Cupid is the most famous of Valentine symbols and everybody knows of the mischievous, winged child who is armed with bow and arrows, and piercing hearts. The arrows signify desires and emotions of love and Cupid aims those arrows at Gods and Humans alike, causing them to fall deeply in love.
But there’s a lot more to the story!
Cupid has always played a role in the celebration of love and lovers. In ancient Greece, he was known as Eros, who was a god and the young son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. To the Roman’s he was Cupid, and his mother was Venus.
There is a very interesting story about Cupid and his mortal bride Psyche in Roman mythology.
Venus was jealous of the beauty of Psyche, thinking earthly mortal men worshipped the beautiful Psyche more than her, which caused her temples to fall into ruin and non-use. In her anger, she ordered her son Cupid to punish the mortal by shooting an arrow into her making her fall in love with the most vile and hideous man to be found. Instead, Cupid fell deeply in love with her and shot the arrow into himself and he took her as his wife. But, as a mortal, she was forbidden to look at him.
Psyche was happy until her two older sisters persuaded her to look at Cupid. One night, as the handsome Cupid lay sleeping by her side, Psyche lit a small candle to steal a gaze at her husband. As soon as Psyche looked at Cupid, Cupid reacted harshly punishing her by leaving her and their lovely castle and gardens vanished too. Psyche found herself alone in an open field with no signs of other beings, or Cupid. As she wandered trying to find her love, she came upon the temple of Venus. Being extremely jealous of her beauty and still wanting to destroy her, the goddess of love gave Psyche a series of tasks, each harder and more dangerous than the last.
For her fifth and final dangerous task, Psyche was given a little box and told to take it down to the underworld. She was instructed to get some of the beauty of Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, and put it in the box. During her trip, she was given tips on avoiding the dangers of the realm of the dead. She was also warned not to open the box. But on the way back to presenting the box to Venus, temptation overcame Psyche and she opened the box. Instead of finding beauty, she found deadly slumber.
Cupid found her lifeless body on the ground and he gathered the deadly sleep from her body and put it back in the box. Cupid forgave her, as did Venus. The gods, moved by Psyche’s love for Cupid, made her a goddess.
Today, Cupid and his arrows have become the most popular of love signs and love is most frequently depicted by two hearts pierced by an arrow, Cupid’s arrow.
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Our thanks go out to Edith Hamilton and her fine studies in Greek and Roman mythology and our friends at Wikipedia.