Psyche and Eros by Luna McNamara

I must admit that Psyche and Eros are two characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Eros also being known as Cupid to the Romans, that I know little about. I know nothing about Psyche other than her name; of course, I know a tiny bit more of Eros as the God of Love who shoots love arrows, sculpted as a winged cherub at Piccadilly Circus, but nothing of his story beyond that. McNamara has taken the version of the lovers’ tale from the main source of The Golden Ass by Apuleius, where it appears as a story within the story. But then she’s taken some liberties with it in both Eros and Psyche’s genealogies, so to speak, as well as the setting and minor characters, and woven in some more mythic characters to add drama – all is explained in her afterword, for which I was grateful. I started off by trying to fit the story to the myths, but gave up and just enjoyed the journey.

I dove into the tale, which begins with Eros telling us about love, ‘The Greeks have three words for love.‘ They are: philia = friendship; agape = selfless unconditional love; and eros = desire, erotic love. He goes to say of Psyche how, ‘she was a mortal woman and I a god when we first met.’ and he explains that were it not for a chance accident, they might never have met.

We turn to Psyche, much waited for child of Alkaios and Astydamia, king and queen of Mycenae – subject of a prophecy from the Oracle – ‘Your child will conquer a monster feared by the gods themselves.’ When the queen gave birth to a girl, Alkaios was perplexed by the prophecy, but falling in love with his daughter (agape, natch), gave her her name, meaning soul, and vowed to give her the education of a prince. Shown her grandfather Perseus’ shield with the Medusa’s head on, young Psyche is determined to become a hero – and who better to train her than Atalanta, blessed follower of Artemis who went with Jason on the quest for the golden fleece and proved herself as good as any of the men. Having recently read Jennifer Saint’s latest book – Atalanta – (yet to be reviewed), it was good to meet her again. In the original myth, Psyche has jealous sisters, but in McNamara’s version, she just has ‘sisters’ instead – namely Atalanta, and perhaps controversially, Iphigenia – yes her! (Alkaios and Agamemnon are related).

The chapters alternate between Psyche and Eros points of view. We’ll meet Eros’ twin sister Eris – goddess of discord. ‘My cosmic twin, though I liked her no more than your right hand likes your left.’ We’ll meet Aphrodite, who blames Eros for the death of Adonis, her lover. She wants him to shoot one of his arrows for her – the arrows make their recipient fall in love with the next creature they see – but Eros accidentally nicks himself with the arrow, sees Psyche, and that is the beginning of all the trouble for the couple. A vengeful Aphrodite puts a irreversible curse on Eros that if his love sees him, they will never be able to see each other again. What’s a guy to do?

With the help of his best friend, Zephryus, god of the West Wind, Eros has a plan – only to let Psyche ‘see’ him in the dark. But you know that her curiosity will eventually get the better of her, leading to heartbreak and many trials and tribulations before true love can out. However, there may be a way out and for Psyche; it will lead to the Underworld, meeting Persephone, amongst other tasks set by Aphrodite. And what of the prophecy I hear you ask? I’m not saying!

It’s always difficult when a god falls for a mortal (cf Ariadne and Dionysus, as in Saint’s ‘Ariadne‘), and here we have the added frisson of wondering whether Eros actually loves Psyche, or only loves her because of the arrow? It’s a good quandary and the answer will become clear.

McNamara’s writing is breezy, romantic, action-filled and detailed. Although she may have played with the myth’s settings, the gods, goddesses and other mortals are all true to their perceived characters, while Psyche is her own woman, played with the contemporary wit we’ve come to expect from retellings and reimaginations of the old legends. We’re certainly taken on a thrilling ride with Eros and Psyche. McNamara is a fresh new face in this arena – and I’d love to read more by her.

Source: Review copy – thank you! Orion hardback, 346 pages.

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5 thoughts on “Psyche and Eros by Luna McNamara

  1. Calmgrove says:

    Oh, an interesting take. I knew about the three types of love (early Christians for example had agape feasts as part of their rituals) so it was ingenious to have Eros explain them at the start. Of course you’ll know this as a classical version of the Beauty and the Beast tale, but with a more involved backstory of jealous deities.

    As you know I rather liked C S Lewis’s retelling Till We Have Faces, which was aided by his deep knowledge and understanding of the classics, so I wonder how convinced you were by McNamara’s version with humans and deities interacting?

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I hadn’t registered the Beauty & the Beast trope actually – but now you mention it!
      The immortals are always mixing with mortals. McNamara and Saint make it seem like the norm. From Venus and Adonis, to Ariadne and Dionysus, to Artemis mentoring Atalanta and Psyche and Eros, the list goes on. I’m an enthusiastic reader rather than having any scholarly input so it’s hard for me to tell. Both Eros and Dionysis show concern for their mortal lovers though, which was nice, unlike Zeus!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I must admit, I am getting Troy’d out though! I’m glad that authors retelling the ancient myths are branching out from there to tell other stories. This one was well done, if not exactly true to the main classical source – but I didn’t let that bother me.

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