Art, Books, Fairy Tales

A Tale as Old as Time

I really love this concept art of Beauty and the Beast. It’s so wonderfully gothic and brings the art from the Disney movie to mind to me. Cudos to the artists and the wonderfully dark edgy vibe of these images.

I’ve always thought of Belle as one of the smartest young ladies in the fairy tale genre. While her story was never my favorite (I found myself more drawn to other tales, such as Sleeping Beauty) I have always appreciated her as someone too modern for her time. When you see her, she definitely comes off as the outcast book nerd of her social group and to that, I can absolutely relate. Most people don’t know but the story of Beauty and the Beast that we know best today was actually a novel by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and was written in France back in 1740. Of course the “human falling in love with a ‘beast'” story is quite familiar in the world of fairy tales and fables, with versions showing up in popular collections by people like Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm for centuries before that.

Such stories run rampant in Greek mythology as well. Perhaps one of the most famous from that time-period (and consequentially, one of my personal favorites) is the story of Cupid and Psyche (or Eros and Psyche — Cupid’s Greek incarnation). *le sigh*

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, created by Antonio Canova in 1793 Photo taken by Josie Campbell in 2005
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, created by Antonio Canova in 1793
Photo taken by Josie Campbell in 2005

So as the story goes, Psyche is an incredibly beautiful mortal with 2 really jealous sisters. She’s so pretty she even makes Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology) jealous. Aphrodite calls on her son Eros to punish Psyche but he falls in love with her instead. Using some divine help he takes her away to a beautiful palace, but she is not allowed to look upon him. He only visits her in the dark. *wink, wink!*

When her family wishes for news of her, Eros brings her sisters for a visit. They convince her that since she’s not allowed to see him, he must be a monster and she should sneak a peak at him while he’s sleeping to make sure, and if he is, kill him. So she does, but drips wax on him when she sees how gorgeous he is and he disappears. Psyche is devastated.

Here's another (better lit) look at Canova's sculpture, located at the Louvre.
Here’s another (better lit) look at Canova’s sculpture, located at the Louvre.

She looks to the gods for help but Aphrodite is the only one who will answer her. She devises impossible tasks for Psyche to complete in order to be reunited with her lover. She does so with the aid of all sorts of creatures and pieces of nature and many of the gods take pity on her as well. In her last trial it is Eros himself who aids her and he goes to Zeus (aka Jupiter) and asks him to make Psyche a goddess so that they can be together. Zeus grants the request and Eros and Psyche marry. It’s one of the few ‘happily ever after’ stories in mythology.

There are centuries of artwork depicting this story for the world. The majority of it is usually told through paintings or tapestries. But as you can see above, my favorite is the sculpture done by Antonio Canova in 1793. For a funnier version of this story illustrated with artwork of the myth that has been created throughout history, go here.