Cupid, the constant companion of Aphrodite, appears in two very distinct forms in Greek Mythology.. In his more familiar aspect he is the rosy, mischievous child of Aphrodite and Ares, the winged little boy, from whose arrows there was no escape by gods or men. But in his more archaic form he existed long before Aphrodite arose from the sea-foam, and according to Hesiod he alone of all the gods was self-existent, prior to the Olympian gods, prior to the Titans, to Ouranos, nay, prior to primeval Evening and Night. "First Chaos was: next ample-bosomed earth. . . . Love then arose, most beauteous of immortals." Or, as Aristophanes puts it,
It is evident that this primordial Eros, who was not the child of Chaos, but simply "arose," was the personification of the Divine Love itself, the "Divinum a Quo," from which and out of which all things were created. Hence we find, among the legends, that it was this Eros who by his arrows pierced the cold bosom of primeval earth, bringing into life all plants and animals upon it. He it was who commanded Prometheus to create the first man upon the earth, and who is said to have breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the newly made form of clay. We find him, again, present at the birth of Aphrodite, welcoming her and tenderly lifting her out of the waves of the sea. He is here represented as a youth whose face was radiant with such a beauty that it was said: "It comes from God, and it leads to God." It was in this form that Eros was worshiped as the principal god of the primitive Pelasgians, the archaic ancestors of the Hellenic race.
It was only in later ages that Eros was identified with Cupid, the son of Venus, and came to stand for the Desire which is generated by Beauty. As such he is generally represented as a small, plump, naked boy, with rosy, dimpled cheeks, roguish eyes, gauzy wings, and carrying in his chubby hands the bow and arrows which inflict such lovely pains in all hearts. It is said that Cupid, in spite of the best of care, never grew from this infantile stature, and when the anxious mother consulted an oracle about this mystery, she was assured that "Love cannot grow without Passion." The saying was explained after Venus gave birth to a second son, Anteros or Himeros, who signifies the Passion of Love, for Cupid then began to grow into a handsome, slender youth. He is therefore represented sometimes as a baby-boy and sometimes, as in the story of Psyche, as a young man in the very flower of masculine beauty, (if such a term may be allowed by the fairer sex).
Of the innumerable statues of Eros the most celebrated was the one executed by Praxiteles for the Thespians, in whose city gymnastical and musical contests, (the Erotidse), were held in his honor every four years. Generally his statues were to be found in the palaestra beside those of Hermes and Hercules, these three being the deities especially admired by the young athletes.
As his name indicates, Cupid in the natural sense signifies desire, and his arrows are the charms of the opposite sex which excite desire. But if we look a little beneath the surface we shall find more noble things. Both Yenus and Cupid represent the conjugial, but with a difference: Venus, as a woman, represents the good of the conjugial, that is to say, conjugial love itself, while Cupid, the boy or youth, stands for the truth of that love. Hence we find him furnished with a bow which signifies the doctrine of conjugial love, and with arrows which signify the truths of that doctrine. His youthfulness indicates the innocence of this truth, and his wings represent its elevated and elevating spirituality.
This may be a very different conception of Cupid than the one commonly prevailing, but to us it is inspiring to be able, by means of correspondence, to lift our eyes from the contemplation of Cupid as signifying mere sexual desire, to a vision of him as the beautiful personification of the Divine Truth which comes from Divine Love itself and leads to heavenly love, truly conjugial. In the work on Conjugial Love the men and women of the Lord's New Church may behold a truly Divine Cupid, a Doctrine which is innocence itself and loveliness itself, and well may we open our breasts to its flower-tipped arrows, for its teachings will lead us to that love which is beauty itself and happiness itself.
This truth of conjugial love is what is signified by the '' little boy" in the Memorable Relations in Conjugial Love (nos. 293, 294), who came to the seven wives who were called "the virgins of the Fountain." As he descended from the superior heaven he was seen at first as a dove with a leaf in its mouth, but as he came nearer he appeared as a little boy with a paper in his hand. On coming up to Swedenborg he handed the paper to him and said, '' Read this to the virgins of the Fountain:''
That Cupid stands for something higher than mere desire is evident from his role in the story of Psyche, which, by the common consent of ancient and modern interpreters, represents the story of the purification of the human soul.
Psyche, whose name means ''soul,'' was a young princess of such surpassing loveliness and beauty that the people of her father's realm offered their homage to her instead of to Venus. The princess herself refused to receive the homage, but the goddess of beauty, determined to show the impious people that Psyche was but human, commanded Cupid to transfix the maiden's heart with one of his arrows, in order to inspire in her breast the love for some ordinary mortal. Cupid started out on his task, but when beholding the beauty of the princess, slumbering in the moonlight, he was so startled that his flesh came in contact with one of his own arrows, and so he fell in love with Psyche.
