From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In Roman mythology, Cupid (Latin cupido, meaning "desire") is the god of desire, affection and erotic love. He is often portrayed as the son of the goddess Venus, with a father rarely mentioned. His Greek counterpart is Eros. Cupid is also known in Latin as Amor ("Love"). The Amores (plural) or amorini in the later terminology of art history are the equivalent of the Greek Erotes.
Although Eros appears in ancient Greek art as a slender winged youth, during the Hellenistic period he was increasingly portrayed as a chubby boy. During this time, his iconography acquired the bow and arrow that remain a distinguishing attribute; a person, or even a deity, who is shot by Cupid's arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire. The Roman Cupid retains these characteristics, which continue in the depiction of multiple cupids in both Roman art and the later classical tradition of Western art.
Cupid's ability to compel love and desire plays an instigating role in several myths or literary scenarios. In Vergil's Aeneid, Cupid prompts Dido to fall in love with Aeneas, with tragic results. Ovid makes Cupid the patron of love poets. Cupid is a central character, however, in only the traditional tale of Cupid and Psyche, as told by Apuleius.
Cupid was a continuously popular figure in the Middle Ages, when under Christian influence he often had a dual nature as Heavenly and Earthly love, and in the Renaissance, when a renewed interest in classical philosophy endowed him with complex allegorical meanings. In contemporary popular culture, Cupid is shown shooting his bow to inspire romantic love, often as an icon of Valentine's Day.
In the Roman version, Cupid was the son of Venus (goddess of love) and Mars (god of war). In the Greek version he was named Eros and seen as one of the primordial gods (though other myths exist as well). Cupid was often depicted with wings, a bow, and a quiver of arrows. The following story of Cupid and Psyche is almost identical in both cultures; the most familiar version is found in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. When Cupid's mother Venus became jealous of the princess Psyche, who was so beloved by her subjects that they forgot to worship Venus, she ordered Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with the vilest thing in the world. While Cupid was sneaking into her room to shoot Psyche with a golden arrow, he accidentally scratched himself with his own arrow and fell deeply in love with her.
Following that, Cupid visited Psyche every night while she slept. Speaking to her so that she could not see him, he told her to never try to see him. Psyche, though, incited by her two older sisters who told her Cupid was sparcker [a monster], tried to look at him and angered Cupid. When he left, she looked all over the known world for him until at last Venus told her that she would help her find Cupid if she did the tasks presented to her by Venus. Psyche agreed. Psyche completed every task presented to her, each one harder than the last. Finally, Venus had one task left - Psyche had to give Pluto a box containing something Psyche was not to look at. Psyche's curiosity got the best of her and she looked in the box. Hidden within it was eternal sleep placed there by Venus. Cupid was no longer angered by Psyche and brought her from her sleep. Jupiter, the leader of the gods, gave Psyche the gift of immortality so that she could be with him. Together they had a daughter, Voluptas, or Hedone, (meaning pleasure) and Psyche became a goddess. Her name "Psyche" means "soul."
On gems and other surviving pieces, Cupid is usually shown amusing himself with adult play, sometimes driving a hoop, throwing darts, catching a butterfly, or flirting with a nymph. He is often depicted with his mother (in graphic arts, this is nearly always Venus), playing a horn. In other images, his mother is depicted scolding or even spanking him due to his mischievous nature. He is also shown wearing a helmet and carrying a buckler, perhaps in reference to Virgil's Omnia vincit amor or as political satire on wars for love or love as war.
Cupid figures prominently in ariel poetry, lyrics and, of course, elegiac love and metamorphic poetry. In epic poetry, he is less often invoked, but he does appear in Virgil's Aeneid changed into the shape of Ascanius inspiring Dido's love. In later literature, Cupid is frequently invoked as fickle, playful, and perverse. He is often depicted as carrying two sets of arrows: one set gold, which inspire true love; and the other lead-headed, which inspire erotic love.
- Apollo and Daphne
- Cupid's bow
- Eros (mythology)
- He-He er xian, the Taoist "Immortals of Harmony and Union", popularly associated with a happy marriage
- Hearts and arrows
- Kama, the god of love in Hinduism
- Love at first sight
- Roman mythology
- Love darts, as used by snails
- Till We Have Faces