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Pan and Psyche
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Pan happens upon Psyche who tried to pull an Ophelia in the river and passes on some rather misguided advice.

In the "Metamorphoses of Apuleius," or the more amusing title "The Golden Ass," there is one of the strangest love stories in Greek mythology. Psyche is beautiful and mortal so she falls into the typical fate of beautiful women in Greek mythology: having the gods repeatedly mess up her life.

Pan’s role in the story is basically a cameo, and this image aptly captures their whole interaction. Psyche tried to kill herself but the river literally denied her death. Yes, nature conspired to make her live and it wouldn’t be the last time either. Pan spots her washing up on the shore and seeing how haggard, worn, and downright miserable she looked, he concludes that she must be a maiden suffering from love.

First a few headpats and then he tells her not to commit suicide before he gives the advice to pray to and worship Cupid, for he would surely help solve her love problems. Though Pan hints that he’s in the know of the gods’ business, it is unclear if he knew that he was telling her to worship the husband that just dumped her.

Though the story of Psyche originates from "The Golden Ass," this image is actually based off the poem version by William Morris in "The Earthly Paradise." Our artist Edward Burne-Jones completed thirty-seven sketches for a illustrated version of the book that sadly never saw publication. Luckily this image attracted a fan and was commissioned into this lovely painting.

In the poem version, Pan’s role goes on a bit longer, but only for him to ramble a bit about how she’ll meet a new fella and he’ll probably be dull in comparison to her but she’ll find happiness nonetheless.

To give more context let’s rewind to when the gods first started messing with Psyche. To say she was beautiful would be an understatement, she was so absolutely gorgeous that she was unknowingly stealing worshippers away from Venus. Venus did not take kindly to the idea of a human who was more beautiful than herself so she orders her son Cupid to kill her.

Asking the god of love to perform a hit on someone is as terrible an idea as it sounds. Instead of killing her he hits himself with one of his arrows and falls in love with her. Venus was oblivious to this and changed her focus to getting her married off to some horrible monster. There were no suitors to contend with because Psyche was so gorgeous that no man dared try to court her. Upon hearing that she was doomed to marry a horrible monster, Psyche accepted her fate saying that she knew this was what the gods had in store for her.

But Cupid disobeyed Mommy dearest for a second time and marries Psyche instead. For a long time, no one knew of their marriage. Not even Psyche. They were married, had an active sex life, and she got pregnant all without her ever seeing who her husband actually was.

Their strange arrangement was working, sort of, but this didn’t sit well with Psyche’s sisters. They were basically Cinderella’s stepsisters and jealous of the beautiful palace that Psyche was living in. Instead of being happy for her, they wanted to ruin it. They assumed that her husband had to be a god and wanted whoever it was for themselves. They convinced Psyche he must be a monster and she should catch a glimpse of him when he’s sleeping, and then kill him. Terrible marriage advice.

Psyche, trusting and a little gullible, decides to do as they say. Seeing Cupid’s image she became awestruck by his beauty and ashamed of her intended actions, so she tried to stab herself with the dagger. The dagger wasn’t having that and fell from her hands. Unfortunately, a drop of wax fell from Psyche’s lantern and hit Cupid in the shoulder, waking him to an awkward scene.

Cupid completely lost it, and was so absolutely upset that she dared see his identity that he rants for a while of how much rebellion against his mom he’s done for her and then decides to punish her by leaving. It is at this point that Psyche takes her trip down the river and meets Pan.

She doesn’t follow Pan’s advice, instead she goes after revenge and tricks both of her sisters into killing themselves. Shortly thereafter, she tries to kill herself a third time, when given an impossible task by Venus to earn her approval. But the tower she tries to jump from stops her and then gives her a step by step explanation on how to do said task. Inanimate objects apparently love Psyche so much that they become sentient to save her life. So where’s Cupid during her multiple suicide attempts and torture at the hands of Venus?

Supposedly he’s recovering from his wounds, but the only wound mentioned in the story is the drop of wax that burned him. How that incapacitated a god for weeks, I have no idea. The couple does get their happily ever after eventually though and Psyche is made immortal so objects don’t have to come to life to save her anymore.

Pan may not have known what he was talking about, but he was at least correct that things would work out for Psyche. It just took a few impossible tasks, ambrosia, and an overall lack of logic in any part of her journey.

Sources

Sources

  1. Apuleius, and Harold Edgeworth Butler. The Metamorphoses, or Golden Ass. Oxford: Clarendon, 1910.
  2. "Ashmolean − The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin's Teaching Collection at Oxford." The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin's Teaching Collection at Oxford. Accessed February 16, 2019. http://ruskin.ashmolean.org/collection/8979/object/13898.
  3. Morris, William. The Earthly Paradise: A Poem. Longmans, Green, 1923.