You are on page 1of 6

Men like Achilles, Heracles, Theseus, Odysseus and Orpheus are commonly

acclaimed as heroes, while Psyche and her heroism are relatively unsung. The stories of
these men usually contain some code of honor, the achievement of fame or kleos, triumph
over death (at least partial), quests to the Underworld and superhuman feats of courage
and strength. Their stories usually conclude in the Underworld, like that of Achilles but
their name lives on. Even if they themselves do not attain immortality, their stories do.
The best of these heroes, already paragons of men end up on Olympus as undying gods.
Psyches story has all that and more.
Although Psyche is best known for possessing beauty so extraordinary that she
not only attracted the adulation of men form far and wide, but also provoked the wrath of
a jealous Venus, she is not equally renowned for her great fortitude, not to mention
cunning. Her commonly oversimplified representation does not do her justice. She is
perceived as an archetypal ingnue or a damsel in distress, suffering from the clichd
tragic flaw of naivet (as well as simple-mindedness). But Psyches character is too
multifaceted and dynamic to be confined to this one-dimensional role alone. She is the
hero of her own story as well as the victim. She is best described as a martyr. She may
suffer and stumble, but she ultimately delivers herself from her own misfortunes.
Admittedly, she has generous assistance along the way, but all heroes do.
In fact, Psyche is the ideal hero. Her exceeding fortitude and triumph over death
set her apart from other heroes. From the very beginning of her tale, she has already
achieved kleos, famed for her unparalleled physical beauty, just as other heroes are famed
for their physical strength. As Heracles was the strong man of Greece, Psyche is the
mortal Venus of the world.

Psyche also abides by a heroic code of honor. Greek heroes are supposed to use
their various skills and gifts to help their friends and hurt their enemies. To those that
would do them harm, heroes they hinder or punish; to their kith and kin, heroes are loyal.
Psyche is still a hero although she fell victim to her sisters perfidy. She is still behaving
as a Greek hero would, but she has tragically misplaced her trust. Psyche has failed to
see the inimical intentions of her conniving elder sisters. She has mistaken her enemies
for allies. In her heart, Psyche was defending herself and her unborn child from a
monster of unknown horror in a show of bravery. She was prepared to behead a monster
so fierce even the gods themselves feared it. According to her sisters, He will devoure
both thee and thy child: wherefore advise thy selfe whether thou wilt agree unto us that
are carefull of thy safety, and so avoid the perill of death, bee contented to live with thy
sisters, or whether thou remaine with the Serpent and in the end be swallowed into the
gulfe of his body (The Golden Asse by Apuleius, the fifth booke, chapter 21, translated by
Wil. Adlington).
This is comparable to Theseus entering the darkness of the labyrinth prepared to
slay the Minotaur lurking in the inner workings. Later disillusioned, she sees that those
she thought were her enemies were her allies and her allies, actually enemies. Hercules
also tragically confused his enemies with his allies or kin. In a state of madness, Heracles
mistook his own kin for his bitter enemy and his enemys family. [He catches sight of his
children.] [987] But look! Here lurk the children of the king, my enemy, the abominable
spawn of Lycus; to your detested father this hand forthwith shall send you. Let my
bowstring discharge swift arrows-so it is meet the shafts of Hercules should fly (Hercules
Furens by Seneca).

