When most people think of Cupid, they picture the arrow-wielding god of love, usually in the form of a cherub. However, Cupid has much older, more complex origins than are widely remembered today.
Our modern representation of Cupid originates from Roman times – although it is thought that these stories were a re-interpretation of the Greek god Eros, who was typically depicted as a winged young man. The idea of Cupid as a cherubic figure came to prominence in the Hellenistic and Roman ages, from around 31BC, and still endures today.
In more recent times, Cupid is typically shown carrying a bow with a golden arrow which, when fired, strikes love and desire into the heart of whoever it hits. While Cupid has always carried this arrow, in the original mythology he also had a second, with a blunt tip made from lead. This arrow filled anyone it struck with aversion and the desire to get away – effectively the opposite impact to the arrow of love. This version of Cupid is certainly different to the one we celebrate on Valentines day, as he was long known as the person who took love away, as well as giving it.
While Cupid appears in many Roman myths as the cause of desire or distaste, he only takes centre stage in one – which tells of his own romance. The story of Cupid and Psyche is thought to originate from a Greek tale, and tells of how Venus, the goddess of love, sends Cupid to take revenge on Psyche – a young woman thought to be more beautiful than any other – including Venus herself.
Instead of taking vengeance for Venus, however, Cupid falls in love with Psyche, and moves her to the palace he lives in, to keep her safe. Though he visits her regularly, he always tells her she is not allowed to see his face. After some time, however, tired of long hours spent wondering whether her lover is in fact a terrible monster, Psyche sneaks into Cupid’s room with a lamp, and looks upon him as he sleeps. Stunned by his beauty, she accidentally wakes him – and he banishes her.
Heartbroken, Psyche searches the earth for her lost love – ultimately stumbling into the path of Venus, who subjects her to torture before sending her off on a series of quests. Every one of these quests sees Psyche nearly fail – on the last, she succumbs to temptation and opens a box containing the beauty of Proserpina, hoping to gain some of it for herself. On opening the box, she falls into a deep and endless sleep – which is how Cupid finds her. Realising that he can finally be reunited with his love, Cupid strikes her with a golden arrow, reviving her. With Psyche awake again, Cupid grants her immortality – and the pair get married – bringing the god of love a very fitting happy ever after of his own.