Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

Eros, the Love-God

T HE Greeks told many wonderful stories about Eros, the love-god, some of which are very hard to understand. Long before Zeus, or Cronus, or Uranus, was the king of the gods,—indeed, before these gods were born, and before there were any plants or animals,—Eros was a god as powerful as he was in the later days when the Greeks wrote their stories about him.

They said that in the beginning the whole world was all one mass of stone, and there was no earth or sky or sea. Then Eros, or Love, was the only living thing; and just as the mother-hen warms her eggs till the little chicks peep out, so the Greeks said Love brooded over the world until living things appeared, and the world began to take shape.

Although he was so very, very old, the Greeks thought that Eros always remained a youth, never growing up as the other gods did. And they represented him in their pictures as a beautiful lad, with a golden bow and a quiver full of arrows. Some of his arrows were sharp and of the whitest silver. Whoever was wounded with one of these at once began to love the person that Eros wished him to love. Others were blunt and made of lead; and if a person was struck with one of these, he did just the opposite, and disliked whomsoever Eros wished.

One of the stories which the Greeks liked to tell about Eros was of his love for a young girl, and the way in which she became immortal through it. This girl's name was Psyche, which means "the should;" and she was so beautiful that as soon as Eros saw her he fell deeply in love with her.

She was only a mortal, however, while he was a god; so when they were married he could not take her to Mount Olympus with him, nor even let her know who he was. For many months they lived together very happily in a beautiful palace of marble and gold, though Psyche was never allowed to see her husband by daylight nor to light a lamp by night.

Indeed, Psyche was so happy that her sisters began to be jealous of her good fortune, and said that her husband must be some dreadful monster, who was afraid to let her look upon his face. Psyche did not believe this, of course; but, in order to prove that they were mistaken, she did something that took away her happiness for a long time.

After Eros had fallen asleep one night, she lighted a lamp, and brought it to the bedside When she saw that her husband was the god Eros, she was so startled that a drop of hot oil fell from her lamp upon his face, and he awoke. Then he saw that she had disobeyed him; and, after giving her one sad look, he was gone.

Poor Psyche was heart-broken, for she knew that he would not come back again. She wandered about for a long time, going from temple to temple, trying to find some way to make up for her fault and regain her husband. At last she came to the temple of Aphrodite, where she was given a number of hard and dangerous things to do.

First she was shown a great heap of beans, barley, wheat, and other grains, all mixed together, and told that she must sort out the different kinds before the sun set At once thousands of ants came to help her, so that before evening the task was done. The next day she was sent to a distant grove to get a lock of wool from a flock of fierce, golden-colored sheep that fed there. When she came to the river by the grove, a reed whispered to her that when the sun went down the sheep lost their fierceness, and then she would find bits of the wool caught in the bushes all around; and so she finished this task successfully. Last of all, she was sent down into the dark under-world to get some of Persephone's beauty for Aphrodite. This, too, she was able to do, by following the wise directions which the winds whispered to her, and with the help that Eros gave to her unseen.

Having finished all her tasks, Psyche was forgiven her fault, and was then made immortal by the gods so that she might never die; and ever after that she lived happily with Eros in the beautiful home of the gods on Mount Olympus.

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