EROS . Eros was the ancient Greek god of sexual (either homosexual or heterosexual) love or desire. The word erōs is the ordinary noun denoting that emotion; it could be personified and treated as an external being because of its unfathomable and irresistible power over humans (and animals and gods). This was, however, a sophisticated, largely literary phenomenon without roots in popular religion. At Thespiae (Boeotia) a sacred stone, perhaps a menhir, was venerated as Eros, but it is doubtful how old the identification was. Otherwise cults of Eros do not seem to have been established before the Classical period. He was often honored in the gymnasia (sports centers), where adolescent males were constant objects of attraction for older men. The Spartans and Cretans are said to have sacrificed to Eros before battles because the soldiers' personal devotion to one another was recognized as an important military factor.
Eros is represented in Greek literature as a beautiful youth, or later as a young boy, and as the son or attendant of Aphrodite, the goddess who presided over sexual union. He is sportive and mischievous; he plays roughly with men; he shoots arrows into them (this first in the dramas of Euripides, c. 480–406 bce). Poetic conceit may predicate of him whatever is appropriate to the effects he produced. He can be called blind, for instance, because he chooses his victims so indiscriminately. Sometimes, in and after the fifth century bce, poets speak of the plural erōtes, corresponding to the many separate loves that are always flaring up.
Eros appears in art from the sixth century bce but becomes much more common in that of the fifth. He is usually shown as winged and carrying a lyre and a garland, both appropriate to the symposium, at which he was always active. Often he hovers above scenes of amorous import. In the fourth century the sculptors Praxiteles and Scopas portrayed him in celebrated statues. Praxiteles's mistress donated one of these to the sanctuary at Thespiae.
Eros had a special significance in cosmogonic myth. Hesiod (c. 730–700 bce) places him among the first gods to come into being, and several later poets echo this. As they saw cosmic evolution in terms of sexual reproduction of divine entities, Eros was needed from the start to provide the impulse. In a cosmogony composed under the name of Orpheus about 500 bce, Eros (also called Protogonos, "firstborn," and Phanes, "manifest") came out of a shining egg created by Time; he fertilized the cosmic darkness, and Heaven and Earth were born. This account has connections with Semitic, Iranian, and Indian cosmogonies.
Although partially comparable with some figures (especially winged demons) belonging to the cults of the Middle East, Eros appears to be a peculiar creation of the Greeks. He is worshiped in an atypical way, with few sanctuaries (the most important of which was in the Boeotian town of Thespiae) and a scarce inventory of myths and ritual epithets. Unknown to the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymns, Eros first appears in two passages of Hesiod's Theogony. In the first passage (vv. 120–122) he is presented as the most ancient god after Chaos and Gaia. He has the power to subjugate the mind and the will of both gods and men, and he has neither parents nor other deities for companions.
On the other hand, in Theogony (201) Eros (along with Himeros) is included in Aphrodite's retinue and accompanies her in the same way that the paredros of the Asian religions escorts Ishtar/Astarte. Such a subordinate figure appears different from the representation offered by Hesiod in the preceding verses (v. 120ff.), where Eros is described as a primeval, lonely, and very powerful deity.
This incongruity is only an example of the numerous contradictions in Greek literature, philosophy, and mythography dealing with Eros's character and genealogy. Pausanias (IX 27,3 = Sappho fr. 198, Voigt) claims that Sappho dedicated to Eros "a lot of poems not matching with each other." Evidence for this statement can be obtained by comparing Sappho from 159, where Eros is only a "servant" of the goddess, and Theocritus 13,1–2c (Wendel, p. 258; Sappho fr. 198b), which reports that Sappho described Eros as Aphrodites's son and attributed to him a father of such nobility as Uranus (the Sky); nevertheless it seems that, in a third poem (mentioned by Apollonius Rhodius III 26 = Sapph. fr. 198a), Sappho represented Eros as generated not by Uranus and Aphrodite but by Uranus and Mother Earth.
