Eros & Psyche: Greek Mythic Origins of Beauty & the Beast

For day two of Beauty & the Beast Week, I have decided to focus on the connection between Beauty and the Beast and the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche.   So, yesterday I went over the most commonly told versions of the original tale, those born out of France in the 18th century.   Today, we are going to go back further, all the way back to ancient Greece.   

Eros was the Greek God of Love and the son of Aphrodite, usually with Ares being his father.   Psyche was a young woman whose beauty was so potent that those around her began to give offerings to her instead of to Aphrodite.   This is a recipe for trouble, as human women should not be compared to Goddesses and that is where the trouble began.   Aphrodite sent her son Eros to use his arrows to make Psyche fall in love with the most hideous monster he could find, but when he accidentally pricked himself on one of his arrows when he was so beguiled by her beauty, Eros fell in love with her himself.   It is after this that Eros married Psyche in secret, with her family taking her to a designated site to meet her husband and leaving her there.   She is taken to a beautiful palace and her husband only visited her at night, with the caveat that she would have all that she needed but she may never gaze upon his visage.    They would have sex in the dark and he would leave before morning, largely to keep his godhood a secret (as well as to prevent his mother from finding out he had married the young woman that she had sent him to make fall in love with a monster).   One day, when Psyche is missing her family, her sisters are sent for to visit with her.    It was a shock to the sisters to see the Psyche was living in the lap of luxury while they believed she had been given to a monster to wed.   They themselves had been married to men they did not love and here was their sister was living in this lovely place and gushing about a husband with whom she has a great sex life.   During this visit the sisters begin to sow seeds of discontent, telling Psyche that she has never seen her husband’s face and he could be the most vicious monster.   

They convince her to tell her that she should see her husband, by using a candle to gaze upon him while he sleeps.   They also advised her to have a knife to kill the monster if she finds him to be one!    Of course, she does use a candle to see him while he sleeps (and does have a knife on her).   When she sees the great beauty of her God husband she accidentally dripped hot wax on him and he awoke, seeing the knife and knowing she had seen him he expressed his grief at her betrayal and fled!   After Eros fled, he went to stay with his mother Aphrodite who finally found out about the whole of the situation with Eros and Psyche’s relationship.   This led to the whole of the trials that Psyche was put through by Aphrodite because the Goddess felt the need to test Psyche after she had broken her son’s heart.    Over the course of several tasks, nature and the Gods helped Psyche win back Eros, eventually gaining a place amongst the Gods as an immortal herself!   Many paint Aphrodite as the villain of the story, although she began by acting out of jealousy over how Psyche was being worshipped instead of her I feel that she ended up acting as a protective mother wanting her son’s wife to prove herself worthy of forgiveness.    At the end of the tale Psyche is happily a Goddess herself pregnant with her husband’s child (as she found out she was pregnant after he fled).   The tale takes Psyche through a huge journey, even taking on the task of going to the Underworld to get a beauty potion from Persephone to bring to Aphrodite!

Those familiar with the original tellings of Beauty and the Beast can see the echoes of this tale all through that one.   We have a woman living in a palace with her husband who is assumed to be a monster.    She is known to be the most beautiful of mortal women, rivaling the Goddess of Beauty herself, which makes sense that she would inspire a character literally named Beauty (Belle being the feminine French word for beautiful).   Eros is a God of Love, but known for his wild streak, making him an early version of the Beast, where his curse was not being beastly but falling in love with a woman he was meant to punish.    Aphrodite in my view could be aligned with the Faery woman who appeared at the end of the original tellings.   She is the one who tested Psyche to prove her love and eventually it is through this test that lovers are reunited.   She is also the inciting incident, being the one that puts Eros into Psyche’s life in the first place.   The sisters of Psyche try to prevent her happiness with Eros, sowing uncertainty, as do Belle’s sisters in the original tale when they try to prevent her from returning to the Beast!   In the end, the curse is broken and the two live happily together in love, just as Eros and Psyche are united in immortality together.   

I hope that you have enjoyed this analysis of the connection between Beauty and the Beast and the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche.    Do you like one of these tales over the other?   Are they equally great?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a lovely artwork of Eros and Psyche.   I found the image on

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Further Reading

  • Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Bride and Grooms from Around the World edited by Maria Tatar  (Side note: In this collection, Eros is referred to by his Roman name, Cupid)