Once upon a time, there was a god and there was a mortal. Cupid is a god, while Psyche is a mortal. Not just any mortal though. She’s turning heads and Venus, a goddess, is not happy. She’s jealous. The attention Psyche gets interferes with Venus’ worship. Nobody actually likes Psyche. Men are content to look and wonder and adore and worship her, but she is passed on for marriage.
If it weren’t for Venus’ jealousy, there would be no story. Venus decides she wants to force Psyche to fall in love with a despicable and vile creature, so she calls in Cupid, and in an unforeseen turn of events, Cupid decides he does want Psyche when he sees her. What he doesn’t want is to tell anyone he likes a mortal, gods-forbid, especially not Venus, whom he has clearly failed.
Psyche’s parents are disturbed, naturally, by their daughter remaining so long unmarried. Her sisters have married well, even though they’re “inexpressibly inferior” to the “all-beautiful” Psyche. Psyche’s dad goes off to beg the god Apollo to do something about the situation, but Cupid beats him to the punch. He tells Apollo the whole story and he’s like “you’ve gotta lie for me, bro.”
So Apollo does, naturally. Nobody can find out Cupid, a god, likes a mere mortal, especially not one who has been passed over by all the other mortals. Apollo says Psyche has no choice but to marry a “fearful winged serpent.”
Better dead than unmarried.
Dressed for a funeral, Psyche’s family leaves the poor girl to her doom. Psyche is glad the end has come for her at last. It’s unclear whether Psyche knows she’s getting married or thinks she’s going to die, for she knows not what terror comes for her. In another twist of events, Psyche is carried away by a wind and wakes up in a mansion.
And it’s for her! She has servants, music, a whole banquet table to herself with the most delicious food, and the most delightful baths; all the fear leaves Psyche. She’s convinced she’s found the lover and husband she has been waiting for, and that he’s not a monster or shape of terror.
Of course she’s still unhappy, naturally. Except for the voices she hears, she’s alone. Psyche starts missing her sisters, who think she’s dead. Psyche’s god for a husband doesn’t want her family there, lest they discover his real identity. He gives in to her though, naturally.
Psyche’s family has not improved overnight. Her sisters are more than curious about her new lifestyle and her mysterious husband. Their jealousy evolves into envy: they want the stuff Psyche now has and they want to know who is the man behind it all. Psyche does the best she can to satiate her sisters’ curiosity.
Psyche becomes divided between her family and faceless husband. Her nameless sisters have sowed seeds of doubt, gaslighting her in contemporary terms, and Psyche falls to pieces. She’s uncertain, she’s unsure, and she didn’t listen to Cupid in the first place. She knows the truth about her family, but she doesn’t know the truth about her husband. She’s torn by doubt and distracted.
Cupid gets the whole spiel later and tells Psyche once more that no one can discover who he is because he’s a god, and Psyche is not, and Venus still doesn’t know anything.
The whole scene repeats itself. Psyche is interrogated and gaslighted, until she finally decides this is not how she’s going to live. When Psyche’s sisters hand her a plan for unveiling who her husband is, she runs with it.
With a death wish in one hand, and a candle in the other, she sneaks into Cupid’s room while he’s sleeping.
Lo and behold! Her husband has the face of a god (literally) and the first thing Psyche wants to do is kill herself. What she actually does is drop hot oil all over him. He wakes up and runs away: “Love cannot live where there is no trust.”
Psyche blames herself, naturally. What do you expect from a mere mortal?
Meanwhile, Cupid is recovering at home from his burn and Psyche gets the bright idea to ask Venus for help, secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband instead. Venus scorns Psyche and puts her on a wild goose chase with a series of impossible tasks. One after another, Psyche wipes them out.
Alas! Nothing she does captures the attention of her husband. Psyche wants to die a second time. Indifference finally overtakes Psyche when she returns from Hell. She’s exhausted.
Cupid decides now is a good time to pop back up the minute Psyche lays down to rest. Turns out watching Psyche go to Hell did something for him. He’s also healed at this time and finally calls the whole assembly of gods together, proposing to make Psyche immortal.
This, of course, completely changed the situation. Venus has nothing further to say and so the two live happily ever after, finally married in front of all.
Moral: Appearances matter.