Thursday, February 14, 2013

Who is the real cupid?

Originally posted February 11 2008

It’s Valentine’s Day!

One day out of the year we dedicate to roses, chocolates and diamonds, mixed in with pink and red visions 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.