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Psyche entering Cupid’s Garden by John William Waterhouse, 1903 (WikiArt.org)

Our dramatis personæ is
Jupiter.
Venus.
Love (Cupid).
Zephyr.
Aegiale and Phaëne, two Graces.
The King.
Psyche.
Aglaura (sister to Psyche).
Cidippe (sister to Psyche).
Cleomenes and Agenor, two princes, Psyche’s lovers.
Lycas, captain of the guards.
A River God
Two Cupids.

ACT FOUR

Act Four, Scene Four
PSYCHE AND THE RIVER GOD
(bold letters are mine)

After Cupid tells Psyche that he is the god of Love, he disappears. She was in a garden, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Psyche is suddenly alone on the shores of a large river experiencing the worst of pains: happiness lost. Psyché’s former happiness is conditioned by memory. Happiness lost does not differ much from Paradise Lost. It is greater than happiness when it is experienced.

1555 J’aimais un Dieu, j’en étais adorée,/ Mon bonheur redoublait de moment en moment, Et je me vois seule, éplorée, Au milieu d’un désert, où pour accablement, Et confuse, et désespérée,/ 1560 Je sens croître l’amour, quand j’ai perdu l’amant.
Psyché (IV. iv, p. 57)
[I loved a god; was beloved by him; my happiness redoubled at every moment; and now behold me, alone, bewailing, in the midst of a desert, where, to increase my pain, when shame and despair are upon me, I feel my love increasing now that I have lost the lover.]
Psyche (IV. 4)

In Psyché, happiness lost is also conditioned by guilt. Asking Cupid to reveal his identity was a transgression. Cupid had changed his appearance so he would not seem a god to Psyche:

Aussi, ne veux-je pas qu’on puisse me connaître,/ Je ne veux à Psyché découvrir que mon cœur,/ 940 Rien que les beaux transports de cette vive ardeur/ Que ses doux charmes y font naître; /Et pour en exprimer l’amoureuse langueur, / Et cacher ce que je puis être /Aux yeux qui m’imposent des lois,/ 945 J’ai pris la forme que tu vois.
l’Amour au Zéphire (III. i, p. 37)
[‘Tis because I do not wish to be known to Psyche. ‘Tis my heart, my heart alone, I wish to unfold; nothing more than the sweet raptures of this keen passion, which her charms excite within it. To express its gentle pining, and to hide what may be from those eyes that impose on me their will, I have assumed this form which thou seest.]
Cupid to Zephyr (III. 1)

Psyche feels so forlorn that were it not for the River God, she would gladly throw herself into the river. She cannot “sully” his stream, says the River God, nor offend “le Ciel,” Heaven. Moreover, the River God tells her that happiness lost is at times regained.

The River God tells Psyché to flee. He sees Venus approaching, whose anger is much greater now that her son Cupid, a lesser god and a mere child, did not kill Psyché, but fell in love with her.

1584 Ton trépas souillerait mes ondes,/ 1585 Psyché, le Ciel te le défend, Et peut-être qu’après des douleurs si profondes/ Un autre sort t’attend./ Fuis plutôt de Vénus l’implacable colère:/ Je la vois qui te cherche et qui te veut punir,/ 1590 L’amour du fils a fait la haine de la mère,/ Fuis, je saurai la retenir.
le Dieu du fleuve (IV. iv, p. 58)
[Thy death would sully my stream, Psyche. Heaven forbids it. Perhaps after such heavy sorrows, another fate awaits thee. Rather flee Venus’ implacable anger. I see her seeking thee in order to punish thee; the son’s love has excited the mother’s hatred. Flee! I will detain her.]
The River God (IV. 4)

Psyché par Ed. Héd.

Psyché et le Dieu du fleuve par Edmond Hédouin (théâtre-documentation.com)

But Psyché does not fear Venus. She has the beauty of a goddess, but such was not her wish. Her beauty was a gift to the king, her father. However, a mortal cannot be divinely beautiful. It appears gods themselves usurped Venus’ supremacy, endangering Psyche. As for Cupid, he is a lesser God than Venus who is a lesser god than Jupiter. When Psyche nearly dies, he is powerless. There is a hierarchy among gods, so Jupiter, the greater god, will therefore be a deus ex machina, in a play that owes much of its immense success to stage machinery. Psyché is a pièce à machines.

J’attends ses fureurs vengeresses./ Qu’auront-elles pour moi qui ne me soit trop doux?/ Qui cherche le trépas, ne craint Dieux, ni Déesses,/ 1595 Et peut braver tout leur courroux.
Psyche (IV. iv, p. 58)
[I shall await her avenging wrath! What can it have that will not be too pleasant for me? Whoever seeks death dreads no gods or goddesses, but can defy all their darts.]
Psyche (IV. 4)

Enters Venus.

