Monday, November 18, 2013

Myth or Monster Monday: The Origin of Beauty and the Beast #mythology

There was a discussion on my Facebook feed earlier today regarding Beauty and Beast and how no one ever really mentions that, in the Disney version of the story, the Prince was cursed as an eleven-year-old boy. This entire discussion made me think about the origins of the Beauty and the Beast story, so I thought it fitting to share that story with you.

Meet the original Beauty and the Beast: Eros (aka Cupid) and Psyche.

Yep. Eros and Psyche's story was one of the earliest versions of the beauty and the beast tale, complete with curses, trickery, and an eventual happy ending. Granted, the beast was really an invisible God, Beauty was the one suffering the curse, and the story only ended happily because Zeus got involved, but little details tend to change along the way. Sort of like how Eros became a creepy little immortal kid at some point in history. But that's a complaint for another time.

Here's how the story goes…



Artist Unknown.
Psyche was the youngest daughter of a king, and as she grew, so did her beauty. The goddess Aphrodite (aka Venus) felt threatened by this mortal beauty, as her followers spoke so highly of Psyche, so she devised a plan to humiliate Psyche. Aphrodite sent her son, Eros, to prick Psyche with an arrow, and planned to present her an ugly beast when she woke so that she'd fall in love with this hideous creature and become the laughingstock of the kingdom.

But Eros accidentally pricked himself with the arrow, and instantly fell madly in love with Psyche, thus foiling his mother's plan.

Aphrodite was furious and sent a plague to the land, telling the people their misery would ease only if they sacrificed Psyche. In despair, her father took her into the mountains and tied her to a tree for some beast to eat. But Eros whisked Psyche away to his palace with the wind. He made himself invisible and wed Psyche, but only after making her promise never to attempt to see his face.

Psyche agreed to this condition, and for a time she and Eros were happy. But Psyche eventually invited her sisters to visit her new home. When she confessed to never having seen her husband's face, they convinced her to peek at him, telling her he was a monster who would kill her. Of course, their motive wasn't anything as pure as saving her life... They were simply jealous of the beautiful things Eros bestowed upon his beloved Psyche.

Armed with a knife and candle, that very night, Psyche crept into Eros's bedchamber. She lifted the candle to better see him, and when the light touched his face, she was stunned by his beauty. So stunned, in fact, she dripped candle wax onto him. The pain woke him. Realizing Psyche broke her promise, he left her to roam.

She did so for a long time before finally going to Aphrodite to beg her forgiveness. Aphrodite, not quite over her jealous rage, promised Psyche her aid if Psyche could complete four tasks. Of course, Aphrodite came up with increasingly difficult tasks. They were: sorting a massive pile of seeds, retrieving the Golden Fleece, filling a flask from the River Styx, and returning from the Underworld with Persephone's beauty cream.

Ants helped Psyche sort the seeds. A reed helped her retrieve the Fleece. An eagle helped her fill the flask.

But the fourth task was a trap.

Aphrodite knew Psyche would not be able to resist trying some of the beauty cream herself, so she cursed the box. When Psyche opened it, she fell into a deep sleep.

Eros wept over Psyche's prone body, distraught, for he still loved her deeply. He returned to Olympus and convinced Zeus to intervene. Zeus agreed to do so, and had Mercury bring Psyche to Olympus where he made her a Goddess. When Aphrodite learned Psyche was pregnant with Eros's child, she reluctantly forgave Psyche. And Psyche and Eros lived happily-ever-after.
 
* * *
 
 
And there you have the original Beauty and the Beast story. Granted, there are similar stories in other cultures that also played a role in the creation of the typical Beauty and the Beast story, but this is my favorite by far. :)
 
xoxo,
Ayden


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