Eros is not Cupid: differences and similaritiesOne of the most common problems when someone wants to get close to Eros is that the information they can find is limited and when they find it, it doesn’t even get to be all about Eros. The simplification and didactics to bring mythology to people of all kinds has made that when the figures of Eros and Cupid are explained they are equivalent and that the attributes of one and the other are interchangeable when they were not originally. But there is also a historical reason that to this day we continue to drag this error, an error that many people within paganism and witchcraft, when they enter the worship of any of these gods, fail to recognize because most of the more habitual sources usually repeat it.

Differences from the meaning of the name

The most striking thing when we stop to analyze these gods is that their own name already has a difference in their meaning. Eros, Ἔρως in ancient Greek, in addition to being the name of the god is the word that the Greeks used for love in a sense more similar to how we understand it today, as a feeling and a desire at the same time. In fact, the oldest uses of this word are usually applied in the sense of love and over time it was also used more and more in the sense of wishing. If we spin with the myth that makes him Protogonus, the first to be born, we can understand that love is a primordial impulse, what leads us to love, the feeling itself. The love, Eros, is a primitive and in some cases uncontrollable force. The desire, which if it is controllable, comes as soon as we feel that love, but to desire we first have to want something and it seems that the Romans understood this distinction well.

Cupid, Cupīdō in Latin, means passionate desire or passionate desire. Desire is the final consequence of emotion, first we experience emotion, then feeling, and finally desire. For desire to exist there must first be a feeling, for example, before sexual desire there would be a feeling of attraction. In fact, the Romans had the word Cupiditas, which means the feeling that motivates the will to want to possess the object by which that emotion is felt, that is, what we usually understand by desire. Yes, it is true that the Romans also called Cupid Amor (means Love) in some of their poetic compositions, but there were also multiple Amores, which have a correlation with the Greek Erotes.

It is curious that in Roman philosophy itself even the role of Cupid is debated and there are different conceptions of him but always with the connotation of desire or longing as it would be for the late Greeks Poto. Desire for glory, desire for power or uncontrollable desire are the most recurring themes about Cupid. However, in De Rerum Natura de Lucretius we find that the poet and philosopher speaks of Cupid and the words derived from him to speak of human lust and the animal instinct to mate but also of the impulse of atoms to unite and form matter , perhaps this is the most similar conception to an Eros Protogonus but it does not come from the cult, but from a philosophical reflection, but Lucretius knew the Greek philosophers who did know the Protogonus conception of Eros.

Differences in worship

Although it is true that the cult of Eros was relegated to the background as the cult of Aphrodite was gaining ground throughout Hellas, Eros did not lose its importance and maintained some of its own festivals as well as a relatively independent cult. Thespiae, Parium, Leuctra continued to remain as centers of the cult of Eros despite predominance of Aphrodite in the rest of the Greek world, as well as the cult that Eros also had in the Academy and gyms.

However Cupid seems to have had no official worship at any temple or religious practices that were independent of other deities of the Roman pantheon. When we meet Cupid he is usually as a secondary figure in the cult of Venus, or, to a lesser degree, of other gods. Yes, there could have been a private devotion in the domestic sanctuaries but there does not seem to be a clear difference between the figures that were used for worship and which were simply decorative, especially since the epic of Augustus (the first Roman emperor) where the figure of Cupid became very common.

Cupid also appears to play a somewhat antagonistic role within Roman culture before the Empire fell into decline. According to Ovid, Cupid would act as the enemy of Diana, who represents virginity and chastity. In other words, Cupid would be the generator or the loader of an impulse that would have to be controlled for the good of society (this conception seems to collide with the interested vision that Christian historians and some Romans about certain times and rulers have penetrated into the collective imagination of a Rome overturned in passions and lack of self-control and rational thought).

Eros’s arrows and Cupid’s arrows are different

Roman copy of "Eros stretching his bow" of Lysippus in the Capitoline Museum
Roman copy of “Eros stretching his bow” of Lysippus in the Capitoline Museum

Perhaps one of the most widespread mistakes about the arrows that Eros and Cupid used is that they both had golden arrows to incite love and desire and lead arrows to provoke heartbreak, aversion, and hatred. The curious thing is that we can find the reference to this pair of types of arrows repeated endlessly, even in academic settings, but when we consult the primary sources (in this case the original texts of the Greeks and Romans) the golden arrows and lead looks like it’s just a Cupid thing.

