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Burne-Jones, Edward - King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid



Type of Spiritual Experience


The King and the Beggar-maid" is a Medieval romance which tells the legend of the prince Cophetua and his unorthodox love for the beggar Penelophon (or Zenelophon).

According to the story, Cophetua was an African king known for his ‘lack of any natural sexual attraction to women’. He thus represents the Conscious. One day while looking out a palace window he witnesses a young beggar (Penelophon) suffering for ‘lack of clothes’ -   Nakedness – the Subconscious.

In the really beautiful Burne-Jones painting we see symbolically that the beggar maid being the Sub-conscious feminine side is ‘higher’ up the stairs  – and Burne Jones has made Cophetua into a knight with armour.

He holds a crown.

He is half way in the painting – not ‘below’, but not high or above where the two little ‘angels’ are looking down at them both.  The angels actually represent the Higher spirit being both masculine and feminine.

He is in dark armour – see Darkness and Light.

Struck by love at first sight, Cophetua decides that he will have the beggar as his wife.

Walking out into the street, he scatters coins for the beggars to gather and when Penelophon comes forward, he tells her that she is to be his wife. She agrees and becomes queen.

So we have the king and queen symbolism coming in as well as the Bride and Bridegroom.

The one remaining piece of the story worth adding is that they are ‘buried in the same tomb’.

A description of the experience

The source of the experience

Burne-Jones, Edward

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Unrequited love


Beauty, art and music