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
And now, in her simplicity, Psyche believed that her troubles were over; so it was with a joyful heart that she presented to Venus the crystal bottle filled with the dark water of Styx. But the goddess took it frowning and, unable now to mask her anger with bitter jests or smiles, she said in a stern voice:
“You are a witch, it seems, and understand magic, else you could never have done this. Well, witch, you shall do one thing more. Take this ivory box and go to Proserpine in Hades, and ask her to send me a little of her beauty — only enough to serve me for one day. For mine, tell her, has withered away since my son fell sick. Away with you, and make haste back; for with that beauty I must adorn myself before I go to the next assembly of the gods.”
Psyche dared not answer a word, but took the box and went hastily out of her presence. “This is the end,” she thought in despair. “Now I see that nothing but my death will satisfy Venus — therefore does she send me into the Land of the Dead, whence none can return. Well, since there’s no help, why should I delay? I will go up the tower yonder and fling myself down headlong — that will be my shortest road to Hades.”
With that, she ran to a high tower of the palace, and up the marble stair. But as she reached the top, a voice, close at hand, called her by name.
“Who calls me? Who are you?” she said, trembling, for she could see no one.
“I am the tower,” said the voice. “I know why you have come to me, poor unhappy maiden, but why will you recklessly throw away your life? Nay, forbear — remember, if your soul and body part you will indeed find swift passage to Hades, but there you must dwell forever.”
“I know it,” sobbed Psyche, “but cruel Venus has doomed me to go — and this is the only way.”
“Not so,” said the tower. “Listen well to me, and I will tell you how you may do your errand safely. There is a city called Lacedaemon not far from here. Go thither and ask the way to Mount Taenarus, where you shall find a cavern that leads down into the nether world, even to the palace of Pluto. There lies your road, but take heed you do not go empty-handed to that place of darkness — you must carry in each hand a cake of barley flour kneaded with honey, and put two halfpence in your mouth. When you have got a good way down, you will see a lame ass laden with faggots and a cripple driving it, who will ask you to pick up and give him the sticks that fall out of the faggots; but beware you do not, neither answer, but pass on. Soon after, you will come to the Ferry of the Dead, where ghastly Charon is ferryman; and there you shall see how avarice reigns even in Hades, for he will have his fare paid him before he will take the souls over in his boat. And therefore the dead are wont to be buried with a small coin in their mouths for passage money. So do you offer grim, ghastly Charon one of your halfpennies, and let him take it from between your lips as his custom is. Now, while you are in the boat, you will see an old man swimming alongside and holding out his corpse-like hands, who will beg you with piteous cries to take him on board; but beware you pay no heed. And when you have crossed the river, you will see some old crones spinning, who will ask you to stop and help them; but again beware of consenting. For all these I have warned you against are baits and traps that Venus will set in your way to make you lay down your honey cakes a moment.”
“Why, would that matter much?” asked Psyche, curiously.
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“Ay, indeed,” said the tower, “for if one of those cakes be lost or stolen from you, you will nevermore return to the light of day. So keep fast hold of them, I charge you, until you must use them in the way I shall now tell you of. After passing the old spinning women, you will come to the palace of Pluto; and lying at the gate you will see a huge and fiendish dog with three heads, who keeps guard there day and night. He will bark horribly at sight of you, and if you came empty-handed would tear you in pieces, but throw him one of the honey cakes, and he will let you go safe past him into the house. There you will find Queen Proserpine on her throne. She will give you gracious welcome and bid you sit in a golden chair, and all manner of delicious food and drink will be set before you, which she will press you to taste. But touch none of it, Psyche, for once you are the guest of Proserpine, you must abide with her forever. Sit down on the ground, and say you will take nothing but a morsel of brown bread. Then tell her your errand from Venus, and as soon as she gives you the desired gift, return by the way you came. With your other honey cake, you can pass by the three-headed dog, and with your other halfpenny, pay covetous Charon his fare. After that, your homeward journey will be easy. Only, above all things, beware of opening the ivory box; beware, I say, that you do not pry into the treasure of divine beauty.”
Thus did the friendly tower give counsel to Psyche; and she, taking heart again, thanked it gratefully and set out on her perilous adventure. But whether the tower was then and there inspired to speak to her by the will of some god, or whether it was an enchanted thing and had received a soul when it was built, like the famous ship Argo that spoke counsel to her crew in their distress, no one knows to this day.