"But your way through Mirkwood is dark, dangerous and
difficult," he said. "Water is not easy to find there,
nor food. The time is not yet come for nuts (though it may be
past and gone indeed before you get to the other side), and nuts
are about all that grows there fit for food; in there the wild
things are dark, queer, and savage. I will provide you with skins
for carrying water, and I will give you some bows and arrows.
But I doubt very much whether anything you find in Mirkwood will
be wholesome to eat or to drink. There is one stream there, I
know, black and strong which crosses the path. That you should
neither drink of, nor bathe in; for I have heard that it carries
enchantment and a great drowsiness and forgetfulness. And in the
dim shadows of that place I don't think you will shoot anything,
wholesome or unwholesome, without straying from the path. That
you MUST NOT do, for any reason.
"That is all the advice I can give you. Beyond the edge
of the forest I cannot help you much; you must depend on your
luck and your courage and the food I send with you. At the gate
of the forest I must ask you to send back my horse and my ponies.
But I wish you all speed, and my house is open to you, if ever
you come back this way again." Queer Lodgings, The
Next day they started before dawn, though their night had
been short. As soon as it was light they could see the forest
coming as it were to meet them, or waiting for them like a black
and frowning wall before them. The land began to slope up and
up, and it seemed to the hobbit that a silence began to draw in
upon them. Birds began to sing less. There were no more deer;
not even rabbits were to be seen. By the afternoon they had reached
the eaves of Mirkwood, and were resting almost beneath the great
overhanging boughs of its outer trees. Their trunks were huge
and gnarled, their branches twisted, their leaves were dark and
long. Ivy grew on them and trailed along the ground.
"Well, here is Mirkwood!" said Gandalf. "The
greatest of the forests of the Northern world. I hope you like
the look of it... Queer Lodgings, The Hobbit.
They walked in single file. The entrance to the path was like
a sort of arch leading into a gloomy tunnel made by two great
trees that leant together, too old and strangled with ivy and
hung with lichen to bear more than a few blackened leaves. The
path itself was narrow and wound in and out among the trunks.
Soon the light at the gate was like a little bright hole far behind,
and the quiet was so deep that their feet seemed to thump along
while all the trees leaned over them and listened.
As theft eyes became used to the dimness they could see a
little way to either side in a sort of darkened green glimmer.
Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in
through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck
in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath,
stabbed down thin and bright before them. But this was seldom,
and it soon ceased altogether.
There were black squirrels in the wood. As Bilbo's sharp inquisitive
eyes got used to seeing things he could catch glimpses of them
whisking off the path and scuttling behind tree-trunks. There
were queer noises too, grunts, scufflings, and hurryings in the
undergrowth, and among the leaves that lay piled endlessly thick
in places on the forest-floor; but what made the noises he could
not see. The nastiest things they saw were the cobwebs: dark dense
cobwebs with threads extraordinarily thick, often stretched from
tree to tree, or tangled in the lower branches on either side
of them. There were none stretched across the path, but whether
because some magic kept it clear, or for what other reason they
could not guess.
It was not long before they grew to hate the forest as heartily
as they had hated the tunnels of the goblins, and it seemed to
offer even less hope of any ending. But they had to go on and
on, long after they were sick for a sight of the sun and of the
sky, and longed for the feel of wind on their faces. There was
no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly
still and dark and stuffy. Even the dwarves felt it, who were
used to tunnelling, and lived at times for long whiles without
the light of the sun; but the hobbit, who liked holes to make
a house in but not to spend summer days in, felt he was being
The nights were the worst. It then became pitch-dark
not what you call pitch-dark, but really pitch; so black that
you really could see nothing. Bilbo tried flapping his hand in
front of his nose, but he could not see it at all. Well, perhaps
it is not true to say that they could see nothing: they could
see eyes. They slept all closely huddled together, and took it
in turns to watch; and when it was Bilbo's turn he would see gleams
in the darkness round them, and sometimes pairs of yellow or red
or green eyes would stare at him from a little distance, and then
slowly fade and disappear and slowly shine out again in another
place. And sometimes they would gleam down from the branches just
above him; and that was most terrifying. But the eyes that he
liked the least were horrible pale bulbous sort of eyes. "Insect
eyes" he thought, "not animal eyes, only they are much
Although it was not yet very cold, they tried lighting watch-fires
at night, but they soon gave that up. It seemed to bring hundreds
and hundreds of eyes all round them, though the creatures, whatever
they were, were careful never to let their bodies show in the
little flicker of the flames. Worse still it brought thousands
of dark-grey and black moths, some nearly as big as your hand,
flapping and whirring round their ears. They could not stand that,
nor the huge bats, black as a top-hat, either; so they gave up
fires and sat at night and dozed in the enormous uncanny darkness.
All this went on for what seemed to the hobbit ages upon ages;
and he was always hungry, for they were extremely careful with
their provisions. Even so, as days followed days, and still the
forest seemed just the same, they began to get anxious. The food
would not last for ever: it was in fact already beginning to get
low. They tried shooting at the squirrels, and they wasted many
arrows before they managed to bring one down on the path. But
when they roasted it, it proved horrible to taste, and they shot
no more squirrels.
