Cupid, the iconic figure of Valentine’s Day, wasn’t always the sweet, innocent child portrayed on a Hallmark card. Today’s Cupid derives from the ancient Greek god Eros, a beautiful and effeminate youth known for his mischievous ways.
Eros was an archer, endowed with the power to make individuals love-struck with his arrows; one strike would make the victim instantly fall in love with the next person he or she saw. Though Eros was mostly benevolent in his use of this power, he could also wreak havoc. Eros took sport in using his bow and arrow to create ill-fated matches.
At times he was reckless and struck unintended victims, including his own mother, Aphrodite. While Eros was leaning in to hug his dear mother, an arrow inadvertently pierced her breast, and although she pushed him away, she instantly became enamored with the next man she saw, a human by the name of Adonis.
Unfortunately for Aphrodite, human-god affairs were scandalous and bound to end in disaster. No one was safe from Eros and his clumsy quiver—not even his mother!
Over time, both his image and his reputation transformed into what we know now: Cupid (the Roman name for Eros), an adorable baby and symbol of romantic, everlasting love. The DMA’s encyclopedic collection provides a great look at how different cultures and periods have appropriated the Cupid figure.
Andrew Sears and Hannah Burney are McDermott Interns at the Dallas Museum of Art.