What would Valentine’s Day be without images of a golden-tressed boy armed with bow and arrows? The arrows represent feelings of love and desire, and they are aimed and cast at various individuals, causing them to fall deeply in love — or fall out of it.
In Roman mythology, the boy is known as Cupid and is the son of Venus, the goddess of love. Portrayed as a cherubic and mischievous toddler, this magical boy was purported to be the matchmaker of gods and mortals alike.
For students of Greek mythology, Cupid represents Eros, the Greek word for “desire.” He was the son of Aphrodite, Venus’ Hellenistic counterpart, and would play with the hearts of mortals and gods, sometimes leaving mayhem in his wake. In Greek mythology, Eros was more teenager than bubbly baby, and capitalized on his status as a heartthrob rather than the cherubic status of Roman mythology, according to Richard Martin, a Stanford University professor. While Cupid may have been an adorable imp, some historians say Eros had a darker side, going so far as to describe him as calculating and sinister — forcing the wrong people into lovelorn matches.
According to Museum Hack, while Cupid could make people fall in and out of love, he also was once in love himself. In this telling, Cupid is a young man when Venus learns that a mortal girl is born with such great beauty that others start to forget to worship Venus, adoring this girl instead. Upset about the misdirected adoration toward this mortal, Venus asks Cupid to have the girl, Psyche, fall in love with a monster. Cupid agrees, but once he sees Psyche he “accidentally” hits himself with one of his own golden arrows and falls in love with Psyche. The resulting match does not prove easy, and through a series of unfortunate events, Psyche must prove her love to Cupid and accomplish various tasks to win back his heart. Eventually, Psyche does and achieves goddess status.
Cupid has been portrayed both as a young man and child through Renaissance art and beyond. When Valentine’s Day became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, Cupid was linked to Valentine’s Day celebrations due to his matchmaking abilities. His popularity only continued in the early 20th century, when Hallmark began to manufacture Valentine’s Day cards featuring Cupid.
Cupid helped push people together in ancient mythology, and he can even be the catalyst for modern day matchmaking as well.