They were thirsty too, for they had none too much water, and
in all the time they had seen neither spring nor stream. This
was their state when one day they found their path blocked by
a running water. It flowed fast and strong but not very wide right
across the way, and it was black, or looked it in the gloom. It
was well that Beorn had warned them against it, or they would
have drunk from it, whatever its colour, and filled some of their
emptied skins at its bank. As it was they only thought of how
to cross it without wetting themselves in its water. There had
been a bridge of wood across, but it had rotted and fallen leaving
only the broken posts near the bank. Flies and Spiders, The
In a great cave some miles within the edge of Mirkwood on its
eastern side there lived at this time their greatest king. Before his
huge doors of stone a river ran out of the heights of the forest and flowed
on and out into the marshes at the feet of the high wooded lands. This great
cave, from which countless smaller ones opened out on every side, wound far
underground and had many passages and wide halls; but it was lighter and more
wholesome than any goblin-dwelling, and neither so deep nor so dangerous.
In fact the subjects of the king mostly lived and hunted in the open woods,
and had houses or huts on the ground and in the branches. The beeches
were their favourite trees. The king's cave was his palace, and the strong
place of his treasure, and the fortress of his people against their enemies.
It was also the dungeon of his prisoners. So to the cave they
dragged Thorin-not too gently, for they did not love dwarves, and thought
he was an enemy. In ancient days they had had wars with some of the dwarves,
whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that
the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was
their due, for the elf-king had bar- gained with them to shape his raw gold
and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay. If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white
gems; and hough his hoard was rich, he was ever eager for more, since he
had not yet as great a treasure as other elf-lords of old. His people neither
mined nor worked metals or jewels, nor did they bother much with trade or
with tilling the earth. All this was well known to every dwarf, though Thorin's family had had nothing to do with the old quarrel I have spoken of. Consequently Thorin was angry at their treatment of him, when they took their
spell off him and he came to his senses; and also he was determined that
no word of gold or jewels should be dragged out of him.
The king looked sternly on Thorin, when he was brought before
him, and asked him many questions. But Thorin would only say that he was
"Why did you and your folk three times try to attack my people
at their merrymaking?" asked the king.
"We did not attack them," answered Thorin; "we
came to beg, because we were starving."
"Where are your friends now, and what are they doing?"
"I don't know, but I expect starving in the forest."
"What were you doing in the forest?"
"Looking for food and drink, because we were starving."
"But what brought you into the forest at all?" asked
the king angrily.
At that Thorin shut his mouth and would not say another word.
"Very well!" said the king. "Take him away and
keep him safe, until he feels inclined to tell the truth, even if he waits a hundred years.'"
Then the elves put thongs on him, and shut him in one of the
inmost caves with strong wooden doors, and left him. They gave
him food and drink, plenty of both, if not very fine; for Wood-elves
were not goblins, and were reasonably well-behaved even to their
worst enemies, when they captured them. The giant spiders were
the only living things that they had no mercy upon. Flies
and Spiders, The Hobbit.
There was no thought of a fight. Even if the dwarves had not
been in such a state that they were actually glad to be captured,
their small knives, the only weapons they had, would have been
of no use against the arrows of the elves that could hit a bird's
eye in the dark. So they simply stopped dead and sat down and
waited-all except Bilbo, who popped on his ring and slipped quickly
to one side. That is why, when the elves bound the dwarves in
a long line, one behind the other, and counted them, they never
found or counted the hobbit.
Nor did they hear or feel him trotting along well behind their
torch-light as they led off their prisoners into the forest. Each
dwarf was blindfold, but that did not make much difference, for
even Bilbo with the use of his eyes could not see where they were
going, and neither he nor the others knew where they had started
from anyway. Bilbo had all he could do to keep up with the torches,
for the elves were making the dwarves go as fast as ever they
could, sick and weary as they were. The king had ordered them
to make haste. Suddenly the torches stopped, and the hobbit had
just time to catch them up before they began to cross the bridge.
This was the bridge that led across the river to the king's doors.
The water flowed dark and swift and strong beneath; and at the
far end were gates before the mouth of a huge cave that ran into
the side of a steep slope covered with trees. There the great
beeches came right down to the bank, till their feet were in the
Across this bridge the elves thrust their prisoners, but Bilbo
hesitated in the rear. He did not at all like the look of the
cavern-mouth and he only made up his mind not to desert his friends
just in time to scuttle over at the heels of the fast elves, before
the great gates of the king closed behind them with a clang.
Inside the passages were lit with red torch-light, and the
elf-guards sang as they marched along the twisting, crossing,
and echoing paths. These were not like those of the goblin-cities:
they were smaller, less deep underground, and filled with a cleaner
air. In a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone
sat the Elvenking on a chair of carven wood. On his head was a
crown of berries and red leaves, for the autumn was come again.
In the spring he wore a crown of woodland flowers. In his hand
he held a carven staff of oak.
The prisoners were brought before him; and though he looked
grimly at them, he told his men to unbind them, for they were
ragged and weary. "Besides they need no ropes in here,"
said he. "There is no escape from my magic doors for those
who are once brought inside."
