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5.0 out of 5 stars A Jungian fable seventeen hundred years before Jung, 9 Feb 2014
This review is from: Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine: A Commentary on the Tale by Apuleius. (Mythos Series) (Works by Erich Neumann) (Paperback)
A wicked stepmother*, ugly sisters**, impossible tasks, a sleeping princess, and, of course, Beauty and the Beast... are all ingredients of 'Cupid and Psyche', an inset story in the second century AD Latin novel 'The Golden Ass' by Lucius Apuleius. And like all the best pantomimes, it ends with a wedding.

Imitations and adaptations are beyond count. To draw out one tangled skein: the Neapolitan Giambattista Basile included an "animal marriage" story, 'The Three Animal Kings', in his 'Pentamerone' (1634-36). The German "collector" J.K.A.Musäus re-told this as 'The Books of the Chronicle of the Three Sisters' (in 'Volksmärchen der Deutschen', 1782-86). In his 1801 edition of the genuine 1549 work 'The Complaynt of Scotland' John Leyden, a Scottish "collector" and assistant of Sir Walter Scott, asserted that the Musäus story was based on a Scots tale, 'The Black Bull of Norroway', the sole evidence for whose existence is a mention in the 'Complaynt' of a tale entitled (get this) 'The thre futtit dog of Norroway'. Another Scot, Robert Chambers who was a co-founder of the dictionary firm, claimed in his 1841 "collection" 'Popular Rhymes of Scotland' to have "fortunately recovered" the 'Black Bull', giving it in two different versions, both pretty obviously his own work. A third Scot, Andrew Lang, included one of these in his 1889 'Blue Fairy Book', along with TWO other variations on 'Cupid and Psyche' both "collected" by the Norwegians Asbjørnsen and Moe ('East of the Sun and West of the Moon' and 'The Princess on the Glass Hill'). 'The Blue Fairy Book' in turn was boyhood reading for... J.R.R.Tolkien, who, while acknowledging its identity with 'Cupid and Psyche', took 'The Black Bull' as the central example of a 'eucatastrophe', or happy ending, in his essay 'On fairy-stories' (1939, 1947, 1964). As such 'The Black Bull' is the pivot of Tolkien's theory of fantasy, its authenticity accepted without question by generations of Tolkien "scholars".

Where was I? Oh yes... Neumann, on the other hand, takes a psychoanalytical tack. He was a student of Jung and in his time considered an expert on feminine psychology. Like other classics of the field 'Amor and Psyche' was translated from the German by Ralph Manheim and published by the Bollingen Foundation. From the point of view of Psyche, the central character, the story may be said to split into two parts. There is a "Freudian" part, Beauty and the Beast, which Neumann calls "The Marriage of Death"; inviting comparison with the mediaeval art-motif (and Schubert lyric) 'Death and the Maiden'. Then there is a "Jungian" part, Psyche's tasks, set to her by the "bad mother" Venus. (I can't resist pointing out that the third and fourth tasks, respectively fetching water from a spring guarded by dragons and a journey to the underworld, form the clear basis for another Chambers "recovery" - and William Morris novel - 'The Wal at the World's End'. True to form, Chambers - as I presume - worked this up from Leyden's plot summary of a tale which the 'Complaynt' in fact titles - invoking a completely different set of associations - 'The Wolf at the Worldis End'.)

But returning to Neumann's interpretation: Psyche's first task, sorting a pile of grains, represents "an unconscious principle which enables her to select, sift, correlate and evaluate, and so find her way amid the confusion of the masculine". The second task, retrieving a wisp of wool from some extremely dangerous sheep, is Venus' attempt to place Psyche in the way of destruction through direct exposure to male sexuality, symbolised by Sun imagery. The third task, with its dragons and spring feeding its own source (the generative principle, endlessly recirculating) is a straight steal of Jungian themes :-). The resolution finally achieved is seen by Neumann as a liberation of Psyche from the ancient, dominating matriarchy to a new, adult and still very feminine individuality.

As others more learned than I have commentated, it is an enchanting and stimulating read.

*Venus (so really a wicked mother-in-law)
**Actually they aren't ugly, just not as beautiful as Psyche
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Location: England

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