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The Celtic myth, "The Dream of Oenghus," relates the tale of Oenghus the
Celtic god of love and his long search for true love. Oenghus is the son of
Boann and Daghdhae. Boann the white cow goddess, and Daghdhae the father of all
gods, the "good god."
In a dream Oenghus sees "the loveliest figure in Ireland…" His memory
of this vision makes him ill with loneliness and he begins to waste away. With
the help of his mother, and another of his fathers' sons, Bodhbh, he begins his
search for the girl he dreamt of. When, after years, he successfully completes
his search the lovers' travels to Bruigh Mac, his home.
Chronologically and geographically distant, Apuleius second century
record of the original Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche also relates a story of
amorous pursuit. In Apuleius account Psyche is the most beautiful of all
mortals. "The fame of her surpassing beauty spread over the earth…Œand men?
would even say that Venus herself could not equal this mortal." Out of
jealousy, Venus commands Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with "the vilest and
most despicable creature in the whole world." However, dispatched on his
errand Cupid is astonished by her beauty and "as if he had shot one of his
arrows into his own heart" falls completely in love with her.
Cupid dumbfounded by the love he suddenly feels carries Psyche off.
Although Psyche is never able to gaze on Cupid she is confident of the love her
unseen paramour expresses in the dark each night. Eventually, prompted by her
unbelieving and somewhat envious sisters she lights a lamp and discovers that
her lover is Cupid. Unfortunately, Cupid hurt by both the oil sputtering from
the lamp and her faithlessness fees. Psyche deeply grieved by her lack of faith
and subsequent loss of love pledges to search for Cupid forever. "I can spend
the rest of my life searching for him. If he has no more love left for me, at
least I can show him how much I love him." Eventually after many trials and
tribulations, largely at the inspiration of the still jealous Venus, she is
reunited with Cupid and comes to live the live of the immortals.
These myths share a common fundamental theme. In both instances, the
myths document a love between a mortal and a god. Moreover, both of the
courtship's involve long periods of separation, difficult and desperate journeys
in pursuit of the beloved, and deep ongoing uncertainty as to the ultimate
outcome of the fat of the lovers. Clearly, it is not unreasonable to contend
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At the same time one can identify significant differences in the myths.
"The Dream Of Oenghus" a god, Oenghus, pursues a mortal. In "Cupid And Psyche"
a mortal Psyche, must illustrate her love for the immortal, Cupid. Oenghus,
receives the willing assistance of other immortals in his search for his beloved.
Cupid is also occasionally assisted by other immortals. However, Cupid and
Psyche also endure the wrath of Venus and her endless demands on Psyche. In
their relationship they must labor against malevolent gods.
In the "Dream Of Oenghus" Caer, the mortal object of Oenghus' passion,
is remarkably free of the influence of the gods. Oenghus must seek her, he must
identify her, and he cannot simply buy her. In the tale of "Cupid and Psyche"
it is psyche who must demonstrate her love and endure humiliation and hard labor
to win back her ideal and supernatural lover, Cupid.
Thus, these myths share a common theme, courtship and the pursuit of
love: Specifically, the pursuit of divine or ideal love. However, their
representations of this vary significantly. Nevertheless, these variations
serve to reveal a great deal about the assumptions underlying these myths.
Assumptions that relate to the nature of the gods, human nature, and the
experience of love. The remainder of this discussion will focus on these slight
but specific variations in an effort to enlighten the assumptions underlying
offer significant information about the perceptions of love in Celtic and Roman
It would be a serious understatement to suggest that the course of love
runs smoother for Oenghus than it does for Psyche. Following his vision
Oenghus is overwhelmed by melancholy, a depression so pervasive that he falls
into a generalized malaise.
However, when the root of his affliction is diagnosed by Finghin, "you
have fallen in love in absence," the assistance of Boann is immediately enlisted.
When this is of no use both Daghdhae and Bodhbh willingly join the search. The
gods are united in their assistance to Oenghus.