Long and searchingly he questioned the dwarves about their
doings, and where they were going to, and where they were coming
from; but he got little more news out of them than out of Thorin.
They were surly and angry and did not even pretend to be polite.
"What have we done, O king?" said Balin, who was
the eldest left. "Is it a crime to be lost in the forest,
to be hungry and thirsty, to be trapped by spiders? Are the spiders
your tame beasts or your pets, if killing them makes you angry?"
Such a question of course made the king angrier than ever,
and he answered: "It is a crime to wander in my realm without
leave. Do you forget that you were in my kingdom, using the road
that my people made? Did you not three times pursue and trouble
my people in the forest and ' rouse the spiders with your riot
and clamour? After all the disturbance you have made I have a
right to know what brings you here, and if you will not tell me
now, I will keep you all in prison until you have learned sense
Then he ordered the dwarves each to be put in a separate cell
and to be given food and drink, but not to be allowed to pass
the doors of their little prisons, until one at least of them
was willing to tell him all he wanted to know. But be did not
tell them that Thorin was also a prisoner with him. It was Bilbo
who found that out. Barrels out of Bond, The Hobbit.
Far over Mirkwood tidings spread: "Smaug is dead!"
Leaves rustled and startled ears were lifted. Even before the
Elvenking rode forth the news had passed west right to the pinewoods
of the Misty Mountains; Beorn had heard it in his wooden house,
and the goblins were at council in their caves.
"That will be the last we shall hear of Thorin Oakenshield,
I fear," said the king. "He would have done better to
have remained my guest. It is an ill wind, all the same,"
he added, "that blows no one any good." For he too had
not forgotten the legend of the wealth of Thror. So it was that
Bard's messengers found him now marching with many spearmen and
bowmen; and crows were gathered thick, above him, for they thought
that war was awakening again, such as had not been in those parts
for a long age.
But the king, when he received the prayers of Bard, had pity,
for he was the lord of a good and kindly people; so turning his
march, which had at first been direct towards the Mountain, he
hastened now down the river to the Long Lake. He had not boats
or rafts enough for his host, and they were forced to go the slower
way by foot; but great store of goods he sent ahead by water.
Still elves are light--footed, and though they were not in these
days much used to the marches and the treacherous lands between
the Forest and the Lake, their going was swift. Only five days
after the death of the dragon they came upon the shores and looked
on the ruins of the town. Their welcome was good, as may be expected,
and the men and their Master were ready to make any bargain for
the future in return for the Elvenking's aid. Fire and Water,
"The Elvenking is my friend, and he has succoured the
people of the Lake in their need, though they had no claim but
friendship on him," answered Bard. The Gathering of the
Clouds, The Hobbit.
The Elvenking himself, whose eyes were used to things of wonder
and beauty, stood up in amazement. Even Bard gazed marvelling
at it in silence. It was as if a globe had been filled with moonlight
and hung before them in a net woven of the glint of frosty stars.
"This is the Arkenstone of Thrain," said Bilbo,
"the Heart of the Mountain; and it is also the heart of Thorin.
He values it above a river of gold. I give it to you. It will
aid you in your bargaining." Then Bilbo, not without a shudder,
not without a glance of longing, handed the marvellous stone to
Bard, and he held it in his hand, as though dazed.
"But how is it yours to give?" he asked at last
with an effort.
"O well!" said the hobbit uncomfortably. "It
isn't exactly; but, well, I am willing to let it stand against
all my claim, don't you know. I may be a burglar-or so they say:
personally I never really felt like one-but I am an honest one,
I hope, more or less. Anyway I am going back now, and the dwarves
can do what they like to me. I hope you will find it useful."
The Elvenking looked at Bilbo with a new wonder. "Bilbo
Baggins!" he said. "You are more worthy to wear the
armour of elf-princes than many that have looked more comely in
it. But I wonder if Thorin Oakenshield will see it so. I have
more knowledge of dwarves in general than you have perhaps. I
advise you to remain with us, and here you shall be honoured and
"Thank you very much I am sure," said Bilbo with
a bow. "But I don't think I ought to leave my friends like
this, after all we have gone through together. And I promised
to wake old Bombur at midnight, too! Really I must be going, and
Nothing they could say would stop him; so an escort was provided
for him, and as he went both the king and Bard saluted him with
honour. A Thief in the Night, The Hobbit.
But the Elvenking said: "Long will I tarry, ere I begin
this war for gold. The dwarves cannot press us, unless we will,
or do anything that we cannot mark. Let us hope still for something
that will bring reconciliation. Our advantage in numbers will
be enough, if in the end it must come to unhappy blows."
The Clouds Burst, The Hobbit.
The elf-host was on the march;. and if it was sadly lessened,
yet many were glad, for now the northern world would be merrier
for many a long day. The dragon was dead, and the goblins overthrown,
and their hearts looked forward after winter to a spring of joy.
Gandalf and Bilbo rode behind the Elvenking, and beside them
strode Beorn, once again in man's shape, and he laughed and sang
in a loud voice upon the road. So they went on until they drew
near to the borders of Mirkwood, to the north of the place where
the Forest River ran out.
Then they halted, for the wizard and Bilbo would not enter the
wood, even though the king bade them stay a while in his halls.
