Beauty and the Gods

         There have been many cinematic versions of the story Beauty and the Beast, ranging from cartoons to the Faerie Tale Theatre collection and even television mini series. Many of these I have seen and enjoyed, but I had never known the actual origins of the story. I imagined the original tale might be horrific like many of the popular Grimm Fairy Tales, but Beauty and the Beast, filmed by Jean Cocteau in 1947 as La Belle et La Bête, comes from a true love story.

         According to Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite became jealous of an unusually beautiful mortal woman named Psyche. A curse was put upon Psyche so that no man would ever fall in love with her, and she never married. An oracle told her parents that she would never marry a mortal but instead was destined to wed a monster. They left her on a mountain top and a magic wind soon came and carried her off to a valley, where mysterious invisible servants waited on her until dark. During the night, her new husband visited her to consummate their marriage. Psyche could never see her husband during the day because he refused to let his face be seen ("Cupid").

         To make a long story short, Psyche's jealous sisters tricked her into betraying her husband's wishes, which led to him getting very mad and flying away. She now knew it was actually Cupid and was sent off to perform impossible tasks to win back his love. In the end, Zeus forced Aphrodite to consent to the marriage of Cupid and Psyche ("Cupid").

         The parallels between the stories are very obvious and La Belle et la Bête follows the myth quite literally. Belle (Josette Day) and the Beast (Jean Maris) fly away at the end of the film just as we imagine the winged Cupid and Psyche would fly off to Olympus to be married; both sets of sisters plot and scheme to ruin their sister's budding relationship only to be foiled.

         But the movie focuses more on the fantasy and magic than the curses and revenge. For example, invisible servants like in the myth would not be as stunning on the big screen as singing teapots, dancing candelabras or centerpieces that pour your drink at dinner. And the bratty, disobedient Cupid is not nearly the tragically romantic character that the Beast is. But our heroine is always beautiful yet humble; pure of heart and devoid of hate. She is truly a girl who loves and is loved by all.

Work Cited

"Cupid and Psyche." Wikipedia 26 Apr. 2006 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupid_and_Psyche).

Laura Weiter

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