In darkness and ignorance, Psyche believed that her husband was a homicidal
beast. Actually, Psyche has made an attempt on the life of her loving husband and
Heracles has slaughtered his defenseless wife and young sons. Both heroes were
hatefully pixie-led into a homicidal mentality and immediately devoted themselves to
atoning for their misdeeds when all was illuminated.
Another aspect of making things in Greek heroism is taking revenge on ones
enemies, along with seeking redemption from those that have been wronged. Using
machinations worthy of wily Odysseus, the so-called simple Psyche beguiles her
scheming sisters into self-destruction on her quest to recover Cupid. She needs no
champion to come to her aid; although fell victim to her sisters perfidy, she competently
avenges herself. In this way, she is comparable to Odysseus. Instead of using violence to
overcome her enemies, she uses her wits, getting her enemies to vanquish themselves.
She tricks both of her sisters into jumping to their own deaths by providing strategically
false information. Seeing me armed with fire and weapons, gan say, How darest thou be
so bold to doe so great a mischief? Depart from me and take such things as thou didst
bring: for I will have thy sister (and he named you) to my wife, and she shall be placed in
thy felicity( The Golden Asse by Apuleius, the fifth booke, chapter 21, translated by
Wil. Adlington). Psyche invents this recounting of her misfortunes to punish her
sisters for conspiring to ruin her marital bliss.
In accordance with this paradigm shift of friend and foe, Psyche seeks to undo the
damage she has done. She goes through great lengths to recover her lost love and his
broken trust. In the mean season Psyches hurled her selfe hither and thither, to seeke her
husband, the rather because she thought that if he would not be appeased with the sweet

flattery of his wife, he would take mercy on her at her servile and continuall prayers(The
Golden Asse by Apuleius, the fifth booke, chapter 21, translated by Wil. Adlington).
She seeks Venus out in hopes of finding Cupid, even after learning that the
goddess wants her dead. Psyche knowingly puts herself in harms way in her efforts to
achieve redemption. In what cave or darknesse shall I hide myselfe, to avoid the furor
of Venus? Why do I not take a good heart, and offer my selfe with humilitie onto her
whose anger I have wrought(The Golden Asse by Apuleius, the fifth booke, chapter 21,
translated by Wil. Adlington)?
In order to be forgiven, she must perform dangerous tasks handed down from a
hostile authority, like Heracles. As the labors of Heracles were assigned by his greatest
enemy, Psyche accepts tasks from Venus. Both of their tasks included a quest to the
Underworld, but for different reasons. Psyche perseveres in her tasks, even as they get
progressively difficult. She even accepts what she believes as a death sentence to
expedite her labors. She knows these tasks were designed by jealous Venus to be fatal
and impossible, yet she still endeavors to carry them out. Ultimately Psyche is rewarded
not only with redemption, but immortality.
Psyche is the ideal Greek hero because she achieves both domestic tranquility and
true immortality. For the sake of love, she faces death as a mortal and re-emerges as a
deathless goddess. Many times Psyche has shown that she does not fear death. Unlike
her heroic male counterparts, she does not struggle with her mortality. She confronts and
even embraces her death on three separate occasions, including a quest to the
Underworld. Although a journey to the Underworld is typical of heroes, but Psyches
quest stands apart-Psyche was prepared to enter the Underworld as a shade. She has the

courage to die for love, distinguishing her from other heroes like Orpheus who was not
willing to do the same.
She succeeds where her male counterparts fail. Achilles achieves an immortality
of sorts, enduring fame, but sacrifices domestic tranquility and longevity. He chooses to
die young in battle instead of growing old with loved ones. He doesnt die an old man
who has lived a fulfilling life and left behind children to survive him. Psyche does not
only achieve an enduring name, she attains total immortality as a goddess. She may
experience the joys of domestic life for all eternity with her husband Eros and daughter
Joy.
Odysseus attains domestic tranquility, but not true immortality, despite achieving
fame. In order to return home to his wife and son at home in Ithaca, he sacrifices his
chance at true immortality with the goddess Calypso.
Although the hero Hercules achieves total immortality, his transformation is not
as complete at the end of his quest and therefore his triumph is not as great. Hercules
started life as a demi-god. He used his inherited superhuman abilities to overcome the
obstacles standing between him and immortality. Psyche did not have this advantage for
she had no divine parents and completed her challenges as a mere mortal. Her
transformation is a hegira fraught with peril the likes of which no other hero or heroine
has completely, going from mortal to goddess, without the privilege of divine parentage.
Works Cited:
The Golden Asse by Apuleius, the fifth booke, chapter 21, translated by Wil.
Adlington

Hercules Furens, book two by Seneca translated by Frank Justus


Miller

Meredith Dougherty
Classical Mythology
Pr. Cohen
April 18, 2012
Psyche: a Goddess among Demi-gods