They intended to go along the edge of the forest, and round its
northern end in the waste that lay between it and the beginning
of the Grey Mountains. It was a long and cheerless road, but now
that the goblins were crushed, it seemed safer to them than the
dreadful pathways under the trees. Moreover Beorn was going that
"Farewell! O Elvenking!" said Gandalf. "Merry
be the greenwood, while the world is yet young! And merry be all
"Farewell! O Gandalf!" said the king. "May
you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!
The oftener you appear in my halls the better shall I be pleased!"
"I beg of you," said Bilbo stammering and standing
on one foot, "to accept this gift!" and he brought out
a necklace of silver and pearls that Dain had given him at their
"In what way have I earned such a gift, O hobbit?"
said the king.
"Well, er, I thought, don't you know," said Bilbo
rather confused, "that, er, some little return should be
made for your, er, hospitality. I mean even a burglar has his
feelings. I have drunk much of your wine and eaten much of your
"I will take your gift, O Bilbo the Magnificent!"
said the king gravely. "And I name you elf-friend and blessed.
May your shadow never grow less (or stealing would be too easy)!
Farewell!" The Return Journey, The Hobbit.
In the North also there had been war and evil. The realm of
Thranduil was invaded, and there was long battle under the trees
and great ruin of fire; but in the end Thranduil had the victory.
And on the day of the New Year of the Elves, Celeborn and Thranduil
met in the midst of the forest; and they renamed Mirkwood Eryn
Lasgalen, The Wood of Greenleaves. Thranduil took all the
northern region as far as the mountains that rise in the forest
for for his realm; and Celeborn took the southern wood below the
Narrows, and named it East Lorien; all wide forest between was
given to the Beornings and the Woodmen... In the Greenwood the
Silvan Elves remained untroubled, but in Lorien there lingered
sadly only a few of its former people, and there was no longer
light or song in Caras Galadhon. Return of the King,
Lorien's empty flets.
The painting that inspired the Eomer/Firith
story. Fete Champetre by Titian or Giorgione.
A view of The Carrock by Alan Lee.
Some views of Mirkwood.
Mirkwood by Tolkien.
Thranduil's fabled enchanted gates.
Tolkien said that elves enjoy sex: "the union of love is
indeed to them a great delight and joy
" And I thought
it would be fun if the Mirkwood elves had some 'rude words' that
they could use amongst themselves. After pouring over a Sindarin
dictionary, and jotting down a few likely expressions, I thought
of using Google and eventually found a language thread discussing
possible ways of forming 'naughty elvish' words. Unfortunately,
I can't find it again, so I can't credit the authors, but it convinced
me that I was on the right track.
In [Tolkien's] early sources, there are words that at least
refer to substances and actions associated with the genitals.
In Gnomish we have the verb pigla-, pictha-, "make
urine", and also a verb gaibra- or gwectha-,
prudently glossed "impregnate". The Qenya Lexicon, p.
61, 62, has milt "semen" and mis "urine"...
[In mature Quenya mis would probably become MITH, MITHI "urinate",
so] we could have a primitive word mithmaa = "thing/organ
for urinating". The ending -maa usually denotes implements
and may also denote body parts, such as nakmaa "jaw"
from NAK "bite" (LR:374), or labmaa "tongue"
from LABA "lick" (WJ:416). This primitive word mithmaa
would yield Quenya misma. I'm not entirely sure what the Sindarin
form would be.
By its etymology, misma could refer to male or female genitals
alike, but perhaps it would be associated primarily with the male
organ (this being the more, well, visible). As for the female
genitals, we might try something along the lines of "sheath"
(in Norwegian we use skjede for both "sheath" and
"vagina"). The Qenya Lexicon (p. 100) has vaine
"sheath", and this word fits mature Quenya well enough;
it could have been derived from the stem WAY "enfold"
in the Etymologies. If we assume a primitive form *wainee, we
could also have Sindarin gwaen.
When trying to make words for sexual organs as such,
we may also consider stems like STAK "insert"
(LR.388) or NOO, ONO "beget" (LR:378,
So here is a Glossary of Naughty Elvish words and phrases
(probably grammatically dodgy, but I will do my best).
Calf, half 'vulva'; literally, 'water vessel' and 'seashell',
respectively. I chose these because the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph
for woman was a bowl of water and Egyptian women often wore cowrie
shells as fertility charms, because they look very much like the
part in question and, of course, because of the nature of sea
Carel ellith Fucking ellith; literally 'doing ellith'.
Ceber 'erection'; literally, 'wooden stake'; ceber daur,
'mighty, vast, overwhelming, huge, awful, high, sublime erection';
ceber dhorn, 'stiff erection'; ceber dûg,
'thick erection'; ceber norn 'hard erection'; ceber
daur chîn, 'your huge erection'.
Ceredir 'penis'; literally, 'maker' (elves being positive
thinkers); ceredir and, 'long penis'; Gerich veleth
nín, ceredir vain, 'I love you, beautiful penis'.
Ceryn 'balls'; ceryn dyng, 'tight balls'; ceryn
paint, 'full balls'.
Criss 'vulva'; literally, 'cleft, cut'.