On the other hand, the gods are remarkably incapable of influencing
mortal behavior. When the girl is identified the gods cannot simply seize her.
Oenghus is taken to identify her, which he does, and Bodhbh explains, "Even if
you do recognize her, I have no power to give her, and you may only see her."
To actually obtain the girl they must enter into a complex bargaing
process. First the Daghdhae travels to Ailill and Medhbh and requests that they
give the girl to his son. They explain that they cannot, thus the Daghdhae's
men are forced to attack the fairy hill and capture Ehal Anbhuail, the girl's
father, they demand that he hand the girl over. He refuses. They then threaten
him with death, he confesses he cannot for she has magical powers.
Yearly she alternates between human form and animal form. If Oenghus
truly wants her he must follow certain procedures. Having identified her in
human form he must do the same when she is in the shape of a swan. (which he
does.) Then he must request her companionship on her terms. Finally, when he
promises, "I pledge your protection," the two are united.
Oenghus is enthralled with the mortal, Caer. In fact, their separation
makes him ill. Nonetheless, the lovers can only be together if Oenghus
satisfies Caer's condition: He must prove his love to her. He must illustrate
that he recognizes her human and animal essence. He must guarantee her freedom,
and he must pledge himself to her protection before she will come to him.
This tale captures the distinct nature of the Celtic gods. According to
Noma Chadwick the "Irish gods" do not emerge as gods in the usual meaning of the
term. They are neither worshipped nor sacrificed to. They are supernatural
beings with magical powers… If such a name is not appropriate, they might be
described as mundane or pedestrian gods.
In this tale it is the male, and the immortal that must earn his beloved.
Caers appear indifferent to the struggle being waged for her affections. He
must prove that Caer is the woman of his dreams and that he knows her in any
guise. Also he must accept her terms and guarantee her safety before she will
commit herself to him, and satisfy his longing.
In essence, it Oenghus that yearns for Caer. It is the god who must
pursue, woo and win the hand of Caer, the mortal woman (although she possesses
magical powers). In Apuleius tale it is the mortal, the female, Psyche, who
must toil to win her beloved Cupid. In Celtic myths the gods crave the love of
mortals while in the classical myths it is the mortals who crave the love of the
gods. Moreover, in "The Dream Of Oenghus" the gods must satisfy mortal
conditions to win their true love. In the tale of "Cupid and Psyche" it is
Psyche, the mortal, who must satisfy the conditions of fate amoung the gods.
When Psyche's search for Cupid proves fruitless and her plea for
sympathy and relief have been completely repulsed she decides to throw herself
on Venus's mercy and to satisfy her rage with meekness. Venus challenges Psyche
to a series of tasks, that lead up to her making a trip to Hades, the underworld.
Through favorable and periodically divine intervention Psyche is able to
complete all these tasks although a second act of faithlessness condemns her to
However, at this point Cupid has recovered from his wound, and is
wasting away from loneliness for Psyche, he takes leave from his chamber, and
finds Psyche. A touch of one of his arrows awakens Psyche and he pledges to
fulfill their relationship. Cupid obtains Jupiter's blessing and the two are
wed. Eventually, their union produces a daughter who comes to be named Pleasure.
In certain senses, both of these myths deal with the reunion of lovers.
Cupid and Psyche are united only to be separated by her faithlessness. Oenghus
has already seen Caer in a vision, and realized his infatuation with her, when
he sets out to find her in the world. Therefore, they are, in essence, both
tales are of how to obtain love.
In the Celtic tale one obtains love by proving its divine inspiration—by
recognizing the beloved in both human and animal form—and by meeting her demands
for freedom and protection. Oenghus gathers all of his resources to convince
Caer of his love. He solicits the help of his father and many other people
along the way. They use their influence, and negotiating skills to aid Oenghus
in his pursuit. In fact, in stark contrast to the Roman Myth, the gods are
united in their support for Oenghus's quest. There is none of the
indifference's and deceit of the classical gods.
