Eros' mother, Aphrodite, was jealous of the beauty of Psyche. She asked Eros to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. Eros agreed but then fell in love with Psyche on his own, or by accidentally pricking himself with a golden arrow. Meanwhile, Psyche's parents were anxious that their daughter remained unmarried. They consulted an oracle who told them she was destined for no mortal lover, but a monster who lived on top of a particular mountain. Psyche was resigned to her fate and climbed to the top of the mountain. There, Zephyrus, the west wind, gently floated her downwards. She entered a cave on the appointed mountain, surprised to find it full of jewelry and finery. Eros visited her every night in the cave and they made love; he demanded only that she never light any lamps because he did not want her to know who he was (having wings made him distinctive). Her two sisters, jealous of Psyche, convinced her to do so one night and she lit a lamp, recognizing him instantly. A drop of hot lamp oil fell on Eros' chest and he awoke, then fled.
When Psyche told her two, jealous, elder sisters what had happened; they rejoiced secretly and each separately walked to the top of the mountain and did as Psyche described her entry to the cave, hoping Eros would pick them instead. Zephyrus did not pick them and they fell to their deaths at the base of the mountain.
Psyche searched for her lover across much of Greece, finally stumbling into a temple to Demeter, where the floor was covered with piles of mixed grains. She started sorting the grains into organized piles and, when she finished, Demeter spoke to her, telling her that the best way to find Eros was to find his mother, Aphrodite, and earn her blessing. Psyche found a temple to Aphrodite and entered it. Aphrodite assigned her a similar task to Demeter's temple, but gave her an impossible deadline to finish it by. Eros intervened, for he still loved her, and caused some ants to organize the grains for her. Aphrodite was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. Psyche went to the field and saw the sheep but was stopped by a river-god, whose river she had to cross to enter the field. He told her the sheep were mean and vicious and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Psyche did so and Aphrodite was even more outraged at her survival and success. Finally, Aphrodite claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Persephone, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a black box that Aphrodite gave to Psyche. Psyche walked to a tower, deciding that the quickest way to the underworld would be to die. A voice stopped her at the last moment and told her a route that would allow her to enter and return still living, as well as telling her how to pass Cerberus, Charon and the other dangers of the route. She pacified Cerberus, the three-headed dog, with a sweet honey-cake and paid Charon an obolus to take her into Hades. Once there, Persephone offered her a feast but Psyche refused, knowing it would keep her in the underworld forever.
Psyche left the underworld and decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside was a "Stygian sleep" which overtook her. Eros, who had forgiven her, flew to her body and healed her, then begged Zeus and Aphrodite for their consent to his wedding of Psyche. They agreed and Zeus made her immortal.
Psyche's visit and return to the underworld made her an object of some devotion, like Dionysus and Persephone. She was an object of some mystery religions and was occasionally mentioned in connection with the popular Eleusinian mysteries.
Psyche was usually portrayed as a beautiful woman with the wings of a butterfly.
At the conclusion of Comus, the poet John Milton alluded to the story of Eros and Psyche. (Cupid is the Roman version of Eros)
"Celestial Cupid, her famed son, advanced, Holds his dear Psyche sweet entranced, After her wandering labours long, Till free consent the gods among Make her his eternal bride; And from her fair unspotted side Two blissful twins are to be born, Youth and Joy; so Jove hath sworn."The poet T.K. Harvey wrote:
"They wove bright fables in the days of old, When reason borrowed fancy's painted wings; When truth's clear river flowed o'er sands of gold, And told in song its high and mystic things! And such the sweet and solemn tale of her The pilgrim heart, to whom a dream was given, That led her through the world,- Love's worshipper,- To seek on earth for him whose home was heaven! "In the full city,- by the haunted fount,- Through the dim grotto's tracery of spars,- 'Mid the pine temples, on the moonlit mount, Where silence sits to listen to the stars; In the deep glade where dwells the brooding dove, The painted valley, and the scented air, She heard far echoes of the voice of Love, And found his footsteps' traces everywhere. "But nevermore they met! since doubts and fears, Those phantom shapes that haunt and blight the earth, Had come 'twixt her, a child of sin and tears, And that bright spirit of immortal birth; Until her pining soul and weeping eyes Had learned to seek him only in the skies; Till wings unto the weary heart were given, And she became Love's angel bride in heaven!"The British scholar and novelist C.S. Lewis also wrote a prose version of the story of Eros and Psyche, Till We Have Faces.
See for other meanings of Psyche: 16 Psyche (asteroid), Psyche (band), Psyche (Lepidoptera).