Jean Shinoda Bolen: The Myth of Eros and Psyche

Psyche Crossing the River Styx

There are many versions and many interpretations of the Eros and Psyche myth. This one, from a talk by Jean Shinoda Bolen in 2004, is one of the better ones. (She starts talking about the myth about 1/3 of the way through the article):

Transitions as Liminal and Archetypal Situations
From a lecture delivered by
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
at the Mythic Journeys Conference
June 2004, Atlanta, Georgia

As most of you know, psyche is the Greek word for soul. It’s also the Greek word for butterfly. If you have a protagonist in a story whose name is Psyche, you might expect that she will go through a major transition and crisis. Will she survive it? Will she come through and be transformed, or will she die? That’s one way of looking at the Psyche myth. Those of you who heard Robert Bly’s White Bear story on the first day of this conference heard a variation of the Eros and Psyche myth.

The form that Psyche broke was the understanding with her unseen lover who came every night. The piece of the story I want to focus on is what happens in an unconscious relationship when it is broken. Psyche was the third most beautiful princess. She was considered so beautiful that she was worshipped rather than sought as a partner. Her father the king seeks to know whether his beloved daughter Psyche will ever find a husband. He goes to the Oracle at Delphi. You know, if you go ask the Delphic Oracle for advice, you are bound to fulfill the advice, so be careful. Don’t ask for the advice unless you are prepared to really do what you are told to do.

The Oracle tells the king that he must abandon his daughter on a mountain top to meet her fate — an inhuman bridegroom. And so, with death is the beginning of the next stage, Psyche is dressed as for a funeral. All the people of the kingdom grieve. Undoubtedly the king must have had second thoughts of, “Why did I ever ask?” The kingdom then mourned beautiful Psyche, left her on the highest crag, abandoned and wailing…. (CLICK HERE for the rest of the story.)

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