Ultimately though, Oenghus's divine resources only present him with the
opportunity to plead Caer for her love. His divine powers only set the stage.
He wins the
his true love through his altogether human expression of love. His use
of divine power stands as evidence of his desire and just how intense it was.
It does not, however, insure his success in his quest for Caer's affection.
On the otherhand, Psyche's attempts to return to Cupid are carried out
with the direct and aggresive hostility of Venus. Repeatedly, Venus demands
that Psyche undertakes tasks that appear humanly impossible to complete.
However, in each instances natural forces abide with Psyche and assist her.
When she must sort grain, the ants aid her; when she must obtain the golden
fleece, she is advised by a reed; and, finally, her trip to Hades is facilitated
by a sympathetic tower.
In this sense true love is identified with nature in both myths. In
"The Dream Of Oenghus," proof of his true love is provided by his ability to
separate Caer from a crowd of other swans. In "cupid and Psyche," Psyche only
survives the arduous tasks assigned by Venus because she has the support of the
sympathetic natural realm. A behavior that is in sympathy with, and supported by
the natural order.
Also, in both myths trust is seen as a fundamental element of natural
love. It is lack of the faith that leads Psyche to illuminate Cupid and
ultimately forces them apart. On the other hand, it is Oenghus's faith in his
love and Caer's integrity, and trust, that leads him to promise Caer freedom and
protection; the very conditions that win her love. Ultimately, it is Psyche's
dedication to her search for Cupid, an expression of trust, that leads to the
reunion of the two lovers.
Thus, in general terms' one can identify certain similarities in the two
myths' portrayals of love. In both myths love is aligned with the natural order
and predicated on mutual trust and respect. Moreover, the lovers can become
physically sick when they are separated. Thus, beyond these broad similarities
the two myths present remarkably different perceptions of love.
In the Celtic tale the god of love is captivated of human a human and he
must use all his resources to win her affection. He is assisted in his pursuit
by all of the divine family and even all of the mortals they must deal with.
Only, Caer's father, the fairy king, refuses to help and that is because he
cannot: His daughter's magical powers is stronger than his. In this sense, love
is, in the Celtic myths, a relatively straightforward proposal. A lover,
committed to his beloved, and willing to demonstrate that commitment, may
encounter obstacles but ultimately, the gods do not interfere with his pursuit
and the natural world sympathizes.
In Roman mythology the course of love does not run as smoothly. Cupid
and Psyche are in love with on another. Nevertheless, for that very reason,
coupled with Psyche's extreme beauty, Venus is resentful of their relationship.
Consequently, her malevolent jealousy is a constant theme in their relationship.
The classical god's war with one another, and exhibit human emotions in
contrast to the united front of the Celtic gods. Love must triumph over
adversity and ill will in "Cupid and Psyche," while Oenghus's love only confront
Moreover, in the Celtic tale true love can proceed once the lovers have
satisfied one another. In the classical tale true love can only proceed when it
has the blessing of Jupiter himself—who can then restrain the other gods from
In general terms a more natural conception of love is presented in the
Celtic myth. Divinely inspired by a vision Oenghus' pursuit of Caer is
remarkably prevalent. While he must verify the divine inspiration for his love
by identifying Caer on the basis of his dream, he pursues her in a very
traditional manner. He seeks out her father and requests her hand. After doing
so he then seeks her, and charms her with his care and concern as well as
devotion for her well-being and needs.
On the other hand Cupid and Psyche must battle divine anger and
vengeance, a trip to Hades , and numerous other unnatural interventions in the
world in pursuit of their relationship. Despite its naturalness love must
satisfy the needs and desires of the gods before it may progress. These gods
act more like a dysfunctional family than divinity—Love, must satisfy the
natural order and confront the cruel hand of fate in the classical myth. The
only natural element of Psyche and Cupid's love is that their final union