Who is Eros in Greek Mythology?
According to some Greek traditions, Eros was the god of love and son of Erebus and Nyx (Night), while in others, he was the son of Ares, god of war. As the youngest of the gods and the companion of Aphrodite, he appeared to enjoy making as much mischief as he could by firing his arrows of passion into the hearts of the gods and human alike. His Roman counterpart is CUPID.
His connection with homosexual love may have derived from his supposed relationship with Ares, for he was the patron divinity of the Sacred Band of Thebes, which was a group of one hundred and fifty pairs of lovers who were all killed by the Macedonian army at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. After the battle, King Philip of Macedon granted them a burial.
The First Depictions of Eros
The exact origins and where Eros came from do slightly vary. In some accounts, Eros is a primordial being, a child of Chaos. He was also responsible for blessing the union between Gaia and Uranus, who then created the universe as we know it in Greek mythology. He was almost seen as a facilitator, encouraging the unions between other primordial deities.
The ancient Tragedians saw Eros as both positive and negative, as the unions he created would often lead to virtue as well as misery. In these older depictions, he’s often seen as a plump overweight child carrying a bow.
You might be somewhat familiar with his Roman counterpart, Cupid. Anyone who was hit by the arrows he would fire would fall instantly in love, but the question of whether he chose his targets carefully or just fired at random, knowing that they would fall in love regardless, is one that I’ll leave you to consider.
The Later Depictions of Eros
In the later accounts and the depictions that followed, Eros was considered to be the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. There are some conflicting beliefs about who exactly his father was, with some believing it could have been Hermes, another Zeus, but it’s widely regarded that the God of War Ares was his true father.
How does Eros Look Like?
The physical appearance of Eros also shifted in these depictions, much like his mother and his father. He was considered extremely beautiful, different vastly from images of a plump child, but he was still regarded as a constant source of trouble for both gods and mortals.
What Type of Love is Eros?
Eros is often described as the god of love, but it’s very important for us to note that there are many different types of love. Eros was a very passionate god, represented by the type of love he had control over. He could make anyone fall in love instantly—whether those individuals remained in love was another story.
He was a god who lived very much in the present, and it’s because of this we can almost see him as the god of passion, but with passion comes sexual activity, and that is why he was also associated with fertility.
If we look at his brother Anteros, he was also considered a god of love but in a very different way. Anteros was considered the god of a quieted love, essentially, love that had been returned or rejected, and thus he was often associated with the concept of mutual love. He was also seen as quite a vengeful god, taking actions against those who rejected the love of others.
The two brothers are quite often seen as opposites, and there are depictions of them on an opposite end of a scale to show their differences. But despite their different views on love, the two brothers physical appearance was quite similar, and even to this day, statues of Anteros are quite often mistaken for Eros.
The two brothers are often depicted as long-haired males with wings carrying a bow, but depictions of Anteros slightly differ. At times, he can be seen carrying a golden club, and unlike his brother, his wings are more plumed, similar to that of a butterfly.
Those Associated with Eros
Eros did have several followers or minor deities that he was associated with. Pothos and Himeros were amongst the ones are most commonly seen by his side, and they were thought to represent longing and desire.
There were quite a few winged gods who were associated with love and desire. They were referred to as the Erotes, and their exact number does tend to vary. But besides the ones we’ve just mentioned, they seemed to have no distinct mythology, which has led many to believe that they were created to be used in poetic stories and not much more.
The Story of Eros and Psyche
The Story of Eros and Psyche is perhaps, one of the most well-known love stories in Greek mythology. It is a tale of love, heartbreak and determination.
The Beauty of Psyche
There was once a king who had three daughters of great beauty, but his youngest daughter Psyche possessed the beauty that had never been seen before. Many considered her appearance to be perfection.
When people laid their eyes upon her, they would often say that not even Aphrodite could compete with such beauty. With more and more people paying attention to Psyche’s beauty, they began to forget the goddess. Her temples were abandoned, and the sculptors who once crafted marvellous statues of her now did so for Psyche. Aphrodite began to fade from existence.
