Monday, February 11, 2008

Who is Cupid?

In two days time it’s Valentine’s Day.

One day out of the year we dedicate to roses, chocolates and diamonds, mixed in with pink and red visisions of romance and a baby wearing wings, carrying a bow and arrow. Wait a minute, a baby with a weapon? That's right. So, what makes Cupid right for the job? I'm not so sure he is, Eros might actually be better qualified for the position.

Both Ancient Greece and Rome had their own mythology and pantheon of deities to worship. Over the centuries the two groups have been combined, separated or listed side by side for comparison. Needless to say it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s true to their mythology and what isn’t. That said we definitely know that Eros was the God of Love for the Ancient Greeks and Cupid is the God of Erotic Love and Sex for the Romans. Unfortunately, that’s where it stops being clear-cut and simple.

In Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes Edith Hamilton states Eros was depicted as a “beautiful serious youth”. H.J Rose’s says in A Handbook of Greek Mythology that he was “handsome young athlete”, but before both of these characterizations were made he represented love, lust and intercourse as one of the oldest gods in Greece. Where worshipping of the god was important it’s been discovered he was the deity for attractive young men and boys. Across the Adriatic, Cupid was depicted as a child who had the same traits as those already noted. Like Janus, it was questioned whether Cupid had two distinctive sides to his persona or was actually two separate individuals.

After gaining Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty, as his mother along with three prospective fathers, Eros image of male lust and sex was further encouraged. One probable father was Hermes, a phallic god and another was Ares, God of War. It seems even in the ancient world a warrior encouraged a woman’s desire to grow exponentially. The third potential was Aphrodite’s father, Zeus. This union was viewed as sexual passion so strong and out of control it has no limitations. This association with the uncontrollable made Eros a dangerous god. The parent issue was similar for Cupid. Jupiter and Venus were also noted as his parents, as were Nyx and Erebus. Both possible couples helped define and solidify various qualities of his character.

Both Cupid and Eros seem fairly interchangeable at this stage, except for their appearances and the Ancient Greek god having elements of danger associated with him. It's at this point the two figures actually appear to swap personalities.

It wasn’t until Alexandrian times that women come into picture for Eros. This happened when the ideal relationship between men and women moved from being mere sexual desire to one of love from the heart. Because of this supposed softening to his characterization, the God of Love’s importance to men was lessened. With this change in attributes, as well as society moving away from worshipping gods and goddess, he became a chubby child with a wicked bow, seen mainly in connection with Aphrodite and subordinate to others.

Cupid gained some clout as a god of love with an appearance on the romantic stage with the Cupid and Psyche’s love story, written in the second century [A.D.] by Apuleius. The story depicted Cupid as a young man and involved very adult issues found in romance like love, jealousy, mistrust and forgiveness. Unfortunately, it seems as if it wasn’t enough to allow him to be depicted as anything but a baby for Valentine’s Day.

So, what do you think? Does it make sense for Cupid to be the image of Valentine's Day? He is a child afterall. Maybe Eros [erotic love] would be better suited for the holiday that encourages lovers to put their hearts out there for their lovers to see and experience.


Anonymous said...

Scorcher.......who is cupid?
Most definetly NOT a boy.........kinda wrong if you ask me!.
Should be a Man,
you know
Well built
6 pack
long flowing hair
inviting eyes
naughty mouth
hands that know how to please
lips that know how to kiss, nibble, suckle, lick ( he has to be a good kisser!)
But that's just my take of what cupid should be.......An Adult in every sense of the word.


Kimberly B. said...

Hey, is this really the first comment? I'm honored!
I'm not so sure I think in terms of the juxtaposition of Eros and Cupid you have set up, but instead I find myself asking if it's more appropriate that Cupid is the symbol of Valentine's Day rather than Venus or Aphrodite. You're right to point out that, pre-Hellenistic times, Eros was associated primarily with male desire (and even with male desire for the male) whereas female desire was the province of Aphrodite. In fact, the Greek terms for lover (erastes) and beloved (eromenos), which are the roles assumed by the partners in Athenian pederasty, are both closely related to Eros' name. It makes sense for the Greeks to portray him as a youth, no matter his actual age, because the beloved in this type of relationship was expected to be a youth. But I'm not sure when Cupid turned into an infant; I'd guess it occurred after Venus became associated with the Egyptian goddess Isis who, with her son Horus, was often depicted in a maternal manner anticipating images of the Madonna and Christ child. But that's just a guess.
So, after all that esoteric babbling, do I think it's appropriate for Valentine's Day to be represented by the infant Cupid? I sort of do for a couple reasons. First off, infants represent fertility, and while Valentine's day doesn't necessarily focus on this aspect of sexual relations, it's certainly an important part. Secondly, infants are demanding, irrational, and adorable, all of which seem appropriate traits for love itself. Finally, one of my biggest beefs with the way Valentine's Day is treated in this country is the way that emphasis is placed upon the male partner wooing his love with gifts, candy, jewelry, and the female partner being wooed. It seems to promote a view of love that focuses on the desire of the male. "Scorcher"
Sorry to be so long-winded; ancient history is my field, so it's hard to get me to shut up!
beax0002 (at) umn (dot) edu

Tilly Greene said...

