Now that February is here, Valentine’s Day symbols, including a winged Valentine’s Day Cupid, are starting to appear everywhere! If you’ve ever looked at him and wondered “who is Cupid?”, get ready to find out.
Cupid, a figure seemingly synonymous with love and Valentine’s Day actually has a fascinating history that connects all the way back to ancient Greek mythology.
He is inextricably linked to our contemporary Valentine’s Day celebrations, and for good reason! Throughout time, Cupid has transformed from capricious god, to an innocent matchmaker.
Keep reading for a deep dive into who Cupid is, what his different depictions symbolize, and how he evolved to become the Valentine’s Day Cupid we all know and love today.
Who is Cupid Greek mythology and Roman mythology?
Cupid dates all the way back to Greek and Roman mythology. While it is hard to find the exact date that Greek mythology began, it was depicted in art during the Geometric Period (900 B.C.E. – 700 B.C.E.).
Greek mythology predates Roman mythology which emerged in the Hellenistic period (323 B.C.E – 31 B.C.E.). When Roman mythology was created, it took the stories from Greek mythology and reimagined them, Cupid included!
While the stories told in the two mythologies are largely similar, the names of the gods and goddesses are almost always changed. Cupid is no exception.
Cupid Greek name
Cupid is known for being the god of erotic love and desire. The name “Cupid” is actually the Roman version of his name. Cupid’s Greek name is “Eros”. He also appears in Latin poetry as “Amor”.
Even though Cupid holds three names, they all represent the same thing. Each name literally translates to mean love.
Now that you know Cupid is a god of love it makes sense that he is associated with Valentine’s Day – the holiday filled with love!
Venus and Cupid
You might have heard the names Venus and Cupid together. This is because Venus is Cupid’s mother. In Roman mythology Venus, like her son, represents love. She is the goddess of love and beauty.
In Greek mythology, Venus’s counterpart is Aphrodite. She is also portrayed as the goddess of love and beauty in Greek myths.
The names of the gods and goddesses can be used interchangeably. Though some stories have minor plot point differences, they are largely the same in both style of mythology.
Valentine’s Day Cupid history
When we think of Cupid today, images of a winged baby wielding arrows of love come to mind. This modern Valentine’s Day Cupid is inspired by his mythological depiction.
When Cupid first appeared in Greek mythology as Eros, he was depicted as a handsome youth. The earliest works of art indicated that Eros was tall, slender and winged.
By the time the Hellenistic period came around, Roman art portrayed Cupid as a what is classified as a putto. Putti are chubby male children who are normally winged and naked. They represent pure love.
Cupid and Valentine’s Day cards
The childlike depiction of Cupid is most similar to the Valentine’s Day Cupid we are accustomed to seeing today. Cupid’s appearance was solidified as a chubby winged baby when the first commercial Valentine’s Day cards came into existence.
In the 19th century, Esther A. Howland began popularizing commercial Valentine’s Day cards in the United States. Her cards were three dimensional and featured layers of lace, satin and ribbons.
Her cards also prominently featured Cupid, depicted as a chubby infant. When her business boomed, the images of a cherub-like Cupid became his main depiction.
The earliest images of Eros in art didn’t feature his bow and arrow. However, from the Hellenistic period onwards, Cupid’s artistic portrayal (including his depictions on Valentine’s Day cards) usually included his bow and arrow.
Symbolic meaning of Cupid depictions
The various ways Cupid has been portrayed over time all affect the way we think of our modern Valentine’s Day Cupid.
If we examine the various depictions of Cupid we can focus the changes between them. Each of those changes can be interpreted favorably or unfavorably depending on a person’s perspective, as each element of change in Cupid’s portrayal has both a positive and a negative connotation.
Some of the ways Cupid has appeared in art that have significant meanings and symbolism are as follows: winged, blindfolded, as a baby, as a handsome youth, naked, sleeping, and armed with a bow and quiver of arrows.
Winged Cupid meaning
He is most consistently depicted as having wings. Both the versions of Cupid as a baby, and the ones of a handsome youth, appear winged.
Cupid’s wings are symbolic of godliness. Not all mythological gods have wings, but many do. They represent the gods having powers that mortals can’t possess, like flight.
Greek gods that have wings are often messengers (like Hermes, the messenger of the gods). Cupid is regarded as a messenger of love!
In relation to love, Cupid’s wings symbolize the flighty nature of passion. They represent lovers who often change their minds, moving quickly in and out of love, essentially “flying” to and from each other.
