Eros, the Greek god of love, is typically considered to be the child of Aphrodite. Most often, stories say that he was born to the goddess of love from her adulterous affair with the war god Ares.
This was not a universal belief in the ancient world, however. Like many gods, there were many conflicting stories regarding the origins of Eros.
Some of the earliest writings in Greek considered Eros to be one of the oldest forces in creation. Within a few generations, however, he was considered to be one of the youngest of the gods.
Eros went from being seen as an amorphous ancient force of nature to a child-like godling who followed his mother’s command. The transition from primordial force to youthful son of Aphrodite was likely a result of the increased humanization of the gods of Mount Olympus.
Eros is generally regarded as the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, but this was not always the case.
At least some early Greek writers believed that the god of love was, in fact, older than beauty. Eros, they claimed, was one of the oldest forces in the universe.
In the creation myths of Greece, Chaos had existed before anything else. From this endless void, the primordial gods came into being.
These first gods generally had no form. They were inseparable from their elements.
Many of the primordial gods are well-known today. Gaia was the earth, Uranus was the heavens her, Tartarus was the pit beneath Gaia, and Oceanus was the water that encircled them.
According to early writers, Eros was among these primal forces at the dawn of creation. It was under his influence that Uranus came to love Gaia and create the Titans.
A few writers gave alternate origins. Sappho claimed he was a child of Gaia and Uranus himself, while others named Nyx or Iris as his mother.
Even as this early view fell out of favor, hints of it were retained in some stories.
In one account of Ares and Aphrodite falling in love, for example, Eros pricks the god of war with one of his arrows to begin their affair. This is in contrast to the most common stories of Eros’s origins.
The most well-known tradition is that the god of love was, in fact, the son of Aphrodite and Ares.
This view was made clear as early as the 5th century BC and became the most predominate story in both art and literature.
The love affair between the goddess of beauty and the god of war was a popular topic in the ancient world. Eros was often connected to Aphrodite’s retinue, so Ares was the most commonly-named god as his father.
Aphrodite had been married before, however, to the smith god Hephaestus. Despite this, very few sources suggested that Eros was his child.
One story that grew up in later Roman times was that Aphrodite had given birth to Eros during this marriage. When the smith saw that her child looked more like Ares than himself, he began to suspect the affair between his wife and his half-brother.
Eros was always associated more with the goddess of love than the god of war, so Aphrodite was usually given as his mother even when no father was specified.
This was particularly true in the Roman era, when the god of love was known as Cupid. Venus, the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite, was often shown as a doting and even overbearing mother but a father was rarely mentioned.
The ambiguity regarding the origins of Eros illustrates the ways in which Greek mythology developed and grew over time.
The early primordial gods had little form beyond their function. Like the daimones, they represented a singular idea, but they were much more powerful than these minor personification gods.
The birth of Eros at the beginning of time was a logical way to order creation in early Greek thought. Eros, romantic love, was necessary for the primordial gods to mate with one another to produce successive generations.
As the pantheon expanded, however, later writers began to give more attention to the relationships between the gods. The stories became more personal, with more emphasis on emotion.
In this context, Eros no longer made sense as an abstract primordial force. He played a more active role and thus needed more personality and agency than the other earliest gods.
The varying traditions regarding later ancestry may be due to local traditions that arose as Eros came to be seen as a more individualized figure. Eventually one view, that he was the child of Aphrodite, came to be more prominent than the rest.
In their spheres of influence, Eros and Aphrodite were logical deities to imagine a familial connection between. The Greek idea of romantic love was linked to attraction and desirability, and beauty was the source of this feeling.
Eros in later literature was not a primal force, but a being who could be commanded by the goddess of beauty. In most myths he takes orders directly from Aphrodite, beauty inspiring love for either the benefit of its targets or to punish them.
As the stories of the gods became increasingly focused on their personalities and relationships, the relationship between Eros and Aphrodite was more clearly written. She took on the role of a loving but sometimes domineering mother.
The story of Cupid and Psyche has been passed down to us only through Roman sources, but Greek images of Psyche suggest that the story was told in the pre-Roman era as well. The marriage of the god of love was marked by the reaction of his mother.
Aphrodite opposed the marriage on the basis that the human girl was not a good enough match for her beloved son. In the Roman legend, Venus scolded Cupid and threatened to disown him if he persisted with the relationship.
The gods by this point had become so humanized that it was possible to even laugh at Venus’s fretting over her child and the way in which she harangued him. The goddess of love, once a distant and heavenly figure, became an almost comedically overbearing mother while the primordial god of love became the disobedient son who gave her grief.
Modern stories usually call Eros the son of Aphrodite. Most often, his father is named as Ares.
The was not always seen as the child of the goddess of beauty, however. Earlier stories gave a variety of origins, including the idea that he was one of the earliest primordial deities.
The shift in Eros’s origins seems to coincide with changes in the way the gods of the Greek pantheon where characterized.
Over time, writers presented the gods as more individualized with distinct, human-like personalities. The mischief and spontaneity of love inspired Greek writers to characterize him as more child-like than ancient.
With an increased focus of the family relationships between the Olympians, Aphrodite was an obvious goddess to be linked to love. Eros came to be seen as her subordinate and son.
Because her love affair withe Ares featured prominantly in art and writing, he was usually named as her child’s father. As the stories became more detailed, a tradition even emerged that she had tried to pass Eros off as the son of Hephaestus when she was still married to him.
From his primordial origins, Eros came to be seen as more childlike with Aphrodite took on the role of doting, if sometimes controlling, mother. The relationship between the gods not only came to be firmly established, but was a central part of how he was characterized in later eras.