At the instigation of Cupid, Psyche was now carried off in the strong yet gentle arms of Zephyrus to a paradisal isle, where in a fairy palace she was wooed and won by the god of love. Here she spent months of ecstatic bliss, the only drawback to her happiness being a longing for her two elder sisters and the fact that she had never been allowed to look upon the face of her bridegroom who visited her only in the dark. She had been entreated, and had promised, to make no attempt to discover his name or to catch a glimpse of his face; if she broke this promise the lover must leave her, never to return, for
After a time she requested to see her sisters once more, and Cupid reluctantly gave his consent: the sisters appeared on the isle, but, jealous of Psyche's beauty and happiness, they suggested that her lover was in reality some hideous monster, and advised her to conceal a lamp and dagger in her chamber in order to examine and if necessary kill her husband when asleep. Poor Psyche, torn with doubts, acted upon their advice, and in the dead of the night she stole from the couch, lighted the lamp, and beheld,—not an ogre but the god of love himself. Trembling with joy, she happened to spill a drop of oil from the lamp upon the sleeping Cupid: he awoke, realized her broken promise, and disappeared.
Vanished now was her dream of love, and vanished the fairy isle and paradise. Disconsolate, yet forced to live, Psyche henceforth wandered from land to land, seeking Cupid and questioning all she met. Finally she was advised by Ceres to enter into the service of Venus as a common housemaid and to perform in humility and obedience whatever task was imposed upon her. She accepted the counsel and entered into the service of her jealous mother-in-law, who set her to one task after another which would have been impossible to accomplish without the unknown aid of Cupid, who still loved her from afar. She was, for instance, led to an immense heap of grain mixed with an equal amount of seeds of weed, and was commanded to separate, before sundown, the good seed from the bad. Despairingly she set about her task, but Cupid, in pity, caused an army of ants to appear, each of whom seized one grain, and then another, and the separation was effected in a very short time.
Having accomplished this and numerous other tasks, each more difficult than the other, Psyche was finally sent down to the realm of Hades to fetch thence for Venus a box of beauty-ointment, for which Persephone alone possessed the recipe. This errand, too, she accomplished in safety, encountering the terrors of death without fear, and though on the return, overpowered by curiosity, she opened the box and was speedily put to sleep by the hypnotic perfume exhaling from it, the gods forgave this unconquerable feminine failing, and after all her sore trials she was awakened by a kiss to find herself in the arms of her long-lost and loving bridegroom. Venus herself now welcomed her to Olympus and all the gods united in celebrating her apotheosis and heavenly nuptials.
The ancients, from their knowledge of correspondences, always depicted Psyche with the wings of a butterfly, for they knew that a butterfly represents the resurrection of the soul after death. They knew also that conjugial love is eternal, and that a heavenly marriage is the reward of a life of temptations; thus Psyche after all her trials finally won her Cupid, even as Hercules, after his many labors, obtained the hand of Hebe. The two stories internally resemble each other, but the story of Psyche is the story of human regeneration, while the story of Hercules is a prophetic representation of the glorification of the Human of the Lord.
Though we cannot in detail explain the story of Psyche, on account of its many poetical and fabulous embellishments, still the general significance is plain enough. It is a story of the ''course of true love,'' which proverbially ''never runs smooth.'' The ecstatic joys of the honeymoon are invariably followed by the doubts and temptations, through the victory in which, the conjugial can be purified of earthly dross and thus rendered spiritual and eternal. In its more general signification the worship of Psyche by the people of her father's kingdom typifies the tendency of the lower thoughts and affections of the mind to worship the human instead of the Divine. The refusal of Psyche to receive the adoration indicates the state of humility which makes possible a future regeneration. In this state Cupid appears on the scene; the Divine Truth comes to the soul and is received by it, but at first in a state of obscurity. It is not yet a genuine conjunction, for there is still a longing for the affections of former states. These affections, like the elder sisters of Psyche, infuse doubts as to the Divinity of the Truth, and a desire to see from oneself, from the self-intelligence of the natural man, without the affirmative trust that the Truth is Divine because it is the Lord's Word. Psyche's night-lamp is this self-intelligence, and the oil which nourishes its flame is the love of self, the touch of which causes the perception of Truth to vanish from the mind. Every regenerating man must pass through the state of doubt.
But the memory of the first love remains with the regenerating man and continues as the guiding star and hope in the troubles and trials which now ensue. There are many tasks to be accomplished in the new life upon which he has entered: he must, for one thing, learn to discriminate between genuine truths and mere appearances of truth which within are falsities. Like Psyche he must separate the good grain from the bad, and this can be accomplished only by the help of those things in the mind which are represented by the busy, systematic ants,—that is, the discriminating thoughts of the rational faculty.
Psyche's last trial, her journey to Hades, is evidently a symbol of the final journey of man to the kingdom of death.