Different genealogies are suggested by later authors. According to Simonides (fr. 575 P.), Eros is the son of "the deceptive Aphrodite, who bore him to Ares, the contriver of frauds." In an inspired stasimon of the Hippolytus, Euripides says that Eros is a "son of Zeus" (v. 533). Before them, Alcaeus had suggested an original version of the matter by defining Eros as "the most terrible god, whom Iris with fine sandals bore to golden-haired Zephyr" (fr. 327 V). It is not easy to establish whether the poet drew inspiration from certain Lesbian cults or from his own imagination. If one considers the scarceness of concrete cultural evidence, it seems plausible that ancient Greek poets felt free to give personal interpretations of Eros's birth and nature.
Discordant points of view can also be found among historians and philosophers. Whereas Pherekydes (7 B 3 Diels-Kranz), Acusilaus (9 B 1 Diels-Kranz), and Parmenides (28 B 13 Diels-Kranz) seem to follow Hesiod's tradition in placing Eros in the first stage of the theocosmogonic process, Plato's reflection can be considered as a decisive turning point. In Plato's representation (Symposium, 203b–204a), Eros is the son of two figures suspended between myth and allegory, Poros (expedient) and Penia (poverty), and he partakes of the nature of both; he is neither a god nor a mortal, neither a sage nor a fool, but a paradoxical set of contrasting elements.
Plato's influence can be perceived in the Middle Comedy. For instance, a fragment of Alexis's Phaedrus (fr. 247 Kassel–Austin) describes Eros as a strange being, "neither female nor male, neither god nor man, neither foolish nor wise … but with a lot of aspects in one shape." It is worth noting that the iconographic type of Eros as a winged androgyne frequently appears in fourth-century South Italian pottery. A different representation is offered by Praxiteles, whose celebrated Eros looked like a young man with charming eyes.
In the same period the debate on Eros appears to attract the attention of the most important philosophical schools, giving rise to a great number of treatises on this subject. Academics, Peripatetics, Stoics, and Epicureans wrote works (mostly dialogues) with such titles as On Love, Dialogue on Love, and The Art of Loving. Although these works are almost completely lost (except for a few fragments), presumably they dwelt upon the ambiguous and contradictory nature of Eros, especially the god's habit of bringing, under different circumstances, either joy and happiness or grief and downfall (also in Cercidas's second Meliamb, probably influenced by Stoicism).
During the Hellenistic age, Eros was mostly represented as the little, naughty son of Aphrodite and became a stereotyped figure (see Apollonius Rhodius 3.91–99; Theocritus 19). However, he also became the hero of an inspired fable concerning his love story with a beautiful girl named Psyche. The tale probably originated within Platonic circles and owes most of its fame to a work written in the second century ce, that is, Apuleius's Metamorphoses, or The golden ass.
Blanc, Nicole, and Françoise Gury. "Eros." Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae (LIMC) 3, no. 1 (1981), 850–1049.
Calame, Claude. The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Princeton, N.J., 1999.
Cavallini, Eleonora. Il fiore del desiderio: Afrodite e il suo corteggio fra mito e letteratura. Lecce, Italy, 2000.
Fasce, Silvana. Eros: La figura e il culto. Genoa, Italy, 1977.
Lasserre, François. La figure d'Éros dans la poésie grecque. Lausanne, Switzerland, 1946.
Page, Denys. Sappho and Alcaeus: An Introduction to the Study of Ancient Lesbian Poetry. Oxford, U.K., 1955.
Rudhardt, Jean. Le rôle d'Eros et d'Aphrodite dans les cosmogonies grecques. Paris, 1986.
M. L. West (1987)
Eleonora Cavallini (2005)
In ancient Greece the word Eros referred to love and the god of love. In his final theory of the drives, Sigmund Freud made Eros a fundamental concept referring to the life instincts (narcissism and object libido), whose goals were the preservation, binding, and union of the organism into increasingly larger units.
