The god of love. In the sense in which he is usually conceived, Eros is the creature of the later Greek poets; and in order to understand the ancients properly we must distinguish three Erotes: viz. the Eros of the ancient cosmogonies, the Eros of the philosophers and mysteries, who bears great resemblance to the first, and the Eros whom we meet with in the epigrammatic and erotic poets, whose witty and playful descriptions of the god, however, can scarcely be considered as a part of the ancient religious belief of the Greeks.
Homer does not mention Eros, and Hesiod, the earliest author that mentions him, describes him as the cosmogonic Eros.
First, says Hesiod,1 there was Chaos, then came Gaea, Tartarus, and Eros, the fairest among the gods, who rules over the minds and the council of gods and men. In this account we already perceive a combination of the most ancient with later notions. According to the former, Eros was one of the fundamental causes in the formation of the world, inasmuch as he was the uniting power of love, which brought order and harmony among the conflicting elements of which Chaos consisted.
In the same metaphysical sense he is conceived by Aristotle;2 and similarly in the Orphic poetry3 he is described as the first of the gods, who sprang from the world's egg. In Plato's Symposium4 he is likewise called the oldest of the gods. It is quite in accordance with the notion of the cosmogonic Eros, that he is described as a son of Cronus and Gaea, of Eileithyia, or as a god who had no parentage, and came into existence by himself.5
The Eros of later poets, on the other hand, who gave rise to that notion of the god which is most familiar to us, is one of the youngest of all the gods.6 The parentage of the second Eros is very differently described, for he is called a son of Aphrodite (either Aphrodite Urania or Aphrodite Pandemos), or Polymnia, or a son of Porus and Penia, who was begotten on Aphrodite's birthday.7 According to other genealogies, again, Eros was a son of Hermes by Artemis or Aphrodite, or of Ares by Aphrodite,8 or of Zephyrus and Iris,9 or, lastly, a son of Zeus by his own daughter Aphrodite, so that Zeus was at once his father and grandfather.10
Eros in this stage is always conceived and was always represented as a handsome youth, and it is not till about after the time of Alexander the Great that Eros is represented by the epigrammatists and the erotic poets as a wanton boy, of whom a thousand tricks and cruel sports are related, and from whom neither gods nor men were safe. He is generally described as a son of Aphrodite; but as love finds its way into the hearts of men in a manner which no one knows, the poets sometimes describe him as of unknown origin,11 or they say that he had indeed a mother, but not a father.12
In this stage Eros has nothing to do with uniting the discordant elements of the universe, or the higher sympathy or love which binds human kind together; but he is purely the god of sensual love, who bears sway over the inhabitants of Olympus as well as over men and all living creatures: he tames lions and tigers, breaks the thunderbolts of Zeus, deprives Heracles of his weapons, and carries on his sport with the monsters of the sea.13 His weapons, consisting of arrows, which he carries in a golden quiver, and of torches, no one can touch with impunity.14 His arrows are of different power: some are golden, and kindle love in the heart they wound; others are blunt and heavy with lead, and produce aversion to a lover.15 Eros is further represented with golden wings, and as fluttering about like a bird.16 His eyes are sometimes covered, so that he acts blindly.17 He is the usual companion of his mother Aphrodite, and poets and artists represent him, moreover, as accompanied by such allegorical beings as Pothos, Himeros, Dionysus, Tyche, Peitho, the Charites or Muses.18 His statue and that of Hermes usually stood in the Greek gymnasia.19
We must especially notice the connection of Eros with Anteros, with which persons usually connect the notion of "Love returned." But originally Anteros was a being opposed to Eros, and fighting against him.20 This conflict, however, was also conceived as the rivalry existing between two lovers, and Anteros accordingly punished those who did not return the love of others; so that he is the avenging Eros, or a deus ultor.21 The number of Erotes (Amores and Cupidines) is playfully extended ad libitum by later poets, and these Erotes are described either as sons of Aphrodite or of nymphs.
Among the places distinguished for their worship of Eros, Thespiae in Boeotia stands foremost: there his worship was very ancient, and the old representation of the god was a rude stone,22 to which in later times, however, the most exquisite works of art were added.23 At Thespiae a quinquennial festival, the Erotidia or Erotia, were celebrated in honor of the god.24 Besides Sparta, Samos, and Parion on the Hellespont, he was also worshiped at Athens, where he had an altar at the entrance of the Academy.25 At Megara his statue, together with those of Himeros and Pothos, stood in the temple of Aphrodite.26
Among the things sacred to Eros, and which frequently appear with him in works of art, we may mention the rose, wild beasts which are tamed by him, the hare, the cock, and the ram.
Respecting the connection between Eros and Psyche, see Psyche.
Eros was a favorite subject with the ancient statuaries, but his representation seems to have been brought to perfection by Praxiteles, who conceived him as a full-grown youth of the most perfect beauty.27 In later times artists followed the example of poets, and represented him as a little boy.
- Theogony, 120 ff.
- Metaphysics i, 4.
- Orphic Hymn 5; comp. Aristophanes. Birds, 695.
- 178, b.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ix, c. 27.
- Pausanias, l.c.; Cicero. On the Nature of the Gods iii, 23.
- Plato, l.c.; Sextus Empiricus. Adversus Mathematicos i, 540.
- Cicero. On the Nature of the Gods iii, 23.
- Plut. Amatorius, 20; Eustathius on Homer, p. 555.
- Virgil. Ciris, 134.
- Theocritus, xiii, 2.
- Meleager. Epigrams, 50.
- Orphic Hymn 57; Virgil. Eclogues x, 29; Moschus. Idylls vi, 10; Theocritus, iii, 15.
- Moschus. Idylls vi.; Theocritus, xxiii, 4; Ovid. Tristia v, 1, 22.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses i, 468; Euripides. Iphigenia in Aulis, 548.
- Comp. Eustathius on Homer, p. 987.
- Theocritus, x, 20.
- Pindar. Olympian Odes i, 41; Anacr. xxxiii, 8; Hesiod. Theogony, 201; Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 24.5; vii, 26.3; i, 43.6.
- Athenaeus, xiii, 551; Eustathius on Homer, p. 1596.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 30.1; vi, 23.4.
- ibid. i, 30.1; Ovid. Metamorphoses xiii, 750 ff.; Plato. Phaedrus, 255, d.
- ibid. ix, 27.1.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 266.
- Pausanias, l.c.; Athenaeus, xiii, 561.
- ibid. i, 30.1.
- ibid. i, 43.6, comp. iii, 26.3; vi, 24.5; vii, 26.3.
- Lucian. Amores ii, 17; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xxxvi, 4, 5.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.