Apuleius, Cupid and Psyche, Jocabus de Voragine, Magic Realism and Idealism, Marc Chagall, metamorphoses, The Golden Ass, The Golden Legend, Winged Creatures
Cupid and Psyche as Magical Realism
Mythology and Magical Realism
According to Professor Matthew Strecher’s magic realism is “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” Magical Realism is a main characteristic of Latin-American literature, but it has gained adherent elsewhere and it is not new. It present readers with a juxtaposition of what is usually considered the “real,” the “unreal,” and the “surreal.” An angel just may enter a room and play a role in a fictitious text. (See Magic Magic Realism, Wikipedia,)
The author of Wikipedia’s entry on magic realism states that “[t]his critical perspective towards magical realism as a conflict between reality and abnormality stems from the Western reader’s dissociation with mythology, a root of magical realism more easily understood by non-Western cultures.” (See Magic realism, Wikipedia)
In the visual arts, Marc Chagall (6 July 1887 – 28 March 1985) presents us with better examples of what could be called “magical realism,” whatever “school” his paintings are attached to. In the so-called “real” world, people seldom float in mid-air. But the world is not always real and the human imagination pushes its limits. We know that angels do not exist, but we nevertheless make room for them. In fact, we swear on the Bible, in which, ironically, angels dwell.
Apuleius’ Golden Ass
Apuleius‘ (c. 125 – c. 180 CE) Golden Ass is a novel, the first novel we have inherited in its entirety from Greco-Roman antiquity. First entitled Metamorphoses, the novel was renamed by Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine). It is rather lewd, but The Tale of Cupid and Psyche isn’t, and mere mortals mix with immortal gods. This may confirm that magical realism has replaced mythology, but it may not.
It consists of a frame story and inner stories called “digressions.” One of these digressions, the third, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, belongs to mythology and is a distant forerunner of magical realism in that its dramatis personæ includes mortals and immortals who mingle informally. Venus, the immortal Roman goddess of love, whose Greek counterpart is Aphrodite, is featured next to Psyche’s father and seems a mere mortal.Paris through the Window, by Marc Chagall, 1913 (Photo credit: Wikipaintings) The Birthday, by Marc Chagall, 1915 (Photo credit: Wikipaintings)
The Tale of Cupid and Psyche
In The Golden Ass, Lucius is transformed into a donkey, which normally is not possible. Metamorphoses belong to a realm most would look upon as “unreal.” It is fantasy. Yet Ovid‘s (20 March 43 BCE – 17/18 CE), Metamorphoses is one of Western culture’s most influential books. Human beings do not float in mid-air, with the exception of astronauts, nor can they fly, but the human imagination can imagine another reality and that reality possesses a form of “truth.”
It remains, however, that Apuleius’ mythological third digression, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, is pure fiction. Psyches lives in a world where gods and mere mortals mingle, which is not possible outside fiction. Consequently, The Tale of Cupid and Psyche seems an instance of magical realism avant la lettre, i.e. before the term was coined.
For instance, early in the narrative, Psyches’ father, who would like his unfortunate daughter to find a suitable husband, went to Milet, an ancient Greek city, now found in Turkey, and called Miletus, “to receive the Oracle of Apollo, where he made his prayers and offered sacrifice, and desired a husband for his daughter whose elder daughters are married to kings.” Although Apollo is a Greek god, he replies in Latin and says:Let Psyches corps be clad in mourning weed And set on rock of yonder hill aloft: Her husband is no wight of humane seed, But Serpent dire and fierce as might be thought. Who flies with wings above in starry skies, And doth subdue each thing with firie flight. The gods themselves, and powers that seem so wise, With mighty Jove [Jupiter] be subject to his might, The rivers blacke, and deadly flouds of paine And darkness eke, as thrall to him remaine. (Apuleius, The Golden Asse, Book 4, Chapter 22 Translated by William Adlington The Gutenberg Project [EBook #1666])
Having heard the Oracle, Psyches’ father does take her up a hill and sets her “on rock of yonder hill aloft” where she is left “weeping and trembling,” but is “blowne by the gentle aire and of shrilling Zephyrus, and carried from the hill with a meek winde, which retained her garments up, and by little and little bought her downe into a deepe valley, where she was laid in a bed of most sweet and fragrant flowers.”
