Love (Eros/Cupid)

Category: Ancient Learning > Deities

1 Introduction

‘Love’ may not quite capture the force of the ancient words erōs and cupīdō, but long usage hallows the translation. But let us set aside all the meanings and connotations the word ‘love’ has in everday English; all the quaint half-truths about “four types of love” (which come from C.S. Lewis, and not any ancient writer); all our expectations for what love ought to mean or be like. We are no longer talking about love at all – we are investigating a curious ancient conglomeration of shifting associations, which we only name ‘love’ as we would call a species of extraterrestrials that just landed on Earth by some conventional English word until we learned their real name.

There are worse places to start our investigation than with Pseudo-Andronicus’ On Affects, which among its 27 kinds of desire (epithymia) includes three called erōs. They are:

Erōs: a desire for bodily intercourse (synousia).
“A different erōs: a desire for friendship (philia).
“A different erōs: a service to the gods for the sake of educating the young and beautiful – which is how they characterize an attempt to make friends on account of beauty in appearance.”

The third kind is a (sarcastic) description of Plato’s theory of true erōs (the overlap with what ‘Platonic love’ means today is minimal), the other two represent the ordinary meanings of the word, with the first sense clearly predominating; although of course they often blend together. The first kind of erōs might well be called ‘lust’ rather than ‘love’. The second erōs has no real counterpart in English, since we now tend to strictly delineate friendship from romantic love, while the ancient Greek philia can denote both; and there are great conceptual and language barriers against discussing the desire or longing for friendship with someone.

Please do not take this as a definitive account of what erōs meant (let alone cupīdō). Only some such outline was necessary before we tackle our real interest, the god Love. In the next section we will encounter him as the ancients often encountered him, as a beautiful physical object charged with symbolic meaning, overflowing and exceeding the bounds of a mere object. Then we will swerve back to connect that iconography of Eros with the desiderative affect or emotion, erōs, and attempt to understand their confluence in the god, “a great and tyrannical god”, Love himself.

2 On the Statue of Eros (Callistratus, Descriptions of Statues 3)

(1) These discourses (logoi) would also have me expound (prophēteusai) another, sacred craft; for it would not be licit (themiton) for me not to call these products of art sacred. It was Eros – a work of Praxiteles – Eros himself! An exuberant young boy with wings and arrows. Bronze formed him, and as it shaped Eros, a great and tyrannical god, it came to be ruled in its turn; for the bronze could not sustain it all, but great as it was, it became Eros!

(2) You might have seen the bronze weaken and suddenly soften into flesh and, to speak briefly, the material sufficing to fulfil everything that was needed of it. It* was supple without softness; it appeared flushed although it had the color proper to bronze; and while being without the activity of motion, it was ready to show movement. It was installed (hidryto) in a fixed place (hedra), yet it gave the illusion of being able to move through the air. It laughed in exultation, the eyes shone with something fiery and gentle; one could see that the bronze obeys the passion (pathos) and that it easily takes up an imitation of laughter.

*Or ‘he’. Bronze and Eros are masculine nouns, so in ancient
Greek, the same pronounce can refer to both.



(5) As I beheld the handiwork, the belief came over me that Daedalus had created a dancing troupe in motion and lent senses to gold, but Praxiteles had even placed a small portion of intelligence (noēma) into the image (eikōn) of Eros, and contrived for his wings to cut through the air.”

3 …

This goes some way to explaining how statues were seen; literalism? PGM. No hard distinction between dead nad living statues


deified/personification/god of X vs. deus ipse (ephoros?)

Sword of Dardanus (IV.1716–), Paredros (12.14),