Trivia: The History of Cupid in Mythology and Literature

You may know Cupid as the cherubic Valentine’s Day staple, but there’s much more to his story. Learn all about Cupid’s history in mythology and literature here.

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Bookstr Trivia: Cupid History in Mythology and Literature

Welcome back to another edition of Bookstr Trivia! Chances are, you’ve heard of Cupid. The cherub, well-known for his winged appearance, bow-and-arrow, and penchant for mischief, has become a staple during Valentine’s Day. Well, there’s actually much more than meets the eye when it comes to his story. We’re covering everything Cupid, from his origins in Ancient Greek and Roman mythology to his presence in literature and pop culture today.

Who is Cupid?

While Cupid may often appear in his childlike form, he has been around far longer than Valentine’s Day. In fact, his origins can be traced all the way back to 700 B.C. in Ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, Cupid was referred to as Eros, the Greek word for “desire.” Meanwhile, in Roman mythology, he was given his token name after the Latin word for “passionate desire”: Cupīdō.

Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection. His parents were Ares (Roman name: Mars), the god of war, and Aphrodite (Roman name: Venus), the goddess of love and beauty. In traditional art, Cupid is portrayed as a winged, attractive young man with an athletic build. It wasn’t until the Renaissance period that Cupid began being illustrated as the chubby, angelic child we know and love today. He is often depicted nude with blue eyes and blonde or light brown hair. Typically, he usually has a lyre or his trademark bow-and-arrow in tow. Other symbols that represent Cupid include dolphins, flutes, roosters, roses, torches, and doves.

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Cupid (Eros) on Ancient Greek Pottery

Cupid in Mythology

One thing Cupid is known for is his temper. In one myth, when Aphrodite and Cupid were in a field of flowers, they decided to have a competition to see who could gather the most. Originally, Cupid was in the lead—that is, until a nymph named Peristera gave Aphrodite some flowers. In return, Cupid punished her by turning her into a dove.

Additionally, Cupid has a reputation for causing chaos. He often shoots love arrows at others, causing them to fall head over heels for certain people… or things. Typically, this was either out of anger or at the request of his mother, who shared his hotheadedness. This was usually problematic, as it often resulted in unrequited love and in some cases, turned dangerous for those involved.

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Cupid Carving His Bow

Probably the most prolific myth that exemplifies Cupid’s nature for being a troublemaker is the tale of Apollo and Daphne. It all begins when Cupid was out playing with his bow. Apollo (Roman name: Phoebus) was the god of archery, the sun, and the arts. Seeing Cupid, he began to mock him, joking that he should leave weapons to the older gods. Following this, Apollo then furthered the blow by telling tales of his triumphs slaying monsters.

Cupid was so angered that he immediately struck Apollo with one of his love arrows. This led Apollo to become madly enamored with Daphne, a wood nymph. Cupid then struck Daphne with a lead arrow which had the opposite effect, making her repulsed by Apollo and his incessant courting. In the end, Daphne had to beg her river god father to transform her into a laurel tree to escape Apollo, which is why Apollo is often seen wearing a crown of laurels.

Cupid and Psyche

Being the god of desire and affection, it should come to no surprise that Cupid also has a lover himself. The romance myth of Cupid and Psyche tells the story of how the god fell in love with a mortal woman. It first appeared in Metamorphoses by Lucius Apuleius, which was written in the second century A.D. The tale has served as inspiration for numerous works of art, and goes as follows:

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Cupid and Psyche

There once lived a king and queen with three daughters notorious for their beauty. Psyche, the youngest, was the fairest of them all and garnered numerous admirers. However, things took a turn for the worst when Psyche’s admirers began to make offerings and pray to her, neglecting their worship of Aphrodite. Understandably, this angered the goddess, who then turned to her son Cupid and commissioned him to shoot Psyche with an arrow to make her fall in love with something incredibly heinous.

Cupid visited Psyche in her sleep in his invisible form, but when Psyche unexpectedly woke up, he accidentally struck himself with his own arrow and fell madly in love with her. Despite this, Psyche was still impacted by Aphrodite’s anger and unable to secure a husband. As a result, her father felt they had incurred the wrath of the gods and consulted the oracle of Apollo, who told him that Psyche was destined to marry a monster who was awaiting her at the top of a mountain. Beside themselves with grief, Psyche’s parents left her at the summit for her destined lover, dressed in attire that suited a funeral moreso than a wedding.

