Ah Cupid, the sweet chubby little baby that adorns cards and decorations this time of year. Son of Aphrodite (or Roman Venus), the goddess of love, he flies through the air, his bow and arrow clasped tight in his plump little fists as he showers down arrows of love. Is there anything cuter than this little angel that bestows upon us that divine gift, the gift of love?
Apuleius certainly thought so: here is his description of Cupid, found in the Story of Cupid and Psyche from The Golden Ass:
So saying, she summoned that winged son of hers, that most reckless of creatures, whose wicked behavior flies in the face of public morals, who armed with torch and arrows roams at night through houses where he has no business, ruining marriages on every hand, committing heinous crimes with impunity, and never doing such a thing as a good deed. – Apuleius , The Golden Ass
Cupid is the Roman incarnation of the Greek God Eros, who we know these days as the god of love. As mentioned in another post, the ancient Greeks had many different definitions of the word love, and Eros specifically pertained to sexual love. Cupid was therefore the embodiment of sexual love and desire, his arrows causing blinding passion, and raging lust, a condition that was often temporary.
Many of the stories of Zeus (Jove) revolve around his philandering ways, stories where he chased mortal women across the world, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Hera (Juno). But, what if these affairs weren’t entirely his fault? Zeus was not immune to the golden arrows of Eros, and as Seneca suggests, Zeus’s slavery to his own libido gave Cupid the upper-hand:
“This winged god [Cupid-Eros] rules ruthlessly throughout the earth and inflames Jove [Zeus] himself, wounded with unquenched fires.” – Seneca, Phaedra
Many of us have experienced the madness of lust, or seen the second hand carnage that this all-consuming need creates. Most of the time, once it dissipates, we are left with no explanation or understanding for our temporary insanity, often standing in the ruins of our lives.
Cupid rarely fired arrows as a blessing for his targets and as a celebration of love. Instead, he often fired his arrows to cause mischief or to gain petty revenge and cared naught for those who ended up as collateral damage. In some stories we learn that his quiver not only held the golden tipped arrows of love, but a second set tipped with lead that would do the opposite and cause revulsion and hate. Cupid’s revenge as Apollo mocked his tiny bow and arrow was the catalyst for the tragic story of the nymph Daphne. In response to Apollo’s snub, Cupid fired an arrow of gold into Apollo’s flesh, making him fall desperately in love with the nymph Daphne, while into Daphne he fired an arrow of lead, making her violently reject the advances of Apollo and flee from his embrace. The story ended with Apollo heart broken and Daphne transformed into a laurel, a high price to pay for a simple childish taunt.
So if you are feeling lonely this time of year, and are secretly wishing for Cupid’s arrow to strike, take some time for some self-reflection and treat yourself to some self-loving instead. Remember while you might not have received an arrow of love, you might have just dodged a bullet.