Have you heard the term “love gives you wings”? Cupid’s wings are also symbolic of the joyous, invincible feeling a person can have when falling in love.
Meaning of Cupid blindfolded
Cupid sometimes appears blindfolded in art. His blindfold is essentially saying that love is blind. This can have either a positive or negative meaning depending on how you look at it.
In one interpretation his blindfold implies that a person’s appearance doesn’t matter when two people are in love. Cupid’s blindfold symbolizes the fact that hearts don’t have eyes, and don’t need visual confirmation to know they’re in love.
“Love is blind” can also mean that people in love act blindly, without thinking of the consequences of their rash actions. It implies that people act foolishly when consumed by love.
Why is Cupid a baby?
In modern times the image we associate most commonly with our Valentine’s Day Cupid is one of a baby. This childlike appearance indicates that love innocent.
Children are associated with having pure hearts, that have not been jaded by life. However, Cupid’s childlike appearance also indicates that love is naive. While it may have pure intentions, it can easily be taken advantage of.
Cupid’s depiction as a childlike god implies that he is mischievous like many children. He plays with hearts as other children play with toys – recklessly and without any regard for consequences.
The meaning of Cupid as handsome youth
Cupid was depicted as a tall, slender, handsome youth in Greek art during the Geometric Age. This handsome image ties into the meaning of Cupid’s name, which literally translates to mean “passionate desire”.
The appearance of Cupid as a young man symbolizes romance and courtship. He also represents erotic love, of which he is the god.
Our modern Valentine’s Day Cupid isn’t shown as a young man. However the meaning of love and romance associated with the youthful appearance of Cupid is the one popularly regarded today.
Cupid meaning when depicted naked
There are two meanings of Cupid’s naked appearance. When depicted as naked, it shows that he has nothing to hide, symbolizing pure love and innocence.
When the Roman empire converted to Christianity, the meaning of Cupid’s nudity changed. The myths of Greek gods and goddesses were reinterpreted, and the deities were often portrayed as demons.
Cupid was called the “demon of fornication” instead of the god of love. During this time, when he was shown naked, it symbolized that nothing would conceal his lascivious motives.
Sleeping Cupid meaning
The image of a sleeping Cupid was first seen in Michelangelo’s sculpture titled Sleeping Cupid. It was created in 1496, and commissioned to appear much older.
After the sculpture disappeared (presumably lost) other images of a sleeping Cupid emerged. An Italian painter named Caravaggio later created a sleeping Cupid painting in 1608.
In Caravaggio’s painting, Cupid is shown sleeping soundly with his arrows laying untouched beside him. As his arrows are laid down, this implies that the world is only safe from Cupid’s mischief when he sleeps.
Since Cupid is the god of love, his deep sleep in these artistic works also indicates a pause on Cupid’s matchmaking. This results in a lack of love being spread, and symbolizes love withering away.
Arrows of Cupid meaning
Another common depiction of Cupid is with a bow and quiver of arrows. Cupid’s bow and arrow are his most recognizable symbol. They are the reason he is thought of as a messenger of love.
Cupid’s had two different varieties of arrows. One was golden tipped, and the other was tipped with lead. The variety of arrows we most often associate with our modern Valentine’s Day Cupid are his golden tipped arrows.
It was thought that when Cupid shot one of his golden arrows, its target would instantly fall uncontrollably in love with the first person it saw. These arrows symbolize true love and fate.
However, since Cupid has a mischievous side, he wasn’t always running around spreading love and happiness. His second type of arrow, the leaded arrow, had the ability to make its recipient hate the first person it saw.
These leaded arrows symbolize the pain of falling in love. People are literally shot with the arrows, implying that love is a wound of the heart, and in some cases (when Cupid shoots his leaded arrows), love hurts.
Images of Cupid shooting arrows, either represent Cupid’s trickery, or Cupid’s status as a messenger of true love. Like most of Cupid’s symbols, his arrows can be interpreted as both good and bad.
The story of Apollo and Daphne
In one of his more prideful and devious moments, Cupid struck the god Apollo with a golden arrow of love causing him to fall in love with the river nymph Daphne. He then struck Daphne with a leaded arrow causing her to feel hatred toward Apollo.
This tragic love story ended after much chase, with Daphne literally being turned into a tree, and Apollo left to forever grieve the object of his affection.
While we now associate the arrows of Cupid with love and matchmaking, they weren’t always been used for good!
