The Dream of Oenghus :
The Celtic myth THE DREAM OF OENGHUS relates the tale of Oenghus the Celtic god of love and his long search for true love. Oenghus is the son of Boann and Daghdhae. Boann the white cow goddess and Daghdhae the father of all gods - the good god. In a dream Oenghus sees "the loveliest figure in Ireland..." His memory of this vision makes him ill with loneliness and he begins to waste away. With the help of his mother, and another of his fathers' sons, Bodhbh, he begins his search for the girl he dreamt of. When, after years, he successfully completes his search the lovers' travels to Bruigh Mac, his home.
Chronologically and geographically distant, Apuleius second century record of the original Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche also relates a story of amorous pursuit. In Apuleius account Psyche is the most beautiful of all mortals. "The fame of her surpassing beauty spread over the earth and men would even say that Venus herself could not equal this mortal." Out of jealousy, Venus commands Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with "the vilest and most despicable creature in the whole world." However, dispatched on his errand Cupid is astonished by her beauty and "as if he had shot one of his arrows into his own heart" falls completely in love with her.
Cupid dumbfounded by the love he suddenly feels carries Psyche off. Although Psyche is never able to gaze on Cupid she is confident of the love her unseen paramour expresses in the dark each night. Eventually, prompted by her unbelieving and somewhat envious sisters she lights a lamp and discovers that her lover is Cupid. Unfortunately, Cupid hurt by both the oil sputtering from the lamp and her faithlessness fees. Psyche deeply grieved by her lack of faith and subsequent loss of love pledges to search for Cupid forever. "I can spend the rest of my life searching for him. If he has no more love left for me, at least I can show him how much I love him." Eventually after many trials and tribulations, largely at the inspiration of the still jealous Venus, she is reunited with Cupid and comes to live the life of the immortals.
These myths share a common fundamental theme. In both instances, the myths document a love between a mortal and a god. Moreover, both of the courtships involve long periods of separation, difficult and desperate journeys in pursuit of the beloved and deep ongoing uncertainty as to the ultimate outcome of the fat of the lovers. Clearly, it is not unreasonable to contend that they cover some common ground and address a conventional human dilemma.
At the same time one can identify significant differences in the myths. The Dream of Oenghus a god, Oenghus, pursues a mortal. In CUPID AND PSYCHE a mortal Psyche, must illustrate her love for the immortal, Cupid. Oenghus receives the willing assistance of other immortals in his search for his beloved. Cupid is also occasionally assisted by other immortals. However, Cupid and Psyche also endure the wrath of Venus and her endless demands on Psyche. In their relationship they must labor against malevolent gods.
In the "Dream of Oenghus" Caer, the mortal object of Oenghus' passion is remarkably free of the influence of the gods. Oenghus must seek her, he must identify her, and he cannot simply buy her. In the tale of "Cupid and Psyche" it is psyche who must demonstrate her love and endure humiliation and hard labor to win back her ideal and supernatural lover, Cupid.
Thus, these myths share a common theme, courtship and the pursuit of love: Specifically, the pursuit of divine or ideal love. However, their representations of this vary significantly. Nevertheless, these variations serve to reveal a great deal about the assumptions underlying these myths. Assumptions that relate to the nature of the gods, human nature, and the experience of love. The remainder of this discussion will focus on these slight but specific variations in an effort to enlighten the assumptions underlying offer significant information about the perceptions of love in Celtic and Roman culture.
It would be a serious understatement to suggest that the course of love runs smoother for Oenghus than it does for Psyche. Following his vision Oenghus is overwhelmed by melancholy, a depression so pervasive that he falls into a generalized malaise.
However, when the root of his affliction is diagnosed by Finghin, "you have fallen in love in absence," the assistance of Boann is immediately enlisted. When this is of no use both Daghdhae and Bodhbh willingly join the search. The gods are united in their assistance to Oenghus.
On the other hand, the gods are remarkably incapable of influencing mortal behavior. When the girl is identified the gods cannot simply seize her. Oenghus is taken to identify her, which he does, and Bodhbh explains, "Even if you do recognize her, I have no power to give her and you may only see her."
To actually obtain the girl they must enter into a complex bargaing process. First the Daghdhae travels to Ailill and Medhbh and requests that they give the girl to his son. They explain that they cannot, thus the Daghdhae's men are forced to attack the fairy hill and capture Ehal Anbhuail, the girl's father and they demand that he hand the girl over. He refuses. They then threaten him with death. He confesses he cannot for she has magical powers.
Yearly she alternates between human form and animal form. If Oenghus truly wants her he must follow certain procedures. Having identified her in human form he must do the same when she is in the shape of a swan which he does. Then he must request her companionship on her terms. Finally, when he promises, "I pledge your protection," the two are united.
Oenghus is enthralled with the mortal, Caer. In fact, their separation makes him ill. Nonetheless, the lovers can only be together if Oenghus satisfies Caer's condition: He must prove his love to her. He must illustrate that he recognizes her human and animal essence. He must guarantee her freedom and he must pledge himself to her protection before she will come to him.
This tale captures the distinct nature of the Celtic gods. According to Noma Chadwick the Irish gods do not emerge as gods in the usual meaning of the term. They are neither worshipped nor sacrificed to. They are supernatural beings with magical powers... If such a name is not appropriate, they might be described as mundane or pedestrian gods.
