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On Six Legs by Tom Turpin - Butterfly Wings

I have a collection of arthropod motif jewelry. It includes brooches and rings for ears, fingers, and toes. There are tie tacks and cuff links. Even a belly button ring. All the jewelry in my little collection depicts joint-legged creatures. There are beetles, ants, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and a termite. A few of the jewelry pieces look like spiders.

Two pins and one set of earrings in my collection of arthropod jewelry depict a human female with butterfly wings. The woman in these items represents the ancient Greek goddess Psyche. Psyche apparently originated in a 2nd century AD in story called "Metamorphosis" that begins: "In a certain city lived a king with three notably beautiful daughters." This work by Apuleius relates how Psyche, the youngest of those three daughters, was once a mortal princess who was so beautiful that the goddess Aphrodite was jealous of her. So the jealous goddess ordered Eros (also known as Cupid) to inspire Psyche to fall in love with some contemptible man. Eros was supposed to be really good at this sort of thing. He was the god of love, with his little bow and arrows.

But like a lot of evil plots such as this things went awry. Here's what happened. Eros ends up falling in love with Psyche. Unknown to Psyche he becomes her secret lover. Psyche promises not to try to discover the identity of her lover. But Psyche's sisters get involved. Eros is found out and runs away. Psyche becomes a slave to Aphrodite and even gets sent to the underworld. Eros convinces Aphrodite to forgive and forget. Psyche becomes immortal and lives happily ever after with Eros.

“Metamorphosis” by Apuleius was discovered during the European Renaissance and writers and artists of the period began to capture the story of Psyche and Eros as an allegory for human emotions and actions. Artists of the time often depicted Eros with bird wings and Psyche with butterfly wings. Putting wings of a butterfly on Psyche was not a new idea in Renaissance times. There is a Roman mosaic from the 3rd century that depicts Psyche with butterfly wings. The Indianapolis Museum of Art has a fragment of a sarcophagus from the 4th century that shows Eros with bird wings and Psyche with butterfly wings.

Exactly why the female maiden Psyche should be adorned with butterfly wings is uncertain. As it turns out many artists have chosen not to put wings on either Psyche or Eros, but when wings are present Psyche always has butterfly wings and Eros always has bird wings.

The word “psyche” came to Latin via the Greek language and was used for the human spirit or soul. That is where we get the words psychology, psychedelic and psycho as well as the phrase “psyche out.” The fact that the word “psyche” was associated with the human spirit or soul resulted in the ancient belief that moths were souls of departed people.

The word “psyche” is also directly connected to insects as well. Psyche is the Greek word for butterfly. There is a journal named Psyche that is associated with insect topics. Some scientific names associated with insects are based on Psyche. For instance Psychidae is an insect family name for a group of insects commonly known as bagworms. Many people recognize bagworms as insect pests of trees, especially evergreens. Bagworms are caterpillars that are moths in the adult stage. There is also a small white-colored butterfly from Singapore with the common name psyche.

While the word “psyche” is certainly associated with insects I don't believe that the inclusion of Psyche in jewelry items such as I have in my collection is due to the insect connection. More likely such jewelry reflects Psyche's association with love.

After all a beautiful goddess with butterfly wings who had a relationship with Eros is a compelling story. Don't believe me? Check out all of those famous Renaissance painters who elected to incorporate Psyche and Eros in their masterpieces.