The Dream of OenghusThe Celtic myth, “The Dream of Oenghus,” relates the tale of Oenghus theCeltic god of love and his long search for true love. Oenghus is the son ofBoann and Daghdhae. Boann the white cow goddess, and Daghdhae the father of allgods, the “good god.”In a dream Oenghus sees “the loveliest figure in Ireland”His memoryof this vision makes him ill with loneliness and he begins to waste away. Withthe help of his mother, and another of his fathers’ sons, Bodhbh, he begins hissearch for the girl he dreamt of.
When, after years, he successfully completeshis search the lovers’ travels to Bruigh Mac, his home.Chronologically and geographically distant, Apuleius second centuryrecord of the original Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche also relates a story ofamorous pursuit. In Apuleius account Psyche is the most beautiful of allmortals. “The fame of her surpassing beauty spread over the earthand menwould even say that Venus herself could not equal this mortal.”Out ofjealousy, Venus commands Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with “the vilest andmost despicable creature in the whole world.
“However, dispatched on hiserrand Cupid is astonished by her beauty and “as if he had shot one of hisarrows 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 herunseen paramour expresses in the dark each night. Eventually, prompted by herunbelieving and somewhat envious sisters she lights a lamp and discovers thather lover is Cupid. Unfortunately, Cupid hurt by both the oil sputtering fromthe lamp and her faithlessness fees. Psyche deeply grieved by her lack of faithand subsequent loss of love pledges to search for Cupid forever. “I can spendthe rest of my life searching for him.
If he has no more love left for me, atleast I can show him how much I love him.”Eventually after many trials andtribulations, largely at the inspiration of the still jealous Venus, she isreunited with Cupid and comes to live the live of the immortals.These myths share a common fundamental theme.
In both instances, themyths document a love between a mortal and a god. Moreover, both of thecourtship’s involve long periods of separation, difficult and desperate journeysin pursuit of the beloved, and deep ongoing uncertainty as to the ultimateoutcome of the fat of the lovers. Clearly, it is not unreasonable to contendthat 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 andPsyche also endure the wrath of Venus and her endless demands on Psyche.
Intheir 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 mustidentify 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 laborto win back her ideal and supernatural lover, Cupid.Thus, these myths share a common theme, courtship and the pursuit oflove: Specifically, the pursuit of divine or ideal love. However, theirrepresentations of this vary significantly.
Nevertheless, these variationsserve to reveal a great deal about the assumptions underlying these myths.Assumptions that relate to the nature of the gods, human nature, and theexperience of love. The remainder of this discussion will focus on these slightbut specific variations in an effort to enlighten the assumptions underlyingoffer significant information about the perceptions of love in Celtic and Romanculture.It would be a serious understatement to suggest that the course of loveruns smoother for Oenghus than it does for Psyche.
Following his visionOenghus is overwhelmed by melancholy, a depression so pervasive that he fallsinto a generalized malaise.However, when the root of his affliction is diagnosed by Finghin, “youhave 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. Thegods are united in their assistance to Oenghus.
On the other hand, the gods are remarkably incapable of influencingmortal 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 ifyou 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 bargaingprocess.
First the Daghdhae travels to Ailill and Medhbh and requests that theygive the girl to his son. They explain that they cannot, thus the Daghdhae’smen are forced to attack the fairy hill and capture Ehal Anbhuail, the girl’sfather, they demand that he hand the girl over. He refuses. They then threatenhim with death, he confesses he cannot for she has magical powers.Yearly she alternates between human form and animal form. If Oenghustruly wants her he must follow certain procedures.
Having identified her inhuman form he must do the same when she is in the shape of a swan. (which hedoes.) Then he must request her companionship on her terms. Finally, when hepromises, “I pledge your protection,” the two are united.Oenghus is enthralled with the mortal, Caer. In fact, their separationmakes him ill.
Nonetheless, the lovers can only be together if Oenghussatisfies Caer’s condition: He must prove his love to her. He must illustratethat 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 toNoma Chadwick the “Irish gods” do not emerge as gods in the usual meaning of theterm. They are neither worshipped nor sacrificed to. They are supernaturalbeings with magical powersIf such a name is not appropriate, they might bedescribed 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. Hemust prove that Caer is the woman of his dreams and that he knows her in anyguise. Also he must accept her terms and guarantee her safety before she willcommit herself to him, and satisfy his longing.
In essence, it Oenghus that yearns for Caer. It is the god who mustpursue, woo and win the hand of Caer, the mortal woman (although she possessesmagical powers). In Apuleius tale it is the mortal, the female, Psyche, whomust toil to win her beloved Cupid. In Celtic myths the gods crave the love ofmortals while in the classical myths it is the mortals who crave the love of thegods. Moreover, in “The Dream Of Oenghus” the gods must satisfy mortalconditions to win their true love.
