Psyche and Her Impact on Greek Art and Culture
Psyche is a personification of the soul. Psyche was represented in ancient Greece as a butterfly. She was not mentioned by Homer or Hesiod. The name means ‘to breathe’ from Indo-European ‘bhes-2’ ‘To breathe’, ‘ud-‘, ‘Up, out’, and ‘kei-3’, ‘To set in motion’. The breath was identified with the soul of each person. When that person died the soul was imaged as a small winged figure. But there was no goddess recognized by the ancient Greeks. There was no worship and no cult. I cannot find even a personification of the soul in ancient Greece. Psyche as we know her is a Roman concept.
In the play Helen by Euripides Theono, the prophetess, states these words, “Yea, for there is recompense for these things as well amongst the dead as amongst all those who breathe the breath of life. The soul indeed of the dead lives no more, yet hath it a consciousness that lasts for ever, eternal as the ether into which it takes the final plunge. ” There can be little doubt that it is the realm of Psyche that is referenced here.
Both Plato and Aristotle have a number of works that discuss the soul (psyche) but nowhere do they discuss the goddess Psyche.
In Greek there are two words associated with breath that both mean souls and spirit, ‘ψυχή’, ‘πνευμάτων’. Both these words are derived fron Indo-European, the former from ‘bhes-2’, ‘To breathe’ and the latter from ‘pneu-‘, ‘To breathe’. Psyche may not have become a god during Greek times since the realm of the spirit seems to belong to the God Dionysus. His relation to the spirit is given in The Bacchae by Euripides when Teiresias says, line 277,
“He found the liquid shower hid in the grape. He rests man’s spirit dim From grieving, when the vine exalteth him. He giveth sleep to sink the fretful day In cool forgetting.” The connection between this relation to the soul and the soul itself is suggested by The Bacchae, Line 296,
Prophesy Cleaves to all frenzy, but beyond all else To frenzy of prayer, Then in us verily dwells The god himself, and speaks the thing to be.
The whole idea of the Dionysian rite is the identification of the soul and the god. Thus it would seem that during the classical period the realm of Psyche was assiged to Dionysus. It may have been that as Dionysus was more strongly associated with wine that the realm of the soul could be assigned to Psyche.
There is an older image identified as Psyche: Greek School (5th century BC) Art style: Antique Art, Work: Aphrodite and Hermes riding on a chariot pulled by Eros and Psyche (470 BC) Location: Taranto, Museo Nazionale Article-No.: XIR155949
Images of souls in ancient Greek art:
- winged representation of dead man’s “soul”white-ground lekythos shows ; Greek, 6th century BCE New York; Metropolitan Museum.
Roman Images of Psyche:
- EROS & PSYKHE
Museum Collection: Antakya Museum, Antakya, Turkey, Catalogue Number: Antakya 1021, Type: Mosaic, Context: From Samandağı, House of the Drinking Contest, Date: C3rd AD, Period: Imperial Roman
- One of the most popular paintings at the Cleveland Museum of
Art is Cupid and Psyche by Jacques Louis David(French, 1748-1825). In this painting Eros is rising from sleep and is nude. You can view this painting in the collection higlights in the collection section of the web site for the Cleveland Museum of Art at:
Click here. This painting alone is worth the trip to Cleveland, but they also have a fine classical collection and many other exhibits.
- A story about Psyche and a number of images:
- A story about Psyche and a number of images:
Questions and Answers
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Questions and Answers on Psyche
Question: How do you pronounce ‘Psyche’?
Question: What is Pschye’s symbol and please tell me all the info you know about her. Thankyou.
Answer: The butterfly is Psyche’s symbol. In some art depictions she is shown with the wings of a butterfly. Sometimes you see psyche with butterfly wings and Cupid with the wings of a bird. The story of Cupid and Psyche is contained in The Golden Ass written by the Roman Lucius Apuleius in 160 AD. You should read this book.
Question: if a women in greek time was on her period, and her husband approached her because he wanted sex, would she tell him she didnt want to, or just simple refuse, and was she sometimes forced, and wouldnt he think it was gross to have sex with her on her period, also if a prosititute was on her period did she get to stay of work for that time, or had sex regardless? and how could she say no if she was being payed?
