Eros, the Greek god of love and sexual desire (the word eros, which is found in the Iliad by Homer, is a common noun meaning sexual desire). He was also worshiped as a fertility god, believed to be a contemporary of the primeval Chaos, which makes Eros one of the oldest gods. In the Dionysian Mysteries, Eros is referred to as “protagonus”, the firstborn. But there are many variations to whom the parents of Eros really were. According to Aristophanes (Birds), he was born from Erebus and Nyx (Night); in later mythology, Eros is the offspring of Aphrodite and Ares. Yet in Theogony, the epic poem written by Hesiod, it mentions a typified Eros as being an attendant of Aphrodite, but not her son. Another legend says that he was the son of Iris and Zephyrus.
From the early legend of Eros, it is said that he was responsible for the embraces of Uranus (Heaven or Sky) and Gaia (Earth), and from their union were born many offspring. It was also written that Eros hatched our race and made it appear first into the light (Birds, by Aristophanes). Although one of the oldest gods, he was a latecomer to Greek religion. He was worshiped in many regions of Greece, at Thespiae there was an ancient fertility cult, and in Athens, he and Aphrodite had a joint cult. Also in Athens, the fourth day of every month was sacred to Eros. Sometimes Eros was worshiped by the name Erotes (which is the plural of Eros); this personified all the attractions that evoked love and desire, this included heterosexual and homosexual allurements. Anteros (the Returner of Love also known as the god of Mutual Love) was the brother of Eros, which comes from the version of which Aphrodite and Ares are said to be the mother and father of Eros.
Eros is usually depicted as a young winged boy, with his bow and arrows at the ready, to either shoot into the hearts of gods or mortals which would rouse them to desire. His arrows came in two types: golden with dove feathers which aroused love, or leaden arrows which had owl feathers that caused indifference. Sappho the poet summarized Eros as being bittersweet, and cruel to his victims, yet he was also charming and very beautiful. Being unscrupulous, and a danger to those around him, Eros would make as much mischief as he possibly could by wounding the hearts of all, but according to one legend he himself fell in love. This legend tells us that Eros was always at his mother’s side assisting her in all her conniving and godly affairs. The legend goes on to say that Aphrodite became jealous of the beauty of a mortal, a beautiful young woman named Psyche. In her fit of jealousy, Aphrodite asked Eros to shoot his arrow into the heart of Psyche and make her fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. He agreed to carry out his mother’s wishes, but on seeing her beauty Eros fell deeply in love with Psyche himself. He would visit her every night, but he made himself invisible by telling Psyche not to light her chamber. Psyche fell in love with Eros even though she could not see him until one-night curiosity overcame her. She concealed a lamp and while Eros slept she lit the lamp, revealing the identity of Eros. But a drop of hot oil spilled from the lamp awakening the god. Angered she had seen him Eros fled and the distraught Psyche roamed the earth trying in vain to find her lover. In the end, Zeus took pity and reunited them, he also gave his consent for them to marry. There are variations of this legend but most have the same outcome.
The Romans borrowed Eros from the Greeks and named him Cupid (Latin Cupido meaning desire). Eros has been depicted in art in many ways. The Romans regarded him as a symbol of life after death and decorated sarcophagi with his image. The Greeks regarded him as most beautiful and handsome, the most loved and the most loving. They placed statues of him in gymnasiums (as most athletes were thought to be beautiful). He was depicted on every form of utensil, from drinking vessels to oil flasks, usually showing him ready to fire an arrow into the heart of an unsuspecting victim.