What Is The Deal With Cupid?

Cupid, a naked baby with wings, a bow and arrow, and the powers to make people fall in love, just might be the most perplexing holiday symbol out there. We have a lot to unpack here, so let's go all the way back to Cupid's origins in ancient Greece and Rome, where, for one thing, he wasn't always depicted as an infant.

It all started with Eros, Cupid's Greek counterpart. Eros was the winged god of love, fertility, and passion. Armed with golden arrows to inspire love and leaden arrows to inspire hate, he'd treat the mortals of Greece like his playthings, magically inciting conflicts and unions for his own amusement. If Eros sounds like a real jerk, you're right — but he got a taste of his own medicine when he accidentally struck himself with a golden arrow and fell in love with the mortal Psyche.

So how did we get the name "Cupid"? The ancient Roman god of love was named Cupid, but he bears a striking resemblance to Eros. Wings? Check. Arrows? Check. Irresponsible and careless attitude toward other people's feelings? Check. However, where Eros caused drama of all kinds, Cupid only inspired amorous feelings amongst his targets. Gone were Eros' leaden arrows in exchange for a whole quiver full of passionate love.

Although Eros was portrayed as a handsome young man, irresistible to men and gods alike, Cupid underwent a bit of reverse-aging that would make Benjamin Button proud. By the time the Hellenistic period rolled around, Cupid was almost solely depicted as the cherub (or, for the art buffs among us, putto), we know today.

It's not totally clear why Cupid transformed in such a way, but our guess is that it's easier to forgive an emotional manipulator when he looks like a sweet little baby. As for his connection to Valentine's Day? He was simply an obvious choice, given the fact that he evolved into a general symbol for love (and the Easter Bunny was already taken).


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