Cuildithen 'orgasm'; literally 'little life'
Cuinon! 'I come!'; literally, 'I live!' (I thought that
elves, being immortal, might describe an orgasm as LIVING!)
Eithol ellith 'fucking ellith'; literally, 'stabbing ellith'.
(The Mirkwood elves are warriors, after all). Eitha- also
means 'to treat with scorn', which fits quite well.
Gweneth 'virginity' (a genuine Tolkien word, from the etymologies).
Rond 'vagina'; literally 'cave'; rond agor, 'tight
(narrow) vagina'; rond laug, 'warm vagina'; rond loen,
'dripping wet vagina'.
Thâr 'pubic hair'; literally 'grass'.
Tuiw, meril, mîr 'clitoris'; literally, 'bud', 'rose'
and 'treasure', respectively (thanks to Gimli for providing the
Tynd 'breasts'; literally, 'mounds, hills'; tynd voe,
In spite of the Dangers of this far land bold men had of
late been making their way back into it from the South, cutting
down trees, and building themselves places to live in among the
more pleasant woods in the Valleys and along the river-shores.
There were many of them, and they were brave and well armed, and
even the Wargs dared not attack them if there were many together,
or in the bright day. Out of the Frying-pan into the fire,
Beorn indeed became a great chief afterwards in those regions
and ruled a wide land between the mountains and the wood; and
it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the
power of taking bear's shape, and some were grim men and bad,
but most were in heart like Beorn, if less in size and strength.
In their day the last goblins were hunted from the Misty Mountains
and a new peace came over the edge of the Wild. The Return
Journey, The Hobbit.
In that last hour Beorn himself had appeared--no one knew
how or from where. He came alone, and in bear's shape; and he
seemed to have grown almost to giant-size in his wrath.
The roar of his voice was like drums and guns; and he tossed
wolves and goblins from his path like straws and feathers. He
fell upon their rear, and broke like a clap of thunder through
the ring. The dwarves were making a stand still about their lords
upon a low rounded hill. Then Beorn stooped and lifted Thorin,
who had fallen pierced with spears, and bore him out of the fray.
Swiftly he returned and his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing
could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him. He
scattered the bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed
him. Then dismay fell on the Goblins and they fled in all directions.
The Return Journey, The Hobbit.
Frodo learned that Grimbeorn the Old, son of Beorn, was now
the lord of many sturdy mean, and to their land between the Mountains
and Mirkwood neither orc nor wolf dared to go.
'Indeed,' said Gloin, 'if it were not for the Beornings, the
passage from Dale to Rivendell would long ago have become impossible.
They are valient men and keep open the High Pass and the Ford
of Carrock. But their tolls are high,' he added with a shake of
his head; 'and like Beorn of old they are not over fond of dwarves.
Still, they are trusty, and that is much in these days.' Many
Meetings, The Fellowship of the Ring.
'Indeed it is,' said Gimili. 'Why, it is better than the honey-cakes
of the Beornings, and that is great praise, for the Beornings
are the best bakers that I know of; but they are none too willing
to deal out their cakes to travellers in these days.' Farewell
to Lorien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
Beorn is dead; see vol. I p. 241. He appeared in The Hobbit.
It was then the year Third Age 2940 (Shire-reckoning 1340). We
are now in the years 3018-19 (1418-19). Though a skin changer
and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a man. The Letters
of J.R.R Tolkien, p178.
I've given the Beornings genuine Viking names but I've changed
the thorn (Þ) to 'th' to make them look a bit clearer.
Bjarni and Gunnhildr's 'surnames', Bergthórsson
and Bergthórsdottir, are patronymics, 'son of Bergthórr'
and 'daughter of Bergthórr'. All the men have real 'by-names'.
These seem to have been short descriptions added to their given
names and they could sometimes be very insulting ('harm fart').
Bergthórr's by-name, beytill, which made
both Eomer and Thranduil smile, appears to be quite flattering,
however. It meansI could not resist it'horse penis'!
The other by-names are:
Ottarr in spaka - Óttarr the wise
Heðinn austmannaskelfir - Heðinn, terror of the
Bjarni bjarki - Bjarni bear-cub
Snorri blátönn - Snorri black-tooth
Thorkell bogsveigir - Thorkell bow-swayer
The fairy tale that inspired Eowyn's three tasks and their final
A certain king and queen had three daughters. The charms of the
two elder were more than common, but the beauty of the youngest
was so wonderful that the poverty of language is unable to express
its due praise. The fame of her beauty was so great that strangers
from neighboring countries came in crowds to enjoy the sight,
and looked on her with amazement, paying her that homage which
is due only to Venus herself. In fact Venus found her altars deserted,
while men turned their devotion to this young virgin. As she passed
along, the people sang her praises, and strewed her way with chaplets
This homage to the exaltation of a mortal gave great offense
to the real Venus. Shaking her ambrosial locks with indignation,
she exclaimed, "Am I then to be eclipsed in my honors by
a mortal girl? In vain then did that royal shepherd, whose judgment
was approved by Jove himself, give me the palm of beauty over
my illustrious rivals, Pallas and Juno. But she shall not so quietly
usurp my honors. I will give her cause to repent of so unlawful
Thereupon she calls her winged son Cupid, mischievous enough
in his own nature, and rouses and provokes him yet more by her
complaints. She points out Psyche to him and says, "My dear
son, punish that contumacious beauty; give your mother a revenge
as sweet as her injuries are great; infuse into the bosom of that
haughty girl a passion for some low, mean, unworthy being, so
that she may reap a mortification as great as her present exultation
Cupid prepared to obey the commands of his mother. There are
two fountains in Venus's garden, one of sweet waters, the other
of bitter. Cupid filled two amber vases, one from each fountain,
and suspending them from the top of his quiver, hastened to the
chamber of Psyche, whom he found asleep. He shed a few drops from
the bitter fountain over her lips, though the sight of her almost
moved him to pity; then touched her side with the point of his
arrow. At the touch she awoke, and opened eyes upon Cupid (himself
invisible), which so startled him that in his confusion he wounded
himself with his own arrow. Heedless of his wound, his whole thought
now was to repair the mischief he had done, and he poured the
balmy drops of joy over all her silken ringlets.
