Patience, Apuleius

Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass
Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass

I think patience truly is a virtue. In general I would say I have more than my fair share of it and really can’t complain. It’s a common occurence, especially among others I know who work in high stress jobs, to have semi-regular pseudo-breakdowns over details that go awry, people who drive them completely up the wall with daily incompetencies, or a long and seemingly insurmountable list of tasks that must be completed.

This comes to mind in particular today since I’ve been reading Lucius Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, otherwise known as The Golden Ass; in particular the section concerned with the marriage of Cupid and Psyche. As a story it doesn’t contain much of Apuleius’ humour (which is seen throughout the book), but it does contain plot points that, had I been Psyche, I’m sure I would have just had sat down and laughed myself silly over.

The poor woman, though she’s been blessed with beauty that rivals that of Venus herself, is miserable throughout. First she is so beautiful (read goddess-like) that all men are scared to death to have anything to do with her beyond just standing there and gawking, somewhat creepily I might add. She can’t marry, which we know in all great past literature is the end goal of life for a woman, at least in the sexist, traditionalist way of looking at things. So she’s nothing but miserable. Venus hates her for shifting the spotlight from god to mortal. Psyche ends up lucking into (read plunges horribly into) a marriage with a god, Cupid no less. You’d think she’d be happy with this, but the arrangement falls utterly apart due to her own mistrust and silly habit of listening to her jealous sisters (another necessary relationship in great works). Left to roam the country looking for Cupid in order to persuade him to take her back, Psyche is on the run from Venus. Eventually she is caught/gives herself up and is tortured (because, really, Venus is a small and bitter deity) and given numerous tasks to complete, each with increasing difficulty that I imagine would take months to complete (though characters in antiquity tend to have a direct line to the underworld and manage the round trip in what seems like minutes). In the end she manages to complete her divine orders with some help and, when it’s all said and done, is rewarded for her trials and tribulations by chugging down a goblet of ambrosia and becoming a goddess herself. Tada!

If I had to jump through these hoops and live an entirely worthless life for as long as Psyche I would just have to laugh at it. How that much misfortune can make it into one person’s life is beyond me, but it is not beyond literature it seems. At this point I feel like speaking to Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, but even thinking about that is depressing. The patience needed to live through the ordeals of great literary works is truly divine. It’s a lovely touch to reward some of these characters (I can’t imagine poor Jude could get a break in any reality) as it brings a catharsis which is certainly relieving.

If nothing else I feel somewhat better about the impatience and lack of good luck I seem to be having at the moment. Anyone who says literature doesn’t provide therapeutic release needs to read more.

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