Eros the unifier is opposed to, and yet was blended into, the death instinct, an antagonistic force leading to the destruction, disintegration, and dissolution of everything that exists. "In this way the libido of our sexual instincts would coincide with the Eros of the poets and philosophers which holds all living things together" (Freud, 1920g, p. 50).
The term Eros, understood as a life instinct antagonistic to the death instinct, appeared for the first time in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g), where Freud used it to establish a dynamic polarity that would define a new instinctual dualism. Freud wrote, "Our speculations have suggested that Eros operates from the beginning of life and appears as a 'life instinct' in opposition to the 'death instinct' which was brought into being by the coming to life of inorganic substance. These speculations seek to solve the riddle of life by supposing that these two instincts were struggling with each other from the very first" (p. 61). In this essay Freud refers to the doctrine of the Greek physician and philosopher Empedocles of Agrigento (c. 490-430 B.C.E.), for whom the production of all things results from the interplay of two forces, Love and Discord, conceived of as the impersonal forces of attraction and repulsion.
Yet Freud's theoretical innovation is more than the pure speculations of philosophy, biology, or physics. Revision of his concepts was called for by his experience in psychoanalytic practice. He posited within the organism a primal masochism derived from the action of the death instinct to account for certain clinical problems: ambivalence in affective life, nightmares associated with traumatic neurosis, masochism, and negative therapeutic reactions.
Freud's uses of the term Eros (86 of 88 occurrences, according to Guttman's Concordance ) is contemporary with his final theory of the instincts developed after 1920. The word itself, with its multiple meanings, enabled Freud to combine many things that he had previously separated and contrasted: love between the sexes, self-love, love for one's parents or children, "friendship and love among mankind in general," "devotion to concrete objects and abstract ideas," and partial sexual drives (component instincts). This expanded concept of love led Freud to evoke, on several occasions (1920g, 1921c, 1924c, 1925e ), "the all-inclusive and all-preserving Eros of Plato's Symposium " (1925e, p. 218).
Although the concept of Eros, properly speaking, emerged late in Freud's work, this did not prevent him from claiming that all his earlier discoveries about sexuality can be seen in terms of Eros. Psychoanalysis showed that sexuality did not conceal "impulsion towards a union of the two sexes or towards producing a pleasurable sensation in the genitals" (1925e, p. 218), and that sexuality was thus different from genitality.
Though the term Eros does not appear in the original texts, two notes, one from 1925 in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) and the other from 1920 in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), reinforce the use of "Eros" as a synonym for "sexual" in the discovery of psychoanalysis: "The situation would be different if 'sexual' was being used by my critics in the sense in which it is now commonly employed in psychoanalysts—in the sense of 'Eros"' (1900a, note 1925, p. 161). Freud even justified his failure to use the word earlier: "Anyone who considers sex as something mortifying and humiliating to human nature is at liberty to make use of the more genteel expressions 'Eros' and 'erotic.' I might have done so myself from the first and thus spared myself much opposition. But I did not want to, for I like to avoid concessions to faintheartedness. One can never tell where that road may lead one; one gives way first in words, then little by little in substance too" (1921c, p. 91). Occurrences of the terms "Eros" (after 1920) and "eroticism" (after 1894) overlap in Freud's writings without ever leaving the field of sexuality.
Freud early on recognized the erotic character of repressed representations that lie at the heart of neurotic symptoms. He cites "the case of a girl, who blamed herself because, while she was nursing her sick father, she had thought about a young man who made a slight erotic impression on her" (1894a, p. 48), and who is then constrained to treat this unwanted representation of a sexual nature as if it had "never occurred." Freud conceived mental conflict as a moral conflict in which the troublemaker Eros stirs up trouble in the form of a symptom. He saw sexuality as a trauma that goes far beyond the well-known scenes of sexual seduction. Eros forces the ego to defend itself and thus participates in the division and fragmentation of the psyche. Repressed erotic representations later return in the form of symptoms or compromise formations that substitute for sexual activity or "precipitates of earlier experiences in the sphere of love" (1910a, p. 51). Such instances of deferred or aborted love are remote from sexual attraction and genital activity. Sexuality exists from infancy, is fundamentally perverse and polymorphous, and consists of a bundle of partial sexual drives that seek satisfaction independently of one another, in autoerotic fashion. The oral drive, for example, is seen as a mouth that kisses itself.