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Cupid and Psyche

When Psyche awoke, she found herself in a golden palace filled with servants, feasts, and music. However, she never physically saw her husband. While he was gentle and loving to her, he only came in the hours of darkness, fleeing before it grew light out. When asked why she could not see him, he replied,

“Why should you wish to behold me? Have you any doubt of my love? Have you any wish ungratified? If you saw me, perhaps you would fear me, perhaps adore me, but all I ask of you is to love me. I would rather you would love me as an equal than adore me as a god.”

Missing her family, Psyche implored her husband to allow her sisters to visit, to which he begrudgingly relented. When the sisters arrived, they quickly grew jealous of the incredible splendor Psyche lived in and decided to sabotage her happiness, convincing her that her husband was probably a vile winged serpent as foretold by the oracle.

One night, Psyche decided to look upon her husband with the aid of a lamp, but to her surprise, instead of a monster lied the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. Clumsily, she accidentally spilt hot oil from the lamp and woke him. Cupid, feeling betrayed by Psyche’s violation of his trust, immediately fled, leaving her alone.

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Psyche Revived By Cupid's Kiss

In order to find her beloved, Psyche turned to Aphrodite for help. Still holding onto the past, Aphrodite had Psyche tortured quite a bit, and then ordered her to complete three nearly impossible tasks. Psyche was able to finish the first two with aid, but failed the last. The third task sent Psyche to the underworld to retrieve a box filled with a dose of beauty for Aphrodite, but Psyche’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened it. Inside, there was nothing but Stygian sleep, plunging Psyche into an eternal slumber.

After some time apart, Cupid was finally ready to forgive Psyche. Upon finding her, the god removed the sleeping curse from his lover. Vowing to never be apart again, he then went to Mount Olympus and secured Zeus’ blessing. Cupid then gave Psyche ambrosia, the drink of immortality, and the two were married, going on to live happily ever after.

Appearances in Literature

In addition to inspiring artwork, the romance of Cupid and Psyche has also sparked multiple retellings in modern literature. For instance, Electric Idol by Katee Robert takes place in the future. Diverging from the original tale, Olympus is now an innovative city and Cupid is a trained killer. Sent by his jealous mother to take out Psyche, Cupid unexpectedly falls for his target’s kindness, leading him unable to carry out his mission.

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Modern Retellings of Cupid and Psyche

Meanwhile, Soul in Darkness by Wendy Higgins follows the original myth more. Sticking to the ancient setting, it offers a glimpse into how Psyche could fall in love with a husband she never sees in the light. And, in Painted Blind by Michelle A. Hansen, Psyche is a modern-day model who unintentionally angers Aphrodite by posing as the goddess in a reenactment of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Aside from this, Cupid is often also mentioned in many books that contain elements of Greek mythology, such as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. There are also many modern anthologies and collections of the ancient myths that contain stories that reference Cupid.

Appearances in Pop Culture

Unsurprisingly, Cupid is also quite renowned in pop culture. The winged god has inspired numerous television shows (Cupid 1998-1999) and movies (Cupid & Cate 2000, You’re So Cupid! 2010, When In Rome 2010). Not only that, but he’s also gotten a shoutout in tons of songs, including “Who Shot Cupid?” by Juice WRLD, “Cupid’s Trick” by Elliot Smith, and “Stupid Cupid” by Connie Francis. We even refer to him in casual conversations, with the term “playing Cupid” referring to someone who is taking on the role of a matchmaker. Heck, Cupid even has a dating site named after him!

Bookstr Trivia: History of Cupid in Greek Mythology and Literature

Cupid on a Valentine's Day Card

Of course, given that Cupid is the god of love, it is only befitting that he also plays a role in a holiday about just that. Cupid has become a Valentine’s Day figurehead, often being depicted in commercials, on cards, and in holiday specials. As a result, he has become quite the household name in comparison to some of his other godly counterparts, and we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

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