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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Love, Valentines, and Cupid – the "real" story

Cupid (Roman) or Eros (Greek), the god of desire, affection and erotic love, was not always the cute, playful winged cherub we envision holding a nocked and drawn bow and carrying a quiver full of golden arrows of desire and the emotions of love.  At least not in the beginning.  In the beginning, Cupid, the son of Venus (Roman) or Aphrodite (Greek), worshiped as the goddess of love and beauty, was portrayed as a young athletic youth, who was sent on a mission by his mother to use one of his golden arrows on a beautiful mortal girl named Psyche.  Now Cupid wasn't convinced his mother was being honorable to send him on this task which would mean, after he's touched her with his mighty golden arrow, Psyche will awaken to fall in love with the vile monster Venus plans to place in bed with her.

Venus, a  jealous deity and not a particularly good mother, definitely does not play fair in matters of beauty.  Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, Cupid takes pity on the woman "who was born too beautiful for her own safety," and turns himself invisible as he prepares to scratch Psyche's shoulder with the tip of one of his arrows.  Instead she awakens and looks directly at him, despite the fact he is invisible, and he is so surprised he scratches himself with the arrow when he draws back from her.  Since he is not immune to his own powers, he falls instantly in love with the gorgeous mortal girl.

Of course, mummy isn't at all pleased by this turn of events, since she was already jealous of Psyche, and now Psyche has claimed the heart of her son.  So, Venus makes sure the road of love for this female Cupid has fallen for is rocky indeed, putting many "impossible to scale" boulders in Psyche's path, metaphorically speaking.  True love does eventually win out with a little help from Jupiter, who declares it is his will that Cupid and Psyche marry.  As King of the Gods, Jupiter rules supreme and after her marriage Psyche is made immortal with a drink of ambrosia.  So, they all lived happily ever after, sort of.  Although Psyche and Venus will never be BFFs, they begrudgingly forgive each other, or so the story says.  Talk about impossible to get along with Mother-in-laws.  Cupid and Psyche end up having a daughter, Voluptas (Roman) Hedone (Greek) who becomes the goddess of sensual pleasures.  This is where we get voluptuous and hedonistic.  I guess it all ties together sort of, doesn't it?

For more about Cupid and Psyche's epic trials read the entry in Wikipedia at

So, Cupid, along with his quiver of golden arrows, has long been associated with love and the pangs of desire.  Today, Cupid and his bow and arrows are practically synonymous with romance, and love is most frequently depicted by two hearts pierced by an arrow.  Yup, that's Cupid's arrow all right.

Valentine's Day, however, is named after Saint Valentine, who is associated with love thanks to Chaucer and some other poets who wrote odes and epic poems extolling the virtues of courtly love.  According to Wikipedia again, "The celebration of Saint Valentine didn't have any romantic connotations until Chaucer's poetry about "Valentines" in the 14th century."  So, why did Chaucer pick on poor Val for this honor?  Valentine was a Christian martyr.  Below is what says about his connection at

"According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl--possibly his jailor's daughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and--most importantly--romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--which probably occurred around A.D. 270--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. 
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage."

Now, if any of that is true it's a little scary to contemplate.  Having your potential future husband blindly draw your name from a big urn is not the best way to start a relationship in my opinion.  Hmm, it does say, however, that the matches often ended in marriage, so I guess wedded bliss was not a foregone conclusion in this ancient dating game.  Probably a good thing, although a girl could become well-used before she was matched with her husband-to-be with that kind of "pig-in-a-poke" process going on.  What happened to virtue and chaste love?  Well, I guess in the times of the Romans only the Vestal Virgins held that particular honor.

Anyway, like several Christian festivals (Easter-Esther, Christmas-Yule) to name a couple, Valentine's Day is celebrated in February to "Christianize" Lupercalia.  Hmm.  I had no idea.  But I also wasn't sure how St. Valentine was connected to the day of love either, other than by giving it his name.

So, now you know, or maybe you don't, because this is only one of many legends surrounding our day of hearts and flowers, love and romance.  Hope you had a very happy Valentine's Day.

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