Psyche, henceforth frowned upon by Venus, derived no benefit
from all her charms. True, all eyes were cast eagerly upon her,
and every mouth spoke her praises; but neither king, royal youth,
nor plebeian presented himself to demand her in marriage. Her
two elder sisters of moderate charms had now long been married
to two royal princes; but Psyche, in her lonely apartment, deplored
her solitude, sick of that beauty which, while it procured abundance
of flattery, had failed to awaken love.
Her parents, afraid that they had unwittingly incurred the anger
of the gods, consulted the oracle of Apollo, and received this
answer, "The virgin is destined for the bride of no mortal
lover. Her future husband awaits her on the top of the mountain.
He is a monster whom neither gods nor men can resist."
This dreadful decree of the oracle filled all the people with
dismay, and her parents abandoned themselves to grief. But Psyche
said, "Why, my dear parents, do you now lament me? You should
rather have grieved when the people showered upon me undeserved
honors, and with one voice called me a Venus. I now perceive that
I am a victim to that name. I submit. Lead me to that rock to
which my unhappy fate has destined me."
Accordingly, all things being prepared, the royal maid took her
place in the procession, which more resembled a funeral than a
nuptial pomp, and with her parents, amid the lamentations of the
people, ascended the mountain, on the summit of which they left
her alone, and with sorrowful hearts returned home.
While Psyche stood on the ridge of the mountain, panting with
fear and with eyes full of tears, the gentle Zephyr raised her
from the earth and bore her with an easy motion into a flowery
dale. By degrees her mind became composed, and she laid herself
down on the grassy bank to sleep.
When she awoke refreshed with sleep, she looked round and beheld
near a pleasant grove of tall and stately trees. She entered it,
and in the midst discovered a fountain, sending forth clear and
crystal waters, and fast by, a magnificent palace whose august
front impressed the spectator that it was not the work of mortal
hands, but the happy retreat of some god. Drawn by admiration
and wonder, she approached the building and ventured to enter.
Every object she met filled her with pleasure and amazement.
Golden pillars supported the vaulted roof, and the walls were
enriched with carvings and paintings representing beasts of the
chase and rural scenes, adapted to delight the eye of the beholder.
Proceeding onward, she perceived that besides the apartments of
state there were others filled with all manner of treasures, and
beautiful and precious productions of nature and art.
While her eyes were thus occupied, a voice addressed her, though
she saw no one, uttering these words, "Sovereign lady, all
that you see is yours. We whose voices you hear are your servants
and shall obey all your commands with our utmost care and diligence.
Retire, therefore, to your chamber and repose on your bed of down,
and when you see fit, repair to the bath. Supper awaits you in
the adjoining alcove when it pleases you to take your seat there."
Psyche gave ear to the admonitions of her vocal attendants, and
after repose and the refreshment of the bath, seated herself in
the alcove, where a table immediately presented itself, without
any visible aid from waiters or servants, and covered with the
greatest delicacies of food and the most nectareous wines. Her
ears too were feasted with music from invisible performers; of
whom one sang, another played on the lute, and all closed in the
wonderful harmony of a full chorus.
She had not yet seen her destined husband. He came only in the
hours of darkness and fled before the dawn of morning, but his
accents were full of love, and inspired a like passion in her.
She often begged him to stay and let her behold him, but he would
not consent. On the contrary he charged her to make no attempt
to see him, for it was his pleasure, for the best of reasons,
to keep concealed.
"Why should you wish to behold me?" he said. "Have
you any doubt of my love? Have you any wish ungratified? If you
saw me, perhaps you would fear me, perhaps adore me, but all I
ask of you is to love me. I would rather you would love me as
an equal than adore me as a god."
This reasoning somewhat quieted Psyche for a time, and while
the novelty lasted she felt quite happy. But at length the thought
of her parents, left in ignorance of her fate, and of her sisters,
precluded from sharing with her the delights of her situation,
preyed on her mind and made her begin to feel her palace as but
a splendid prison. When her husband came one night, she told him
her distress, and at last drew from him an unwilling consent that
her sisters should be brought to see her.
