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The Love God

  • Go to Cupid and Psyche: an illustrated version of the great love story (and I mean illustrated!) On one level it is the definitive telling of a story by a master (that's Apuleius, not me!) - but it can also be interpreted as the quest of the soul (Greek psyche) for immortality.

  • Stay here for Aspects of Love: confused about the differences between Eros and Cupid? Seek no further!

E ros only gradually becomes a separate god: in Homer he's just the lust which drives men and gods to sex (eg Paris and Helen in Iliad 3, or Zeus and Hera in Iliad 14). Hesiod promotes him to one of the oldest of the gods - responsible for the "coming-together" of everything: he is almost a First Principle of the Universe, as old as Earth and Tartarus - with total power over gods and men. Obviously nothing could have been born without him! Nor could he have had parents. (I like this idea of Sex as the ruling force). Far from being the son of the goddess of Love (as Cupid became) - there's a relief which shows Eros assisting at the birth of Aphrodite.

Later writers make him son of Aphrodite - with varied parentage (Hermes, Ares, her own father, Zeus). So the "evidence" depends on whom you want to follow. I think Virgil was the first to give Ares/Mars as a parent: the symbolism of Love and War being most attractive: both Venus and Mars had a role, of course in the origin of Rome (Venus as mother of Aeneas, who was Cupid's half-brother; Mars as father of Romulus.) But Eros/Cupid is much more linked with his mother, than with any father.

He is thought of as cruel, cunning and unmanageable, and is often armed with a whip. He comes suddenly like the wind. But he can also be playful. He is attractive, young. He is a companion of Aphrodite, along with Pothos ("Longing") and Himeros ("Desire"). Plato's Symposium is a wonderful discussion of the various ways in whaich Eros can be interpreted (it includes the famous one where we're all the halves of beings separated from our other self, and eros drives us to spend our lives trying to locate him/her: the original beings were male, female or hermaphrodite - if we are looking for another male we're homosexual, another female we're lesbian - only the original hermaphrodites look for lovers of a different sex!  

The bow and arrows don't come until Euripides (Iphigeneia in Aulis 548) - and he was never the son of Aphrodite - that was his Roman counterpart Cupid, who was Venus' son. Cupid was the Roman "translation" of the Greek God Eros (the Greek name came to mean love of all kinds, but Cupido is strictly Sexual Lust). In art he is usually winged, and often appears in scenes of womens' life, especially marriage.

The Cupid and Psyche tale as we know it is not myth - it's actually one of the earliest examples of fiction - it comes from part of a novel by Apuleius called Metamorphoses, about a guy who's changed into an ass ("not as you think, small round and pink, but grey with long ears and eats grass") and has a number of amazing adventures. In the novel it's told by an old drunken woman to cheer up a young girl who was raped on her wedding night. If you want to read the full version, the translation by Robert Graves is the best.

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