Instead of taking her where “she may fall in love with the most miserablest [that word should be reinvented] creature living,” as Venus has asked Cupid, Venus’ son, makes himself invisible and has the wind “Zephyrus” transport her to a “bed of most sweet and fragrant flowers.” Here again, we have an example of magical realism, even if Psyches is “clad in mourning weed,” which suggests that she has died. However, her sisters, mortals, visit her.
The “fairy tale” begins and, after the compulsory tasks—three in most fairy tales—have been performed, Psyches is transformed into a goddess, which may be her rightful self. In the “real” world, she is the victim of envy. In fact, Venus herself, a goddess who mingles with mortals, which is magical realism, is so envious of her that she wants her destroyed. However, In fact, Venus herself, a goddess who mingles with mortals, which is magical realism, is so envious of her that she wants her destroyed. However, as the most beautiful woman in the world, Psyches is an oddity, so her becoming a goddess seems appropriate.
The Golden Legend
We may have forgotten the names of the god and goddesses of mythology. However, the human imagination is such that if mythology did not exist humans would probably invent a replacement, such as magical realism. The bestseller of the Middle Ages was not the Bible, but Jacobus de Voragine’s fanciful Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea), an embellished hagiography or telling of the lives of saints, in general, and martyrs (martyrologies), in particular.
- The Golden Legend Revisited (12 February 2013)
- The Golden Legend: my Missing Paragraphs (6 February 2012)
- Jacques de Voragine & the Golden Legend (6 February 2012)
Sources and Resources
LIST OF MODERN AUTHORS: Magical Realism
- Isabel Allende
- Kwame Anthony Appiah
- Allejo Carpentier
- Syl Cheney-Coker
- Kojo Laing
- Mario Vargas Llosa
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Toni Morrison
- Ben Okri
- Salman Rushdie
 Matthew C. Strecher, “Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki,” Journal of Japanese Studies, Volume 25, Number 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 263-298, at 267.W. A. Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) Piano Concerto n° 23 (Adagio) The Blue House, by Marc Chagall (Please click on the image to enlarge it.) © Micheline Walker 6 August 2013 WordPress
I think that’s an interesting point about our dissociation from mythology. I have occasionally watched fantasy or science fiction films with people who are closer to mythology than I am, and they have been convinced that the scenes in the film are real or have the possibility to be real. I may say to that person that the monster rampaging through Manhattan,for example, is not real and can’t be real, but my statement is greeted with some incredulity. And then I have to think, “Well, maybe my mind is shutting off possibilities” What does that person see or understand that I don’t?
Some beings, such as angels, live in our imagination and I believe that have obtained a “reality.” Such beings are helpful to humans. Besides, for centuries, human beings living in the Western world went to church once a week, sometimes more frequently, to worship him, his Father and the Holy Ghost. Yet, is there a heaven, the terrible place called “hell,” and a middle world called “purgatory.”
In my opinion, we needed to invent what is the equivalent of Greek mythology. We call these needs our “spiritual” life and faith has allowed millions of individuals to survive the worst ordeals. The day my mother died, I spent the entire day telling her about. She did not seems conscious, but “just in case,” I told her that she was about to be reunited with her mother, her father, her children who had died and the Virgin Mary who was a mother to her and a mother to the poorest and most humble human beings. What we call our “spiritual” needs are very important. Yet, we have not seen the Holy Ghost. He is not real in a tangible way, but he has a reality of his own.
I believe the same is true of the various characters who inhabit high fantasy works of literature. They belong to another reality and fill a void, but will not bump into them at the grocery store, no more than we will meet “angels and “archangels.” However, fairy tales play an important role in the lives of children. They sometimes allow them to escape a reality that may otherwise be extremely difficult to face. So Santa Claus may not come down the chimney, yet there is a Santa Claus and we want children to believe he exists.
Hitler was a monster, but he looked like a human being.
I wish you a pleasant day Gallivanta, the best.
I am deeply moved by your account of your time with your mother as she was dying.
I had a very good mother Gallivanta and I had promised to be there for her in every way until she died. In fact, I wish I could have done more for her. I have such fond memories of her.
My father is very old, but he is still alive. He lived for many years with my brother and his wife, but he is now in an institution. He is very attached to my sister-in-law, so she is there for him as are my brother and his two sons. So my parents will not have died impoverished, unloved and alone.
Take care Gallivanta.
This is lovely to hear. My parents are very old but are still able to live with my sister in her house. In my family research, I have found a great tradition in our family of caring for the elderly and the unwell in the family home for as long as possible.
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