The stereotypical view of Cupid is one of an adorable, irresistibly cute, infant cherub winging his way toward couples to help people fall in love. He’s the poster child of St. Valentine’s Day, and I very much doubt he’s collecting any royalties from people using an image based on him.
Of course, like so many things, the reality of Cupid is far, far different from the Hallmark version. Most of the reality has to do with understanding the Greek and Roman gods. (The Roman gods were basically the Greek gods adopted into Roman culture—Rome at the time didn’t care about copyright, they just sent in the legions to deal with troublemakers.)
Lesson 1: The Greek gods don’t have morality. They are capricious, proud, and exceptionally self-centered. They frequently became involved in the affairs of mortals simply for their own amusement; and their amusements tended to be pretty malicious.
Lesson 2: Comparing yourself to a god, especially claiming to be better than one in some way, was a form of blasphemy. It never turned out well. Usually someone was transformed into an animal, plant, or insect. Killing is generally too quick and not nearly enough fun.
Back to Cupid. Cupid is Aphrodite’s son. He is the god of romantic love—whereas Aphrodite is the goddess of physical love. (I’ll leave that to your imagination.) Cupid is also Aphrodite’s secret enforcer. That’s right, get rid of the cherub with the diaper and the cute wings. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator in leather jacket and sunglasses, and carrying a shotgun that shoots arrows. But he doesn’t have a motorcycle; he has wings. The man is a professional, and out for business.
The most famous example of Cupid as Aphrodite’s hit man is the story of Cupid and Psyche. Enter Psyche, a woman whom others compared to Aphrodite. Frequently. In fact, most people actually thought she was more beautiful than Aphrodite. Psyche herself never did, but that doesn’t matter. Cue the ominous music.
Aphrodite sends Cupid out as her hit man...but Cupid’s not a normal hit man. He doesn’t kill. His instructions were far more insidious. He was to make Psyche fall in love with someone hideous and poor. Aphrodite wanted Psyche to suffer a horrible and very long life with someone far below her beauty. Again, Psyche didn’t claim to be more beautiful than Aphrodite; others did that for her. Yeah, Aphrodite’s kind of catty (but don’t tell her I said that).
But everything goes wrong for Aphrodite’s plan. Instead of breaking down the door Terminator-style to empty the shotgun into Psyche, Cupid has to visit her while she’s sleeping. He can’t do it. Psyche’s too beautiful. (We may have to visit the idea of sleeping maidens knocking Prince Charmings for a loop another time.) Cupid hits himself with his own arrow—which is why you should always employ the safety.
We’ll take a moment now to think about those arrows. They’re a favorite in mythology for causing all sorts of mischief. Other mortals and gods have fallen prey to them, and they were even the source of much hilarity in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Respect the arrows.
Now Cupid has fallen in love with Psyche. Cupid is also quite the hunk—with wings—so Psyche inevitably falls in love with him. They marry, but she ends up being Aphrodite’s errand girl until Zeus steps in to give her ambrosia to make her immortal. Now immortal and part of the family, Aphrodite rescinds her hit (or just forgets because, you know, capricious).
Afterwards Cupid goes back to being the love enforcer. So on St. Valentine’s Day, watch the wishes for Cupid’s intervention. The Terminator with wings and a shotgun full of love just might be what kicks down the door. And he has orders from upstairs.
Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.com about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.
Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.