Orgueilleuse Psyché, vous m’osez donc attendre,/ Après m’avoir sur terre enlevé mes honneurs,/ Après que vos traits suborneurs/ Ont reçu les encens qu’aux miens seuls on doit rendre?/ 1600 J’ai vu mes temples désertés,/ J’ai vu tous les mortels séduits par vos beautés/ Idolâtrer en vous la beauté souveraine,/ Vous offrir des respects jusqu’alors inconnus,/ Et ne se mettre pas en peine/ 1605 S’il était une autre Vénus: Et je vous vois encor l’audace/ De n’en pas redouter les justes châtiments,/ Et de me regarder en face,/ Comme si c’était peu que mes ressentiments.
Vénus à Psyché (IV. v, p. 59)
[Insolent Psyche, you dare then to await my arrival after you have deprived me on earth of my honours, after your seducing charms have received the incense which is due to mine alone? I have seen my shrines forsaken, I have seen all the world, enslaved by your charms, idolise you as the sovereign beauty, offer to you a homage until then unknown, and not stay to consider whether there was another Venus at all; notwithstanding this, I see you bold enough not to dread the punishment your crime justly deserves, and to meet my gaze as if my resentment were but little matter.]
Venus to Psyche (IV. 5)

DeTroy

Reading from Molière by Jean-François de Troy (Paris 1679 – Rome 1752) c. 1728 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ACT FIVE

Scène première (First Scene)
PSYCHE

In Act Five, Scene One, Psyche has been enslaved by Venus, but accepts her plight because she asked Cupid to reveal his identity. Her sister had instilled fear in her and fear is powerful. Yet, if she learned that Cupid’s anger had not relented, nothing could surpass grief. Would that she could see him and know that he feels pity for her.

Si son courroux durait encore,/ Jamais aucun malheur n’approcherait du mien:/ Mais s’il avait pitié d’une âme qui l’adore,/ Quoi qu’il fallût souffrir, je ne souffrirais rien./ Oui, Destins, s’il calmait cette juste colère,/ 1695 Tous mes malheurs seraient finis:/ Pour me rendre insensible aux fureurs de la mère,/ Il ne faut qu’un regard du fils.
Psyche (V. i, p. 62)
[If his anger lasted still, no anguish could equal mine; but if he felt any pity for a soul that worships him, however great the sufferings to which I am condemned, I should feel them not. Yea, thou mighty destiny, if he would but stay his wrath, all my sorrows would be at an end. Ah! a mere look from the son suffices to make me insensible to the mother’s fury.]
Psyche (V. 1)

Act Five, Scene Two
PSYCHÉ, CLÉOMÈNE, AGÉNOR.

In Act Five, Scene Two, Psyche sees her former lovers: Cleomenes and Agenor. They are ghosts. But they nevertheless live in a forest, where they are alive because love caused their death. But Cupid (l’Amour) is punishing Psyche’s sisters.

Ces ministres ailés de son juste courroux,/ Sous couleur de les rendre encore auprès de vous,/ 1785 Ont plongé l’une et l’autre au fond d’un précipice,/ Où le spectacle affreux de leurs corps déchirés/ N’étale que le moindre et le premier supplice/ De ces conseils dont l’artifice/ Fait les maux dont vous soupirez.
Agénor à Psyché (V. ii, p. 65)
[Those winged ministers of his just wrath, under pretence of restoring them again to you, cast them both to the bottom of a precipice, where the hideous spectacle of their mangled bodies displays but the first and least torture for that stratagem the cunning of which was the cause of the ills you now endure.]
Agénor to Psyche (V. 2)

Act Five, Scene Three
PSYCHÉ

Psyche feels sorry for her lovers and her sisters. But her suffering is about to end. She has been sent to the underworld to fetch beauty for Venus and and crossed the river Styx with Charon. Proserpine has put it in a golden box.

Psyche thinks punitive tasks have tarnished her beauty. So, she opens the box to take a little beauty, but the vapours the box contains make her faint.

Psyche and Charon by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1883 (WikiArt.org)
Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1874 (Tate, Britain)

waterhouse_psyche_opening_the_golden_box

Psyche opening the Golden Box by John William Waterhouse (commons.wikimedia.org)

Act Five, Scene Four
AMOUR, PSYCHÉ

Amour flies down and fears Psyche may be dying. His mother arrives but will not revive Psyche unless Cupid marry a spouse Vénus has chosen. This he will not accept.

Act Five, Scene Five
AMOUR, PSYCHÉ, VENUS,

Vénus refuses to save Psyché, which Cupid cannot do. He is a god, but a lesser god.

