthily he approached the couch upon which the fair maiden was
sleeping, and bent over her to administer the poisoned dose.
A moonbeam falling athwart her face revealed her unequaled loveliness,
and made Cupid start back in surprise; but, as he did so, one of his
own love arrows came into contact with his rosy flesh, and inflicted a
wound, from which he was to suffer for many a weary day.
All unconscious of the gravity of his hurt, he hung enraptured over
the sleeping maiden, and let her fair image sink into his heart; then,
noiselessly as he had entered, he stole out again, vowing he would
never harm such innocence and beauty.
Morning dawned. Venus, who had expected to see the sun illumine her
rival's corpse, saw her sporting as usual in the palace gardens, and
bitterly realized that her first plan had completely failed. She
therefore began to devise various torments of a petty kind, and
persecuted the poor girl so remorselessly, that she fled from home
with the firm intention of putting an end to the life she could no
longer enjoy in peace.
To achieve this purpose, Psyche painfully toiled up a rugged mountain,
and, creeping to the very edge of a great precipice, cast herself
down, expecting to be dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks below; but
Cupid, who had indignantly though helplessly seen all his mother's
persecutions, had followed Psyche unseen, and, when he perceived her
intention to commit suicide, he called to Zephyrus (the South Wind),
and entreated him to catch the maiden in his strong yet gentle arms,
and bear her off to a distant isle.
Consequently, instead of a swift, sharp fall and painful death, Psyche
felt herself gently wafted over hill and dale, across sparkling
waters; and, long before she wearied of this new mode of travel, she
was gently laid on a flowery bank, in the midst of an exquisite
Bewildered, she slowly rose to her feet, rubbed her pretty eyes to
make sure she was not dreaming, and wonderingly strolled about the
beautiful grounds. Ere long she came to an enchanted palace, whose
portals opened wide to receive her, while gentle voices bade her
enter, and invisible hands drew her over the threshold and waited upon
When night came, and darkness again covered the earth, Cupid appeared
in search of his beloved Psyche. In the perfumed dusk he confessed his
love, and tenderly begged for some return.
Now, although the fading light would not permit her to discern the
form or features of her unknown lover, Psyche listened to his soft
tones with unconcealed pleasure, and soon consented to their union.
Cupid then entreated her to make no attempt to discover his name, or
to catch a glimpse of his face, warning her that if she did so he
would be forced to leave her, never to return.
"'Dear, I am with thee only while I keep
My visage hidden; and if thou once shouldst see
My face, I must forsake thee: the high gods
Link Love with Faith, and he withdraws himself
From the full gaze of Knowledge.'"
Psyche solemnly promised to respect her mysterious lover's wishes, and
gave herself up entirely to the enjoyment of his company. All night
long they talked; and when the first faint streak of light appeared
above the horizon, Cupid bade Psyche farewell, promising to return
with the welcome shades of night. All day long Psyche thought of him,
longed for him, and, as soon as the sun had set, sped to the bower
where the birds were sleepily trilling forth their evening song, and
breathlessly waited until he came to join her.
"Now on broad pinions from the realms above
Descending Cupid seeks the Cyprian grove;
To his wide arms enamor'd Psyche springs,
And clasps her lover with aurelian wings.
A purple sash across His shoulder bends,
And fringed with gold the quiver'd shafts suspends."
Although the hours of day seemed interminable, spent as they were in
complete solitude, Psyche found the hours of night all too short in
the sweet society of Love. Her every wish was gratified almost as soon
as expressed; and at last, encouraged by her lover's evident anxiety
to please her, she gave utterance to her longing to see and converse
with her sisters once more. The ardent lover could not refuse to grant
this request, yet Psyche noticed that his consent seemed somewhat
hesitating and reluctant.
