The History of Cupid

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath love’s mind of any judgement taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is love said to be a child
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.”

-William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Many a romantic heart has claimed Shakespeare as the authority on the mysterious force of love, and as expressed in this excerpt from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the playwright has engraved the image of Cupid onto the hearts of cultures worldwide, a mythical being forever serving as an illustration of love’s sting.

This Shakespearean stanza has become an eloquent excuse to attribute the blame of romantic misadventures to a winged arrow-shooting child, whose weaponry of choice seems to expose both true love’s innocence and the sentimental folly of fleeting emotions.

Cupid is an international image of love, and thanks to Shakespeare, he has remained a figure that we still find on Valentine’s Day cards and the lips of lovers who fail to find a more realistic reason for their feelings of romance. However, it was centuries before Shakespeare when Cupid originally found his wings.

According to mythology, Cupid was thought to be an ancient Roman god of love, and his mother was Venus. The mythical Cupid gained his reputation of love in a legendary story of his tragic bride, Psyche.

Jealous of mortal Psyche’s beauty, Venus ordered Cupid to destroy her, but instead, he fell in love with her and took her as his wife. As a mortal being, Psyche could not look at Cupid, and as long as their eyes never met, she lived a happy life. However, when persuaded by her sisters, Psyche looked at Cupid, who punished her act by deserting her. The mortal Psyche found herself alone, with no sight of her beloved Cupid. Wandering the world in search of him, she came upon the temple of Venus.

The cruel goddess gave Psyche a series of dangerous tasks, convincing her this would bring her happiness. For her last task, Psyche was told to visit the underworld to retrieve a dose of the beauty of Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, and bring it back to Venus in a box she had been given. Told by Venus not to open the box, Psyche disobeyed as temptation came over her, and fell into a deadly slumber.

Cupid found his bride’s lifeless body on the ground, and moved by her love for him, forgave her, as did Venus. Amazed at Psyche’s devotion to Cupid, the gods made her a goddess, and the immortal Psyche and Cupid were wed as equals.

Even against his mother’s wishes, love prevailed in Cupid’s story. Although today Cupid is often viewed as a careless creature, the story of his forgiveness of Psyche originally cast a light of benevolence on the now-humorous character.

As the centuries past, Cupid’s persona changed over time, but he always kept his wings, as well as his bow and arrows that pierce into the hearts of lovers-to-be. Historians have often attributed the winged nature of cupid to the flightiness of sensual emotions, which likely change one’s perception of his or her lover. In some myths, Cupid’s bow and arrow are accompanied by a torch, which symbolizes the love that inflames the innocent heart.

So from Roman mythology to boxes of chocolate, Cupid remains a signature image in cultural romance, and the rest is history—well, mythology.