Eros Asleep

Ink charcoal and pastel on paper


The king, Psyche's father, has foolishly boasted that his daughter is more beautiful than the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite (Venus). The Goddess, in anger, sends her son, Eros, to punish the girl. However when he sees her, he falls deeply in love, as if he were pierced by his own arrow. Each night he comes to her in an unlit cave, forbidding Psyche to look at him.

Psyche's sisters warn her about this dangerous stranger. Although she is overcome with love, she begins to wonder if her sister's warnings were not true, and that he really is a terrible serpent. So she takes a lamp into the cave and when he falls asleep that night, she lights the lamp and sees before her a most beautiful young man. Unfortunately, a drop of oil has fallen from her lamp and burned his shoulder. Eros wakes up and in deep dismay, tells her that, because she has broken the taboo, he must leave her.

Eros departs, leaving a pregnant Psyche behind. In some fairy tale versions of this myth, after completing many nearly impossible tasks for Aphrodite, the couple are reunited, but this does not accord with the intense dream-like power of the original story which contains for me two powerful messages about the nature of desire and the taboos against examining it too closely.

What if Eros returns? Would his wings fall off, as do those of some insects after mating, and would he then become an ordinary man, perhaps becoming Psyche's Burden.

Psyche and Eros represent the mating of the human and divine which produces the present race of men and women. It can also be interpreted as representing the union of Psyche--the soul's breath, and Eros divine love - Eros is sometimes represented as the original earth serpent born with his tail in his mouth, the creator of all life, while Psyche is represented as a butterfly--a symbol for the soul, and for breath.

In many creation myths, there is a serpent, and when there is a serpent, there is the choice between remaining as we were or to choose a new, perhaps more dangerous, era for mankind.