Hearts tend to be aflutter on Valentine’s Day, and Cupid just might be the scoundrel behind those starry-eyed feelings. Just who is this arrow-wielding Cupid and how did he become associated with Valentine’s Day?
God of love and desire
Ancient Greeks and Romans were prolific storytellers and used mythology to explain many of the mysteries of life. Certain feelings and happenings on Earth were attributed to the moods and actions of gods who presided over the people.
In Roman mythology, Cupid was the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. His Greek counterpart was Eros, while in Latin Cupid was known as Amor. According to myth, Cupid was the son of the winged messenger Mercury and Venus, the goddess of love. Cupid’s machinations were often guided by his mother’s hand, and matchmaking remained his most well-known trait.
As time went on and Christian influences pushed out ancient Greek and Roman beliefs, Cupid was seen as an angel of heavenly and earthly love. Cupid could easily be mistaken for many other angelic cherubim portrayed in artwork during the Renaissance period. Eventually Cupid became a popular icon of Valentine’s Day.
Cupid has appeared in different ways in illustrations and other artwork throughout history. Sometimes he is depicted as a winged, chubby infant carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows. Classical Greek art depicts Cupid as a slender, winged youth.
The reason Cupid has wings is because lovers are known to be flighty and change their moods and minds with some frequency. He is boyish because love is irrational, and he carries arrows and a torch because love can both wound but also inflame the heart.
Cupid has traditionally been portrayed as benevolent, if not mischievous. After all, his goal is to bring two lovers together. His arsenal was equipped with two different kinds of arrows. People pierced by gold-tipped arrows would succumb to uncontrollable desire. Those afflicted by an arrow with a blunt tip of lead desired only to flee.
‘Cupid and Psyche’
Cupid may have been responsible for bringing many people together with his special arrows, but he also was granted the opportunity to experience love himself. According to the myth of ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ Psyche was a beautiful woman whose appearance rivaled even that of Venus. People grew enchanted by her beauty and started to neglect the worship of Venus. Jealous of this attention, Venus asked Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster. But when Cupid saw how beautiful Psyche was, he accidentally dropped the arrow meant for her and pricked himself instead. He immediately became enamored with her.
Psyche, who had not been able to marry like her other sisters, feared she had been cursed by the gods in some way. She was sent away to avoid the premonition of marrying a monster, but Cupid, hidden from sight, ended up visiting Psyche and gaining her trust and affection. The pair then married, although Psyche had never seen her husband in the light of day because he forbade her to look upon him. After all, he was a god and she was a mortal.
One night Psyche disobeyed Cupid’s edict and snuck a peek by candlelight. She was amazed by his beauty and became startled, wounding herself on one of his arrows. Psyche ended up dropping hot wax on Cupid, which woke him up and he ran off.
Psyche wandered endlessly trying to find her lost husband and had to go through various trials established by a still-jealous Venus. In one of her trials, she ended up getting put to sleep, but Cupid revived her and pleaded with Jupiter to make Psyche immortal and let her be his true wife. Jupiter ultimately granted that wish.
Cupid will forever be connected to the concepts of love and affection, which is why he has become an unofficial symbol of Valentine’s Day.