Read more about the story of Daphne and Apollo, including information on the gods, and how the symbols in this story were signifiant to history.
The story of Cupid and Psyche
Another story that featured Cupid’s arrows was the story of Cupid and Psyche. In this story, Cupid tried to avenge his mother’s honor by making the beautiful Psyche fall in love with a monster.
However, in an unexpected turn of events, Cupid grazed himself with one of his arrows, which caused him to fall madly in love with Psyche.
This story is regarded as one of the great love stories in Greek and Roman mythology. While the two lovers faced injury, disapproving parents, and a breach of trust, in the end they found a happy ending.
In fact, the story of Cupid and Psyche is one of the main reasons we associate Cupid with true love! He was one of the few characters in Roman and Greek mythology to find a happy ending with his soulmate.
Learn more about the story of Cupid and Psyche, and how their love story inspired four popular fairy tales that were turned into Disney movies.
Cupid complaining to Venus (Cupid the honey thief)
Around 1525 C.E., Larry Cranach the Elder created an oil painting called Cupid complaining to Venus. In this painting, Cupid is standing to his mother, holding a piece of honeycomb, being stung by bees.
In the painting, the honey bees are symbolic of Cupid and his arrows. As the story of the painting goes, Cupid was lamenting to Venus that something as small as a honey bee shouldn’t be able to deliver such strong stings.
Venus found the irony in his statement and used the event as a teaching moment. She reminded Cupid that he is also a tiny being, who delivers the strong stings of love and hate with his arrows.
Unlike the honey bees who inflict short lived wounds, the stings of Cupid’s arrows last infinitely longer!
Family history of Cupid, god of love
While Venus/Aphrodite is always regarded as Cupid’s mother, there is uncertainty about Cupid’s father.
In Greek mythology Eros (Cupid) is thought to have been one of the first gods in existence, and for that reason he is believed to have come to life asexually.
Later, Roman stories indicated that Mars (Ares) was Cupid’s father. If this was true, it would provide an interesting dichotomy between his parents.
If you believe the stories that name Mars as Cupid’s father, it would mean his parents were the gods of love and war (Venus and Mars).
This opposition between love and war could explain the two varieties of arrows Cupid uses. Venus could symbolically represent his arrows of love, and Mars could symbolically represent his arrows of hatred.
No matter the origin of creation, Cupid went on to live and marry Psyche (a princess turned goddess of soul). They had one daughter named Voluptas, whose name means “pleasure”.
Valentine’s Day Cupid facts
If you found the information above interesting, and want to learn more facts about the link between Cupid and Valentine’s Day, check out the facts below – some may surprise you!
- Cupid is one of the six symbols of Valentine’s Day. The other symbols are hearts, lovebirds, roses, love knots, and Valentine’s Day cards.
- During Valentine’s Day cartoon images of Cupid are often layered on red, pink and white backgrounds. The reason these colors are connected with Cupid is because they are the three main colors of Valentine’s Day.
- The god of love has been depicted in many ways, ranging from a chubby baby to a handsome youth.
- Cupid is commonly associated with Valentine’s Day and true love. However, historically, Cupid used his powers for both love and hate.
- Early 19th century commercial Valentine’s Day cards contained lace, ribbon, frills and a picture of Cupid. This picture represented him as a chubby winged baby, solidifying our the image we associate with our modern Valentine’s Day Cupid.
Every holiday of the year is represented by a set of symbols. Just as Cupid represents Valentine’s Day, each holiday has its own symbolic items.
Who is Cupid and other FAQs
Since Cupid existed long ago in Greek and Roman mythology, there have been a lot of questions surrounding his existence.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Cupid, and their answers. If you have any other questions about Cupid, leave them in the comments below, and we will do our best to answer them!
Who is Cupid?
Cupid has become a symbol of our contemporary Valentine’s Day. He played an important role in history, as Cupid was the god of erotic love in Roman mythology.
Who is Cupid’s mother?
In Roman mythology, Cupid’s mother was Venus, goddess of love and beauty. She was also regarded as his mother in Greek mythology, but her name in Greek mythology was Aphrodite.
Who is Cupid’s father?
Though there is some mystery around the topic, Cupid’s father in Roman mythology has been widely accepted as Mars (Mercury), the god of war. The other theory is that Cupid didn’t have a father and came to be a god asexually.
Who is Cupid in love with?
Cupid is in love with his wife, Psyche. She is referred to as the goddess of soul. Psyche wasn’t always a goddess though. She was born a mortal daughter of a king and queen. She was the youngest of her three sisters.
