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Four Mythical Love Stories Depicted in Art: From Greece to Rome to India to South Africa

"Ceyx and Alcyone" (1760s) by Richard Wilson (1714 - 1782)
"Ceyx and Alcyone" (1760s) by Richard Wilson (1714 - 1782)

Ceyx and Alcyone, the king and queen of Trachis, were deeply in love. They even sacrilegiously referred to themselves as Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of Olympus, which — naturally — didn’t sit well with the gods themselves.

One day, when Ceyx was sailing home to Trachis, where his wife was anxiously waiting for him, Zeus sent a thunderbolt down from the heavens that capsized the boat and killed its passenger. It didn’t take long for Alcyone to realize what had happened and to take her own life.

As a gesture of mercy, Zeus turned the doomed lovers into kingfisher birds. According to Greek mythology, each year on December 14th, the gods agree to calm the seas so that the kingfishers, or halcyons, can lay their eggs.

"The Reunion of Cupid and Psyche" (1789 – 1792) by Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours ( 1752 - 1809)
"The Reunion of Cupid and Psyche" (1789 – 1792) by Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours ( 1752 - 1809)

Venus — the goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility — became extremely envious of Psyche, a mortal woman with incomparable and captivating beauty. So in an act of jealous rage, she ordered her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster. As one does.

But, instead of doing what he was told, Cupid went ahead and fell in love with Psyche, which lead to a secret relationship and some pretty weird guidelines, such as Psyche never seeing what Cupid looked like, as he only visited her in the dark of night.

The arrangement lasted until Psyche broke it to glance at her mysterious lover. He ended the relationship and split. Devastated, she begged Venus to bring him back. Venus agreed to do so only if Psyche completed a series of annoying tasks.

Her final task was to take a box containing a dose of Proserpina’s beauty from the underworld. She succeeded, but then opened the box, because one lesson about the evils of curiosity is not enough. Her punishment was to fall into a lifeless sleep (death?), but Cupid revived her with a kiss.

He then proceeded to plead with the gods to put an end to their suffering. They agreed and made Psyche immortal, so that the couple could stay together for eternity. Finally, the love story ends with the two marrying in heaven and having a daughter named Voluptas, which means pleasure.

"Zulu Women Brewing Beer" (1849) by George French Angas (1822 - 1886)
"Zulu Women Brewing Beer" (1849) by George French Angas (1822 - 1886)

Mbaba Mwana Waresa — also known as Nomkhubulwane, as in “she who chooses the state of an animal” — is the shapeshifting goddess of fertility and the daughter of the sky god Umvelinqangi in the Zulu religion.

She lives in the clouds, in a round hut made of rainbow arches. When she plays the thunder drum, water falls from her heavenly home and onto the land of her people, creating rainbows and watering the crops.

Though Mbaba Mwana Waresa was beloved, she had trouble finding love in heaven, so she came to South Africa to find true love with a mortal. Her interest was caught by Thandiwe, a herdsman who sung her a beautiful song, because even goddesses love a front man.

She decided to test his love for her by sending a gorgeous maiden to lead him astray, while she disguised herself as an ugly woman. But Thandiwe, a good man with equally good sense, realized what she was doing and kept on the straight and narrow.

The two got married, and even though the couple had the support of the people, the other gods disapproved of the union. But, clever Mbaba Mwana Waresa found a way to remedy the situation by creating an elixir that pleased everyone: beer.

To this day, beer plays an important role in Zulu culture. South Africa’s traditional beer, called umqombothi, is made from sorghum and always by women. This helps people honor Mbaba Mwana Waresa, while drinking and having a fantastic time.

"Seetha Horrified Seeing Ravana Cutting Jatayu's Wing" (1895 ) by Raja Ravi Varma  (1848 – 1906)
"Seetha Horrified Seeing Ravana Cutting Jatayu's Wing" (1895 ) by Raja Ravi Varma (1848 – 1906)

Ramayana — a Sanskrit epic from ancient India about Prince Rama and his wife Princess Sita (or Seetha) — begins with Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, who had promised one of his wives that she could have anything she wanted. So, she asked that her son be made the next king instead of Prince Rama.

Though the king reluctantly agreed, the wife also insisted that Rama and Sita were sent to live in a forest for the next 14 years. Accompanied by Lakshamana, Rama’s brother, the couple settled in the forest and begun their lives there.

After a while, Ravana — King of Lanka — decided that he rather fancied Sita. So, he kidnaped her from the forest and took her to his island. The broken-hearted prince set out to find his wife with the help of King Hanuman.

Rama located Sita and killed Ravana in an epic battle. Guided by the oil lamps his citizens lit to assist him, Rama took Sita back to the city where he eventually ascended to the throne. To this day, oils lamps are lit annually to celebrate the myth and the triumph of good over evil.


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