The next morning, while enjoying a solitary stroll, Psyche suddenly
encountered her two sisters. After rapturous embraces and an
incoherent volley of questions and answers, they settled down to enjoy
a long talk. Psyche related her desperate attempt at suicide, her
miraculous preservation from certain death, her aërial journey, her
entrance into the enchanted palace, her love for her mysterious
nightly visitor,--all, in short, that had happened since she had left
her father's home.
Now, the elder sisters had always been jealous of Psyche's superior
beauty; and when they saw her luxurious surroundings, and heard her
raptures about her lover, they were envious, and resolved to mar the
happiness which they could not enjoy. They therefore did all in their
power to convince poor Psyche that her lover must be some monster, so
hideous that he dare not brave the broad light of day, lest he should
make her loathe him, and further added, that, if she were not very
careful, he would probably end by devouring her.
[Illustration: CUPID AWAKENING PSYCHE.--Thumann.]
They thereupon advised poor troubled Psyche to conceal a lamp and
dagger in her lover's apartment, and to gaze upon him in secret, when
his eyes were closed in sleep. If the light of the lamp revealed, as
they felt sure it would, the hideous countenance and distorted form
of a monster, they bade her use the dagger to kill him. Then,
satisfied with their work, the sisters departed, leaving Psyche alone
to carry out their evil suggestions.
When safe at home once more, the sisters constantly brooded over the
tale Psyche had poured into their ears, and, hoping to secure as
luxurious a home and as fascinating a lover, they each hurried off in
secret to the mountain gorge, cast themselves over the precipice,
Night having come, bringing the usually so welcome Cupid, Psyche,
tortured with doubt, could with difficulty conceal her agitation.
After repeated efforts to charm her from her silent mood, Cupid fell
asleep; and, as soon as his regular breathing proclaimed him lost in
slumber, Psyche noiselessly lighted her lamp, seized her dagger, and,
approaching the couch with great caution, bent over her sleeping
lover. The lamp, which she held high above her head, cast its light
full upon the face and form of a handsome youth.
"Now trembling, now distracted; bold,
And now irresolute she seems;
The blue lamp glimmers in her hold,
And in her hand the dagger gleams.
Prepared to strike, she verges near,
Then, the blue light glimmering from above,
The hideous sight expects with fear--
And gazes on the god of Love."
Psyche's heart beat loudly with joy and pride as she beheld, instead
of the monster, this graceful youth; and as she hung over him,
enraptured, she forgot all caution. An inadvertent motion tipped her
lamp, and one drop of burning oil, running over the narrow brim, fell
upon Cupid's naked shoulder.
The sudden pain made him open his eyes with a start. The lighted lamp,
the glittering dagger, the trembling Psyche, told the whole story.
Cupid sprang from the couch, seized his bow and arrows, and, with a
last sorrowful, reproachful glance at Psyche, flew away through the
open window, exclaiming,--
"'Farewell! There is no Love except with Faith,
And thine is dead! Farewell! I come no more!'"
[Sidenote: Psyche forsaken.]
When he had vanished into the dusky air without, the balmy night winds
ceased to blow; and suddenly a tempest began to rage with such fury,
that poor frightened Psyche dared not remain alone in the palace, but
hastened out into the gardens, where she soon lost consciousness of
her misery in a deep swoon. When she opened her eyes once more, the
storm had ceased, the sun was high in the heavens, and palace and
gardens had vanished.
Poor Psyche lingered there the following and many succeeding nights,
vainly hoping for Cupid's return, and shedding many bitter tears of
repentance. Finally she resolved to commit suicide, and, with that
purpose in view, plunged into a neighboring river; but the god of the
stream caught and carried her ashore, where his daughters, the water
nymphs, restored her to life. Thus forced to live, Psyche wandered
about disconsolate, seeking Cupid, and questioning all she met, the
nymphs, Pan, and Ceres, who compassionately listened to her confession
of love for her husband.
