- EROS -
- History and legacy. You could research and report on the historical facts of your piece, including its creator’s inspiration, it’s original reception, and it’s subsequent legacy of influence.
- Comparative analysis. You could analyze your piece and the way it portrays your selected divinity or hero(ine) for similarities to and differences from the way the divinity or hero(ine) appears in the material we learned in class.
- Scholarly criticism. You could read and report on a piece of scholarship on your selected piece. Make sure that the scholar’s argument is made clear in your essay, and feel free to include your own opinion, perspective, or criticism.
- Personal perspective. You could analyze your piece and provide your own opinion about how it portrays your selected divinity or hero(ine) and what it means to you.
- In dialog. You could analyze your piece in comparison with another piece and write on the ‘dialog’ (connection, interaction) between the two.
In the 1589 oil on canvas painting by the Florentine Jacopo Zucchi, the moment that Psyche discovers her rescuer’s identity as Eros is portrayed. Zucchi’s work is of the Mannerist movement, which stylistically contradicts the High Renaissance style of balance and proportion with the appearance of asymmetry and compositional tension, as can be seen in Psyche’s stance and the off-centeredness of her placement in the painting. Eros, or “Amor” in the piece, is similarly in an unsettled position that emphasizes him being startled from his sleep. The moment depicted comes from Apyleius’s Metamorphoses (alternatively The Golden Ass)— Psyche, the youngest daughter of three to a king and queen, had warranted the rage of Venus over her beauty, whom many praised as divine. Venus, in an act of jealousy, ordered Cupid (the Roman name for Eros) to make Psyche fall in love with the most abhorrent of humans; instead, Cupid himself fell in love with Psyche, and defied his mother to rescue Psyche and resituate her in a hidden palace, where he would visit her at night as her bridegroom and lover, and leave before sunrise to conceal his identity from her.
Psyche’s sisters, learning of Psyche's fortunate fate, schemed a way to foil her happiness, and convinced Psyche to ambush and slay her lover in his sleep. Approaching Cupid in the dead of night while holding an oil lamp and a dagger, Psyche was finally able to discover his true identity as a deity, and regretted her curiosity too late. Cupid, devastated by the betrayal, flies away and is not reunited again with her until after many trials and tribulations on her part. (Morford et al. 217)
Compared to Jacques-Louis David’s portrayal of the mythological couple (a painting which Morford et al. commented on as a disturbing scene showing Cupid’s self-satisfied expression, and his oppression and exploitation of Psyche), Zucchi’s work is not as poignantly a psychological interpretation of the myth— though, notably, he chooses a moment in the tale in which Psyche is most clearly embodying agency, where she is standing over her vulnerable bridegroom— as it is an aesthetic exploration of form and composition. I personally find several features of Zucchi’s work to be endearing— the “convenient censorship” of genitalia being one feature that commentators often note (Joy of Museums Virtual Tours), and the dog in the foreground corner! But the overall warm tones and low-exposure of the room further from the oil lamp that shines light on the fact that Psyche is, in fact, confined, and her power in the dynamic— whether in relation to her lover or in the hierarchy of characters in the myth, including her family and the divine— is highly limited, just as the oil lamp is in illuminating the room.
Word Count: 458 words | Patriarchy makes me sad :(
Jacopo Zucchi's painting Amor and Psyche (1589) depicts a significant moment in the tale of Cupid and Psyche. Psyche breaks her vow and looks at her sleeping lover, which to her surprise, is Cupid, son of Venus. In her shock, she drops hot oil from her lantern on Cupid, waking him up. At this point in the myth, it appears that the tale will go the classic way of many of the ancient Greek myths, with the gods punishing the mortal for breaking a vow. Although this did happen, the myth takes a different turn. Instead of languishing in her sorrow, Psyche trudges forward and overcomes the obstacles in her way. Thus, at its essence, the tale of Cupid and Psyche is an allegory of true love and the obstacles that humans face in their pursuit of true love.
At the core of any relationship is trust, and at the infancy of any relationship, it is impossible to completely trust your partner; trust is gained only over time. In Psyche and Eros’ relationship, Psyche’s sisters convince her that her husband was a serpent. And once her pregnancy is complete, he would eat her once her child was born. Rather than trusting her partner, she believed her sisters. At night, she approached her husband’s room with a knife and a lamp in hand, prepared to kill him. As previously mentioned, she saw the face of her husband and realized he was Cupid. As a result, she accidentally pours hot oil on him, waking him up. This fateful moment is illustrated in Jacopo Zucchi’s Amor and Psyche. In the painting, Psyche’s cheeks are red, signifying her embarrassment at her plan, as well as her surprise. Eros does not realize the significance of what has transpired, as he was sleeping, but the drip of oil can be seen falling on him, waking him up. In this scene, she broke her promise to him, letting her curiosity and mistrust get the better of her. Essentially, she broke his trust. As a result, Cupid had to leave Psyche, but this was not the only consequence, as Psyche also suffered the wrath of Venus. Venus ordered Psyche to complete a series of impossible tasks if she wanted to see Cupid ever again. The tasks consisted of: sorting a mix of grains into their respective piles (wheat, barley, oats, etc.), bring back wool from sheep in a riverbank, fill water from a stream located at the top of a tall mountain into a jar, and finally to descent into the underworld and bring a fragment of Persephone’s beauty. All was going well until the final task, where Psyche again let her curiosity get the better of her. Psyche went against disobeyed instructions and looked into the box containing Persephone’s beauty. The box did not contain beauty, but rather the sleep of the dark night. (Mordford et al. 216). Upon looking inside the box, Psyche fell into a deep sleep. Cupid came to her rescue and woke Psyche up. Upon waking up, Psyche took the box to Venus marking the end of her tasks. Following this, Psyche was made immortal and married Cupid, and they lived happily ever after.
