Today I will talk about one of my three most favorite Greek Gods, Eros (the other two being Hades/Pluton and Thanatos).
WARNING THE PICTURES ARE FAMOUS ARTWORKS AND WILL HAVE THE CHARACTERS SLIGHTLY NUDE. IF YOU ARE SOMEONE WHO MINDS PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE.
(On top of that lots of the older Greek statues have unknown artists or they are just Rome copies and the original are lost. Anyways if any one knows who made them please tell me.)
Eros is the God of love and desire in the Ancient Greek Mythology, he most commonly known as Cupid (Rome equivalent). Usually he was represented as a young man with large wings and bow and arrows. In ancient Greece the artwork usually depicted in idealism, and the ‘ideal’ was usually a male youth that was slightly muscular and so on. Eros was no exception to that depiction. The tiny, fat, baby with super improbably small wings did not become a thing till much later in history.
There are two stories as to the origin of Eros. The first idea is that Eros was a primordial god. Hesiod was one poet who mentioned this concept. This idea has two parts also. Some poets mentioned that Eros was a primordial god born to Nyx (less believed in idea), and the second is that he just born with no parents. Now the second idea of his origin is that Eros is the son of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. This is the more commonly believed idea. I personally think that maybe at first Eros was a primordial god and after much time passed the story evolved to fit the culture including having Eros as son and helper of Aphrodite. Maybe as her cult grew, his role shifted and changed.
With Eros as Aphrodite’s son, later myths came about that included Erotes. These were other young male winged deities, brothers of Eros, that were associated with love and sex, and made up Aphrodite’s entourage or personage. This included Himeros (Impetuous Desire or Unrequited Love), Pothos (Longing), and Anteros (Returned Love). They were also very mischievous using their powers over human love to mess with people. Anteros punishes those who scorn love, and he is depicted with lead arrows. Himeros on the other hand causes unrequited love, and Pothos created yearning mostly for people who were gone (kind of like saudades).
But for the most part Eros is never found alone in most statues that still survive today. He can befound sometimes with Aphordite and maybe the other Erotes, but most of the art show cases Eros and his wife Psyche. This is also the most famous story with Eros, and can be found in Metamorphoses by Ovid. This story is the union of the heart and mind/love and soul, and the best part is that Eros, the personification of sex, does not cheat on his wife, he does not have other children with other ladies, and his only role in stories of love (other than this one) is causing others to get together.
So before I tell the story of Eros and Psyche, let me give a brief introduction. Psyche is the ancient Greek word for the soul or mind. She is a young mortal woman who marries Eros and becomes the Goddess of the Soul/Mind. She is usually depicted as a young woman with butterfly wings. Together they have the daughter Hedone, Goddess of Pleasure.
Psyche was a young and beautiful maiden who was loved and adored by many for her exceptional looks. She was so admired that Aphrodite began to feel jealous and sent her son Eros to curse her. He went down onto earth and put a spell on her where no mortal man would love her. But while doing so he accidentally scratched her with his arrow. When she awoke, she instantly fell in love with him, and Eros, startled by her waking, scratched himself and fell in love also. Some stories then go on to say that he felt guilt and sprinkled on her a potion that promised her joy in life.
Her parents became worried that though she was so beautiful no one would marry her. They went to an oracle, and Eros had Apollo tell them that the only creature she could marry was a hideous beast on top of a mountain whose face can never be seen. So Eros waited at the top of the mountain, and she was sent as his wife to live in large and rich palace. Each night, he would come to the palace, and though she never saw his face, he proved to be a gentle and kind husband that she loved.
Psyche was extremely happy, and her three sisters became very jealous. They told her that he was most likely going to kill her and, by instilling doubt, persuaded her to try and see his face. So at night, when Eros slept, Psyche lit an oil lamp, held a knife in the other hand, and looked upon the face of a God. She was so startled she spilled oil on him, which woke him, and he flew out the window.
Psyche realized the depths of her mistake (Which was not really that bad, cause she just wanted to know who her husband was, and even though the lesson is kind of like if you love a person you should trust the person, it is hard to trust a person who does not trust you. So I think she was in the right.) She desperately wanted to find her husband, and went searching for him, and after some time she went into the temple of Aphrodite and prayed for help. Aphrodite, who talked to Eros and fed him the idea that Psyche was untrustworthy woman who betrayed him, gave Psyche four impossible tasks to complete.
At this point, Psyche becomes somewhat an Epic Heroine. She does impossible tasks and succeeds because of her qualities. She goes into the land of the dead and back to the land of the living. She meets temptation, and is on a quest for something great and intangible (love).
For her first task, Aphrodite presented a massive pile of mixed poppy seeds, wheat seeds, beans, chickpeas, barley seeds, and lentils. Psyche was told to separate them by dawn. Some kind ants take pity on Psyche and help her separate the pile.
The second task, Psyche had to cross a river and take some golden fleece from a flock of Helios’s violent sheep. When she went there a kindly river spirit (some say a deity of the river, some say a divine spirit in the reeds) tells her to wait till the hottest time of day. At that time the sheep went into the shade to sleep, and she succeed at retrieving the fleece.
Then Aphrodite gave the third task. Psyche was sent to collect the black water at the source of the Styx (under world river). There she faced many abhorrent monsters that threatened to make her fail, but Zeus took pity and sent an eagle that fought the creatures and collected the water.
Becoming enraged at Psyche’s constant success, Aphrodite gave the final task. She tells her that she must go down into Hades, the underworld, and ask the queen Persephone for beauty in a box. She goes down to the underworld and receives the box, and Persephone tells her not to open it. But her curiosity gets her, she looks into the box. She finds it empty and falls deep into sleep.
Eros learns of all that Psyche has done, and his mother’s game, and goes out to look for Psyche. He finds her in a death like sleep. Now here there are two alternative endings. One: Eros pulls the sleep from her, puts it into the box, and she presents it to Aphrodite. Zeus promises to allow them to marry in return for Eros helping him woo women in the future. Two: he begs Zeus to help, and moved by their love and passion, he brings her back to life and allows them to marry. Either way, he gives her ambrosia the drink of immortality, and Psyche becomes a goddess.
So it is a happy ending to a great story, and one of my all time favorites.
If you feel like you want to read more on Eros and Psyche check out this website: http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/psyche.html