A woman after my own heart and no you weren't long winded Kimberly, but very interesting! You made a couple of great points, one in particular was in regards to why Cupid as a child should be there because of his irrational and demanding traits. Even though I noted this I didn't really pull it together in my mind to being a reason.

Personally I don't think Venus or Aphrodite would work for me, despite the love and beauty connections. Maybe on a visual level it would but I have a problem with her vindictive and petty qualities, not to mention the demand to be thought of as the most beautiful. In the case of Valentine's Day, it should be the mortal woman who is thought to be the more stunning by her man.

I have issues with how most holidays are separated these days - in many cases they've lost the soul of why we celebrate them.

Thank you darlin' for taking the time to answer, I�m always glad to find another Ancient History fiend - have you in the bowl :-)

Tilly Greene said...

Oh my! Madam do have a way with painting an image :-) Have you in the bowl darlin'!

dnichols said...

Wow! Cupid was a scorcher, wasn't he! His arrows must have been made of fire -- perhaps that's why he's all red... ;)

dnichols said...

Is Cupid on fire or what! I know he's generally portrayed in red....perhaps because he's a scorcher! His arrows have some whollop to them, don't they!

Marianne said...

Hi Tilly!
I just love the pic of the statue of Cupid and Psyche. That is how I picture Cupid, utterly handsome and oh so desirable! No little baby cherub for me! LOL!

Mary Ann Williams

Tilly Greene said...

dnichols - I think you're right, Cupid's arrows packed quite a punch! He sent many a diety to their downfall :-).

Mary Ann - my bad in not noting the details of the sculpture. It's called Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova. He is one of those artists who makes my jaw drop with awe and appreciation when standing before his work. His work is flawless - and he creates a great Cupid, you can almost feel those wings flutter with his excitement.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post Tilly. I think that I prefer Eros for the holiday. Connecting with my hubby emotionally and more is important to me...especially after having the kids. I need the extra kick of a Scorcher.

Unknown said...

I love the statue also
I don't know I'm torn I guess it depends on what kind of love you are talking about here. I can see a child because child like faith and love between mother and child but for man woman kind of love I'll have to go with someone older like Eros.

Tilly Greene said...

That's my problem as well Bethre. Traditionally Valentine's Day has been between lovers, engaged couples and partners. Kids were brought in to the Love fest much later - have you in the bowl :-).

Tilly Greene said...

Little Lamb, darlin', you made my hot chocolate go down the wrong tube - "an extra kick of a scorcher" :-) Yup, I imagine parents look forward to putting the parental part on hold for at least one day of one-on-one loving.

Cathy M said...

Now I think Eros would a much better scorcher, than Cupid.

lrhubble said...

I loved the posting. I learned a lot that I never knew. :-)

scorcher. :-)

Tilly Greene said...

Cathy, I like how decisive you are :-)

Thank you Larena, I'm glad you got something out of it :-)

Have you both in the bowl!

Anonymous said...

Ah Cupid mad at him this year no one shot at with arrows for me this year! LOL Oh well next year watch out boys here she comes hehehe!

Sure wish it was a scorcher here sitting watching it snow out my window today though yikes!!!

Wishing you all a wonderful day,

Donna P.

Terri said...

Can't say as it matters much to me which scorcher represents the holiday as long as he gets the job done. Just an idea though as to why baby cupid is used ....he is the end result of many a Valentine night.

Jeanette J said...

I'm a scorcher. I liked the piece you wrote..a few things I hadn't heard of before. Happy Valentine's Day

Tilly Greene said...

Donna - I'm thinking Cupid isn't your man, next year give Eros a goose and see what happens - maybe send a well placed arrow yourself :-) We have the snow as well, it's beautiful from inside, hopefully there won't be much shoveling. If there is, then I change my mind and it's nasty ;-)

tlnrwcs - My Gawd, you're so right! Cupid is the result if caution isn't taken. No wonder he's considered a mischief maker!

Jeanette, my dear, you're wearing the "scorching" look so well :-)

You're all in the bowl!

Debby said...

What a scorcher Cupid is!! I loved reading the blog entry. Twas fun.

