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All about Cupid

Food For Thought

Cupid, as we visualize him, is a combination of gods from Roman and Greek mythologies. Before the Romans came in contact with the Greek culture, the Roman gods were thought of as powers and forces of nature rather than as having human form. It wasn’t until after the Romans conquered Greece in the third century before Christ was born that writers such as Virgil and Ovid began combining the Greek deities with the Roman ones, creating a hybrid mythology which survives to this day through writings, architecture and art. In Roman mythology, the god of love was called Cupid and was given a personality and a “history” by combining the beliefs about him with those about the Greek god Eros. Eros was originally related to harmony and creativity. He was eventually thought of as a handsome young man, often found in the company of his mother Aphrodite, the goddess of love, known as Venus to the Greeks.
In Greek art, Eros was sometimes shown having wings and his eyes covered, indicating love is blind. He most commonly was shown with a bow and arrows and was thought to shoot darts of desire into both men and gods. Once combined with the Roman legends about Cupid, he degenerated into a child and was often shown in the form of a cherub. Whence comes the plump, infantile image of a baby archer we associate with Valentine’s Day.
Ancient Romans seldom did anything without including the gods in their enterprises. As the culture was primarily agricultural at the time, the gods and goddesses watched over the various aspects of farming and the home. Each part of the house had its own god; the hearth, the granary and the door were especially important. The god Janus presided over the doorway. He was a god who faced both directions at once, so as to best guard the home from threats both coming and going. The threshold could let not only people in and out, but also spirits, good and bad. The tradition of carrying a bride over the threshold comes from the practice of carrying her into the house to avoid any possibility she might trip and cause an unlucky beginning to life in her new home. For a similar reason, the bridal veil was meant to disguise her from any evil spirits that might take advantage of an unprotected woman during the transition from the home of her parents to that of her husband. The practice of carrying a corpse through the door feet first survives today, although few believe it prevents the spirit from returning to the house.
Homage to the gods was practiced both in small ceremonies at home and showy rituals in public. During a meal, a member of the family might toss a small cake into the hearth as an offering to Vesta, goddess of the hearth. Property was purified once a year during Ambarvalia, in which families took part in a procession around their fields and offered prayers to the god Mars for the health and prosperity of the fields, flocks and family. After the sacrifice of a pig, sheep and bull, they feasted and celebrated.
Lupercalia was held annually on Feb. 15, at the Lupercal, a small cave on Rome’s Palatine Hill, where the Romans believed Romulus, founder of Rome and his twin brother Remus, had been suckled by the she-wolf. Young men sacrificed goats and a dog and then cut the goatskins into strips. Clothed only in these strips, they ran a race, tapping female bystanders with the strips of their goatskin garments as they passed. This rowdy festival was so popular it was not abandoned until 494 AD, well into the Christian era, when Pope Gelasius I replaced it with the Christian Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. Over time, Lupercalia evolved into a much tamer tradition where young men chose their sweethearts for the coming year and gave them anonymous cards expressing affection. That, in turn, eventually became associated with the feast day (Feb. 14) of two Roman martyrs, both named St. Valentine, who lived in the third century. St. Valentine has traditionally been regarded as the patron saint of lovers.
It seems Cupid had his own problem with love, in spite of it being his supposed area of expertise. Venus, Cupid’s mother, became jealous of a beautiful princess named Psyche and ordered her son to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man in the world. But Cupid fell in love with Psyche himself and carried her off to a secluded palace. He visited her only in the nighttime so that she should not recognize him. One night, she lit a lamp to see him as he slept and, angry because she disobeyed him, he abandoned her. After searching the world, she finally found him and they were reunited. It would appear even the gods don’t always know what they ‘re doing when it comes to how to treat women.