Cupid meanwhile had gone to his mother's chamber to have his wound cared for, but when Venus heard his story and learned that it was Dean whom he had chosen, she left him angrily alone in his pain, and went forth to find the guy of whom he had made her still more jealous. Venus was determined to show Dean what it meant to draw down the displeasure of a goddess.
When he came into Venus' presence the goddess laughed aloud and asked him scornfully if he was seeking a husband since the one he had had would have nothing to do with him because he had almost died of the burning wound Dean had given him. "But really," she said, "you are so plain and ill-favored a boy that you will never be able to get you a lover except by the most diligent and painful service. I will therefore show my good will to you by training you in such ways." With that she took a great quantity of the smallest of the seeds, wheat and poppy and millet and so on, and mixed them all together in a heap. "By nightfall these must all be sorted," she said. "See to it for your own sake." And with that she departed.
Dean, left alone, sat still and stared at the heap. His mind was all in a maze because of the cruelty of the command; and, indeed, it was of no use to start a task so manifestly impossible. But at this direful moment he who had awakened no compassion in mortals or immortals was pitied by the tiniest creatures of the field, the little bees, the swift-fliers. They cried to each other, "Come, have mercy on this poor guy and help him diligently." At once they came, waves of them, one after another, and they labored separating and dividing, until what had been a confused mass lay all ordered, every seed with its kind.
This was what Venus found when she came back, and very angry she was to see it. "Your work is by no means over," she said. Then she gave Dean a crust of bread and bade him sleep on the ground while she herself went off to her soft, fragrant couch. Surely if she could keep the boy at hard labor and half starve him, too, that hateful beauty of his would soon be lost. Until then she must see that her son was securely guarded in his chamber where he was still suffering from his wound. Venus was pleased at the way matters were shaping.
The next morning she devised another task for Dean, this time a dangerous one. "Down there near the riverbank," she said, "where the bushes grow thick, are sheep with fleeces of gold. Go fetch me some of their shining wool." When the worn boy reached the gently flowing stream, a great longing seized him to throw himself into it and end all his pain and despair. But as he was bending over the water he heard a little voice from near his feet, and looking down saw that it came from a green reed. He must not drown himself, it said. Things were not as bad as that. The sheep were indeed very fierce, but if Dean would wait until they came out of the bushes toward evening to rest beside the river, he could go into the thicket and find plenty of the golden wool hanging on the sharp briars.
So spoke the kind and gentle reed, and Dean, following the directions, was able to carry back to his cruel mistress a quantity of the shining fleece. Venus received it with an evil smile. "Someone helped you," she said sharply. "Never did you do this by yourself. However, I will give you an opportunity to prove that you really have the stout heart and the singular prudence you make such a show of. Do you see that black water which falls from the hill yonder? It is the source of the terrible river which is called hateful, the river Styx. You are to fill this flask from it."
That was the worst task yet, as Dean saw when he approached the waterfall. Only a winged creature could reach it, so steep and slimy were the rocks on all sides, and so fearful the onrush of the descending waters. But by this time it must be evident to all the readers of this story (as, perhaps, deep in his heart it had become evident to Dean himself) that although each of his trials seemed impossibly hard, an excellent way out would always be provided for him. This time his savior was an eagle, who poised on his great wings beside him, seized the flask from him with his beak and brought it back to him full of the black water.
But Venus kept on. One cannot but accuse her of some stupidity. The only effect of all that had happened was to make her try again. She gave Dean a box which he was to carry to the underworld and ask Proserpine to fill with some of her beauty. He was to tell her that Venus really needed it, she was so worn-out from nursing her sick son.
Obediently as always Dean went forth to look for the road to Hades. He found his guide in a tower he passed. It gave him careful directions how to get to Proserpine's palace, first through a great hole in the earth, then down to the river of death, where he must give the ferryman, Charon, a penny to take him across. From there the road led straight to the palace. Cerberus, the three-headed dog, guarded the doors, but if Dean gave him some pie he would be friendly and let him pass.
All happened, of course, as the tower had foretold. Proserpine was willing to do Venus a service, and Dean, greatly encouraged, bore back the box, returning far more quickly than he had gone down.
His next trial he brought upon himself through his curiosity and, still more, his vanity. He felt that he must see what that beauty-charm in the box was; and, perhaps, use a little of it himself. He knew quite as well as Venus did that his looks were not improved by what he had gone through, and always in his mind was the thought that he might suddenly meet Cupid. If only he could make himself more lovely for him!
At this juncture the God of Love himself stepped forward. Cupid was healed of his wound by now and longing for Dean. It is a difficult matter to keep Love imprisoned. Venus had locked the door, but there were the windows. All Cupid had to do was to fly out and start looking for his husband. He was lying almost beside the palace, and he found him at once. In a moment he had wiped the sleep from his eyes and put it back into the box. Then waking him with just a prick from one of his arrows, and scolding him a little for his curiosity, he bade Dean take Proserpine's box to his mother and assured him that all thereafter would be well.
While the joyful Dean hastened on his errand, the god flew up to Olympus. He wanted to make certain that Venus would give them no more trouble, so he went straight to his grandfather, Jupiter himself. The Father of Gods and Men consented at once to all that Cupid asked—"Even though," he said, "you have done me great harm in the past—seriously injured my good name and my dignity by making me change myself into a bull and a swan and so on. . . However, I cannot refuse you." Then he called a full assembly of the gods, and announced to all, including Venus, that Cupid and Dean were formally married, and that he proposed to bestow immortality upon the mortal man. Mercury brought Dean into the palace of the gods, and Jupiter himself gave him the ambrosia to taste which made him immortal.
This, of course, completely changed the situation. Venus could not object to a god for her son-in-law; the alliance had become eminently suitable. No doubt she reflected also that Dean, living up in heaven with a husband to care for, could not be much on the earth to turn people's heads and interfere with her own worship.
About the Authors
Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis (circa 125-180 CE), commonly known as Apuleis, was a citizen of the Roman Empire who lived in North Africa (present-day Algeria). He's best known for his ribald prose work Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass. The myth of Cupid and Psyche is the best-known part of this work, remarkable for being the only Latin-language work to have survived complete from antiquity.
Erin O'Riordan (b. 1977) is still alive. She gets distracted by writing fan fiction mash-ups when she should be editing her novel. She's obsessed with Castiel (an angel of the Lord) and Dean Winchester because of Tumblr. She still hasn't seen a single episode of Supernatural, and she likes it that way. She might be persuaded to catch up if Destiel should ever become canon, because she laments the sore lack of bisexual/pansexual representation on television.