iPhoneOgraphy – 20 Dec 2016 (Day 355/366)
In classical mythology, Cupid (Latin Cupido, meaning “desire”) is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars, and is known in Latin also as Amor (“Love”). His Greek counterpart is Eros.
Although Eros is in Classical Greek art as a slender winged youth, during the Hellenistic period, he was increasingly portrayed as a chubby boy. During this time, his iconography acquired the bow and arrow that represent his source of power: a person, or even a deity, who is shot by Cupid’s arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire. In myths, Cupid is a minor character who serves mostly to set the plot in motion. He is a main character only in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, when wounded by his own weapons he experiences the ordeal of love. Although other extended stories are not told about him, his tradition is rich in poetic themes and visual scenarios, such as “Love conquers all” and the retaliatory punishment or torture of Cupid.
In art, Cupid often appears in multiples as the Amores, or amorini in the later terminology of art history, the equivalent of the Greek erotes. Cupids are a frequent motif of both Roman art and later Western art of the classical tradition. In the 15th century, the iconography of Cupid starts to become indistinguishable from the putto.
Cupid continued to be a popular figure in the Middle Ages, when under Christian influence he often had a dual nature as Heavenly and Earthly love. In the Renaissance, a renewed interest in classical philosophy endowed him with complex allegorical meanings. In contemporary popular culture, Cupid is shown drawing his bow to inspire romantic love, often as an icon of Valentine’s Day.
The Romans reinterpreted myths and concepts pertaining to the Greek Eros for Cupid in their own literature and art, and medieval and Renaissance mythographers conflate the two freely. In the Greek tradition, Eros had a dual, contradictory genealogy. He was among the primordial gods who came into existence asexually; after his generation, deities were begotten through male-female unions. In Hesiod’s Theogony, only Chaos and Gaia (Earth) are older. Before the existence of gender dichotomy, Eros functioned by causing entities to separate from themselves that which they already contained.
At the same time, the Eros who was pictured as a boy or slim youth was regarded as the child of a divine couple, the identity of whom varied by source. The influential Renaissance mythographer Natale Conti began his chapter on Cupid/Eros by declaring that the Greeks themselves were unsure about his parentage: Heaven and Earth, Ares and Aphrodite, Night and Ether, or Strife and Zephyr. The Greek travel writer Pausanias, he notes, contradicts himself by saying at one point that Eros welcomed Aphrodite into the world, and at another that Eros was the son of Aphrodite and the youngest of the gods.
In Latin literature, Cupid is usually treated as the son of Venus without reference to a father. Seneca says that Vulcan, as the husband of Venus, is the father of Cupid. Cicero, however, says that there were three Cupids, as well as three Venuses: the first Cupid was the son of Mercury and Diana, the second of Mercury and the second Venus, and the third of Mars and the third Venus. This last Cupid was the equivalent of Anteros, “Counter-Love,” one of the Erotes, the gods who embody aspects of love. The multiple Cupids frolicking in art are the decorative manifestation of these proliferating loves and desires. During the English Renaissance, Christopher Marlowe wrote of “ten thousand Cupids”; in Ben Jonson’s wedding masque Hymenaei, “a thousand several-coloured loves … hop about the nuptial room”.
In the later classical tradition, Cupid is most often regarded as the son of Venus and Mars, whose love affair represented an allegory of Love and War. The duality between the primordial and the sexually conceived Eros accommodated philosophical concepts of Heavenly and Earthly Love even in the Christian era.