This is a chapter of Evergreen Stories by W. M. L. Hutchinson. It includes the following stories: King Midas and His Strange Adventures — Alcestis, the Noble Wife — The Real Helen — Cupid and Psyche — The Vision of Er
Meanwhile, Psyche, with all her beauty and fame, had but a sad life of it. Her two sisters, who were the proudest and vainest creatures alive, envied and hated the poor child for the honor and worship paid to her; but little pleasure she took in them, for she was of a meek and gentle nature, very loving, simple-minded, and timid. The praise and admiration lavished on her beauty fairly bewildered the girl, who honestly thought her sisters far lovelier than she was; as for being adored under the name of the New Venus, it frightened her so much that nothing but obedience to her parents made her endure it. But they, in the foolish pride of their hearts, continued to make a show of her, decked and crowned her with the flowers of Venus, and forced her to play the goddess as best she might.
However, it was not long before these parents began to repent of their folly. Many suitors came for their two elder daughters, who were soon splendidly married to two great lords from overseas; but no man, high or low, sought to marry Psyche. This seemed so extraordinary to the king, her father —though the plain truth was, he had himself to thank, for it, for who could presume to court a goddess?—, that he suspected the gods were envious of his daughter’s glory and meant to keep her unwedded in revenge. So he resolved to take counsel of an oracle.
Now there was in those days a famous oracle of Apollo in a certain town called Miletus. Thither the king went, though it was a long journey for him; and having prayed and offered sacrifice, he inquired of the oracle what he should do to get a husband for his daughter. And Apollo gave him this answer by the mouth of his priestess, who chanted it forth in verse after her manner:
Let Psyche fair be clad in mourning weed
and set on highest rock, her spouse to find,
for she must wed no wight of human breed,
but a fell serpent, fiercest of his kind.
On plumy wings he sails the starry skies
subduing all things in his burning flight;
the gods themselves, the puissant and the wise,
with willing minds be subject to his might.
The rivers black through nether realms that flow,
and Chaos, and old Night, his empire know.
So the king went home again in great affliction and told his wife the dreadful fate that was ordained for their daughter, and they wept and lamented together many days. Then, not daring to disobey the oracle, they began to make ready for Psyche’s marriage with the serpent, or rather, as too plainly appeared, for her miserable end. You would have thought, to see the preparations, that a funeral and not a wedding was toward; the palace and all the city rang with dirges and wailings, instead of marriage hymns; black torches were lighted; the bride herself was veiled and robed in black, and all the bridal train were dressed as mourners. The tears and entreaties of the whole people moved the king to put off the fatal day for a while; but at last he would delay no more, lest the gods should be wroth.
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There was a steep and high mountain not far from the city which was crowned by a great rock shaped like an altar; here they brought luckless Psyche in mournful procession; her father and mother walked beside her, followed by their household and friends and a great multitude of the common folk, all weeping and lamenting most bitterly. When they were come to the hilltop, the king and queen began to take leave of their child, but words failed them; sobbing and crying, they beat their breasts and tore their hair in a frenzy of sorrow. But Psyche said to them:
“Oh, my dear and honored parents, why do you break my heart with the sight of your weeping faces and the rending of your grey hair? Alas, it is too late now for those tears! When the folk made a goddess of me and called me the New Venus, then was the time you should have wept over me, knowing my poor beauty was soon to be my ruin. For now you may see, too late, that the wrath of offended Venus has brought your child to this miserable end. But since there is no remedy, I pray you leave me to my fate. I am ready… nay, I long to meet my bridegroom — for I think his true name is Death.”