The god Eros (Cupid) and princess Psyche (representing divine love and the soul respectively) are the protagonists of a tale lauding the power and triumphs of love. Indeed, the myth culminates in their marriage, and Lucius Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass: a Roman novel from the second century AD) provides our most extensive narrative account of it from antiquity. The earliest artistic references to the tale, however, appear in Greek art as early as the fourth century BC.
The plot is winding and allusive, giving rise to a number of possible interpretations. Indeed, it has been retold and reinterpreted by a number of artists across different centuries and media – from Boccaccio, to Canova and Waterhouse. In this particular representation, the stone-cutter has chosen to depict Eros with his typical attributes – a bow and a pair of wings. Psyche, on the other hand, is portrayed in the form of a butterfly, assenting to the iconographical tradition of this myth in Greek art.
The ring is set with a carnelian – a stone slightly softer and lighter than sard. It was a popular choice of material throughout the ancient world for sealstones and intaglios – its softness allowed the stone to be cut easily, and wax would not stick to it. It is likely, then, that this engraving acted as its owner’s signature. To find out more about carnelian and other stones used in ancient jewellery, please see our blog post (http://antiquities.co.uk/blog/ancient-mythology/the-history-of-gemstones-in-ancient-jewellery/).