In this tale it is the male and the immortal that must earn his beloved. Caers appear indifferent to the struggle being waged for her affections. He must prove that Caer is the woman of his dreams and that he knows her in any guise. Also he must accept her terms and guarantee her safety before she will commit herself to him, and satisfy his longing. In essence, it Oenghus that yearns for Caer. It is the god who must pursue, woo and win the hand of Caer, the mortal woman (although she possesses magical powers). In Apuleius tale it is the mortal, the female, Psyche, who must toil to win her beloved Cupid. In Celtic myths the gods crave the love of mortals while in the classical myths it is the mortals who crave the love of the gods. Moreover, in The Dream of Oenghus the gods must satisfy mortal conditions to win their true love. In the tale of CUPID AND PSYCHE it is Psyche, the mortal, who must satisfy the conditions of fate among the gods.
When Psyche's search for Cupid proves fruitless and her plea for sympathy and relief has been completely repulsed she decides to throw herself on Venus's mercy and to satisfy her rage with meekness. Venus challenges Psyche to a series of tasks, that lead up to her making a trip to Hades, the underworld. Through favorable and periodically divine intervention Psyche is able to complete all these tasks although a second act of faithlessness condemns her to exhaustion. However, at this point Cupid has recovered from his wound, and is wasting away from loneliness for Psyche, he takes leave from his chamber and finds Psyche. A touch of one of his arrows awakens Psyche and he pledges to fulfill their relationship. Cupid obtains Jupiter's blessing and the two are wed. Eventually, their union produces a daughter who comes to be named Pleasure.
In certain senses, both of these myths deal with the reunion of lovers. Cupid and Psyche are united only to be separated by her faithlessness. Oenghus has already seen Caer in a vision, and realized his infatuation with her, when he sets out to find her in the world. Therefore, they are, in essence, both tales are of how to obtain love.
In the Celtic tale one obtains love by proving its divine inspiration-by recognizing the beloved in both human and animal form-and by meeting her demands for freedom and protection. Oenghus gathers all of his resources to convince Caer of his love. He solicits the help of his father and many other people along the way. They use their influence and negotiating skills to aid Oenghus in his pursuit. In fact, in stark contrast to the Roman Myth, the gods are united in their support for Oenghus's quest. There is none of the indifference's and deceit of the classical gods.
Ultimately though, Oenghus's divine resources only present him with the opportunity to plead Caer for her love. His divine powers only set the stage. He wins his true love through his altogether human expression of love. His use of divine power stands as evidence of his desire and just how intense it was. It does not, however, insure his success in his quest for Caer's affection.
On the other hand, Psyche's attempts to return to Cupid are carried out with the direct and aggressive hostility of Venus. Repeatedly, Venus demands that Psyche undertakes tasks that appear humanly impossible to complete. However, in each instances natural forces abide with Psyche and assist her. When she must sort grain, the ants aid her…when she must obtain the Golden Fleece, she is advised by a reed; and, finally, her trip to Hades is facilitated by a sympathetic tower.
In this sense true love is identified with nature in both myths. In The Dream of Oenghus, proof of his true love is provided by his ability to separate Caer from a crowd of other swans. In "cupid and Psyche," Psyche only survives the arduous tasks assigned by Venus because she has the support of the sympathetic natural realm. A behavior that is in sympathy with and supported by the natural order.
Also, in both myths trust is seen as a fundamental element of natural love. It is lack of the faith that leads Psyche to illuminate Cupid and ultimately forces them apart. On the other hand, it is Oenghus's faith in his love and Caer's integrity and trust that leads him to promise Caer freedom and protection. The very conditions that win her love. Ultimately, it is Psyche's dedication to her search for Cupid an expression of trust that leads to the reunion of the two lovers.
Thus, in general terms' one can identify certain similarities in the two myths' portrayals of love. In both myths love is aligned with the natural order and predicated on mutual trust and respect. Moreover, the lovers can become physically sick when they are separated. Thus, beyond these broad similarities the two myths present remarkably different perceptions of love.
In the Celtic tale the god of love is captivated of human a human and he must use all his resources to win her affection. He is assisted in his pursuit by all of the divine family and even all of the mortals they must deal with. Only, Caer's father, the fairy king, refuses to help and that is because he cannot: His daughter's magical powers are stronger than his. In this sense, love is, in the Celtic myths, a relatively straightforward proposal. A lover, committed to his beloved and willing to demonstrate that commitment, may encounter obstacles but ultimately, the gods do not interfere with his pursuit and the natural world sympathizes.
In Roman mythology the course of love does not run as smoothly. Cupid and Psyche are in love with one another. Nevertheless, for that very reason, coupled with Psyche's extreme beauty, Venus is resentful of their relationship. Consequently, her malevolent jealousy is a constant theme in their relationship. The classical god's war with one another and exhibit human emotions in contrast to the united front of the Celtic gods. Love must triumph over adversity and ill will in Cupid and Psyche while Oenghus's love only confronts adversity.
Moreover, in the Celtic tale true love can proceed once the lovers have satisfied one another. In the classical tale true love can only proceed when it has the blessing of Jupiter himself-who can then restrain the other gods from interfering.
In general terms a more natural conception of love is presented in the Celtic myth. Divinely inspired by a vision Oenghus' pursuit of Caer is remarkably prevalent. While he must verify the divine inspiration for his love by identifying Caer on the basis of his dream, he pursues her in a very traditional manner. He seeks out her father and requests her hand. After doing so he then seeks her, and charms her with his care and concern as well as devotion for her well-being and needs.
On the other hand Cupid and Psyche must battle divine anger and vengeance, a trip to Hades and numerous other unnatural interventions in the world in pursuit of their relationship. Despite its naturalness love must satisfy the needs and desires of the gods before it may progress. These gods act more like a dysfunctional family than divinity - Love, must satisfy the natural order and confront the cruel hand of fate in the classical myth. The only natural element of Psyche and Cupid's love is that their final union produces Pleasure.
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