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Cupid holds two types of arrows, one with a brilliant golden tip and the other with a dull lead tip. The golden arrow wounds a person with overwhelming desire, whereas the lead arrow wounds a person with repulsion and simply wants to run. The Latin poet Ovid describes the usage of these arrows in the first book of his Metamorphoses.
Cupid shoots Apollo with the golden arrow, but the lead strikes his target of affection, the nymph Daphne, when Apollo insults him as the inferior archer. Daphne, who is trapped by Apollo’s unwelcome advances, prays to her father, the river deity Peneus, who transforms her into a laurel tree, Apollo’s holy tree. It is the first of Apollo’s many failed or fatal love adventures.
Cupid has three arrows in The Kingis Quair, a 15th-century poem attributed to James I of Scotland, in which he possesses gold, silver, and steel for a light “smiting” that may be quickly treated, and steel for a love-wound that never heals.
Cupid, the honey thief, is stung by bees while stealing honey from a hive in the legend of Cupid the Honey Thief. He sobs and rushes to his mother Venus, saying that such a little creature shouldn’t inflict such agonizing wounds. Venus chuckles, pointing out the poetic justice: he, too, is tiny, yet stings with love.
The myth of Eros was originally recounted in Theocritus’ Idylls (3rd century BC). During the Renaissance, it was repeated countless times in art and poetry. The theme concluded Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti poetry cycle (1595) and provided inspiration for at least twenty works by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his workshop.
In a poem with the same title, German poet and classicist Karl Philipp Conz (1762″1827) interpreted the story as Schadenfreude (“finding pleasure in someone else’s misery”). Cupid transforms himself into a bee in a version written by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, a German Enlightenment writer:
Cupid was a god who personified desire in ancient Rome, but he had no temples or religious activities separate from other Roman gods like Venus, whom he sometimes accompanies as a side figure in cult sculptures. In a family shrine, a Cupid may appear among the many statuettes for private devotion, but there is no obvious difference between figures for veneration and those presented as art or adornment.
Cicero describes a statue of “Cupid” (Eros) by Praxiteles that was consecrated at a sacrarium and enjoyed religious devotion alongside Hercules, indicating that Roman temples sometimes doubled as art museums.
A wealthy female priest’s public works (sacerdos perpetua) include sculptures of Mars and Cupid, according to an inscription from Cártama in Roman Spain, while a procurator of Baetica’s list of benefactions contains statues of Venus and Cupid.
From the period of Augustus, the first Roman emperor, Cupid became more prevalent in Roman art. Cupid returning the weapons of Mars to his mother Venus became a theme of Augustan iconography after Antony and Cleopatra were vanquished at the Battle of Actium.
Cupid disguises himself as Iulus, the son of Aeneas, who was in turn the son of Venus herself, in the Aeneid, the poet Virgil’s national epic of Rome, and beguiles Queen Dido of Carthage to fall in love with the hero. She provides sanctuary to Aeneas and his band of Troyese exiles, only to be abandoned by him when he accomplishes his destiny of founding Rome. Iulus (also known as Ascanius) is the legendary progenitor of the Julian family, from whom Julius Caesar descended.
Augustus, Caesar’s successor, had a cherished great-grandson who died as a toddler depicted as Cupid, donating one statue to the Temple of Venus on Capitoline Hill and keeping another in his bedroom where he kissed it at night. This child’s brother became Emperor Claudius, and his mother Antonia is shown as Venus with Cupid on her shoulder in a surviving portrait-sculpture.
A Cupid riding a dolphin is accompanying Augustus of Prima Porta. Cupids occurred in multiples on the friezes of the Temple of Venus Genetrix (Venus as “Begetting Mother”), and influenced relief sculpture on other works like as sarcophagi, notably those showing children.