Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who had three very beautiful daughters. In fact it was only possible to find words of praise for the elder two, but the youngest of the three was so beautiful that it could not be expressed in any human language. Everyday, thousands of her father’s subjects, and also foreigners, came to admire her beauty and they were so amazed that they could not but compare her to the goddess Venus.
The true Venus was furious at that. “Use your little arrows against this girl so I can have revenge,” she asked her son Cupid. “Make the princess fall desperately in love with the worst, most monstrous man in the whole world."
Meanwhile Psyche was not happy at all. Her two elder sisters had found love and were happily married, but she remained single, for everyone admired her but no one dared to love her. She began to hate the beauty which everyone else adored.
Her poor father feared that the gods might be angry with him, so he went to the ancient oracle of Apollo at Miletus and asked where he was to find a husband for his daughter. “Bring her to the top of the highest mountain,” answered the oracle, “and she will be married to the most horrible monster.”
The king and queen felt very miserable, but Apollo’s oracle had to be obeyed. Psyche was left alone at the top of the mountain dressed for marriage. Then the West Wind started blowing softly and it gradually grew stronger until it lifted her up in the air and carried her down to a valley, where she was left on a field full of flowers.
The place was so nice and fresh that she soon fell asleep. When she woke up, she followed a little river and came to a palace, so beautiful that she immediately knew it had to belong to a god. “All these treasures are yours,” said a voice. “Why don’t you go to your bedroom and rest there?”
After a good rest, she went to the bathroom, where she found the bath ready for her and some invisible hands helped her undress, washed her and then dressed her again. As she came out of the bathroom, she found a table already laid for dinner and splendidly served.
That night, when she was in bed, she heard a whisper and got scared. But the voice spoke very gently and told her how he loved her and soon her fear was over. This way, she came to know her new husband, or rather, she did not know but his voice, for he fled away before daybreak.
And so, her days went by without seeing anybody around her. During the day, her only company were the voices and the invisible hands of her servants, who made her life so pleasant and, at night she had her husband, whom she could touch and hear, but never see.
“Your sisters believe you lie dead at the top of the mountain and they are planning to go up there and collect your body,” said her husband one night, “but you must not pay attention to them, for they are evil and they would bring unhappiness and ruin to your life.”
But Psyche missed her sisters very much and implored his husband to let her see them and let them know she was alive. Finally, her husband accepted but warned her not to tell her sisters a word about his looks. “No, no. I have no idea what you look like, but I love you desperately and I would rather die a hundred times than lose you,” replied Psyche.
Following Psyche’s orders, the West Wind brought the sisters down to the valley. Psyche showed them her palace and gave them many jewels and treasures. Her sisters were very impressed by that wealth and wanted to know who her husband was, but Psyche kept loyal to her promise and made up a story: “He is a handsome young man who spends his time hunting in the woods.”
Then she called the West Wind again and it took the two sisters back to the top of the mountain, but envy had started working in their hearts. “Did you see what big amount of treasures she had?” asked the eldest. “And a young handsome husband, too!” added the other.
“We two are the eldest,” complained the first, “and we also deserve as much as she does.” The more they spoke, the deeper their envy was and they finally resolved to keep the secret and tell nobody that Psyche was alive.
Meanwhile, Psyche’s husband gave her another warning. “Your evil sisters are planning our destruction. You know that you will lose me if you ever see my face, so the next time your sisters come to visit you, you must refuse to answer any questions about me.”
When her two sisters came to visit her again, they quickly realised that Psyche was pregnant. They started talking about the coming baby and then they asked her about her husband. Psyche did not remember the story she had told her sisters the first time, so she said: “You know my husband is a rich merchant who goes from one town to another. He is not at home, now.”
The two sisters realised that Psyche was lying about her husband. “It must be because she doesn’t really know him,” said the oldest sister. “And, if she can’t see him, it must be because he is a god,” finished the other and, making up a plan, they spoke to Psyche like this: “Psyche, we are very worried about you and your coming baby. We fear that your husband is in fact a monster, a giant snake who will devour you and your son, for his favourite food are pregnant women.”
“Dear sisters,” confessed Psyche, “the truth is that I have never seen my husband’s face. I only hear him whisper at nights and I have every reason to think that you are telling the truth. What can I do?”
“This night, hide a lamp behind the bed and, when he is fast asleep, light the lamp on and cut his head off with this knife,” said the two sisters handing her a carving knife.
When night came and she felt that her unseen husband was fast asleep, Psyche prepared herself to do as their sisters had told her, but when the lamp shone on the bed she saw that the creature lying beside her was not the monstrous snake her sisters had talked about, but Cupid himself, the most beautiful creature on Earth.
"Oh, silly, foolish Psyche,” said Cupid when he woke up and found out that Psyche had seen his face. “My mother Venus ordered me to make you fall in love with the most monstrous man, but I disobeyed her and preferred to secretly become your lover. Now you know my secret and you have to be punished, I’ll fly away from you and you will have to live without me."