The first telling of Cupid and Psyche (the allegorical representation of Heart and Soul) appears in the 2nd century Latin novel The Golden Ass by Apuleius. In the romance genre, Elizabeth Hoyt has used it for the basis of the fairy tale the begins each chapter of her popular The Raven Prince and Roberta Gellis also does a romantic retelling in her series of romances based on Greco-Roman mythology. Karen Harbaugh’s paranormal regency, Cupid’s Kiss, is also based upon the myth.
Cupid’s Kiss (1998) by Karen Harbaugh
Set in Regency England, Eros is looking for his wife, Psyche. Over a thousand years ago, they got separated and Eros just keeps missing Psyche as she keep getting reincarnated. The longer Eros & Psyche are separated, the more the Greek gods’ power dwindle. Unless Eros finds Psyche soon, the Greek gods will become extinct altogether.
Eros knows all this and he is racing against the clock to find Psyche. However, he cant help dawdling with his friend, Psyche Hathaway, whom he befriended years ago as her neighbor, Harry D’Amant. Just because Eros/Harry is drawn to Psyche and she shares the same name as his beloved wife, there is no way that she can really be the Psyche that he is looking for. Nuh-uh. Of course not.
I hated this book. I just wanted to throw a quid at Eros/Harry (real hard) so that he can buy a clue. I think this book is suppose to be charmingly whimsical but Harbaugh’s use of the Greek gods in Regency England was so incongruous that I just couldnt buy it. And because technically, this is a story of reunited lovers, there is little romance shown. Just a lot of internal monologue about is-she-or-isnt-she-Psyche. Blech.
This is the last book in a trilogy. Maybe if I had read the first two books, I might be more invested in the characters but since I didnt, this was far from a satisfactory reading experience for me.
Simmering Splendor (1995) by Roberta Gellis
Shimmering Splendor is the second in a series of five novels that Gellis did based on Greco-Roman myths. The first book is Dazzling Brightness, a retelling of the abduction of Persephone by Hades. Shimmering Splendor does make reference to the first book screaming ‘yes! it’s a series!’ but due to the familiarity of the story, it can be read on its own.
Set in Ancient Greece, in Gellis’s version, the Olympians are not really immortal gods but long-living mages, each with specific talents (an interesting twist). Thus, for example, Aphrodite’s talents lie mostly in love spells and if she wants to transport long distances, she must buy, or beg favor for, a transportation spell from Hermes. The fact that they are not really gods is a secret that the Olympians guard most carefully because they have use for the tributes/gifts they receive from mortals. When one of Aphrodite’s temples is boycotted because her oracle refused to accept Psyche as a priestess there, Eros (the Greek version of Cupid), a friend (but not the son) of Aphrodite decides to investigate the matter for her and dole out the punishment demanded by Aphrodite.
I have to admit that changing the Olympians from gods to mages gives the setting a more pedestrian feel. At times, I felt that I was reading one of Gellis’s medievals, especially at the beginning when Eros was disguised as a traveler visiting Psyche’s city-state.
I think that Gellis is managing a fine line between faithful adherence to the myth and doing her own version with a twist which she doesnt always balance. For one thing, the origin of Eros is not satisfactorily explained. He is treated as an outcast by the Olympians except for Aphrodite who is his only friend. The nebulous reason seems to be because Eros is actually older than the Olympians (possibly a Titan?) and possibly more powerful. Yet, Eros is mostly unschooled in his powers and cannot make full use of his talents since noone will teach him anyway.
As for the Eros & Psyche romance, I like the fact that Eros, being blindingly beautiful himself, understood Psyche’s disdain of her own beauty and fell in love with Psyche’s cleverness and spirit instead. Altho they are kindred spirits in terms of beauty, Psyche is definitely the more emotionally mature of the two. There is a pathological desperation to Eros’s feelings that is slightly disquieting. I kinda wish that Gellis explored that even more because obsession fascinates me but the romance would probably fall apart altogether if she had.
Oh, and beware of the term “nether mouth” during a love scene around Page 150. I didnt expect that one. And Bertrice Small always gets panned for the use of “love grotto” in her books. Ha!