Lecture 4: Beauties and beasts – 8 Dec 2024

Once upon a time there was a princess called Psyche who was so beautiful that she aroused the envy of the goddess, Venus. As the story goes, Venus sent her son, Cupid to shoot Psyche with an arrow so that she would fall in love with the first hideous thing she saw. However, the clumsy youth scratches himself with his own weapon and falls madly in love with the maiden. So begins a tale as old as time and a prototype for many fairytales thereafter. In this talk we consider the tale of Cupid and Psyche and explore how folktale and fairytale influence generations of tellers, looking at the connections between this ancient tale and ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ It also includes fascinating details about beauty in the ancient world and the many examples of the folklore surrounding it, as well as ancient motifs such as wicked stepmothers and stepsisters, deception, making and breaking taboos, marrying monsters, and animal bridegrooms that continue to inform folktales and fairytales to the present day.

Interested in some background reading? Try Terri Windling’s ‘Retelling Beauty & the Beast,’ Myth & Moor (July 11, 2019): Myth & Moor: Retelling Beauty & the Beast (terriwindling.com) and Simon Hughes’ ‘Was it Really East of the Sun and West of the Moon?’ Folklore Thursday (January 20, 2020): Was it Really East of the Sun and West of the Moon? – #FolkloreThursday

You may also like: Stephen Harrison’s ‘Love and the soul: the timeless tale of Cupid and Psyche,’ Antigone: an open forum for classics and Marina Warner’s book, From the Beast to the Blonde: on fairytales and their tellers

Image: August Riedel, ‘Cupid and Psyche’ (1872).


Marguerite Johnson is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality and gender, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day


This Lecture is Part of the Folk Belief in The Ancient Mediterranean a 5 part lecture series – tickets may be booked for this lecture here or for the whole series

In this five-part series, Marguerite Johnson takes you on a journey over land, sea, sky, and into the ethereal world of folk belief in the ancient Mediterranean. Complete with illustrations and the words of the ancients themselves, we look at the strange creatures believed to inhabit land and sea, the terrifying demons that threatened to snatch your child, the werewolf and other shapeshifters, the ancient prototype of the fairytale, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and some old-fashioned tall tales.

Series image: Sebastian Münster from Olaus Magnus’ Carta marina (Basel c. 1544).

Dec 8th 2024 - 8.00 pm - 9:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

Thank you for your support