Aphrodite would not sit idle and do nothing as she watched the mortal girl replace her. She commanded her son, Eros, to aid her. “Use your power, make this shameless little girl fall in love with the vilest and most despicable creature that has ever walked the earth.”
She commanded her son to shoot Psyche with one of his arrows, but when he first laid his eyes upon her, he was instantly captivated, almost as if his heart had been pierced by one of his arrows.
Eros was faced with a situation that would end poorly regardless of his choice. If he did what his mother asked him, then he would potentially lose the love of his life, but if he disobeyed his mother, he would have to face the consequences.
He eventually decided that he would ignore his mother’s commands and say nothing of what had happened.
The Prophesy from the Oracle of Delphi
Despite being the most beautiful woman on earth, Psyche was extremely lonely. She was unable to make a meaningful connection with anyone. Thousands of men were in awe of Psyche, but they were happy just admiring and worshipping her; no man dare to approach or court her, almost as if she was too sacred.
She watched as her sisters had lavished weddings with Kings, wishing that one day that would be her. Her father was so desperate to find out what he could do to help his daughter that he visited the Oracle of Delphi, where he asked Apollo what he could do to find his daughter a husband.
Apollo told the king that he should take his daughter to the summit of a mountain, wearing a black dress, and there, once alone, she would be given a husband—a terrifying winged serpent that even the gods feared.
Her family was devastated by the news, but Psyche began her ascent to the top of the mountain, not knowing what evil awaited her.
The Beginning of a Fairy Tale
Psyche waited on the cliff top for hours in the cold, shivering and crying, until she felt a wind of Zephyr and all of a sudden, she rose into the air. The Zephyr eased her pain and placed her to sleep.
When she woke, she was in a soft meadow of freshly cut flowers in front of a castle, so magical that it had to belong to a god.
When she approached the castle, it appeared to be uninhabited, but she heard a faint voice saying, “The house is for you. Come in and do not be afraid. Take a bath, and then we will honour your arrival.”
After doing so, Psyche sat patiently, waiting for her husband to appear. She could feel his presence was close, and eventually, he whispered into her ear—she could tell by his voice that he was no monster but rather the husband she had always wished for.
She would spend most of the day bored waiting for her husband to arrive in the evening, but when he did, he brought with him great joy.
She Doubts Her Lover
She was still unable to physically see her husband, which did bring her a degree of sadness. So, she asked him for one favour, to allow her to see her family as it would comfort her.
At first, her husband said no, but as Psyche’s sadness grew, he changed his mind: “I will allow your sisters to visit the castle but heed my warning. If you allow them to influence you, our relationship will be destroyed, and they will be suffering.”
The following day, Psyche’s sisters arrived, and there were tears of joy as they were so pleased to finally see each other again. Her sisters were taken back by all the treasures found in a castle—they had a host of questions for Psyche.
“Your husband must be a king, or even better, a god,” Psyche told them that he was a young hunter, but the two sisters disregarded her answer as a hunter could not be so rich. The sisters began to be consumed by jealousy. They knew their happiness paled compared to Psyches, and thus, they hatched a plan to hurt their sister.
Before the sisters left, they began to taunt Psyche. “Your husband must be the evil snake the Oracle prophesized, and that is why you never see him,” the sisters said, “We pity you, sister. How could you live with such a horrid creature?”
Psyche tried her best to ignore what her sister said, but they had planted the seed of doubt, and she could not get the thoughts out of her head. “Why else would he never visit me during the day? What is he hiding from me? Tonight, when he’s asleep, I would light a candle to see him. If he appears as a snake, then I will kill him. If I am wrong, I would douse my flame and sleep happy.”
Later that night, when her husband fell asleep, she lit her candle and slowly approached him. The light did not reveal a monster but the most handsome man she had ever seen. Psyche was ashamed of the lack of trust she had shown in her husband, and when she went to douse her flame, the hot wax fell onto her husband waken him.