In the tale of “Cupid and Psyche” it isPsyche, the mortal, who must satisfy the conditions of fate amoung the gods.When Psyche’s search for Cupid proves fruitless and her plea forsympathy and relief have been completely repulsed she decides to throw herselfon Venus’s mercy and to satisfy her rage with meekness. Venus challenges Psycheto 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 tocomplete all these tasks although a second act of faithlessness condemns her toexhaustion.However, at this point Cupid has recovered from his wound, and iswasting away from loneliness for Psyche, he takes leave from his chamber, andfinds Psyche. A touch of one of his arrows awakens Psyche and he pledges tofulfill their relationship.
Cupid obtains Jupiter’s blessing and the two arewed. 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. Oenghushas already seen Caer in a vision, and realized his infatuation with her, whenhe sets out to find her in the world.
Therefore, they are, in essence, bothtales are of how to obtain love.In the Celtic tale one obtains love by proving its divine inspirationbyrecognizing the beloved in both human and animal formand by meeting her demandsfor freedom and protection. Oenghus gathers all of his resources to convinceCaer of his love. He solicits the help of his father and many other peoplealong the way. They use their influence, and negotiating skills to aid Oenghusin his pursuit. In fact, in stark contrast to the Roman Myth, the gods areunited in their support for Oenghus’s quest.
There is none of theindifference’s and deceit of the classical gods.Ultimately though, Oenghus’s divine resources only present him with theopportunity to plead Caer for her love. His divine powers only set the stage.
He wins thehis true love through his altogether human expression of love. His useof 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 otherhand, Psyche’s attempts to return to Cupid are carried outwith the direct and aggresive hostility of Venus. Repeatedly, Venus demandsthat 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 goldenfleece, she is advised by a reed; and, finally, her trip to Hades is facilitatedby 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 toseparate Caer from a crowd of other swans. In “cupid and Psyche,” Psyche onlysurvives the arduous tasks assigned by Venus because she has the support of thesympathetic natural realm. A behavior that is in sympathy with, and supported bythe natural order.Also, in both myths trust is seen as a fundamental element of naturallove. It is lack of the faith that leads Psyche to illuminate Cupid andultimately forces them apart.
On the other hand, it is Oenghus’s faith in hislove and Caer’s integrity, and trust, that leads him to promise Caer freedom andprotection; the very conditions that win her love. Ultimately, it is Psyche’sdedication to her search for Cupid, an expression of trust, that leads to thereunion of the two lovers.Thus, in general terms’ one can identify certain similarities in the twomyths’ portrayals of love. In both myths love is aligned with the natural orderand predicated on mutual trust and respect. Moreover, the lovers can becomephysically sick when they are separated.
Thus, beyond these broad similaritiesthe two myths present remarkably different perceptions of love.In the Celtic tale the god of love is captivated of human a human and hemust use all his resources to win her affection. He is assisted in his pursuitby 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 hecannot: His daughter’s magical powers is stronger than his. In this sense, loveis, in the Celtic myths, a relatively straightforward proposal. A lover,committed to his beloved, and willing to demonstrate that commitment, mayencounter obstacles but ultimately, the gods do not interfere with his pursuitand the natural world sympathizes.
In Roman mythology the course of love does not run as smoothly. Cupidand Psyche are in love with on 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 incontrast to the united front of the Celtic gods. Love must triumph overadversity and ill will in “Cupid and Psyche,” while Oenghus’s love only confrontadversity.Moreover, in the Celtic tale true love can proceed once the lovers havesatisfied one another.
In the classical tale true love can only proceed when ithas the blessing of Jupiter himselfwho can then restrain the other gods frominterfering.In general terms a more natural conception of love is presented in theCeltic myth. Divinely inspired by a vision Oenghus’ pursuit of Caer isremarkably prevalent.
While he must verify the divine inspiration for his loveby identifying Caer on the basis of his dream, he pursues her in a verytraditional manner. He seeks out her father and requests her hand. After doingso he then seeks her, and charms her with his care and concern as well asdevotion for her well-being and needs.
On the other hand Cupid and Psyche must battle divine anger andvengeance, a trip to Hades , and numerous other unnatural interventions in theworld in pursuit of their relationship. Despite its naturalness love mustsatisfy the needs and desires of the gods before it may progress. These godsact more like a dysfunctional family than divinityLove, must satisfy thenatural order and confront the cruel hand of fate in the classical myth. Theonly natural element of Psyche and Cupid’s love is that their final unionproduces Pleasure.