In which I write a poem (or, I put my Classics minor to use)
I wrote a poem. But there’s a backstory.
As part of Operation Lisa-Does-The-Assigned-Reading-She-Never-Bothered-Doing-In-Undergrad, I’ve been reading a LOT of classics. Like, Ancient Greek classics. Like Plato and Thucydides and Aristophanes and Homer.
A couple of texts in particular caught my attention. It started with reading Apollonius of Rhodes’ Voyage of the Argo, which is the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Or, more precisely, it’s the story of how Jason sits around and whines a lot while other people and gods get the Golden Fleece. Most specifically, Zeus’ wife Hera really wants Jason to get the fleece for her own personal reasons, and gets Aphrodite to bribe her son Eros, better known as Cupid, to hit Medea (a powerful witch) with an arrow so she’ll help Jason out. He does, and poor Medea’s hopelessly smitten to the point of murdering various family members to help Jason succeed.
Medea gets a “happy” ending in Apollonius, by which I mean she’s married to Jason in what almost amounts to a shotgun wedding, but her story is continued in Euripides’ The Medea. After Medea commits more murder and they’re exiled, Jason marries a different princess (Medea herself is a princess, mind), and his new father-in-law gives Medea a day to clear out of his kingdom. Medea responds by murdering Jason’s new wife and father-in-law, as well as killing her own children.
Cliffsnotes: Cupid makes Medea fall in love, and murder is the result. Lots and lots of murder.
Currently I’m reading Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, the story of a man who is turned into a donkey. (All of these, for the record, are good reads with the right translations). The Cupid and Psyche story is one of several stories-within-a-story in this book. Aphrodite gets jealous of a beautiful girl and tells Cupid to make her fall in love with a completely worthless man. Instead, Cupid decides to marry her himself, though so secretly that even she doesn’t realize she’s married to a god. (They only interact at night, when it’s dark, and she apparently somehow never notices the giant wings sprouting from his back…?) She decides to light a lamp one night, falls in love with him, and somehow manages to prick herself on an arrow to fall even more in love. She accidentally wakes Cupid up, who gets mad at having been seen and abandons her.
At this point, I think we’re supposed to believe that this unveiling means Cupid’s been caught and will face the wrath of his mother. However, Aphrodite knows about none of this until a different god informs her. She returns home from a seaside vacation (no joke) and finds Cupid moping in bed. Psyche, meanwhile, in trying to find Cupid again, shows up on Aphrodite’s doorstep and is assigned several “impossible” tasks, almost all of which are completed for her, Jason-style. Cupid finally gets over himself as she’s completing the last task and brings her home. In the end, Psyche’s granted immortality, they get properly married, and together they give birth to Desire.
Between the separation and the day Psyche shows up on the doorstep, though, it’s important to note that Psyche tries to take refuge at the temples of two separate goddesses (Hera and Demeter). Never mind that hospitality was one of the most important traits in the ancient world, both goddesses deny her sanctuary because they’re afraid of Cupid’s retaliation. In fact, it’s implied at several points that many of the gods’ *ahem* dalliances were actually the result of Cupid’s practical jokes.
So: Cupid’s so petty that when his wife commits the sin of looking at him, he turns emo and leaves the pregnant woman to *cough* labor to rewin his affection.
There are other examples, of course, both naming Cupid specifically and calling out love in general. There’s a great speech in The Symposium, for example, in which Love is described as a clever beggar kid. But this should suffice for my main point:
Love is a petty, selfish trickster god.
And yet! Think about the Greco-Roman pantheon. Neopagans notwithstanding, the only deity we still celebrate is, in fact, Cupid. Not Zeus almighty, or wise Athena, or even Aphrodite herself. Nope. Every Valentine’s day, here’s Cupid with his stupid chaos-inducing arrows.
All that to say: I wrote a poem.
Lord Cupid is a vicious deity
Who launches arrows at his twisted whim.
He finds delight in human frailty
And even greater gods fall prey to him.
No mortal can withstand his stinging darts.
They sprout inside; they twist, they squirm, they grow
Until they hold as captive fragile hearts,
The most steadfast of minds to overthrow.
‘Til like Medea we betray our homes
That – briefly! – two free hearts might intersect;
Or like poor Psyche, we are left to roam
In hopes with Love himself to reconnect.
Now: Honoring him, petty yet divine,
I ask you: Won’t you be my Valentine?
Happy Valentine’s Day.