L'Amour et Psyché, enfants | oil painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1890
The Story of Cupid
Going back to Greek and Roman mythology Cupid appears many times, is called many names.
Depending on the source, he was thought to be a primordial god who came into the world either asexually, from an egg, or the son of Aphrodite, the Roman goddess of love, otherwise known to the Greeks as Venus.
From Roman mythology, we get the name Cupid, which means “to desire”, which derives from the Latin word cupere. In Greek mythology, he is known as Eros, and is the equivalent of Amor in Latin poetry.
Raphael, ‘The Voyage of Galatea,' 1511
The Bow and Arrow
According to myth, Cupid was the son of Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods, and Venus, the goddess of love. He often appeared as a winged infant carrying a bow and a quiver of arrows whose wounds inspired love or passion in his every victim. He was sometimes portrayed wearing armour like that of Mars, the god of war, perhaps to suggest ironic parallels between warfare and romance or to symbolize the invincibility of love.
Raphael Cherubs Sistine Madonna | Oil painting altarpiece, commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II
The story of how love is powerful
One famous story of Cupid is how Apollo, upon returning from slaying a monster, bragged to Cupid how powerful he was and the strength of his arrow.
Angered by the insult, Cupid shot him with a golden love arrow causing Apollo to fall in love with the first person he saw.
At that moment, Apollo caught sight of Daphne and fell in love. Cupid then shot Daphne with a lead-tipped arrow causing her to be impervious to love.
He began to pursue her relentlessly, but Daphne was not interested.
Daphne refusing to accept his advances cries for help, her father, a river god, upon hearing her cries, turns her into a laurel tree just as Apollo is about to catch her.
Seeing the havoc he caused Cupid hides.
Apollo upon reaching the tree, still enamoured with Daphne, mourns as he vows to always wear her laurel leaves as a wreath in all his triumphs and victories so that they could always be together.
This where the laurel wreath that is so closely tied to these times comes from. It is always painted as a symbol of Apollo and why winners of competitions in sports, music, and poetry were crowned with laurel leaves.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, ‘The Birth of Venus,' 1879.
Love Conquers All
One of the most famous Cupid stories that has been enormously influential, that it has helped to shape modern romantic literature and even modern conceptions of love.
The main source for this myth is one of the greatest Roman novels, the Metamorphoses by Apuleius, which dates to the second half of the 2nd century AD. However, the story is much older and there are depictions of Cupid and Psyche in Hellenistic Greek art.
The story goes that Psyche was considered so beautiful that she was compared to the Goddesses. This attention given to a mortal gave great offence to the Aphrodite /Venus and so she sent her son to make her fall in love with an unworthy being so she would live in shame.
Cupid goes to obey his mother's commands, he sees how beautiful Psyche is, he gets all distracted and pricks himself with his own arrow.
Cupid falls instantly in love with Psyche and chaos unfolds around them. The tale shows how they overcoming all obstacles for their love and results in their union in a sacred marriage.
There are many interpretations of this allegory. Many believe Psyche was regarded as the personification of the soul, and that it shows how the soul can fall to its death by engaging in sexual love, represented by Cupid, showing the dangers of excessive passion and sexuality.
Another interpretation is that immortality is granted to the soul of Psyche as a reward for commitment to sexual love. Another is that the marriage of Cupid and Psyche symbolised the union of soul and God.
Another point of interest is that the name given to Cupid and Psyche's child is Voluptas (Pleasure).
Psyche revived by the kiss of Love, carved from marble in 1793 by Antonio Canova