Answer: A Greek wife got what she wanted, but a prostitute provided what a man wanted. But women rarely ovulate during their menstral period so it would be a good time to have sex for a prostitute and a bad time for a wife to have sex if she wanted to get pregnant. But there is a gap in our understanding about the Greek attitude about menstruation and menstrual blood. The fact is that many cultures regard a menstruating woman as extremely
dangerous and the menstrual blood as extremely polluting. It is possible that men would have nothing to do with women in this condition. It is also possible that the Greek women kept menstration a secret and men knew little or nothing about it just so they would not be subject to the taboos of other cultures.
Question: Who are Psyche’s parents?
Answer: She was the youngest of three daughters of an unidentified king of Miletus.
Question:I’m doing a report on psyche what color of dress did she wear? What do you think I should tell about on my poster
Answer: Psyche was symbolized as a butterfly so any color of the rainbow would be nice.
Question: What design do you think I should have for a report for school?
Answer: Here is information about an ancient vase that contains the image of a butterfly as a symbol of the soul. This vase contains a number of good image ideas: Click Here
Question: Did Psyche’s daughter Bliss ever get married ? Who was he? Did she ever have a child? What was her name?
Answer: The ancient Greeks did not know anything about the daughter of Psyche. After the Greeks she became part of the poet’s vocabulary, as with the Roman poet Ovid. You too can write a poem with this vocabulary. Many other poets have:
Question: what’s psychology’s sign
Answer: The international symbol of psychology is the Greek letter Psi.
Question: what’s your moms name
Answer: Psyche’s mother has never been identified.
Question: what were her sisters names?
Answer: These have never been identified.
Question: what objects is the goddess physce holding? and what is their meaning?
Answer: I have not found any ancient Greek images of Psyche.
Question: who did Psyche marry?
Answer: The ancient Greeks knew nothing about her marriage.
Question: what was the relationship with her and cupid
The ancient Greeks knew nothing of her relationship with Cupid. This is a story developed by the Romans, especially Ovid.
Question: Contemporary images of Psyche?
- Cupid, Psyche, and the butterfly, by Canova
- Psyche on a Rock with Butterfly
- Images of Cupid and Psyche
- Cupid and Psyche as represented in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses
Question: what is the synbol of Cupid?
Answer: Cupid is Roman and not ancient Greek.
Question: Did Eros and Psyche have children? Who is most likely Eros’ father? And, did Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera all have children from Zues? Can I have a list of the names of Zues’ children with these 3 women?
Answer: I cannot find any children of Eros and Psyche. Sappho makes Eros the offspring of Gaea and Uranus but this union may have required his presence. Eros is more likely the offspring of Chaos because he stands for one of the basic forces of the Universe according to the Greeks. Later Greeks and Romans said Eros was the offspring of Ares and Aphrodite because they were a popular couple. Only Hera had children by Zeus of these three. The children of Zeus and Hera include Ares, Hebe, Hephaetus, Eileithyia, and Eris, but there may be others.
Question: Can you tell me how long Psyche has been the Godess of Soul?
Answer:During the Classical Period there were a number of goddesses that seem to have been recognized as personifications. Whether Psyche is among these is not clear. The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, which St. Augustine referred to as The Golden Ass books 4-6 contains the myth usually associated with Psyche. The date of this Roman work is uncertain. It is also possibly a reworking of another Greek work of unknown date.
In ancient Greece the deities were born from the earth and sky and so the deities are younger than the earth. The order of that genenis is sometimes available but normally the date of birth is before recorded history. Even though the marriage of Peleus an Thetis, a goddess, is associated with a supposedly historical event, the Trojan War, not even this fact of the goddess can be dated. Psyche seems to be a Roman Goddess of the Roman Empire period and not Greek. Psyche and Dionysus seem to share the same realm in the soul. It seems as though as the realm of Dionysus has focused more on wine and its effects and less on the soul that Psyche could become the goddess of the soul.