The 1920 footnote in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality retroactively referring to Eros (1905d, p. 266n) serves Freud's theoretical interests: to recognize infantile sexuality as something distinct from genitality, to emphasize the diphasic nature of sexual life, and to provide the concept of the drives with a mythical status, infantile in appearance and dominated by an ongoing and insatiable quest. Here Eros appears to conflict with the ego's instinct for self-preservation. The Oedipus complex determines the outcome of this conflict through the possibilities it offers for orienting the libido toward a sexual object (one that is no longer only sexual) by means of the phallus. The Oedipus complex is responsible for ensuring that the subject becomes satisfied in love after the reorganization at puberty, when the partial drives (component instincts) are enlisted in the service of an organized genital apparatus. Failing this, the subject will fall ill unless an alternative object is found through sublimation.
Eros is not only a cause of symptoms but can also become the means for their relief. The theoretical model of Eros as healer is beautifully illustrated in Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" (1907a ).
Love was also at the center of the psychoanalytic experiment from the time of its initial discovery via transference. In the middle period of the development of psychoanalysis (1912-1915), the homage to love in Delusions and Dreams would butt up against its limitations in a theory of transference, which shows love to support resistance to remembering, and hence to analysis. Moreover, Freud discovered in cases of sexual impotence of psychological origin that a conflict exists between the "affectionate current" and the "sexual current": "Where they love they do not desire, and where they desire they cannot love" (1912d, p. 183). This text anticipates Freud's comments in "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c). In this text, Freud saw the narcissistic libido as conflicting with erotic love of the object: Narcissus versus Eros. The ego claims a place among the sexual objects, and the self-preservation instincts have a libidinal nature. What distinguishes Eros is its link with objects: "A strong egoism is a protection against falling ill, but in the last resort we must begin to love in order not to fall ill, and we are bound to fall ill, if, in consequence of frustration, we are unable to love" (1914c, p. 85).
Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud, 1920g) overturned these earlier constructions. The theory of a death instinct, which worked in silence, forced Freud to combine the ego instincts and sexual instincts directed at objects, grouping them under the umbrella of a single force whose goal was union: Eros. Such an Eros is no longer a troublemaker, a divisive agent that disturbs the mental apparatus. It is the power of creation, of reproduction; it makes existence possible and postpones the return to an inorganic state. When discussing the life-preserving sexual instincts (object libido and ego), Freud explicitly refers to the myth of Eros recounted by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium. But the life and death instincts rarely come into play in isolation: They form various amalgams in which each attempts to make use of the other's strength to its own advantage. Freud shows that moral masochism, for example, "becomes a classical piece of evidence for the existence of fusion of instinct. Its danger lies in the fact that it originates from the death instinct and corresponds to the part of that instinct which has escaped being turned outwards as an instinct of destruction. But since, on the other hand, it has the significance of an erotic component, even the subject's destruction of himself cannot take place without libidinal satisfaction" (1924a).
In Freud's last work, it is as if the scandal of the discovery of sexuality was displaced in favor of the theoretical innovation of the death instinct. Eros as the embodiment of Aristophanes' myth or Empedocles' theories appears to get the better of Eros as the embodiment of desire, an Eros whose birth is given in the myth recounted by Diotima in The Symposium.
Jacques Lacan distances, without completely separating, love and desire (Eros). Love is the mirage in which desire is caught. The phallus is the fulcrum between the object that gives rise to desire and the part of the subject, minus language, that is forever lost. "Therefore, to love is to give what one does not have, and we can only love by acting as if we don't have, even if we do" (Lacan, 1991).
