Cupid is the character that is most commonly associated with Valentine’s Day and the emotion of love in general. Although in recent years Cupid has been largely promoted by marketing and advertising agendas, his history actually stems back thousands of years. More than a mere marketing ploy, Cupid is actually a figure of ancient mythology that has been dated to at least the 5th century B.C. A figure in both Greek and Roman mythology, Cupid is a symbol that has remained with mankind over many centuries. Presently, although most people know what Cupid looks like, few know his background.
The name “Cupid” comes from the Latin “Cupido” that means “desire.” Thus, Cupid is associated with all forms of love from gentle affection to erotic intimacy. Cupid is generally portrayed as being a chubby young boy (little more than a toddler) who can fly via tiny wings. He carries a bow and arrow that are used as an instrument of attraction instead of dangerous weapons. Cupid’s arrows cause anyone who is pierced by one to fall in love. This has resulted in Cupid being the instigator of events in many mythological stories.
Cupid is commonly represented as being the son of Venus, Goddess of Love, and Mars the God of War. Scholars have speculated that the birth of Cupid might have been representational of how love and war are both opposites and interconnected. It is well established that the love affair between Venus and Mars was an allegory of the realities of both love and war. At times, Cupid has even been used as a visualization of political satire on the concept of wars for love. Hence, Cupid is symbolic of both innocence (a child) and danger (carrier of weapons); one who can do good (make people fall in love) or wicked (make people feel desire, often against their free will).
Some scholars have suggested that Cupid’s very appearance is representational of the nature of love. Via this idealism, Cupid’s wings represent the flightiness of lovers. The arrow and the torch (both objects closely associated with Cupid) serve to represent how love can both emotionally wound and inflame an individual. Additional speculation suggests that Cupid is often represented as a young boy to illustrate how love can be irrational and foolish, as are many young people.
Cupid has been portrayed and analyzed in literature far beyond the ancient world. Isidore of Seville wrote about the character in 636 A.D. Shakespeare mentioned Cupid in many of his works; most notably when he described Cupid as blindfolded (hence, blind) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cupid has also been widely depicted in art. He has been shown realistically in paintings and sculptures dating back centuries. Currently, he is often illustrated in a more cartoonish form for modern-day items such as stickers intended for children. Although the storylines and themes behind Cupid’s persona are often adult-oriented, his popularity amongst the modern day media has played up a cuter and more innocent version of the character. Hence, Cupid is instantly recognizable and representational of love that is known to even small children in most developed nations.
Although the Ancient cultures that viewed Venus and Mars as Goddess and God (and Cupid as their omnipotent son) have long since converted to Christianity, the lessons within the old mythological stories still relate to modern day psychology, philosophy, sociology, and other subjects. Plus, the legends are still extremely entertaining. Thus, mythology not only remains popular but it is actually a study requirement in many literature and history curriculums. Noting this, parents who homeschool should consider teaching mythology to their children.
Although books can be found to explain the subject to children of all grades in age-appropriate ways, teenagers will best benefit from learning the original unabridged tales and pondering their multi-layered meanings. Thinking deeply and critically about stories is a requirement that will be needed in college. Mythology is a great subject for literary or philosophical analysis to be built around and such investigation of lesson materials helps young people get comfortable with the process of the academic exploration of written texts.
Although times change, certain elements of the human experience do not—such as the fundamental emotions of love and affection. Perhaps this is the most rational explanation for why Cupid has remained a relatable and iconic entity throughout several centuries of human existence. The origins of Cupid lie in mythology and the topics of mythological stories tie into academic subjects such as history and politics. Using Cupid as a way to introduce the subject of mythology around Valentine’s Day is a great way to introduce youngsters to the world of mythology that in many ways mirrors the modern world.