During my first visit to the Louvre in Paris, in the early 1970’s, I became transfixed by a certain statue. It was Antonio Canova’s neoclassical work ‘Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss’. I couldn’t believe the impression the softness of the white marble made upon me as I gazed at that winged son of Aphrodite meeting in a kiss that most beautiful of women – Psyche. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the lightness with which Cupid descends upon her, supporting her with his left arm across her breasts and his right cradling her head. How her arms reach up for him. How their lips are only the merest moment past touching together. He has awakened her lifeless form. She is his!
The tale of Eros and Psyche has always fascinated me. An old woman tells the tale in the second century AD ‘The Golden Ass’ by Lucius Apuleius. It is the story of a most beautiful girl named Psyche who has caused envy and jealousy to grow in the goddess Aphrodite. Spitefully she calls upon her son Eros, or Cupid, to use one of his golden arrows while she sleeps to cause the girl to fall in love with the vile creature she will place there when she awakes. (Because of the arrow’s magic, she will fall in love with the first one she sees).
Cupid himself becomes invisible as he surreptitiously enters her room so no one will be able to see him. He intends to scratch her shoulder with his arrow but she awakens and looks directly into his eyes; seeing through his invisibility. Cupid is so startled he scratches himself with the arrow instead and falls madly in love with Psyche. When he reports what has happened to his mother, Aphrodite is enraged. She places a curse on the girl, so that she will never be able to find a husband for herself. Cupid, for his part, refuses then to use his arrows. No one falls in love. No one marries. No one has children. The earth begins to grow old.
At last Aphrodite relents and lets Cupid go to the girl. The story has many more twists and turns, but the part that intrigues me is the coming together of the earthly and the divine. The material and the spiritual. The two aspects of humankind. Together they have a daughter – Voluptas – the goddess of sensual pleasures.
I always wanted to write the story anew, but could never find a way to do it. I wanted to capture Eros reviving Psyche with that divine kiss. But how does an artist express such a theme in a new way? Whenever I outlined or sketched out a plot it either sounded like the same old story retold, or was so far from the original as not to make any sense whatever. That was the state of things until, one day; I came upon the idea of a man meeting his beautiful and now earth-bound guardian angel. If such an arrangement could be made in a very realistic way… say, being forced to travel together, they might just fall in love. They might just bring heaven and earth together in a very real and believable way.
That was the first moment of ‘The Angelic Mysteries’. (Due out August 18th).