See also: Animus-Anima (analytical psychology); Beyond the Pleasure Principle ; Binding/unbinding of the instincts; Civilization and Its Discontents ; Drive/instinct; Genital love; German romanticism and psychoanalysis; Libido; Life instinct (Eros); Marcuse, Herbert; Myth; Sexuality.
Freud, Sigmund. (1894a). The neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 41-61.
——. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4: 1-338; 5: 339-625.
——. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
——. (1907a ). Delusions and dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva." SE, 9: 1-95.
——. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.
——. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
——. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.
——. (1924a). Letter to Le Disque Vert. SE, 19: 290-290.
——. (1924b ). Neurosis and psychosis. SE, 19: 147-153.
——. (1924c). The economic problem of masochism. SE, 19: 155-170.
——. (1925e ). The resistances to psycho-analysis. SE, 19: 211-222.
Lacan, Jacques. (1991). Le séminaire. Book 8: Le transfert. Paris: Seuil.
Amor, Cupid (Roman)
Hesiod's Theogony, Ovid's Metamorphoses, Virgil's Aeneid
Son of Aphrodite and Ares
In Greek mythology, Eros was the god of passionate or physical love. The Romans called him Amor (pronounced AY-mor) or Cupid (pronounced KYOO-pid), from the words amor meaning “love” and cupido meaning “desire.” His role in mythology changed over time, as did images of him in sculpture and other works of art. Eros became specifically identified with passionate love and fertility. The Greeks portrayed him as a handsome young man with a bow and arrow. The people he struck with his arrows were bound to fall in love. The Romans, however, had a different image of Eros, naming him “Cupid” and portraying him as a mischievous chubby winged boy or infant.
Many different accounts of Eros's birth exist. One of the oldest is found in the Theogony (History of the Gods), written by the Greek Hesiod around 700 bce. Hesiod claimed that Eros, like Gaia (pronounced GAY-uh) the earth goddess, was one of the offspring of the primitive emptiness called Chaos (pronounced KAY-oss). He believed Eros to be one of the first powers in the universe, representing the force of attraction and harmony that filled all of creation. The Greeks spoke of Eros as the son of Aphrodite (pronounced af-ro-DYE-tee), the goddess of love, and Ares (pronounced AIR-eez), the god of war. In this way, the Greeks demonstrated their view of romantic love as a force that would produce violent emotions.
In some myths, Eros makes mischief with his ability to make gods and mortals alike fall in love. His arrow forced the god Apollo to fall in love with Daphne, a river nymph who did not love Apollo in return. His mother Aphrodite ordered him to make a beautiful mortal woman named Psyche (pronounced SYE-kee) fall in love with the ugliest creature he could find because men were paying more attention to Psyche than to her. Instead, Eros himself fell in love with Psyche. The two married, but Eros kept his identity a secret from Psyche, and only visited her at night when she could not see him. Psyche's jealous sisters convinced her that her husband was actually a monster, telling her to take a lamp and a knife to bed. Psyche did so, only to learn that her husband was a beautiful god. Her mistrust caused Eros to leave her, but she eventually won him back by completing a series of difficult tasks put to her by Aphrodite.
Eros in Context
In ancient Greece, a distinction was generally made between the types of love represented by Eros and Aphrodite. While Aphrodite was the goddess who oversaw love between men and women, Eros reigned over love between a man and a boy. To the wealthy and noble classes of the ancient Greeks, the idea of such a relationship was considered normal, healthy, and masculine. Men and boys often exercised and performed athletics in the nude together, and soldiers fighting together often formed bonds as couples. Only rarely is sexual intercourse specifically mentioned as part of the relationship, though it is sometimes suggested. The lower classes of ancient Greek society were not as involved in this practice.
