Don’t Underestimate Cupid – He’s Not The Chubby Cherub You Affiliate With Valentine’s Day

‘Cupid and Psyche’ by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova.
Bettmann through Getty Pictures

Debbie Felton, UMass Amherst

Ah, Valentine’s Day: that Hallmark vacation of greeting playing cards and sweets, its bloody origins nearly completely forgotten over the past 2,000 years!

What started as a Christian feast day honoring two or three early Christian martyrs – the unique “Valentines” – is now related to flocks of winged cherubic Cupids, whose innocuous-looking bows and arrows symbolize light romance as an alternative of death-dealing conflict. In some way, the phrase “struck by Cupid’s arrow” is meant to be thrilling relatively than excruciating.

The unique Cupid was the son of Venus, Roman goddess of affection and wonder. He himself was a Roman deity related to lust and love, based mostly on the Greek Eros. In Greece and Rome, each figures had been depicted as good-looking younger males, not as winged infants.

However historical poets and artists additionally imagined a troop of “Erotes” or “Cupidines” as attendants of those gods. The Romans portrayed them as winged infants, or “putti,” as they turned recognized in Italian Renaissance artwork. These, in flip, turned the chubby cherubs of in the present day’s valentines.

Regardless of envisioning the god with a troop of lovable attendants, even the Romans understood that Cupid had a darker, extra harmful facet – one whose energy you wouldn’t need to dismiss.

Small however mighty

The archer god Apollo discovered this out the laborious method, because the poet Ovid instructed in his epic of A.D. 8, “Metamorphoses.” Having simply slain the dragon of Delphi with 1,000 arrows, Apollo provoked the fierce fury of Venus’ son by mocking Cupid’s seemingly toylike weapons.

A painting in black and white shows a winged naked figure talking with a man in a tunic.
‘Cupid and Apollo’ by Pontormo (attributed to the Faculty of Andrea del Sarto)
Samek Artwork Museum at Bucknell College/Nationwide Artwork Gallery

Cupid swiftly took his revenge. He pierced Apollo’s coronary heart with a golden arrow, inflicting him to fall passionately in love with the nymph Daphne. However Daphne was a sworn virgin, and Cupid shot her with a lead arrow, intensifying her loathing for all issues amorous.

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She fled from Apollo’s advances. The determined deity pursued her relentlessly, till Daphne’s father turned her right into a laurel tree to avoid wasting her. Cupid’s arrows, nevertheless diminutive, had been extra highly effective than Apollo’s.

The unseen partner

However probably the most well-known characterization of Cupid in Latin literature seems within the work of Apuleius, who lived in the course of the second century in what’s now Algeria. He wrote a narrative about Psyche, a princess so exceedingly lovely that mortals worshipped her as if she had been the goddess of affection herself.

Enraged by jealousy, Venus commanded her son to make Psyche fall in love with probably the most wretched man doable. However an oracle instructed the royal household that their daughter was destined to marry “a savage, untamed creature” that flew about tormenting everybody with fireplace – and so they deserted her on a cliff to fulfill this terrifying destiny.

As an alternative, Psyche discovered herself borne by a delicate breeze to an elaborate palace inhabited by invisible servants. That night time, an “unknown husband arrived and made Psyche his spouse,” departing earlier than dawn.

Her unseen partner continued to go to nightly, and Psyche was quickly overjoyed to search out herself pregnant. However she additionally turned more and more lonely. Her mysterious husband agreed that her sisters might go to – so long as she didn’t attempt to “examine his look.” She fortunately agreed, telling him, “Whoever you’re I like you deeply. Not even Cupid might examine to you.”

However when Psyche’s two older sisters visited, they turned envious of her luxurious life. “She have to be married to a god!” they intuited – in contrast to Psyche, who remained inexplicably clueless. Hoping to interrupt up the wedding, they provided a false clarification for her husband’s secrecy: He have to be a monstrous serpent intent on devouring her and her unborn little one.

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A horrified Psyche believed them, regardless of her intimate bodily information of her partner – his “perfumed locks, tender cheeks, and heat chest.” Armed with a dagger, she ready to kill her husband as he slept. However first, ignoring his repeated warnings, she gazed at him by the sunshine of an oil lamp. Right here, midway by means of the story, the viewers lastly finds out his identification: none aside from Cupid himself!

A statue of a naked woman looking down at a sleeping man on display in a park in autumn.
Psyche lastly will get a superb have a look at her husband. ‘Cupid and Psyche’ by Giulio Kartar.
leoaleks/iStock through Getty Pictures Plus

On the sight, Psyche “fell in love with Love.” However a drop of scalding oil woke up Cupid. Totally dismayed at his spouse’s betrayal, he flew away – however first defined: “I’ve disobeyed my mom’s orders to fill you with ardour for some vile wretch. I flew to you as your lover as an alternative.”

Love misplaced – and located

The remainder of the narrative entails Psyche’s lengthy, arduous quest to win Cupid again. Although despairing and exhausted, Psyche willingly submitted herself to a sequence of brutal duties imposed by Venus, solely to fall right into a deathlike slumber simply earlier than finishing them.

And the place is Cupid throughout all this? If he’s characterised as a strong, harmful pressure within the first half of the story, the second half depicts him as a helpless mama’s boy. He flew again to Venus’ palace, the place his mom – livid that he had secretly married Psyche – scolded him righteously, screamed that he had embarrassed her, and locked him in his room.

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Lastly, recalling his love for Psyche, Cupid escaped out the window and saved her from everlasting slumber. Then he made a savvy cope with Jupiter, king of the gods: Psyche could possibly be made immortal, clearing the best way for her to “formally” marry Cupid in an association that even glad Venus.

Complicated imaginative and prescient of affection

Apuleius’ story is uncommon in specializing in a feminine character and the way love and want have an effect on her. The viewers follows Psyche by means of a number of rites of passage. Initially, as an single lady, she has not fulfilled her anticipated position of spouse and mom. As a frightened bride, she has no say in whom she marries – an expertise widespread for younger wives in historical Roman society. Love doesn’t enter the image.

However Apuleius’ portrayal of Psyche’s state of affairs suggests a lesson Roman writers of the day needed readers to imagine: that younger married ladies ultimately come to want and love their husbands. Though that course of could be lengthy and tough, wives and husbands each regulate to their roles over time. The start of Psyche’s little one, “Pleasure,” on the finish of the story leads to concord throughout, an idealized picture of marriage.

Ovid and Apuleius remind us that the unique Cupid isn’t the benign little bearer of valentines however an elemental pressure of human nature – a “savage, untamed creature” that lights the fires of ardour in unpredictable methods. Whereas Apollo’s lust for Daphne’s seen magnificence remained unsated, Psyche ultimately loved intercourse together with her unseen husband. Apollo realized that longing isn’t at all times mutual, whereas Psyche realized that love and belief have to be earned.

Apuleius’s story means that Cupid and all the extraordinary feelings he represents, as soon as tempered, can present the idea for a loving, long-lasting relationship. In brief, each tales comprise beneficial classes in regards to the nature of romance.The Conversation

Debbie Felton, Professor of Classics, UMass Amherst

This text is republished from The Dialog below a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.