The myth of Cupid and Psyche perfectly illustrates the ups and downs of human relationships. In most relationships, there are crossroads, moments where the relationship will either last or break. Their crossroad moment happens to be illustrated in Zucchi’s painting, where she finds out who her husband is. After Cupid left, Psyche could have given up on the relationship and lived the rest of her days in despair of what could have been. Rather than sulking, she took it upon herself to find Cupid; she was determined to let nothing get in the way of true love. Thus, she was able to complete her tasks despite the long odds. This exemplifies the actions that humans do for love. When someone is in love, there is no task too big that they will not be willing to take on. Psyche’s persistence and devotion to Cupid rewarded her at the end of her journey, as she was reunited with Cupid. Love does not come without hardship, as the myth shows, but with persistence, dedication, and sacrifice nothing can come in the way of true love.
Chris Nicholas Andersen
The canvas painting above depicts the fateful moment when the imperfect relationship of Eros and Psyche was thrown further into chaos – or it could be seen as the beginning of a journey to build a proper marriage. I tend to interpret this piece as the latter option. To understand this better, we will need to go in depth about the history, the fateful moment, and the consequences of the relationship between Eros and Psyche.
A long time ago in the mortal world, a king and a queen gave birth to three daughters. Psyche, one of the daughters, was regarded as exceptionally beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that people started to glorify her in place of Aphrodite. This angered the goddess, so in an act of retaliation she sent her son Eros on a mission to prick her with one of his arrows to make her fall in love with a vile, beastly creature. However, this plan backfired because as soon as Eros saw Psyche he was stricken with love. Instead of making her fall in love with some ugly, demonic beast, he decided to sleep with her and in turn had impregnated her. While everything sounds great for Psyche, all was not well. There were certain conditions set by Eros that must be met, or else he would abandon her. The condition was that every time they would meet, it must be in the dark. She would not be allowed to see him. It is speculated that this is because he was worried that she would be afraid of him if she saw him. Since she was pregnant and unable to see the father, people started rumors that the reason why she could not see him was because he was actually some sort of beast that was waiting to consume the baby as soon as it was born.
A fateful moment
The rumors eventually would cause her to devise a plan to kill Eros. She would sneak up on him at night when he was sleeping intending to murder him with a blade and a lamp. Before she could carry out this plan, she became curious of Eros’ arrows and accidentally pricked herself with one of them while examining them. From the shock of the prick, she accidentally spilled a drop of oil from the lamp which would wake Eros up. Upon realizing that she had seen him, he fled as promised. Because of the arrow’s effect, Psyche became even more in love with Eros. From here, she would begin to search for Eros and would eventually end up in the palace of Aphrodite.
Upon seeing Psyche appear in her palace, Aphrodite was furious. As punishment for Eros defying her, Aphrodite came up with a series of twisted trials for Psyche to complete. These included hard labor, obtaining water guarded by dragons, and even making a trip to the underworld and back. These tasks should be impossible for a normal human, but through acts of help from various creatures she was able to complete these successfully. After seeing the negative effects of the underworld on Psyche, Eros had had enough. He explained the situation to Zeus who would decide to allow them to marry. In order to make this possible, he gave her ambrosia so that she would be immortal and therefore equal to Eros. Their baby would end up being a daughter named Voluptas – the goddess of pleasure.
This painting depicts the moment when Psyche was approaching Eros with the dagger and lamp, and accidentally spilled the drop of oil on him that would awaken him. This is undoubtedly a turning point in their story, but it can be interpreted multiple ways. It could be seen as negative because of the cruel nature of the trials that Psyche had to endure. They would be enough to drive most people mad. It could be seen as positive because her relationship with Eros was clearly a toxic one. This moment signifies the beginning of a change in their relationship that would ultimately lead to them being married as gods and accepted by all.
Hi Chris! Could you turn this in when you’re done via Manifold? - Renee
Instructions on how to do so here
I have completed my essay (above), but am waiting for this doc to be finished by everyone. Can the last person who uploads to this document upload it please? I will be at work tomorrow and unable to upload it.
Morford, Mark, et al. Classical Mythology. 11th ed., Oxford UP, 2019.
“‘Cupid and Psyche’ in 9 Famous Paintings.” Joy of Museums Virtual Tours, 14 Sept. 2020, joyofmuseums.com/artists-index/cupid-and-psyche-in-art/.