Josie : Cupid’s Bow (A Valentine’s Day special!)

Given the date, I thought I’d explore something relevant to the moment. Let’s have a quick look at one of the world’s most famous archers: Cupid.
There are many legends surrounding this purveyor of love, with his magic arrows and unnerving aim. Like most legends, Cupid very likely has roots in ancient history, though perhaps not so recognisable from what we see today. The name comes from the Latin “cupere” which means desire. Cupid is mirrored in Greek mythology as Eros (from where the word “arrow” is derived) and is the son of Venus in Roman mythology (Aphrodite in Greek mythology). Exploring why Cupid is an archer brings up some interesting ideas. Cupid has been said to carry arrows of both gold and lead or iron: gold to inspire love and lead/iron to cause distaste (unlove, if you like).

Cupid’s factual roots emerge from his parallel with Nimrod, believed to be one and the same being (from “Nimus” which means “son”). King Nimrod (possibly king of the Assyrians) appears in the Christian faith as the great-grandson of Noah (see Genesis 9) and the world’s first great conqueror. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll remember that the Assyrians were the first to shoot recurve bows.

Nimrod was a mighty hunter, known for his strength and bowmanship. He built the Tower of Babel sometime between 3600 and 2400BC (according to archaeological record) in an attempt to bring about a great union of men, which was then destroyed and men scattered across the Earth. Archaeology proves the existence of the Tower, though Nimrod’s role in its creation is as yet not defined.

There is also a dark side to Nimrod; a hunter of the souls of men who strove to lead them to idolatry and the worship of pagan gods. Nimrod appears in Dante’s Inferno as an ice giant (sent there for his part in building the Tower of Babel). Nimrod the giant also features in Hungarian folklore.

The comparatively recent image of Cupid as a chubby infant replaces the older depiction of Cupid as a beautiful male youth which comes from Greek mythology. What about the bow? Practically, a short bow seems more likely and follows through most artistic representations: something along the lines of a Scythian recurve bow. I’m not the right person to talk about traditional bows but there are several people here who may be able to oblige!

So there it is: an extremely brief window into the history of Cupid to tide you over the weekend!

IMAGE: Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, 1786-93, Antonio Canova (Musée du Louvre)