Goddess of Soul and Memory

I love how names from ancient mythology still permeate our language. They do not shrivel and fall away. They persist.

Today we use the word psyche to sum up everything that we are. It is our soul, our mind. It is both our conscious and unconscious. Our subconscious fears and troubles lurk in our psyche. We also have great power and potential there, sometimes left uncovered unless we are brave enough to pursue it. Our psyche is literally everything. It is our soul.

Pan and Psyche, Edward Burne-Jones
Pan and Psyche, Edward Burne-Jones

Psyche, the youngest daughter of a king, had such remarkable beauty that even the goddess Aphrodite had grown jealous. So jealous, in fact, that anger consumed her and led her to instruct her son Eros (god of love) to cause Psyche to fall in love with a repulsive and horrible man. Except Eros was so struck with Psyche that he fell in love with her himself.

Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden, John William Waterhouse
Psyche Entering Cupid’s Garden, John William Waterhouse
Psyche Opening the Golden Box
Psyche Opening the Golden Box, John William Waterhouse


Spiriting her away to a secret location, he instructed Psyche to never look upon his face. In darkness he visited her every night, leaving before the dawn of day. Although blissfully happy with her love, Psyche was taunted by her jealous sisters. They convinced her that it was a hideous and grotesque monster who embraced her each night. With the seeds of doubt sown in her mind, Psyche broke her promise to Eros and looked at his face by the light of a lamp while he slept. Far from a monster, Psyche found herself gazing upon the face of a god. What should have been a moment of bliss quickly turned tragic as she inadvertently dropped oil from the lamp, spilling it on Eros’ shoulder. Eros awakens, feeling angry and betrayed. Psyche has broken his trust and he leaves her, seemingly never to return.

Devastated, Psyche throws herself into a river in an unsuccessful attempt to kill herself. She later encounters the god Pan who comforts her and suggests that she might possibly win Eros back through servitude. Psyche begins to wander and search for Eros until she eventually reaches a temple of Aphrodite. Here her suffering reaches new depths as Aphrodite takes Psyche on as a slave, imposing tortuous tasks for her to accomplish. Once Psyche completes her tasks, she becomes immortal and is reunited with Eros.

Cupid Delivering Psyche, Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Cupid Delivering Psyche, Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Cupid Gazing at Psyche
Cupid Gazing at Psyche





1 thought on “Goddess of Soul and Memory”

  1. Thank you for a reminder of some truly beautiful paintings. As you say, we need to remember the myths to remember the power and majesty of concepts like psyche – or they’ll become merely technical jargon words. And as you say elsewhere, the Pre-Raphaelites can lure us by beauty into the layers of meaning in the myth like no one else. For a wonderful literary take on Cupid and Psyche do read C S Lewis’s “Till We Hace Faces”.


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