The Fable of Psyche is derived from the Roman novel Metamorphoses or the Golden Ass by Apuleis. Apuleius states at the beginning that he is telling this story to give courage to a woman who has been kidnapped. He then relates a long, involved tale of the trials and tribulations of Psyche, who was punished by Venus for her beauty. When Venus’ son Cupid falls in love with Psyche, numerous complications arise.
The print depicts one of the labors she must perform in order to become Cupid’s divine spouse on Mount Olympus. In the foreground, the majestic Venus orders Psyche to seek wool from a flock of golden sheep. In the center, she crosses the river and a riverweed instructs her to wait until the sheep fall asleep to avoid being attacked by the poisonous animals. On the far right, Psyche succeeds in gathering the golden wool from the brush while the flock sleeps around her.
The double scroll along the bottom edge reads (in translation): “Beyond that river in the dark wood/There are sheep with golden, shining fleece/ Bring me a handful of that wool/ Venus told her, and she laments/ She wants to refuse the task/ but taking pity on her a river weed tells her/ the flock will fall asleep at mid-day/ Thus gather the golden wool left in the prickly bushes.”