We all think we know the Cupid of the Valentine card—the cute, chubby baby with the tiny bow and arrow. But do we really?
Eros, as he was known to the ancient Greeks, was one of the first four gods in the universe, the awe-inspiring god of erotic love. He was depicted as a beautiful, slender youth, the son of Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation.
Centuries later, the Romans called him Cupid (Latin cupido, meaning desire). He begins to appear in art as a chubby baby with wings, sometimes wearing a diaper, sometimes a blindfold, showing that love is blind. The Roman Cupid’s mother is Venus, goddess of love; his father is Jupiter, god of commerce and wrestling.
This fickle, playful Cupid is responsible for love at first sight. He sometimes, perversely, aims his sweet poison-tipped arrows at mis- matched couples causing them to fall in love, just to see what will happen. Less well known is the story that this young prankster sometimes shoots lead-tipped arrows to cause couples to fall in hate.
In mythology, Cupid gets a dose of his own medicine when he inadvertently pierces himself with a love arrow and falls head over heels for the beautiful Psyche, of whom Venus, his mother, vehemently disapproves. Venus sets Psyche a series of impossible tasks, hoping to drive her away but Psyche triumphs, is reconciled with Venus, marries Cupid and lives happily ever after in a vine-covered cottage in a good neighborhood on Mt. Olympus.