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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Cupid - - the emblem of love

Cupid - - the emblem of love - Daily News


The abduction of Psyche by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
(1825 -1905) - French academic painter.

THE STORY OF LOVE: Along with red paper hearts and bouquets of roses, Cupid, the chubby little fellow with curly hair, flapping wings and a golden bow, is one of the enduring symbols of love and romance. So who exactly is this flying cherub, and why does he go around slinging those arrows at everyone?

Once upon a time when the world was young, mortals believed that all of the elements in the heavens and on the earth were connected.

They saw gods and goddesses in the heavens, the passing of the seasons, the sounds and life of the forests, and the thunderous seas. They understood these supreme beings as powerful presences, each defined by unique attributes and limited by human-like frailties.

Gradually, stories arose to tell of how life’s challenges and triumphs were affected by and affecting the moods of, squabbles between, and relationships among the gods and goddesses.

It is during this time that we first hear the love story of Cupid and Psyche, a young god and a mortal female.
Story of Cupid and Psyche

According to Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, and he was

Cupid and Psyche (1628) by Orazio Gentileschi,
Oil on canvas, at The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

known to cause mortals to fall in love by shooting them with his magical arrows.

This story begins when Venus learned that her temples were in a state of neglect, the fires in her altars had turned to cold ashes, and her favourite towns had been abandoned. She saw that mortal men were journeying from everywhere to the childhood home of Psyche, a mere maiden, to gaze upon and admire her beauty and grace.

In a jealous rage, Venus ordered her son, Cupid, to use his powers to make Psyche fall madly in love with the vilest and most despicable creature in the world.

Thus it came to be that when Cupid looked upon the beautiful Psyche, he fell passionately in love. It was as though he had pierced his own heart with one of his arrows.

When all continued to admire and praise Psyche’s beauty but none desired her as a wife, Psyche’s parents consulted an oracle, which told them to leave Psyche on the nearest mountain, for her beauty was so great that she was meant for a god. So it was done.

But then Zephyrus, the west wind, carried Psyche away to a fair valley and a magnificent palace where she was attended by invisible servants until night fell and in the darkness of night the promised bridegroom arrived and the marriage was consummated.

Cupid visited her every night and they made sweet love; he demanded only that she never light any lamps because he did not want her to know who he was.

Cupid even allowed Zephyrus to take Psyche back to her sisters and bring all three down to the palace during the day.

Psyche Opening the Golden Box, by John William Waterhouse (1849 -1917) who was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter most famous for his paintings of female characters from mythology and literature

The two jealous sisters told Psyche, who was by now pregnant with Cupid’s child, that rumour was that she had married a great and terrible serpent who would devour her and her unborn child when her time came for it to be fed.

They urged Psyche to conceal a knife and oil lamp in the bedchamber, to wait till her husband was asleep, and then to light the lamp and slay him at once if it was as they said. Psyche sadly followed their advice.

In the light of the lamp Psyche recognised the fair form on the bed as the god Cupid himself. She curiously examined his golden arrows, and accidentally pricked herself with them, and was consumed with desire for her husband.

She began to kiss him, but as she did, a drop of oil fell from Psyche’s lamp and onto Cupid’s chest and he awoke. He flew away, but she caught his ankle and was carried with him until her muscles gave out, and she fell to the ground, sick at heart.

Psyche searched far and wide for her lover, finally stumbling into a temple to Ceres. He advised Psyche must call directly on Venus. So Psyche found a temple to Venus and entered it. Venus demanded that psyche perform three hard tasks, if her wishes were to become true.

Psyche managed to complete all three tasks with the help of other gods and on return to the temple decided to open the little box given to her by Venus before the trip was undertaken. Then an infernal slumber arose from the box and overcame her.

Cupid, by then who had forgiven Psyche, flew to her, wiped the sleep from her body and sent her back on her way. Then Cupid flew to Mount Olympus and begged Jove to aid them.

Jove called a full and formal council of the gods, and declared it was his will that Cupid might marry Psyche. Jove

Cupid in the modern world

then had Psyche fetched to Mount Olympus, and gave her a drink made from Ambrosia, granting her immortality. Begrudgingly, Venus, and Psyche forgave each other.
Winged cherub

Our current image of Cupid as a winged cherub is primarily based on images from painters of the Renaissance. Though Cupid was often a boy in Roman myth, the images of winged, rosy-faced babies may be based more on a small group of winged infants who often accompanied Cupid called the Amorini (or Amoretti; “the messengers of love”)

To the Romans, Cupid was an innocent child, though sometimes mischievous and a “naughty boy”. To the ancient Greeks however, the god Eros, (whom the Romans co-opted as Cupido) was an older, more terrible god.

Eros was one of the oldest of the gods, born from Chaos and originally was the god personifying creative power and harmony (perhaps comparable with the “yang/yin” of ancient Chinese philosophy). Plato called him the first of the gods. In Roman stories, Eros was not a child of Venus, but only found with her occasionally.

Eros was no meddlesome child to the Greeks, but a powerful god to be feared and to entreat: his/her arrows burned with the fire of lust and madness as well as romance, at its worst capable of driving men and women to betrayal of their families or countries, to rape, to murder, to suicide...

Later poets, writing of Eros, remembered this more ancient interpretation:

“Evil is his heart, but honey-sweet his tongue.

No truth in him, the rogue. He is cruel in his play.

Small are his hands, yet his arrows fly far as death.

Tiny his shaft, but it carries heaven-high.

Touch not his treacherous gifts, they are dipped in fire.”

Pablo Picasso was probably the most famous artist
of the 20th century. This is his Rembrandtesque Figure and Cupid (1969). This Abstract Painting is an
Oil Painting on Canvas

This was the “terrible Aspect” of Eros, but he had all of the positive aspects of love as well. In attendance upon him/her were Himeros (Longing) and Hymen, the “God of the Wedding Feast.” In eighth century, the Greek poet Hesiod called Eros “Fairest of the deathless gods.”

Later by the fourth century BC (Plato’s period) image of Eros had softened: “Love - Eros - makes his home in men’s hearts, but not in every heart, for where there is hardness he departs... he cannot do wrong... For all men serve him of their own free will. And he whom Love touches not walks in darkness.”

For Greeks and Romans both, Eros/Cupid became the personification of love in all its manifestations, including physical passion at its strongest; tender, romantic love; and playful, sportive love.

Today, Cupid and his arrows have become the most popular of love signs, and love is most frequently depicted by two hearts pierced by an arrow - Cupid’s arrow. The next time you find yourself taking the image of Cupid for granted, remember his undying passion for his mortal lover.

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