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Eros: What Was Eros the God Of?

Greek

What Was Eros the God Of?

What Was Eros the God Of?

Eros, the Greek version of Cupid, was the god of love. But what exactly did that mean in the ancient world? Keep reading to find out.

Eros was a god that personified a specific emotion. He was the god of love.

More specifically, he was the god of romantic love, sexual attraction, and intense desire. A shot from one of his famous arrows could cause anyone, man or god, to feel overwhelming and passionate love.

But unlike most gods of a singular emotion, Eros was not a simple spirit without personality or character. Eros became as unique and fully-realized as some of the pantheon’s most important deities.

Eros was a mischievous god who often used his arrows to cause trouble. The only Olympian who could command or control him most of the time was his mother, Aphrodite.

He had his own stories of love, anger, and family arguments. But this wasn’t always the case.

Homer never mentioned Eros at all, while Hesiod named him among the abstract primordial forces. While he was grouped with the Erotes, he was far more important than the minor gods of love.

So how did Eros develop from a primordial power to a mischievous Cupid?

Eros and Love

Eros is usually described in general terms as the god of love. His exact nature to the Greeks was somewhat more nuanced, however.

Eros was specifically the god of romantic love. He was occupied with intense emotion, sexual attraction, and desire rather than other forms of love and longing.

This set him apart from his brothers. The Erotes, as the gods of love were called, were a group of minor gods who represented very specific forms of the emotion.

The other Erotes included Himeros (impetuous or unrequited love), Pothos (longing), Anteros (mutual love), Hedylogos (flattery), and Hymenaios (the bridal song). While they were all pictured in a similar way, usually as young winged men, each represented a distinct aspect of love.

It was only fitting that the Erotes should be described as the children and companions of Aphrodite. The goddess of beauty held sway over matters of desire and affection and her children worked on her commands.

Of the Erotes, however, Eros was by far the most significant. He had the most complex and well-developed mythology and appeared most often in the stories of other gods.

This may be, in part, due to his more general function. While the other gods of love had roles that applied to very specific circumstances, Eros was responsible for making both men and gods fall in love.

He did so through the power of his arrows. Those he shot would fall in love with the target of his choice.

In later myths, Eros carried two types of arrows. Those with sharpened points created love while those with dull tips made of lead would erase all affection and create repulsion.

Thus, Eros could make people fall in love or spurn the advances of another. Depending on who was struck by his arrows, the circumstances of their lives, and what type of arrow he let fly another of the Erotes could be invoked.

My Modern Interpretation

The character of Eros is one of the best examples of the development and expansion of a deity in Greek mythology.

Like the other Erotes, Eros has many of the attributes of a daimon or minor god. He embodies a very specific function that is so central to his character that it gives him his name.

Eros is the Greek word for love, specifically in the sense of romantic love. The god Eros is impossible to separate from his domain.

Unlike the other daimones, however, Eros developed into a complex character.

In some of the earliest written legends, Eros was not the child of Aphrodite. Homer never mentioned him at all, while Hesiod claimed he was one of the primordial gods and had been responsible for the attraction Uranus felt toward Gaia.

He was different from the other primordial beings in that he still played an active role in daily life. While Uranus was far removed from the world, for example, the influence of Eros could be felt by people every day.

It made more sense, then, for Eros to be recast as one of the gods of Olympus. He was tied by his function to Aphrodite, who was imagined to be his mother.

Like the daimones, the primordial gods had names that were synonymous with their essence. When Eros was made a child of an Olympian instead of a more ancient force, his name and function put him in the class of minor spirits.

Eros was probably among the first of the daimones. Most writing seems to suggest that belief in these minor spirits was sporadic and that their number increased over time, while Eros is well-documented in even the earliest written sources.

The prevalence of Eros, both as a god and an idea, in mythology made it more likely that his character would develop. Because he was featured so often in the stories of other gods, he began to be more of a unique individual than most other Erotes.

The character came to be seen as mischievous, taking delight in creating mismatched pairs of lovers and emotionally-fraught love triangles. He even targeted Zeus with his jokes, making him fall in love with many mortal women despite his wife’s anger.

Stories emerged about the tricks Eros played and his attitudes toward his duties. By the 3rd century BC the writer of the Argonautica imagined a discussion among the goddesses about how they might use the young god’s powers, if it was even possible to convince Eros to do anything he didn’t want to.

By this time, Eros no longer fit the mold of the daimon in mythology. He was no longer a minor spirit with no real purpose beyond his name, but had the personality traits and family ties of a more fully-developed god.

All he was missing to truly be an Olympian, it would seem, was a love story.

By the time of the great Roman writers, this oversight had been corrected. While the story of Eros and Psyche seemed to have existed in folklore for many years, it was not written in full until the 2nd century AD.

In this legend Eros, or Cupid as he was known to the people of Rome, was a fully-realized character with all the emotions and personality traits of an older Olympian. His physical appearance, thoughts, and relationships with his family were described in detail.

With the story of Eros and his marriage to the mortal princess Psyche, the god of love could no longer be considered a simple personification or a distant primordial force. In the thousand years that passed between the first written legends and the Roman Empire, Eros developed from an abstract idea into a complex character.

In Summary

Eros, whose name meant “love,” was the Greek god of sexual attraction and romantic feeling. While he was one of the Erotes, the minor gods of love, he stood out as a more powerful and individualised being.

This may be, in part, because of the fact that Eros had a much broader domain that most other daimones. While the Erotes personified very specific feelings, they all fell under the broader umbrella of Eros.

Eros could cause the other forms of love to come about, but he did not truly control them. Over them all was their mother, Aphrodite.

Aphrodite was depicted in later works as a doting, if sometimes overly-attached, mother to Eros. This was not always the case, however. In fact, it took centuries of development for her to be cast as his mother at all.

Homer never mentioned Eros among the gods, while Hesiod named him as one of the primordial beings from the very earliest days of creation.

Over time, Eros was reimagined because of the role he played in the lives of the Greek people and in the stories of the gods. He was more present in daily life than the abstract primordial gods, but more influential than the highly-specific daimones.

As the god of love, Eros occupied a role that made him important to people regardless of occupation, social status, or location. With such universal appeal, it was natural for his character to develop and become more important in mythology.

A thousand years passed between the time of Hesiod and the Roman Empire. In that span, Eros developed from a distant and unknowable force into a personal and relatable member of the pantheon.

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Mike Greenberg, PhD

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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