Tilly Greene said...

Thanks Debby, I'm glad you enjoyed it :-) Have you in the bowl!

Anonymous said...

I like to think when they mix up all the holidays and religions etc. that they take the best of them all and that little cupid is such a "scorcher" :)

Kim S. said...

Boy, those are some interesting facts! I think Cupid should be Eros, not the child as normally depicted. The child's version and a childs love do not compare with adult love, which is what we now associate with Valentine's Day. That said, I hope my hubby receives a scorcher of an arrow in the rumpkis from either!!! He needs it!! LOL :)

Anonymous said...

I like Cupid but do agree that maybe Eros is better for the job.

oh yeah and scorcher. :)


tetewa said...

A very interesting blog today and what a scorcher cupid makes with his bow and arrow!

Rashmi said...

That was quite informative! Re.cupid aka someone in diapers, no matter how cute, does not, in my opinion, inspire sexual passion. No, it reminds me of poop and stink and midnight feedings. Not romance, no! Maternal love, yes. :)

buddyt said...

WOW. Soime really involved comments on the Cupid issue.

I think that an image being used to bring sonething to peoples mind has to be simple and something that will appeal to all types of people. It doesn't have to be the most accurate reflection. For instance the Giant Panda for the WWF.
A cherub like cupid is sweet, easily drawn and easy to remember so it fits as an emblem.


Anonymous said...

The idea of Zeus and Aphrodite being so uncontrolled, quite a scorcher!

I always imagine Cupid as older, as in the Cupid and Psyche story and think the baby with darts is not a great spokesman for such a sensual holiday.


Tilly Greene said...

catslady - you're right, holidays evolve as society does.

thewildtwo - I'll send my positivity out there that your husband gets an arrow with double the fire and more!

cherie - Cupid is cute, but yeah, I'd like to see what Eros could do with the day :-)

tetewa - Thanks darlin'. I hadn't planned on talking about this but when I went to buy a card for the cutie, there was Cupid all over the place...and it had me thinking.

abookworm - HA! Yup, smelly diapers are not what I'd like to have for Valentine's Day - but as someone already mentioned, they can be around 9 months later.

buddyt - You're right, it is a simple and recognizable design. I doubt 10 people could agree on how to depict Eros for universal appeal. I can hear it now: he needs to be blond, no brown curly hair, no curls but long and silky...nope, wouldn't want to be in on that process.

Tilly Greene said...

Let's be honest kaisquared - Zeus was a randy guy who was rather creative in his multitude of conquests. Male and female.

Anonymous said...

When I think of Eros I think of the statue of him in Piccadilly Circus in London. Cupid is the fat kid on the greetings cards. I ignore Valentines Day -- Hallmark already have enough money without getting any of mine.

Tempest Knight said...

Great post!

Tilly Greene said...

Nicholas - now that's a fabulous Eros, despite the shear mass of humanity that surrounds him and hardly any of them feeling the love :-) No, I've had a boycott on Hallmark for ages...although they did offer a funny musical card for my FIL's 70th bday.

Thanks Tempest :-)

Caitlin Hoy said...

Scorcher! Cupid is.....
I think Cupid is really just creepy when thought of as a child when he is supposed to be representing adult sexuality and love. True he is sometimes put into childish terms of being responsible for puppy love and childhood crushes but that is few and far between compared to the use of the image regarding adults. I think they should go back to using the original image of Cupid as a young handsome man. But thats just my opinion. Happy Valentine's Day!

Cherie J said...

Since hubby and I celebrate Valentine's Day with our kids cupid would work for us during the day. However, after the kids are in bed Eros would rule as our symbol since the rest of the night becomes a scorcher. :-)

ArkieRN said...

I don't like to think of Cupid as a baby or youth. Not very sexy. I think a representation of passionate love should be a fully grown scorcher of a male!

Tilly Greene said...

Caitlin - I understand where you're coming from, Cupid does nothing for me...Eros, well now, I imagine he lit quite a fire in his time.

Cherie J - I like the way you see it...Cupid with the kids and Eros, later, behind the door :-)

ArkieRN - Oh boy, and think of all that full grown image would contain...I'm fanning myself just thinking about it!

blessedheart said...

Mythology is a fascinating subject with lots of variables. Cupid has many images, but I've never really thought of him as "a child with a weapon". LOL!

Rhonda (Scorcher) :0)

Tilly Greene said...

And that's what I love and hate about mythology. Robert Graves book "The Greek Myths" gives multiple explanations for various characters and scenarios - his creation myths have stayed in my mind since I first read him. It, with Edith Hamilton's and HJ Rose's books mentioned above are all facinating reads if you have the patience to fish through all the variations.