In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature



The focus Questions below concentrate on three aspects of The Prodigal Daughter: Its adaptation of mythic or archetypal characters, such as The Good/Terrible Mother, the Marriage to Death (or Monster Husband), the Journeying Hero, The Wise Old Man, etc; its adaptation of mythical plot elements, such as the Journey, the Death and Resurrection (or descent and elevation) of the Hero, taboo violation, etc. ; and, finally, the appropriation of pagan, polytheistic myth to valorize Christian, monotheistic religion. In the first two aspects, we are considering myth and archetype in ways relevant to general literary approaches to myth, such as exemplified in Guerin’s Mythological and Archetypal Approaches . In the last aspect, we consider myth and archetype as the ‘true story par excellence,’ an understanding we derive from Mircea Eliade, discussed here in his Structures of Myths and in Bryan S. Rennie’s "Myths and Mythology."



  1. The Prodigal Daughter includes archetypal characters and archetypal plot elements. What are the similarities shared by the prodigal daughter and Psyche?
  2. What are the similarities between the prodigal daughter and other Psyche-figures from traditional literature?
  3. What are the similarities between Psyche’s father and the PD’s father? (hint: how are their actions comparable?)
  4. How does the Devil/gentleman fulfill the role of the Monster Husband?
  5. With reference to "Cupid and Psyche, "whom does the Angel resemble? Explain.
  6. Whom does the PD’s mother resemble? Her alternating disciplinary and tender behavior toward the PD suggests versions of The Good Mother and The Terrible Mother as described by Guerin. Explain. Compare her relationship to her daughter with Venus' relationship to Psyche. (Look at the way in which each mother figure addresses the younger woman.)
  7. What other similarities obtain between the minor characters in The Prodigal Daughter, and the minor characters of "Cupid and Psyche?"


  1. The Prodigal Daughter includes mythical structures we have seen in "Cupid and Psyche" (and in traditional tales), such as the journey to the underworld, death and revival, etc.
  2. Compare Psyche’s journey to the underworld with the PD’s journey.
  3. Compare the PD’s ‘vision’ of the devil with the lamp episode in "Cupid and Psyche."
  4. Vertical geography plays an important symbolic part in "Cupid and Psyche." Besides going down into the underworld, Psyche ascends and descends a mountain, throws herself down into a river, receives encouraging advice from a tower and, of course, ascends to Olympus. Does The Prodigal Daughter exhibit a similar sense of symbolic geography? (Consider this question in reference to the following sentence from Guerin: "Tree: In its most general sense, the symbolism of the tree denotes life of the cosmos: its consistence, growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes. It stands for inexhaustible life, and is therefore equivalent to a symbol of immortality" (J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, trans. Jack Sage [New York: Philosophical, 1962]: 328.
  5. Psyche falls into a deathlike trance when she opens Proserpine’s box of beauty; what causes the PD to swoon? How are these two very different events somehow very similar?
  6. Psyche is warned not to eat the food of the dead. Is there a comparable ‘food taboo’ in The Prodigal Daughter?"
  7. In "Cupid and Psyche," Psyche violates a taboo by gazing at the sleeping Cupid—a violation that some critics view as a necessary assertion of independence, a corollary to personal growth. What is the taboo the PD violates? Does the story suggest that this is either necessary or good?
  8. As you know, the plot of "Cupid and Psyche," involves a young woman who is sent away by her divinely inspired parents, becomes involved with a member of the opposite sex whom she feels she has reason to mistrust, goes on a long, arduous journey, submits to the verbal ‘correction’ of an older female figure, undertakes a journey to the land of the dead, and returns to life on an exalted plane of existence because of her love for a god. How is this overall plot comparable to The Prodigal Daughter?


  1. In The Prodigal Daughter, certain biblical stories are mentioned. How is the story of Mary Magdalene relevant to The Prodigal Daughter? How is it relevant to Psyche, and the Journeying goddess myths we studied in chapter one?
  2. How does the anonymous author of PD relate the story of the crucifixion to the story of The Prodigal Daughter?
  3. How does this story relate to "Cupid and Psyche?"
  4. Why tell the story of The Prodigal Daughter?. How would it persuade children toward good behavior or devotion to their parents or love of God to make a Christian fable out of an old—and perhaps recognizable—myth?
  5. What does the adaptability of the Cupid and Psyche story suggest about the nature of Truth? (hint: relate this to Eliade’s argument that myth "means a ‘true story’ and, beyond that, a story that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, significant"—see The Structure of Myths.)