Let Psyche’s body be clad in mourning wed,
And set on rock of yonder hill aloft:
Her husband is no being of human seed,
But serpent dire and fierce as might be thought.
Who flies with wings above in starry skies,
And doth subdue each thing with fiery flight.
The gods themselves, and powers that seem so wise,
With mighty Jove, be subject to his might,
The rivers black, and deadly floods of pain
And darkness eke, as thrall to him remain.’
Source: Adaptation of the William Adlington translation
I don't think this is a prophecy about Psyche's fate so much as a cryptic prophecy about her future husband, (but not so cryptic that the audience wouldn't get the reference.) The Golden Ass is a bawdy comedy, and comedies usually end in reconciliation, if not marriage.
- "Let Psyche’s body be clad in mourning wed"
This may be a reference to the fate of her sisters:
And so [Psyche's sister] cast herself headlong from the mountain. But she fell into the valley neither alive nor dead, for all the members and parts of her body were torn amongst the rocks, whereby she was made prey to the birds and wild beasts, as she worthily deserved.
Neither was the vengeance of the other delayed, for Psyche, traveling in that country, happened to come to another city where her other sister lived. When she had declared all such things as she told to her other sister, she ran likewise to the rock and was slain in the same way.
Source: ibid. Book V.27
The line about mourning is followed by a reference to the rocky precipice from which the sisters leap. Here marriage is conflated with death. Psyche being led to a crag and exposed is reminiscent of a human sacrifice. Andromeda leaps to mind:
There Ammon, the Unjust, had made decree
Andromeda, the Innocent, should grieve
her mother's tongue. They bound her fettered arms
fast to the rock. When Perseus her beheld
as marble he would deem her, but the breeze
moved in her hair, and from her streaming eyes
the warm tears fell. Her beauty so amazed
his heart, unconscious captive of her charms,
that almost his swift wings forgot to wave.
Source: P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphosis 4.669
Here we have wings, we have a sacrificial bride, the breeze (Zephyr figures in the story of the sister's death, which involves being carried by the wind), and love at first sight.
I don't know if Apuleius is consciously referencing that passage of Ovid's, but Ovid's Metamorphosis is so influential, it's almost impossible not to. Scholars seem to agree:
Ovid in Apuleius' Metamorphoses
A Book-like self. Ovid and Apuleius
A Comparison of Ovid and Apuleius as Story-Tellers
Ovid even uses the term "cupidi" in this section:
Ut stetit, “o” dixit “non istis digna catenis,
sed quibus inter se cupidi iunguntur amantes
Source: ibid. 4.678
Translated by Frank Justus Miller as: "Then, when he alighted near the maiden, he said: "Oh! those are not the chains you deserve to wear, but rather those that link fond lovers together."
We even have an aquatic monster to be slain by Perseus, and Ovid specifically references Apollo slaying the dragon Python in these passages. Like Cupid, Apollo is famed for his archery, and is also associated with the fire of divine inspiration. Love is commonly understood as a fire kindled in the heart, a different kind of divine inspiration.
*(The choice of viper, a much smaller serpent, may be a secondary reference to Cupid's "poisoned" arrows—arrows may be said to "have wings" in that they fly.)
- Apuleius would seem to brilliantly invert the story of Andromeda in his prophecy, where the fearsome beast is now Love itself. The irony is that now it is the beast who is vanquished by the maiden. In falling in love with Psyche, Cupid becomes her subject. Love conquers all, but Psyche conquers Cupid.
It's also worth looking at another famous source on Eros/Cupid, which is Plato, in The Symposium and Phaedrus. There you'll find allegory for Eros and Psyche (body and soul), and reference to wings. Derrida wrote about the φάρμακον (pharmakon) in relation to this subject—pharmakon can be medicine or poison, and shares a common root with the word for a sacrificial victim and poisoner. Death again comes up in relation to this topic:
"The Platonic-Socratic position maintains that the love we generate for beauty on this earth can never be truly satisfied until we die"
Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | Philosophy of Love
- Cupid has power over mighty Jove because even Jove is subject to the whims of his heart.
But it goes deeper than that. Aristotle weighs in on the subject of Eros, referencing Hesiod:
And Hesiod says, “ First of all things was Chaos made, and then broad-bosomed Earth ... and Love, the foremost of immortal beings,” thus implying that there must be in the world some cause to move things and combine them.
Source: Aristotle, Metaphysics
In this conception, Eros/Cupid is the force behind all of creation, the "desire" that brings things together to generate the universe and everything in it. (I believe early conceptions of gravity were based on this idea of attraction.)
Without Eros, everything in the universe grinds to a halt, and thus, even the river Styx, which has power over the Olympian gods, trembles before Eros' power.
- The prophecy is essentially saying that Psyche will be married to the most powerful entity in the universe, described as a fearsome beast to invite a false conclusion
That this entity turns out to be Love is the twist.