Ordinarily at this time of year, I make a few disparaging remarks about Valentine’s Day, or "Passover" as I call in my house, but never within earshot of any of my Jewish friends as they do get the joke, but they don’t think it’s funny, and I hate it when they get all Samson on me.
But this year, I’ve decided to direct our attention to that clothing-challenged archer who wings around shooting people with arrows to make them fall in love with people guaranteed to ruin their lives. I don’t understand Cupid.
Oh sure, I get the metaphor that love is like a sharp weapon that pierces your spleen and makes you hemorrhage to death while your loved one runs off with your best friend, but beyond the obvious, what’s up with him?
He's strange. Has little tiny wings on his back.He flies around more naked than the birds who at least have feathers. He has nothing to protect him from the elements. (People thought that the mythmakers were saying Cupid carried a quiver, but actually they were saying he shivered.)
Supposedly, Cupid was the son of Venus (Goddess of Love) and Mars (God of Candy Bars). That's the accepted story, but other myths say he was the son of Heaven and Earth, Venus and Vulcan, Night and Ether, Venus and Mercury, Strife and Zephyr, and Venus by herself. The point of this is Venus got around, and the Renaissance mythographer Natale Conti says Cupid's parentage was uncertain. (Conti would go on to have a short-lived career in the Renaissance version of the Maury Povich show.)
It wasn’t until Cupid was in school that he learned his parents were mythical and didn’t exist. The other school children used to mock him by saying, “Your daddy's a myther; your mama's a mythssus." At this point, he took up the bow and arrow, but the school counselor disarmed him and sent him to military school where he was ignored because no one wants to look at a naked person all the time.
Not that his life was all bitter solitude. In fact, while carrying out one of his mother’s bizarre revenge schemes—Venus had depths of crazy that even my ex-girlfriends don’t have—he met and stalked a beautiful woman by the name of Psyche, who was a soul sister. (That’s a clever joke because Psyche is Greek for “soul.” Get it? Ha ha.... Well, fine. You try making jokes about love gods and see how easy it is.) He stalked her because he accidentally nicked himself with one of his arrows; there's some sort of lesson in that, but let's not take the time to figure it out.
If Cupid wrote a tell-all memoir, he would feature his mother. Here's this story as an example. When Cupid was a little boy, he stole honey from a bee hive, and the bees stung him. He cried and ran to his mother Venus. She laughs and points out he is also small like the bees and he delivers the sting of love so his pain is justice.Then she kicks him back outside. Listen, if that's not movie-of-the-week gold, I don't know what is. Move over, Joan Crawford, there's a new hanger-shaker in town.
Cupid and Psyche had their problems, of course, as any couple does when the man likes to soar around naked shooting people, but eventually they did marry and had a daughter whom they named Voluptas for no good reason. (She was also known as Hedone, which doesn’t seem any better. I can see Venus standing on the celestial porch hollering, “Voluptas Hedone, you get yourself back in this house right now!”) She hated her parents, mostly because her father’s lack of modesty meant she could never have sleepovers at her house. She left home at an early age and lived a wanton life, but no more so than any pop star or Congressman.
Mercifully, Psyche faded from history (or mythistory) at that point. Cupid, however, showed up a few more times, but marriage had changed him. He now carried two set of arrows, one gold-tipped set that brought love, and another lead-tipped set that brought hate. Some scholars think this is a pointed commentary on marriage. Other scholars wonder why we’re talking about this and think we should get a real job. The other scholars are often grumpy.
Anyway, I want you to think about all this when you get a card with Cupid on it. If you do and then find your Valentine’s Day is a bit less happy, then my job is done.
(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without explicit permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)