- Pronunciation: CUE-pid
- Origin: Rome
- Role: God of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection
- Parents: Venus, Mars
- Consort: Psyche
- Symbols: Bow and Arrows
Who Is Cupid?
Cupid, which means “desire” in Latin, was the god of desire, affection, and erotic love, in Roman mythology. He was usually portrayed as the son of Venus but his father was never clearly identified. He is considered to be the Roman counterpart of the Greek god Eros.
Cupid was very popular during the Middle Ages. Christian influence changed his nature to both heavenly and earthly love. During the Renaissance, a new interest in classical philosophy gave him complex allegorical meanings. Today, Cupid is a recognizable figure who inspires romantic love. You’re sure to spot a representation of Cupid during the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Throughout the years, Cupid has served as an inspiration for the strongest of all human emotion.
In Greek mythology, Eros was originally depicted as a slender boy with wings. But during the Hellenistic period, he began to be portrayed as a chubby child. It was at this time that he acquired the bow and arrow that remain such a strong symbol today. It was said that anyone who was shot by one of Cupid’s arrows, either mortal or a deity, would be filled with uncontrollable desire. The Roman version of the god of desire retained those characteristics, which gives us the Cupid that we all know today.
Legends and Stories
All of Cupid’s myths revolve around love in some form. While most gods truly represent what they reign over, there are not many who do so as well as Cupid.
Cupid’s arrows are a well-recognized symbol of the god but did you know he has two different types? According to legend, Cupid’s Golden Arrow stood for true love while his Leaden Arrow stood for sensual passion. This explains why Cupid was associated with many different types of love, including romantic and erotic.
One of the more fun myths about Cupid tells the story of his youth. His mother, Venus, was upset that her son would not grow. She complained to Themis, a Titan, and told her about her concerns regarding her Cupid. Themis said that he wouldn’t grow because he was an only child. If only he had a brother, he might grow. So Venus gave Cupid a brother named Anteros. As time went on, Cupid began to grow quickly. He grew taller and stronger, into the man he was meant to be.
Cupid and Psyche
Cupid himself did fall in love. There was a king with three beautiful daughters. But one was the most beautiful. She was the youngest and her name was Psyche. In fact, she was so beautiful that many began to consider her the epitome of love and beauty rather than Venus.
Venus became jealous and asked Cupid to take action. She told him to shoot Psyche with an arrow and make her fall in love with a monster. Cupid agreed but when he set out to complete his mother’s wishes, he realized just how beautiful Psyche was. He became flustered and dropped the arrow he was going to shoot at her. The arrow fell to the ground but not before it pricked Cupid’s food. He instantly fell in love with Psyche.
A bit of time went by and Psyche’s parents began to become concerned that no one had asked for their daughter’s hand in marriage yet, despite how beautiful she was. They visited an oracle, who told them that their daughter was destined to marry a monster. They were to take her to the top of a mountain and let fate take its course. They did as the oracle said and left their daughter alone on the top of a mountain, believing they would never see her again.
Psyche waited for a monster to approach her but instead, the west wind lifted her up and carried her to a palace. Voices whispered in her ear, telling her it was all hers. The palace was beautiful and had everything Psyche had ever asked for. She was waited on day and night by invisible servants. She ate magnificent food and was always entertained.
Her parents consulted an oracle, and were told that she was destined to marry a monster, and they were to take her to the top of a mountain and leave her there. The west wind took her and wafted her away to a palace, where she was waited on by invisible servants.
That night, her new husband visited her in her room. He told her that he would only visit at night and that she must never look at him. Psyche was surprised that he was kind and gentle. She listened to his wishes and never gazed upon him. Her life seemed perfect from the outside but she still felt homesick and lonely. She asked her husband if her sisters could come and visit. He agreed to her request.
When her older sisters saw the magnificent palace and heard about how sweet Psyche’s husband was, they became jealous and convinced their sister that she must look at him. They said he was a monster who was only taking so good care of her because he would eventually eat her. Her only chance to stay safe was to kill him.
That night, Psyche grabbed a candle and a knife. For the first time, she gazed upon her husband, expecting to see a monster. But instead, she saw Cupid and was instantly taken aback by how handsome he was. She accidently spilled a bit of wax on Cupid’s shoulder, waking him up.
Cupid was furious. He immediately left the room and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Before he left, he told Psyche that she would never see him again. The palace disappeared and Psyche was left alone and in the dark. She went back to her sisters and told them what happened. The sisters pretended to console Psyche but then headed up the mountain themselves, hoping they could take her place. But when they saw the palace was gone, they jumped off the mountain and fell to their deaths.
Psyche looked everywhere for her husband. When she couldn’t find him, she went to Venus and asked her for her help. Venus was still angry and jealous of Psyche so she set up several impossible tasks for Psyche to complete in order to earn Venus’ help. Cupid learned of what his mother was doing and asked Jupiter to put a stop to it.
This is where different variations of the myth disagree. Some say that Cupid and Psyche were officially married at this point while others say that they were never married. Either way, Cupid and Psyche found true love with each other.
It is said that Cupid’s father was Mars, even though there is very little evidence to support this. His mother was Venus. Some variations of his myth say he was married while others say that Psyche was only his lover. Together, they had a daughter named Voluptus.
Most artistic representations of Cupid show him as a chubby and winged young boy. He is sometimes throwing darts or catching a butterfly. He is usually shown with his mother. There are very few representations of him as an adult but we know that he was quite handsome.
Cupid’s symbols include his famous bow and arrow. The lyre is also a symbol of his playfulness. Because he is the god of desire and has permanent links to love in pop culture, other symbols include roses and doves.