Beauty and the Beast as Retelling of Old Myth?
Fairy Tale or Myth?
The Beauty and the Beast is an extremely popular fairy tale known in hundreds of variations. It is one of the rare classic tales with known authorship but a close look shows the same elements as in many other classic tales.
Brothers Grimm believed every fairy tale is actually an echo of an old myth and the story about a beautiful girl, isolated from the rest of the world, at the mercy of the beast is not so original to surprise us when we find it in not one but in several myths.
So feel free to join our exploration of old Greek and Roman myths with brief summaries and comparisons!
Summary of Beauty and the Beast
Here are only the main elements:
1. Beauty (Belle in French) is the name of youngest and most beautiful of three daughters.
2. Her father is a merchant. When he asks his daughter what they want for presents from one of his trips, elder two wish for cloths and jewels, but youngest wants only a simple rose.
3. Merchant finds a rose in a mysterious garden where he encounters the Beast.
4. Beast is willing to spare him only if he sends one of his daughters in exchange for his life.
5. Beauty goes to his castle to save her father's life.
6. Every evening Beast is asking her if she will marry him and while she answers with "No.", she is slowly getting accustomed to his nice personality.
7. Every night she dreams about a charming prince who is seeking for her help but she doesn't know how.
8. Beauty becomes homesick and Beast gives her permission to leave but she has to return before a certain date. If not, he will die.
9. When she tells her sisters about luxury in Beast's castle, they become jealous and try to delay her departure.
10. Beauty dreams of the Beast being sick and returns just in time to save his life. She accepts his offer of marriage and he transforms into a beautiful prince.
Cupid (Eros) and Psyche
1. Psyche is also youngest and prettiest of three sisters.
2. Venus (Aphrodite) becomes jealous and plans a revenge: her son Cupid should make her fall in love with the ugliest creature in the world.
3. Cupid falls in love with Psyche instead of that.
4. Psyche, on the other hand, is so beautiful no mortal man dares to propose her.
5. Her parents are by oracles Psyche should be sacrificed to a monster with supernatural powers.
6. Psyche is taken on the mountain from where she is transported to a mysterious castle by invisible hands. She lives there, being served by invisible servants.
7. Somebody joins her every night but he stays invisible too.
8. She falls in love with 'monster' (Cupid) but must promise him she will never look at him.
9. Cupid arranges the visit of her sisters who convince her to break her promise and Cupid disappears.
10. After long wandering and several trials Psyche eventually finds Cupid and they reunite.
As we can see in both cases we deal with use and abuse of power, isolation, jealousy, sacrifice, revenge and above all - love. Love is presented as the ultimate tool which can solve even the seemingly unsolvable problems.
What About the Other Myths?
Myth about Aphrodite and Hephaestus
Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love and beauty is so beautiful other gods almost start a war for her hand, so Zeus (her father) promised her to Hephaestus, most unattractive (well, ugly is the right word) of all gods. They live in the underworld but she finds many ways to be unfaithful. It is not clear if Eros (Cupid) is their son or her son with Ares.
While the story doesn't have a happy end, it still shares several important points with the tale of Beauty and the Beast: isolation, sacrifice, jealousy, violation of trust, abuse of power...
Galatea and Polyphemus
She is in love with handsome Acis but ugly Cyclop Polyphemus wants her for himself. While Polyphemus plays music, Acis and Galatea enjoy each other's company.
Cyclop decides to destroy his rival with huge rock (he can be explained as a personification of volcano Etna) and Galatea turns Acis into a river (this is a real river in Sicily).
There are versions of the stories where Galatea eventually falls in love with Polyphemus and versions where they don't end up together.
In any case, we have the very same elements of isolation, magical transformation, jealousy, revenge and unpredictable love.
Story of Europa
In this case, Zeus changes himself in a bull and carries beautiful Europa (she probably belongs to nobility) to an island Crete.
We have another tale which starts with a beast who desires a beauty and she comes to his place (isolated island) against her will. After a while, she becomes accustomed to him and the legend says their relationship produced three kings. Again: love, passion and magical number three!
Daphne and Apollo
In this myth, we meet Eros (Cupid) again. He is in charge of love after all ... Well, Apollo insulted him and he ensures he falls in love with a nymph (Daphne) who can't return his love. Reason? she was hit by Cupid's arrow too, but in her case the arrow was made of lead!
To protect her virginity her father Peneus transforms her into a laurel tree and this is why Apollo bears laurel leaves on his head. By the way, they are evergreen, just like his love!
See? Revenge, use and abuse of power, magical transformation, he wants her, she doesn't want him, important role of her father...?
Persephone and Hades
Persephone is a daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Hades is not just another ugly guy from Greek mythology. He is probably the second most powerful god after Zeus and when he wants Persephone for his wife, nothing can't stop him. He kidnapped her and she becomes his wife. Demeter cursed the earth and promised nothing will grow until her daughter is back with her.
Zeus has to intervene, Persephone has really been sent back, but Hades had one more ace up his sleeve. The conflict is solved in an interesting way: she spends part of the time on the surface of the world and part in the underworld with Hades. Persephone's time with Hades is called winter. We don't know if she eventually falls in love with her husband.
Who is Beauty and who the Beast, in this case, is clear. We also have an important role of parents (mother), going into isolated place against one's will, abuse of power, return to parents, all sorts of transformations...
Yes, the fairy tale about Beauty and the Beast can be found in more than one classical myth!
Who was Beauty and who Beast in mythology?
Which myth related to the Beauty and the Beast you prefer?
What About Other Fairy Tales?
We can go even further. This particular fairy tale carries many resemblances with other well-known stories.
* The jealousy part (among sisters) can be recognized in Snow White (step-mother - step-daughter).
* Father incapable to protect or even endangering his daughter, is present in Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin and other tales.
* Theme of isolation in a castle is also popular. The most similar situation is probably in the Sleeping Beauty, where we even have invisible hands helping to the Beauty (older versions) too.
* I would like to mention one of the message most powerful messages from the Beauty and Beast which is of course: 'Don't judge a book by a cover' which is cynically twisted in The Puss in the Boots where obviously 'Clothes make the man'.
* Theme of animal bridegroom is one of most popular themes in the world of fairy tales with Frog prince probably being the most known of all.
We could go on and on, but the point of this article should be very clear by now. When we are dealing with one fairy tale, we are involved with centuries of world cultural heritage. Civilization didn't start with Walt Disney. World of fables is old as humankind and every one of us has more or less active part in it.
As The Beauty AND as The Beast.
Enjoy in this timeless classic while doing chores or driving a car.
About the Graphics
All used pictures are in public domain because they are faithful two-dimensional photographs of works made by artists who died more than 70 years ago and were first published before 1923. More information on used paintings can be found on:
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