Though once was a princess, she was given ambrosia during her and Cupid’s marriage ceremony which she drank to become immortal, transforming into a goddess.
Is Cupid good or bad?
In his own way, Cupid is both good and bad. This really is up to your interpretation. He has done good things like bringing people together by having them fall in love. However, he has also wielded his powers to destroy love stories (like in the story of Apollo and Daphne).
Is Cupid a god?
Yes. In Roman mythology Cupid is the god of erotic love. He also goes by the name Eros in Greek mythology.
Is Cupid real?
The ancient Romans very much believed Cupid was real! He was one of the deities in Greek and Roman mythology.
Is Cupid a demon?
Surprisingly, yes, Cupid is a demon in some belief systems. Once the Roman Empire converted to Christianity they changed the perception of the Greek and Roman deities.
Cupid began to be referred to as a demon of fornication. That meaning hasn’t stood the test of time though. Now Cupid is widely regarded as a Greek/Roman god, and not a demon.
Is there a Saint Cupid?
No, there is not a Saint Cupid. The saint associated with Valentine’s Day is Saint Valentine, the patron saint of lovers. Cupid was not a saint, but instead a god.
Is Cupid a boy or a girl?
Cupid is a boy. Throughout time he has changed form slightly, ranging from a handsome young man, to a chubby baby, but he has always been depicted as a boy.
What is a Cupid’s bow?
The god of love, Cupid, was known for carrying a bow and arrow, but the term “Cupid’s bow” actually refers to the shape of a person’s top lip. The two curves in the center of the top lip are what gives our lips their heart shape.
While not everyone has a pronounced Cupid’s bow, it was a desired lip shape in ancient Greece. It is said to resemble the bow that the god Cupid carried with him.
Our favorite facts about Cupid
Did you enjoy learning about the symbolism and history of Cupid? Check out some of our favorite Cupid facts!
- Greek and Roman gods and goddesses that attempt to love mortal beings rarely have stories with a happy ending. Cupid is one of the few to have a love story (with a mortal being) that resulted in a happy ending, as described in the Psyche and Cupid story.
- Cupid’s love story with Psyche is a source of inspiration for many fairy tales popular today, like Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
- When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, Greek and Roman deities were often portrayed as demons, and Cupid is no exception. He was referred to as a demon of fornication.
- There is some debate as to who Cupid’s father is. Some stories say he came into existence asexually, and other stories report that Mars (Ares), the god of war is his father. If Mars was his father, then both of his parents would share names with planets (Venus and Mars).
- Cupid carries two different types of arrows, golden tipped arrows that inspire love, and lead tipped arrows that cause hatred.
If you enjoyed reviewing these facts about Cupid and want more trivia, you’re in luck! We have an entire section dedicated to fun facts. It has articles with trivia about every holiday, Valentine’s Day included!
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Looking for more Valentine’s inspired posts?
If you enjoyed learning the answer to the question “who is Cupid?”, and finding out how he is linked to Valentine’s Day, be sure to also these other posts about all the holiday of love!
- Galentine’s Day – Chances are you’ve probably heard of Galentine’s Day. Head to this post to find out the history of this holiday created in 2010!
- Valentine’s Day heart tree – Looking for an easy craft project for the holiday? Check out this tutorial for a DIY heart tree using items you probably already have in your home!
- White chocolate peppermint cookies – If you’re searching for a delicious Valentine’s Day treat, look no further. These white chocolate dipped sugar cookies with crushed peppermint are an Always the Holidays Valentine’s Day staple!
- Tootsie Pop flower Valentines – Want a creative way to offer your special someone a token of love? Check out these rose shaped Valentines with a tootsie pop center!
- Wine cork heart wall hanging – If you have extra wine corks after enjoying a glass of red or white wine on Valentine’s Day, make sure to check out this easy wall hanging project.
- Wine cork heart door decoration – Looking to greet your Valentine’s Day guests in style? Head to this tutorial for an adorable front door decoration made from recycled wine corks.
Still want ideas for Valentine’s Day? Check out this compilation of Valentine’s Day crafts and recipe ideas. There’s plenty of great ideas to choose from!
Pin this post on Valentine’s Day Cupid for later
Would you like a reminder of this post answering the question “who is Cupid”? Just pin this image to one of your Valentine’s Day boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
If you are looking for a way to bring some “Cupid inspired” romance to your Valentine’s Day celebration, watch our love potion video on YouTube.
About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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