"Not as the earthly loves which throb and flush
Round earthly shrines was mine, but a pure spirit,
Lovelier than all embodied love, more pure
And wonderful; but never on his eyes
I looked, which still were hidden, and I knew not
The fashion of his nature; for by night,
When visual eyes are blind, but the soul sees,
Came he, and bade me seek not to inquire
Or whence he came or wherefore. Nor knew I
His name. And always ere the coming day,
As if he were the Sun god, lingering
With some too well loved maiden, he would rise
And vanish until eve."
Ceres had often seen Cupid, and had heard that very morning that he
was having a wound in his shoulder dressed by Venus: so she advised
Psyche to go to the Goddess of Beauty, to enter her service, and to
perform every task with cheerful alacrity, knowing that such a course
would ultimately bring about a meeting and reconciliation between the
Psyche gratefully accepted and followed Ceres' advice, and labored
early and late to satisfy her exacting mistress, who appointed such
difficult tasks, that the poor girl would never have been able to
accomplish them had she not been aided by all the beasts and insects,
who loved her dearly.
[Sidenote: Psyche's journey to Hades.]
Venus repeatedly tested her fidelity and endurance, and finally
resolved, as a crucial experiment, to send her to Hades to fetch a box
of beauty ointment, for which Proserpina alone had the recipe.
Directed by Zephyrus, her old friend, Psyche encountered the terrors
of Hades in safety, delivered her message, and in return received a
small box. The gates of Hades were closed behind her, and she had
nearly finished her last task, when she suddenly fancied that it would
be wise to appropriate a little of the magic preparation to efface the
traces of sleepless nights and many tears.
The box, however, contained naught but the spirit of Sleep, who,
pouncing upon Psyche, laid her low by the roadside. Cupid, passing by,
saw her there, marked the ravages of grief, remembered his love and
her suffering, and, wrestling with the spirit, forced him to reënter
the narrow bounds of his prison, and woke Psyche with a loving kiss.
"'Dear, unclose thine eyes.
Thou mayst look on me now. I go no more,
But am thine own forever.'"
[Illustration: CHARON AND PSYCHE.--Neide.]
Then, hand in hand, they winged their flight to Olympus, entered the
council hall; and there Cupid presented Psyche, his chosen bride, to
the assembled deities, who all promised to be present at the nuptial
ceremony. Venus even, forgetting all her former envy, welcomed the
blushing bride, who was happy ever after.
The ancients, for whom Cupid was an emblem of the heart, considered
Psyche the personification of the soul, and represented her with
butterfly wings; that little insect being another symbol of the soul,
which cannot die.
[Sidenote: Berenice's Hair.]
One of the latest myths concerning Venus is that of Berenice, who,
fearing for her beloved husband's life, implored the goddess to
protect him in battle, vowing to sacrifice her luxuriant hair if he
returned home in safety. The prayer was granted, and Berenice's
beautiful locks laid upon Venus' shrine, whence they, however, very
mysteriously disappeared. An astrologer, consulted concerning the
supposed theft, solemnly pointed to a comet rapidly coming into view,
and declared that the gods had placed Berenice's hair among the stars,
there to shine forever in memory of her wifely sacrifice.
[Sidenote: Worship of Venus.]
Venus, goddess of beauty, is represented either entirely naked, or
with some scanty drapery called a "cestus." Seated in her chariot,
formed of a single pearl shell, and drawn by snow-white doves, her
favorite birds, she journeyed from shrine to shrine, complacently
admiring the lavish decorations of jewels and flowers her worshipers
provided. The offerings of young lovers were ever those which found
most favor in her sight.
"Venus loves the whispers
Of plighted youth and maid,
In April's ivory moonlight
Beneath the chestnut shade."
Numerous ancient and some modern statues of this goddess grace the
various art galleries, but among them all the most perfect is the
world-renowned Venus de Milo.
Venus' festivals were always scenes of graceful amusements; and her
votaries wore wreaths of fresh, fragrant flowers, the emblem of all