So, calling Zephyr, she acquainted him with her husband's commands,
and he, promptly obedient, soon brought them across the mountain
down to their sister's valley. They embraced her and she returned
"Come," said Psyche, "enter with me my house and
refresh yourselves with whatever your sister has to offer."
Then taking their hands she led them into her golden palace,
and committed them to the care of her numerous train of attendant
voices, to refresh them in her baths and at her table, and to
show them all her treasures. The view of these celestial delights
caused envy to enter their bosoms, at seeing their young sister
possessed of such state and splendor, so much exceeding their
They asked her numberless questions, among others what sort of
a person her husband was. Psyche replied that he was a beautiful
youth, who generally spent the daytime in hunting upon the mountains.
The sisters, not satisfied with this reply, soon made her confess
that she had never seen him. Then they proceeded to fill her bosom
with dark suspicions. "Call to mind," they said, "the
Pythian oracle that declared you destined to marry a direful and
tremendous monster. The inhabitants of this valley say that your
husband is a terrible and monstrous serpent, who nourishes you
for a while with dainties that he may by and by devour you. Take
our advice. Provide yourself with a lamp and a sharp knife; put
them in concealment that your husband may not discover them, and
when he is sound asleep, slip out of bed, bring forth your lamp,
and see for yourself whether what they say is true or not. If
it is, hesitate not to cut off the monster's head, and thereby
recover your liberty."
Psyche resisted these persuasions as well as she could, but they
did not fail to have their effect on her mind, and when her sisters
were gone, their words and her own curiosity were too strong for
her to resist. So she prepared her lamp and a sharp knife, and
hid them out of sight of her husband. When he had fallen into
his first sleep, she silently rose and uncovering her lamp beheld
not a hideous monster, but the most beautiful and charming of
the gods, with his golden ringlets wandering over his snowy neck
and crimson cheek, with two dewy wings on his shoulders, whiter
than snow, and with shining feathers like the tender blossoms
As she leaned the lamp over to have a better view of his face,
a drop of burning oil fell on the shoulder of the god. Startled,
he opened his eyes and fixed them upon her. Then, without saying
a word, he spread his white wings and flew out of the window.
Psyche, in vain endeavoring to follow him, fell from the window
to the ground.
Cupid, beholding her as she lay in the dust, stopped his flight
for an instant and said, "Oh foolish Psyche, is it thus you
repay my love? After I disobeyed my mother's commands and made
you my wife, will you think me a monster and cut off my head?
But go; return to your sisters, whose advice you seem to think
preferable to mine. I inflict no other punishment on you than
to leave you for ever. Love cannot dwell with suspicion."
So saying, he fled away, leaving poor Psyche prostrate on the
ground, filling the place with mournful lamentations.
When she had recovered some degree of composure she looked around
her, but the palace and gardens had vanished, and she found herself
in the open field not far from the city where her sisters dwelt.
She repaired thither and told them the whole story of her misfortunes,
at which, pretending to grieve, those spiteful creatures inwardly
"For now," said they, "he will perhaps choose
one of us." With this idea, without saying a word of her
intentions, each of them rose early the next morning and ascended
the mountain, and having reached the top, called upon Zephyr to
receive her and bear her to his lord; then leaping up, and not
being sustained by Zephyr, fell down the precipice and was dashed
Psyche meanwhile wandered day and night, without food or repose,
in search of her husband. Casting her eyes on a lofty mountain
having on its brow a magnificent temple, she sighed and said to
herself, "Perhaps my love, my lord, inhabits there,"
and directed her steps thither.
She had no sooner entered than she saw heaps of corn, some in
loose ears and some in sheaves, with mingled ears of barley. Scattered
about, lay sickles and rakes, and all the instruments of harvest,
without order, as if thrown carelessly out of the weary reapers'
hands in the sultry hours of the day.
This unseemly confusion the pious Psyche put an end to, by separating
and sorting everything to its proper place and kind, believing
that she ought to neglect none of the gods, but endeavor by her
piety to engage them all in her behalf. The holy Ceres, whose
temple it was, finding her so religiously employed, thus spoke
to her, "Oh Psyche, truly worthy of our pity, though I cannot
shield you from the frowns of Venus, yet I can teach you how best
to allay her displeasure. Go, then, and voluntarily surrender
yourself to your lady and sovereign, and try by modesty and submission
to win her forgiveness, and perhaps her favor will restore you
the husband you have lost."
Psyche obeyed the commands of Ceres and took her way to the temple
of Venus, endeavoring to fortify her mind and ruminating on what
she should say and how best propitiate the angry goddess, feeling
that the issue was doubtful and perhaps fatal.
Venus received her with angry countenance. "Most undutiful
and faithless of servants," said she, "do you at last
remember that you really have a mistress? Or have you rather come
to see your sick husband, yet laid up of the wound given him by
his loving wife? You are so ill favored and disagreeable that
the only way you can merit your lover must be by dint of industry
and diligence. I will make trial of your housewifery." Then
she ordered Psyche to be led to the storehouse of her temple,
where was laid up a great quantity of wheat, barley, millet, vetches,
beans, and lentils prepared for food for her pigeons, and said,
"Take and separate all these grains, putting all of the same
kind in a parcel by themselves, and see that you get it done before
evening." Then Venus departed and left her to her task.