Votre Psyché : son âme va partir,/ Voyez, et si la vôtre en est encore éprise,/ Recevez son dernier soupir./ Menacez, bravez-moi, cependant qu’elle expire:1925 Tant d’insolence vous sied bien, /Et je dois endurer, quoi qu’il vous plaise dire, /Moi qui sans vos traits ne puis rien.
Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 69)
[See! her soul is even now departing; and if thine is still smitten, receive now her last breath. Threaten and brave me if thou wilt, but she must die. So much insolence suits thee well; and I must needs bow to all it pleases thee to say, I, who can do nothing without thy darts.]
Venus to Cupid (V. 5)

Rendez-moi ma Psyché, rendez-lui tous ses charmes,/ Rendez-la, Déesse, à mes larmes/ Rendez à mon amour, rendez à ma douleur/ Le charme de mes yeux, et le choix de mon cœur.
l’Amour à Vénus (V. v, p. 70)
[Give me back my Psyche, restore to her all her charms, surrender her to my tears, to my love, to my grief; for she is my eyes’ delight, my heart’s happiness.]
Cupid to Venus (V. 5)

Venus is not altogether insensitive.

Cette douleur n’est pas commune,/ Qui force un immortel à souhaiter la mort.
Vénus à l’Amour (V. v, p. 70)
[This grief is not common that drives an immortal to long for death.]
Venus to Cupid (V. 5)

However, in Scene 6 (Scène dernière) Venus will object to her son marrying a mortal.

Enters Jupiter to the sound of thunder.

Act Five, Scene Six
AMOUR, PSYCHÉ, VENUS, JUPITER

Jupiter has descended. Cupid tells him that he will no longer be the god of Love unless Psyche is returned to him. Jupiter asks Venus to be less severe.

Ma fille, sois-lui moins sévère.
Tu tiens de sa Psyché le destin en tes mains[.]
Jupiter à Venus (V. vi, p. 72)
My daughter, show thyself less severe towards him; his Psyche’s destiny is even now in thy hands.
Jupiter to Venus (V. 6)

She forgives her son but will not allow him to be married to a mere mortal.

Je pardonne à ce fils rebelle; Mais voulez-vous qu’il me soit reproché/ Qu’une misérable mortelle,/ 2010 L’objet de mon courroux, l’orgueilleuse Psyché,/ Sous ombre qu’elle est un peu belle,/ Par un hymen dont je rougis,/ Souille mon alliance, et le lit de mon fils?
Venus to Jupiter (V. vi, p. 72)
I forgive this rebel son. Yet would you have me submit to the reproach that a contemptible mortal, the object of my wrath, proud Psyche, because she displays some charms, has defiled my alliance and my son’s couch?
Venus to Jupiter (V. 6)

Jupiter therefore transforms Psyche into a goddess. She will be immortal.

Hé bien, je la fais immortelle,/ 2015 Afin d’y rendre tout égal.
Jupiter à tous (V. v, p. 72)
Well, then, I make her immortal, so that all shall be equal.
Jupiter to all (V. 6)

Conclusion

Cupid, a god, will be married to Psyche, a goddess. Psyche’s divine beauty clashed with her mortal self and belonged to Venus. Psyche’s beauty remains divine, but eternally so, as befits a goddess. In GrecoRoman mythology, such a metamorphosis is acceptable. The Tale of Cupid and Psyche is Roman. It is the fourth of seven tales or “digressions,” told in Apuleius’ Golden Ass. All feature a metamorphosis. Molière modified the Tale of Cupid and Psyche. For instance, she is not asked to take a lamp in order to tell whether Cupid is a serpent, accidentally dropping hot oil on Cupid and awakening him.

In Psyche, intrigue dominates. Yet, jealousy is a central theme in Molière but it is linked to a fear of cuckoldry. Molière’s Psyché has jealous sisters, as does Cinderella. But she does not have a fairy godmother and, although all admire her, her beauty is a curse. Mere mortals are not divinely beautiful. So Jupiter, a deus ex machina, solves this problem. He gives immortality to Psyche, to Venus’ delight and Cupid and Psyche’s everlasting happiness. Our dénouement is an apotheosis.

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Sources and Resources

  1. Psyché is a toutmoliere.net publication
  2. Psyché is Gutenberg’s [EBook # 7444]
  3. Our translator is Charles Heron Wall
  4. http://www.maicar.com/GML/Psyche.html

 

Love to everyone 💕

Jean-Baptiste Lully — Psyché “Chantons les plaisirs charmants”

Image result for canova psyche and cupid

Psyche revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova (Louvre)

© Micheline Walker
14 September 2019
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