There was once a king and queen, rulers of an unnamed city, who had three daughters of conspicuous beauty. The youngest and most beautiful was Psyche, whose admirers, neglecting the proper worship of the love goddess Venus instead prayed and made offerings to her. It was rumored that she was the second coming of Venus, or the daughter of Venus from an unseemly union of the goddess and a mortal. Venus is offended, and commissions Cupid to work her revenge. Cupid, however, falls in love with the girl and desires to possess her for himself.
Although her two humanly beautiful sisters have married, the idolized Psyche has yet to find love. Her father suspects that they have incurred the wrath of the gods, and consults the oracle of Apollo. The response is unsettling: the king is to expect no human son-in-law, but rather a dragon-like creature who harasses the world with fire and iron and is feared by even Jupiter and the inhabitants of the underworld.
Psyche is arrayed in funeral attire, conveyed by a procession to the peak of a rocky crag, and exposed. Marriage and death are merged into a single rite of passage, a “transition to the unknown”. Zephyr the West Wind bears her up to meet her fated match, and deposits her in a lovely meadow (locus amoenus), where she promptly falls asleep.
The transported girl awakes to find herself at the edge of a cultivated grove (lucus). Exploring, she finds a marvelous house with golden columns, a carved ceiling of citrus wood and ivory, silver walls embossed with wild and domesticated animals, and jeweled mosaic floors. A disembodied voice tells her to make herself comfortable, and she is entertained at a feast that serves itself and by singing to an invisible lyre.
Although fearful and without sexual experience, she allows herself to be guided to a bedroom, where in the darkness a being she cannot see makes her his wife. She gradually learns to look forward to his visits, though he always departs before sunrise and forbids her to look upon him, and soon she becomes pregnant.