Psyche was the daughter of a great and powerful king, and she was very beautiful. The fame of her beauty awoke the jealousy and hatred of Venus, the goddess of love, and she began to think of a plan by which she could get rid of her rival.
So Venus told her little son, Cupid, to visit the princess and send one of his darts through her heart, that she might be inspired to love some common man.
Cupid took his bow and arrows and went to the home of the princess, intending to obey his mother. But when he saw the little maiden, he thought only of her beauty, and resolved to carry her off to a happy valley where he could have her for a play-fellow.
Then he took her away to a fairy palace in a vale of paradise, where they spent many happy hours together without fear or care.
But there was one drawback to their enjoyment. Psyche was not permitted to look at her little comrade with her mortal eyes; she could only see him with the eyes of the soul. Even this would not have troubled her, if her envious sisters had not continuously urged her to look at him and find out who he was.
Yielding to the temptation, she took a lamp one night and stole into the room where Cupid lay asleep, and what was her surprise, when she saw Cupid, the god of love.
She was so alarmed at the discovery she had made that she let a drop of hot oil fall on his shoulder.
He awoke, and finding that she had disobeyed his express command, left her alone to weep in solitude and despair, while he returned to his mother. Then Psyche set out to find her lost playmate and she wandered over many lands, searching for him everywhere.
At last she came to the palace where his mother lived, and begged to see her little friend. But Venus made a servant of her and gave her hard work to do. After awhile the goddess sent her down to the infernal regions under the earth where lived dread Pluto and his bride, to get a box of beauty's ointment.
This was a great task but Psyche took the box back to Venus and sweetly opened it for her, that the goddess might become more beautiful than ever. But the ointment had such a powerful odor that Psyche fainted and fell to the floor. Cupid could no longer resist her faithful love for him and ran to her help and brought her back to life.
The anger of Venus was appeased since by using the ointment she could become as beautiful as Psyche. She had not now cause to be jealous any longer. So she told Cupid not to shun Psyche any more, and their marriage was celebrated in the presence of the gods with great rejoicings.
Roses were scattered before them and a rose-tree grew up near them, for the rose is a symbol of the beauty of love.
It is said that Psyche (the soul) gave her name to the butterfly, because, like the butterfly, when freed from its chrysalis in which it had been imprisoned, it wafted its way through the light, soaring above earth.
And now, when artists paint a picture of Psyche, they give her the wings of the butterfly, because they are beautiful and because the soul seeks the freedom of the air; and they put links on her ankles to denote that the soul may be chained by love.
Sometimes they paint Cupid riding on a lion, to show that love makes people courageous, and they give him the lyre to play upon, because love produces harmony. And Hope is sometimes painted as a beautiful maiden standing before them, holding a lily in her hand, because a lily is the symbol of the purity of a soul wedded to love.