Cupid’s Arrow: On Frogs and Psyche

The story of “The Frog King” is one we all know variations of. Generally, all of the versions we know have a princess kissing a frog and turning it into a prince. However, the original wasn’t like that. There was no kissing in the Grimm version: just a hard toss of the frog prince against a wall. Much like this commonly unknown version, there is a Greek tale that has many of the same themes in it that is fairly unknown. Like the Grimm tale “The Frog King”, the Greek tale “Cupid and Psyche” has many themes of sacrifice and hardship coupled with love; the only true difference is the style and plot of both.

Starting with the differences (because there are so few), we look to the style first. The original Grimm tale was very simplistic in nature. The story had very little embellishment and got straight to the plot. The very first sentence of “The Frog King” begins as “once upon a time, there was a princess who went out into the forest and sat down at the edge of a cool well” (Grimm & Zipes, 13). Comparing that to the opening lines of “Cupid and Psyche”, we can see the way the Greeks embellished their tales with fantastic details. “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” (Cupid and Psyche, 1). The main explanation of the differences between these two would most likely be the audience and time for each of the original writers. The Grimm Brothers were aiming for this story to be directed at families, specifically making “The Frog King” the first tale in Kinder und Hausmärchen, meaning Children’s and Household tales. Obviously, “The Frog King” was not especially intended for the highest of the high society in Germany. Unlike this, “Cupid and Psyche” was a classic Greek tale, more than likely being told on stages with character masks and acting. This was meant to be a tale for the nobility and prestigious folk. Thus, the language was formal and fantastical, adding great detail that is otherwise absent in the classical Grimm tales.

The other notable difference is the plot. The Grimm tale features a princess who drops her golden ball into a well on accident. Upon promising a frog her companionship in return for her ball, she finds herself having to act upon her promise. Disgusted, she takes the little frog up to her room and tosses him against the wall; the impact turns him into a prince, whom she marries. This is similar to the version almost every child knows. The Greek tale, however, depicts a woman whose beauty is so incredible, the goddess Venus – the Greek goddess of beauty, love, pleasure, and fertility – grows jealous. She tells her son, Cupid, to put a curse on her. He does so, though wishes he could show her pity because of her great beauty. Time passes, but no lover comes to take her; it is revealed that her love is destined to be a monster on top of the high mountain. She goes to the mountain, but instead of a monster, she finds a beautiful grove; she meets a man who refuses to show his face and falls in love with him. After telling her sisters about the lovely man she cannot see, they tempt her into seeing his face by suggesting that he’s a hideous serpent. Curiosity gets the best of her and she sees his face, finding him not to be a monster, but the beautiful Cupid. He wakes and leaves her because of her curiosity, leaving her bitter and in pain. Saddened, she goes in search of Cupid and finds Venus, who puts her to work for the sorrow she caused Cupid. Psyche has to do 3 tasks, all three of which she fails in Venus’s eyes. The last task is to take Persephone’s – the wife of Hades – beauty. Psyche goes to Hell and fills a box with her beauty; her curiosity gets the best of her once more and she looks in the box, which causes her to fall asleep instantly. Cupid finds her later, revives her, and marries her despite her flaws. Now, after that rather long winded plot synopsis, we’re left with the stunning revelation that the Greek people are really good at writing intricate stories. We’re also left with the knowledge that “The Frog King” and “Cupid and Psyche” are vastly different in plot. One has a king who was turned into a frog who fell in love with a princess; the other has the son of a goddess falling in love with the princess his mother told him to curse. Now, while those two are fundamentally different in character and plot, we see one similarity that is blatantly obvious: the man falls in love with a girl.

This similarity – the factor of love – isn’t the main focus point. Sure, a lot of stories have people falling in love; what makes these two unique? Well, it’s the circumstances of their love. In each story, the princess is fundamentally flawed. In the Grimm tale, the princess is vain and greedy and focuses too much on materialistic things. She cares more about her golden ball than she does the promises she made. In the Greek tale, the princess is constantly overcome by her curiosity and temptations, and therefore causes pain and sadness to others because of it. By allowing herself to see Cupid’s face, she loses the thing she wanted most; by looking in the box of Persephone’s beauty, she fell into a deep sleep that nearly killed her. Despite the flaws of both princesses, the frog and Cupid both marry their suitors. This is the real motif of these two stories. There is love in the face of flaws. The frog still marries the vain princess, who we can only hope will learn through her marriage. Cupid still marries the curious Psyche, who we can only hope has learned her lesson after nearly dying. The main point of the matter is that the men married the women despite their flaws. This is a huge message in real life; compromise is a big part of marriage and relationships. Without it, everything falls apart, like in the scenes where Psyche failed Venus’s tasks or when the vain Princess was told off by her father.

The other main motif repeated in both tales is that of sacrifice. In the Grimm tale, the princess has to give up her food, her drink, and her own bed for the frog to whom she had promised everything. She might not like it much, but she gives up all of those things for the frog. In the Greek tale, Psyche has to do three tasks for Venus, which will eventually get her Cupid. In these tasks, she sacrifices her time and security, at one point nearly killing herself just to get to Hell. By doing these things, she eventually gets to marry Cupid. This motif, shown in both tales, seems to point to the idea that love and compromise require sacrifice. This is just as important as the previous idea of marriage despite flaws and certainly has ramifications in real life.

So, as discussed, the differences between the tales “The Frog Prince” and “Cupid and Psyche”, while minute, still exist. The Greek tale is embellished with flowery diction, whereas the Grimm tale is simplistic and straight to the point. The plot lines of both also vary, with one including a princess and a frog, and the other including numerous goddesses and gods, as well as their children. The similarities between these tales define the motifs in them, however; both tales incorporate themes of love with sacrifice and compromise, as well as love despite flaws and hardship. These motifs are reflected well in real life, showing the benefit of both tales in real circumstances.

From Grimm To Disney 1