He looked into her eyes. He wasn’t angry but rather heartbroken. He left their bedroom, and before he flew into the dark sky, she heard him whisper one last time: “Love cannot live without trust.”
“The god of love was my husband, and I did not trust him,” she said in despair.
“Prove your Love for Eros, Psyche!”
Psyche wept for days on end until she eventually decided that she would do anything to win back the love of her husband. She visited Aphrodite’s temple and prayed to the goddess, asking her to persuade her son to take her back.
Aphrodite was still overcome with jealousy and wanted her revenge. She told Psyche that to make sure that she was an appropriate wife for her son, she would have to prove herself by completing a series of tasks. Only then would the goddess help her.
First Task: For the first task, Aphrodite showed psyche thousands of different seeds and told her, “if you cannot separate these, you will never see my son again.”
But how could Psyche sort all of these seeds? It was impossible; it would take forever. She began to weep uncontrollably, but her cries were heard by a nearby passing colony of ants. They took pity upon the crying girl, and they began to help Psyche sort the seeds, and after a short period, every single seed was sorted into the cordon pile.
Aphrodite had hoped that the hard work and labour would have affected Psyche’s beauty, but it did not.
Second Task: For the next task, Aphrodite told Psyche that she would have to make a fleece from the golden sheep that lay across the river.
While Psyche swam across the river, a spirit appeared to her, warning her how dangerous the golden sheep were. The spirit told her to avoid being killed by the sheep; she should collect the fur from the nearby bushes.
Listening to the advice she had been given, Psyche collected enough to make a golden fleece, and in this task, she was successful.
Third Task: The next task that Aphrodite set was just as dangerous as the last. She asked Psyche to climb a waterfall that led to the River Styx and fill a bottle she had been given.
Once Psyche reached the waterfall, she realized that her surrounding rocks were way too steep and slippery to climb. The task also seemed impossible.
But once again, to her surprise, an eagle had flown over the river, taking the bottle from her hand and filling it with the black water from the river Styx.
Aphrodite could not hide her bitterness, “someone helped you; otherwise, you would not have been able to perform this task by yourself! I will give you one last chance to prove that you are as determined as you claim to be.”
Fourth and Final Task: For her last task, she was given a box to take to the underworld, in which she would have to ask Persephone to place some of her beauty inside of it.
Psyche began her perilous journey to the underworld, and once arriving, she asked Persephone to drop some of her beauty into the box. Persephone was more than happy to serve Aphrodite, and so, she did so.
When Psyche returned to earth, she was more curious than ever about the box. If it contained pure beauty, then she should open the box to look even more radiant for her husband, but when she did, the box did not contain beauty but only sleep. Aphrodite had tricked her, and Psyche fell into a deep slumber.
Happily, Ever After!
The rest of the gods watched on and decided that they would take action against Aphrodite’s wrongdoing. Hermes was sent to deliver a message to Eros, informing him of his wife’s misfortunes.
Eros was overcome by what he heard, and the wound of betrayal finally began to heal. He finally left his room in search of Psyche. When he found her, he was able to wake her from her slumber, and the two were able to reconcile.
The men back on earth had forgotten all about Psyche, and once again, began worshipping Aphrodite as the true goddess of beauty.
The Moral of the Story of Eros and Psyche
The story of Eros and Psyche touches on many issues, including trust, jealousy, revenge and lust. In the end, we see the determination of Psyche and what many consider to be the power of true love overcome all obstacles.
For those of you wondering why Eros didn’t show himself to Psyche from the very beginning, he believed that true love between a god and a human was impossible and that if he showed himself the Psyche, he would lose her.
The story shows us that true love is by no means easy. It requires sacrifice, trust and determination, even if you are the god of love himself.
Image Sources: Alicechan, obsidian-chaos, Orestes-Sobek, SteveDeLaMare, Queen Bean.