Sunday, 14 February 2016

Cupids Galore

Happy St. Valentine’s Day.

I’ve mentioned several times before that the world celebrates St. Valentine’s Day on the wrong date, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating it myself today with a look at that most famous character that sums up romance more than any other – Cupid.

In fact, I’m going to celebrate with lots of Cupids, and they all originate from the ancient Greek mythological figure of Eros. Once again, I’ve said several times before on this blog that Eros was inextricably linked with male same-sex love and relationships in the gyms and military training camps. Soldiers and athletes alike would make offerings to the statue of Eros. Every gym had one and the gym-toned men would pray to the god for success in battle and/or male love.

But Eros is only one of several other deities who were associated with love, whether gay or straight, and it might be worth resurrecting them all today.

All of these deities of love and romance take their collective name from Eros himself. Together they are called the Erotes. In Roman times they acquired several other names – Cupides and Amores.

Eros was the original god way back in the mists of time and the ancient Greeks developed more like him as they recognised different ways to be romantic. Some myths say that all the Erotes were the sons of Hermes and Aphrodite, though older myths say that Eros and fellow love god Himeros were present at the birth of their supposed mother (see my article on the birth of Aphrodite). In the famous painting of the birth of Venus by Botticelli the two winged figures on the left of the painting are Eros and Himeros. Because the Erotes were Aphrodite’s main attendants they came to be regarded as her children.

So, who were all these Cupids, the Erotes? And what kinds of love do they represent? The definitive number of the Erotes is uncertain as over time more were added. The Roman writer Propertius wrote in the 1st century before Christ that there were a thousand of them. Below is a list of those most commonly listed.

EROS – the original god of love, and of the love between men.
ANTEROS – the god of mutual love and love returned.
HIMEROS – the god of passion and physicality.
POTHOS – the god of desire and yearning.
HEDYLOGOS – the god of flattery and sweet talk.
HYMENAIOS – the god of marriage and weddings.

What I think is interesting is that the ancient Greeks seem to have considered the Erotes as influencers of the unmarried. Once married the Greeks’ love/sex life became the responsibility of the goddesses Hera, Demeter and Aphrodite, depending on what the spouse was desiring – to be treated like royalty, to have children, or to be considered sensual, respectively.

The Greeks encourages their children to call upon the Erotes to find a same-sex or opposite sex partner before embarking on marriage.

The earliest known of the Erotes, as already mentioned, was Eros himself. Almost as ancient as him was Anteros. They are often called twins. Eros is familiar to us all, but so is Anteros if you’ve ever visited central London. The statue you see in the middle of Piccadilly Circus isn’t Eros, but Anteros.

Eros and Anteros were later joined by two more love gods. One was called Pothos. He was the god of passion. The other was Himeros and the two are “opposites” of each other. Pothos represented the passion felt between lovers in each other’s present, while Himeros represented the yearning and desire for an absent lover.

Finally we have the two Erotes responsible for the beginning and end of courtship. Hedylogos was the god of flattery and sweet talk. In effect, he was the god of the chat-up line. We all know how important it is to say the right thing when we first meet our future lover, and Hedylogos made sure we did. Once the initial chat up line has succeeded we’d need his help with further romantic words. I suppose he’s the one we can associate most with the St. Valentine’s Day card. Through the relationship the other Erotes would offer their influence until, finally, the couple would call upon Hymenaios.

I wrote about Hymenaios last May. Technically, Hymenaios should be the last of the Erotes or Cupides that anyone would ever need. On marriage the work of all the Erotes was over and the responsibility for romance within marriage passed, as I said earlier, to Hera, Demeter and Aphrodite.

One other god often included in the lists of Erotes was Hermaphroditos. His origin is different to all the other Erotes and his name gave rise to our modern word for a person born with physical attributes of both male and female. Originally Hermaphroditos was the beautiful winged son of Aphrodite and Hermes, hence his name. The ancient Greeks knew of the existence of hermaphrodites and made him their god. He was also the god of effeminate men because they displayed personality characteristics of both sexes. The myth goes that he went to bathe in the well inhabited by the water nymph Salmakis. Salmakis was smitten by his beauty but her advances were rejected. She prayed to the gods for her to be forever united with Hermaphroditos. They took her wish literally and her body was merged with his. Hermaphroditos then decreed that everyone who bathed in Salmakis’s well would become double-sexed as he had.

And there you have it, a whole host of Erotes or cupids ready to fire their arrows of love for St. Valentine’s Day. So when you’re with your loved one today, or thinking of someone special, for God’s sake duck!! With all those love arrows flying around you’re in danger of turning into a porcupine!! If nothing happens today, don’t worry, it’s the wrong day for all of that romantic stuff anyway. 

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