Homer in the Iliad and Theocritus in Bucolic XXIII tell us that he kept his arrows in a golden quiver. Euripides in Iphigenia in Aulis speaks of Eros having two types of arrows, one for love and the other for lovelessness. Nono of Panópolis in the Dionysiacs says that the arrows of Eros are generative, he even says that they were of fire. But the only reference that we can find in the primary sources about the golden arrows, that would bring love, and the lead arrows, that would bring heartbreak, is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid was a Roman poet and although he was strongly influenced by Greek culture his reality was already sifted by that of his own culture: Roman. Although it should also be noted that the myth of Eros and Psyche that Ovid relates is likely to be of Greek origin, not as well as the reference to the two types of arrows that we only find from him on.

What is the confusion between Eros and Cupid?

Actually the confusion between Eros and Cupid has occurred since the Middle Ages. Ovid’s Metamorphoses were a key reference for artists and scholars, and in many Latin translations Eros and Cupid were interchangeably. It was also greatly influenced by the Romans adopting and adapting the Greek pantheon to their own, as they did with other cultures they conquered, and by making copies and reproductions (although not always exact) of Greek sculptures and artistic motifs.

The similarity between the two cultures ended up making them look as one without paying much attention to the differences between them. Thus, a confusion originating in the Middle Ages was perpetuated throughout history in works of art of all kinds: sculptures, paintings, novels, plays, etc., and which is reproduced in the same way in other fields such as philosophy. It is easy to understand why Eros and Cupid are confused, especially when we consider that they are deities of which we currently have little information.

How to differentiate Eros from Cupid?

Differentiating Eros from Cupid is going to be in many cases a titanic task, especially when the references that we find are increasingly modern. In addition, a large part of the works of art that we know from the Greeks is through the copies and versions that the Romans made of them (many of the original ones are lost or destroyed). This leaves us in a somewhat complicated position when drawing a line that separates one from the other.

Drawing the line that separates Eros and Cupid with the arrows and the materials with which they are made is relatively easy if we go to the primary sources. If for example we try to discern if dolphins are an animal that is associated with Eros or Cupid, we have it more complicated. Almost all the references we have are for mosaics and sculptures close to the Italic peninsula. The Greeks had colonies in that area and the oldest works that have been found to date usually date back to the period when both civilizations met. So how can we know if they have represented Cupid or Eros?

Mosaic of Eros riding a dolphinIn the case of the representations with dolphins we cannot be totally sure that it is a Hellenistic Eros (and already with a childish appearance) or Cupid. Art historians and archaeologists often attribute a large part of these representations to Eros, even later ones they classify as Roman reproductions of older Greek works. But we have already seen that sometimes scholars are also confused, as with arrows, so we must resort to magical knowledge. Dolphin medicine tells us about feeling our emotions, about playing (remember that Eros has a very important trickster aspect) and about freedom, something that fits perfectly with Eros. Therefore, and although it was not entirely correct historically, dolphins work with the energy of Eros.

With the rest of the representations, a basic rule will be the age with which they represent the god. If in the representation we find an adolescent or older figure we will be before Eros, even if it is a Roman reproduction. However, when we are faced with a preadolescent boy or a boy, we must be more cautious because he is either an Eros from the last Greek era or Cupid. With the most modern representations we will only have to look at whether they work for us as a representation of Eros since all works beyond the Middle Ages already have that mixture between the two.

In many cases, and once we have exhausted all the research possibilities on Eros and Cupid, we will have to make use of a cross knowledge that helps us to fit the pieces. Your own experience and the experience of others is also useful, although we should always be clear where those impressions come from and not give them as universal because they may only work for us. When it comes to feeling their energies we find that most often feel the energy of Eros as broader and more complete (Eros has been considered one of the gods of creation among other things), however Cupid’s energy is usually more sexual and emotional. They are both warm but when you let them both flood you the feeling is completely different. But perhaps the most important thing when approaching Eros or Cupid is the feeling that leads us to it.

Roble Tormenta

Roble Tormenta

Guardian and Director of the Shrine of Eros, First Priest and Oracle of Eros. Wiccan and witch since 2004. Bearer of the Light of Hecate. Master in philosophy, community manager, editor and publisher, artist.
Roble Tormenta

Roble Tormenta

Guardian and Director of the Shrine of Eros, First Priest and Oracle of Eros. Wiccan and witch since 2004. Bearer of the Light of Hecate. Master in philosophy, community manager, editor and publisher, artist.

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