Love and Psyche

Antonio Canova (1757-1822) - Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l'Amour (1787-1793), Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Antonio Canova (1757-1822) - Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l'Amour (1787-1793), Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Sealed in marble by Canova, Cupid’s eternal kiss to Psyche eclipses the violence of a myth in which a father abandons his virtuous daughter to a monster, a son betrays his mother, a woman lies to her beloved and causes the death of her two sisters in revenge for their malice… Love is quite a journey, that’s for sure!

Greek and then Roman myths were the songs of poets santified in temples and glorified in pictorial and scuptural works of art that recounted the historical origins of the world and of humankind by establishing religious beliefs with its priests, soothsayers, cults and holy places. This never-ending interweaving of legends continued for several millennia in a variety of Mediterranean countries and cultures and poets in different cities added their bit to the pot by changing the protagonists, relationships and even destinies. So ancient mythology is actually a narrative in a process of metamorphosis.
Some two thousand years later, certain myths were taken by psychoanalysis into the psyche of the individual as pictorial representations of the mental and the emotional processes that affect our subconscious. Mythology was then read from a new viewpoint, not only as the breeding ground for the humanities and classical culture but also as some kind of universal mirror in which one could see and understand the shadows of the human spirit that hold the heart in chains and make aspirations the mental puppets of impure desires. The word psychoanalysis literally means the analysis of the psyche, which means soul or immaterial breath of life separate to the actual body itself; incidently, the psyche (or cheval mirror) is also the word for a tilting mirror that permits the viewer to see themselves from the feet up, just as a fine and faithful knowledge of one’s own psyche should allow.

Also a myth recounting the love of Cupid – the Roman Eros, the god of love often mistaken for desire itself (Himeros), but even more important than that, the god of original affinities without which there would have been no procreation, existance or life after the Big Bang – for Psyche, this breath of life that animates the body. Hence this myth would seem to be the most primordial of all. But its Greek origins seem to have been lost. The well-known story of Cupid and Psyche is the late second century version by a Roman poet from Numidia (a Berber kingdom, now Algeria and neighbouring regions) called Apuleius in his version of the Metamorphoses called the Golden Ass. The African storyteller of the Roman Empire would have recounted it by distilling its Berber and Oriental influences. It is better to read it than to inhibit its twists and turns.

A few comments about the plot: does carnal love come from here and the soul from another world? Well actually it would appear to be the other way around! Psyche is human and Cupid is a god. His mother Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, is eaten up by the green eyed monster when she sees this innocent mortal who is more glorious than all and she asks Cupid to sign her fate by making her fall in love with the most vile, ugly and contemptible creature ever. But instead, the very person who was supposed to make them fall in love becomes enamoured with this young girl who has nothing of the divine apart from her beauty. Love itself is not immune to its own charms! Psyche has innumerable trials ahead of her. She will be condemned, sent to the underworld, betrayed, deceived, enslaved and subjected to insurmountable trials to get rid of her and send her to hell. But by remaining honest and humble she nevertheless continues to receive divine help that snatches her from death and helps her in her trials until she achieves divine status. Finally her union is officially celebrated in Olympus on the orders of Jupiter and under the now appeased eye of Aphrodite herself. Born mortal, she becomes a goddess and the wife of the god of love.

The complexity of this myth is confusing. The soul is human, first and foremost. It is its beauty that disturbs the celestial order.  It can achieve the divine by surmounting difficulties designed to put it off. All natural support systems, primarily family orientated, may turn out to be hostile when it comes to its plan for eternity. But trusting in love keeps it safe and attracts miraculous assistance when helpless in adversity and passive to the injustices that have to be faced. A coronation and happiness are only granted after total despair and discouragement have been experienced. But the number one asset, beauty, remains threatened by narcissism: so when Psyche finally holds the jar containing the scrap of Persephone’s beauty that Aphrodite ordered from hell when she kept her enslaved, she opens it in the hope that this potion will help her to get Cupid’s love back. Punished for this, Cupid brings his girl back to life with a prick from one of his arrows and the moment is symbolised by the famous embrace in the marble statue by Antonio Canova (1757-1822), created between 1787 and 1793 and called Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour. (Psyche revived by Cupid’s kiss).

Psyche’s story is returning to memento thanks to Dimitri Rybaltchenko who conceived the illustration of the eau de parfum Fleur de Peau. He wished to anchor his inspiration in the immemorial myth which name still sound in psychedelic. The perfume Fleur de Peau, with its tone of musk comes with the perfume Tempo (with a tone of patchouli) to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of diptque perfumery which dates back to 1968, when psychedelia was in full swing. Ignoring the second half of the word, the focus fell on Psyche and the myth recounting the tale of the supreme human journey undertaken without knowing where it would lead, here on Earth or in Heaven, because shortly after her mariage, Psyche would give birth to a daughter Hedone, meaning voluptuousness.