*from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Rosa Mystica” (1874-5). Rosa Mystica or Mystical Rose is a poetic title of Mary. Medieval writers referenced a passage from Sirach 24:14 “like a palm tree in Engedi, like a rosebush in Jericho”.
“Cupid and Psyche is a story originally from Metamorphoses (also called The Golden Ass), written in the 2nd century AD by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis (or Platonicus). The tale concerns the overcoming of obstacles to the love between Psyche (Greek: Ψυχή, “Soul” or “Breath of Life”) and Cupid (Latin Cupido, “Desire”) or Amor (“Love”, Greek Eros, Ἔρως), and their ultimate union in a sacred marriage. Although the only extended narrative from antiquity is that of Apuleius from 2nd century AD, Eros and Psyche appear in Greek art as early as the 4th century BC. The story’s Neoplatonic elements and allusions to mystery religions accommodate multiple interpretations, and it has been analyzed as an allegory and in light of folktale, Märchen or fairy tale, and myth.
The story of Cupid and Psyche was known to Boccaccio in c. 1370, but the editio princeps dates to 1469. Ever since, the reception of Cupid and Psyche in the classical tradition has been extensive. The story has been retold in poetry, drama, and opera, and depicted widely in painting, sculpture, and even wallpaper. Though Psyche is usually referred to in Roman mythology by her Greek name, her Roman name through direct translation is Anima.
The story of Cupid and Psyche was readily allegorized. In late antiquity, Martianus Capella (5th century) refashions it as an allegory about the fall of the human soul. For Apuleius, immortality is granted to the soul of Psyche as a reward for commitment to sexual love. In the version of Martianus, sexual love draws Psyche into the material world that is subject to death: “Cupid takes Psyche from Virtue and shackles her in adamantine chains“.
The tale thus lent itself to adaptation in a Christian or mystical context. In the Gnostic text On the Origin of the World, the first rose is created from the blood of Psyche when she loses her virginity to Cupid. To the Christian mythographer Fulgentius (6th century), Psyche was an Adam figure, driven by sinful curiosity and lust from the paradise of Love’s domain. Psyche’s sisters are Flesh and Free Will, and her parents are God and Matter. To Boccaccio (14th century), the marriage of Cupid and Psyche symbolized the union of soul and God.
The temptation to interpret the story as a religious or philosophical allegory can still be found in modern scholarship; for was not Apuleius a serious Platonic philosopher? Surely Psyche by her very name represents the aspirations of the human soul – towards a divine love personified in Cupid? But this misses the characterisation of Cupid as a corrupter who delights in disrupting marriages (The Golden Ass IV. 30) and is himself “notorious for his adulteries” (VI. 23), the marked sensuality of his union with Psyche (V. 13), the help Jupiter offers him if he provides a new girl for Jupiter to seduce (VI. 22) and the name given to Cupid and Psyche’s child – Voluptas (Pleasure).”