I am deep into the world of Psykhe, my new novel-in-progress, and thought I would share with you a little of what I’m writing about. It’s a new departure for me – a retelling of an ancient myth known by most people as ‘Amor and Psyche’, or ‘Cupid and Psyche’. It is a haunting tale of love and loss and redemption which follows a young woman’s journey to the underworld and back as she seeks to atone for her betrayal of her beloved. Her story has been told for more than two-and-a-half thousand years. It is the source myth for such beloved fairy tales such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and also the lesser-known variants ‘The Snake Prince’ from Greece and ‘Zelinda and the Monster’ from Italy. I’ll be drawing upon these beautiful old stories in my version too.
I’ve always loved the story. It is one of the few myths in which a woman does not have her tongue cut out, or her hair turned to hissing snakes, or her life reduced to a plaintive voice echoing men. It celebrates female desire and disobedience, and its denouement leads to love and liberation, not sorrow and suffering.
In the best-known version, 'Eros & Psyche', written by Lucius Apuleius in the 2nd century AD, Psyche is condemned to be married to a winged serpent but is rescued by Eros and taken to a secret palace where he visits her that night, making her 'his wife' even though she is afraid and unwilling. However, in the fairytale variants, usually told by women, the heroine's consent is integral to the breaking of the curse upon the beast-husband, and so that is one element I will be changing.
I’m setting my novel is ancient Etruria, at the time of the Roman kingdom. This is because the oldest known artistic representation of Amor and Psyche was once found in an ancient tomb in the Etruscan necropolis at Tarquinia called the Tomb of the Passage of Souls. It has since been lost, the opening of the tomb almost obliterating the image, but luckily an archaeological artists named James Byres drew a quick likeness of it. It shows Psyche depicted with butterfly wings. In ancient Greek, the word ‘psyche’ means both ‘the breath of life’ and ‘butterfly’, and so the story of Psyche symbolises the redemptive power of love and desire over darkness and despair.
One final question you may have – why am I entitling my novel ‘Psykhe’? Two reasons. Firstly, it’s closer to the original Greek name before it has been Anglicised. And, secondly, it contains my own initials within it. My maiden name is Kate Humphrey and for years I used to scribble my initials as KH.
You can read more about the myth and my inspirations Here
And if you are a lover of C.S. Lewis, like me, you can read my review of his Amor and Psyche retelling Here
And, finally, you can listen to me read my version of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, a German derivative of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Here