The rosy-faced, heart-launching cherubim immortalised by St. Valentineís Day is familiar to everybody as the darling little angel who sits and smiles and fires his arrows at cheery lovers. To the Romans, however, he was more than an adornment for a Hallmark card. The son of the speedy Mercury and the ravishing Venus, Cupid was the Roman god of love and passion, an occupation which, for a society whose gods were as sexually motivated as were its people, was in high demand. A shot from his bow could break a manís ambitions, change a womanís life. Indeed, the golden tipped arrows of love were only one of the many kinds he carried; all were not so pleasant, and were honed on a grinding stone wetted with blood. Even the gods themselves were not immune to his inebriating arsenal - Apollo himself, the Golden One, fell victim to Cupidís mischievous blows. Incensed by the taunts of the musical god, Cupid aimed his unerring bolt at the offender; Apollo shortly found himself skewered by a golden shaft that aroused his heart with love for the nymph Daphne. But Cupid, a shrewd lovemonger, directed his next arrow, a dull, leaden affair, to Daphne, who, stricken by the foul weapon, was repulsed by the idea of love.
The charming lad was famous for other mischief, as well. His sharpest arrow pierced Pluto, the dour god of the underworld, and caused him to see Proserpina with new eyes, ending the perennial summers the mythological Romans had enjoyed. His own mother Venus wounded herself with his arrow, and was bound by love to Adonis. To his credit, the hellion managed to perform some very thoughtful deeds throughout his career. At Venusí behest, he secured Didoís love for Aeneas when the sailor landed in Carthage, preparing him to continue his journey. His fire also struck the Princess Medea, without whose help Jason of Argonaut fame would have had no chance of survival. The best known of Cupidís escapades, though, is the story of Psyche.
Psyche, the daughter of a king and one of three sisters of surpassing beauty, was famous throughout her lands for her godlike radiance. A passer-by could not help but turn his head or sing praise to her, and even devotees of Venus found themselves shirking their duties to pay homage to the young woman. Venus, quite naturally, was upset with the new standard of upkeep imposed on her temples, and, astounded that a mere human Ė a girl whose life was as a gurgle in her divine stomach Ė could purloin her priestsí dedication. As she often did in such distressing times, Venus summoned her son, and asked him to amend the situation, and Cupid, always enthusiastic to do her bidding, agreed to perform his magic on the offending mortal. Although she did not know it, even her son, who commanded the hearts of men, was to succumb to Psycheís allure. Altogether stunned when he first beheld her, Cupid lost command of his tongue, leaving Venus with the satisfaction that soon her revenge would cause the girlís life to shatter. The crafty god intended to imbue her with love for a hideous beast, whose abomination would equal her beauty, but, as he doused her with the bitter water from a fountain in Venusí garden, the tip of his arrow brushed against her side. She awoke, and, startled, Cupid perforated himself with the dart in question, inflicting his own spell on himself, and falling in love with his own target. After that awkward exchange, it became known that for all her beauty, Psyche could excite no manís love. Forlorn and alone, Psyche found joy in Apolloís prophecy that her husband, a monster that neither man nor god could resist, awaited her on the peak of the mountain. The monster was Cupid, who, on the condition that she could never see him, offered to be her spouse. As it happened, Psyche was as happy as she had ever been, until, during a visit with her sisters, they urged her to look upon him, lest he be a beast. Cupid warned her against it, but, while he slept, she lit a candle, which wax dripped onto his head, awakening him. He flew from her in sorrow.
Psyche, heartbroken, distraught that she had no faith in the love of a god, and convinced that she would never see him again, set about to prove her love of him to the gods. After much toil of Venusí conceit, the two were again united, and they begat a daughter, named Pleasure.
Contributed by Gifford, Justin
15 January 2003