But Psyche, in a perfect consternation at the enormous work,
sat stupid and silent, without moving a finger to the inextricable
While she sat despairing, Cupid stirred up the little ant, a
native of the fields, to take compassion on her. The leader of
the anthill, followed by whole hosts of his six-legged subjects,
approached the heap, and with the utmost diligence taking grain
by grain, they separated the pile, sorting each kind to its parcel;
and when it was all done, they vanished out of sight in a moment.
Venus at the approach of twilight returned from the banquet of
the gods, breathing odors and crowned with roses. Seeing the task
done, she exclaimed, "This is no work of yours, wicked one,
but his, whom to your own and his misfortune you have enticed."
So saying, she threw her a piece of black bread for her supper
and went away.
Next morning Venus ordered Psyche to be called and said to her,
"Behold yonder grove which stretches along the margin of
the water. There you will find sheep feeding without a shepherd,
with golden-shining fleeces on their backs. Go, fetch me a sample
of that precious wool gathered from every one of their fleeces."
Psyche obediently went to the riverside, prepared to do her best
to execute the command. But the river god inspired the reeds with
harmonious murmurs, which seemed to say, "Oh maiden, severely
tried, tempt not the dangerous flood, nor venture among the formidable
rams on the other side, for as long as they are under the influence
of the rising sun, they burn with a cruel rage to destroy mortals
with their sharp horns or rude teeth. But when the noontide sun
has driven the cattle to the shade, and the serene spirit of the
flood has lulled them to rest, you may then cross in safety, and
you will find the woolly gold sticking to the bushes and the trunks
of the trees."
Thus the compassionate river god gave Psyche instructions how
to accomplish her task, and by observing his directions she soon
returned to Venus with her arms full of the golden fleece; but
she received not the approbation of her implacable mistress, who
said, "I know very well it is by none of your own doings
that you have succeeded in this task, and I am not satisfied yet
that you have any capacity to make yourself useful. But I have
another task for you. Here, take this box and go your way to the
infernal shades, and give this box to Proserpine and say, 'My
mistress Venus desires you to send her a little of your beauty,
for in tending her sick son she has lost some of her own.' Be
not too long on your errand, for I must paint myself with it to
appear at the circle of the gods and goddesses this evening."
Psyche was now satisfied that her destruction was at hand, being
obliged to go with her own feet directly down to Erebus. Wherefore,
to make no delay of what was not to be avoided, she goes to the
top of a high tower to precipitate herself headlong, thus to descend
the shortest way to the shades below. But a voice from the tower
said to her, "Why, poor unlucky girl, do you design to put
an end to your days in so dreadful a manner? And what cowardice
makes you sink under this last danger who have been so miraculously
supported in all your former?" Then the voice told her how
by a certain cave she might reach the realms of Pluto, and how
to avoid all the dangers of the road, to pass by Cerberus, the
three-headed dog, and prevail on Charon, the ferryman, to take
her across the black river and bring her back again. But the voice
added, "When Proserpine has given you the box filled with
her beauty, of all things this is chiefly to be observed by you,
that you never once open or look into the box nor allow your curiosity
to pry into the treasure of the beauty of the goddesses."
Psyche, encouraged by this advice, obeyed it in all things, and
taking heed to her ways traveled safely to the kingdom of Pluto.
She was admitted to the palace of Proserpine, and without accepting
the delicate seat or delicious banquet that was offered her, but
contented with coarse bread for her food, she delivered her message
from Venus. Presently the box was returned to her, shut and filled
with the precious commodity. Then she returned the way she came,
and glad was she to come out once more into the light of day.
But having got so far successfully through her dangerous task
a longing desire seized her to examine the contents of the box.
"What," said she, "shall I, the carrier of this
divine beauty, not take the least bit to put on my cheeks to appear
to more advantage in the eyes of my beloved husband!" So
she carefully opened the box, but found nothing there of any beauty
at all, but an infernal and truly Stygian sleep, which being thus
set free from its prison, took possession of her, and she fell
down in the midst of the road, a sleepy corpse without sense or
But Cupid, being now recovered from his wound, and not able longer
to bear the absence of his beloved Psyche, slipping through the
smallest crack of the window of his chamber which happened to
be left open, flew to the spot where Psyche lay, and gathering
up the sleep from her body closed it again in the box, and waked
Psyche with a light touch of one of his arrows. "Again,"
said he, "have you almost perished by the same curiosity.
But now perform exactly the task imposed on you by my mother,
and I will take care of the rest."
Then Cupid, as swift as lightning penetrating the heights of
heaven, presented himself before Jupiter with his supplication.
Jupiter lent a favoring ear, and pleaded the cause of the lovers
so earnestly with Venus that he won her consent. On this he sent
Mercury to bring Psyche up to the heavenly assembly, and when
she arrived, handing her a cup of ambrosia, he said, "Drink
this, Psyche, and be immortal; nor shall Cupid ever break away
from the knot in which he is tied, but these nuptials shall be
Thus Psyche became at last united to Cupid, and in due time they
had a daughter born to them whose name was Pleasure.