Key Themes and Symbols
Eros is an enduring symbol of romantic love. His bow and arrow symbolize how love can strike the heart of any person without warning. The blindfold he is sometimes shown to be wearing symbolizes the seeming randomness of love, sometimes resulting in the most unlikely or unexpected pairings. Eros also represents adolescence, a time when many first experience feelings of romantic love.
Eros in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Eros appears throughout literature in works such as the Aeneid by Virgil and the Metamorphoses by Ovid as well as in the poems Endymion and Ode to Psyche by the English poet John Keats (1795-1821).
In later art, the Roman conception of Cupid became the most popular depiction of Eros. He was often seen holding his bow and arrow and wearing a blindfold. Artists sometimes multiplied him into many small winged figures. After the rise of Christianity, these little cupids became identified with baby angels.
In modern times, Eros—under his Roman name Cupid—has become synonymous with the Valentine's Day holiday. The character of Cupid has appeared in many films, television shows, and commercials, including the 1998 series Cupid starring Jeremy Piven as a man who may or may not be the god sent to Earth in human form as punishment by Zeus .
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Since ancient times, the onset of love has been described as something that can happen suddenly, even violently—like an arrow to the heart. Even the phrase “falling in love” carries the implication of a sudden, painful accident. Recently, scientists have begun to piece together what actually happens inside the mind and body of someone “shot by Eros.” Using the library and the Internet, find out more about the physiology of love, and write a paper summarizing what you find out.
In Greek mythology, Eros was the god of erotic, or sexual, love. The Romans called him Amor or Cupid, from the words amor meaning "love" and cupido meaning "desire." His role in mythology changed over time, as did images of him in sculpture and other works of art.
Many different accounts of Eros's birth exist. One of the oldest is found in the Theogony (History of the Gods), written by the Greek Hesiod* around 700 b.c. Hesiod claimed that Eros, like Gaia the earth goddess, was one of the offspring of the primeval emptiness called Chaos. He believed Eros to be one of the first powers in the universe, representing the force of attraction and harmony that filled all of creation.
In later times, the Greeks spoke of Eros as the son of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love, and Ares (Mars)* . Eros became specifically identified with passionate love and fertility. The Greeks portrayed him as a handsome young man with a bow and arrow. The people he struck with his arrows were bound to fall in love. Eros himself fell in love with a beautiful human woman named Psyche.
primeval from the earliest times
Hellenistic term referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world and the Near East during the three centuries after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 b.c.
During Hellenistic times, another image of Eros became popular—that of a mischievous, chubby, winged boy or infant. He was often seen holding his bow and arrow and wearing a blindfold to show that he shot his arrows at random. Artists sometimes multiplied him into many small winged figures. After the rise of Christianity, these little cupids became identified with baby angels. Eros appears throughout literature in works such as the Aeneid by Virgil* and the Metamorphoses by Ovid* as well as in the poems Endymion and Ode to Psyche by the English poet John Keats.
See also Aphrodite; Greek Mythology; Psyche; Venus.
Eros ★★½ 2004 (R)
Three short films by renowned directors intended to convey their own interpretation of eroticism. Whether or not they're actually intended to be erotic is yet to be determined. Wong Kar-Wai's “The Hand” nails it. There's no nudity, no explicit sex, nothing to tell you what to feel. But it's poetic and stays with you. Steven Soderbergh's “Equilibrium” stars Robert Downey, Jr. as a patient explaining his sexually-obscure dream to psychiatrist Alan Arkin over and over and over. The doc doesn't listen much. Neither do we. Finally, director Michelangelo Antonioni closes the program with a real stinker. His Zabriskien roots place the characters in a land of causal nudity and dopey music. Trilogies need to get better with each installment, but this one rolls downhill the entire way. 104m/C DVD . US FR IT LU Gong Li, Chang Chen, Tin Fung, Zhou Jianjun, Robert Downey Jr., Alan Arkin, Ele Keats, Christopher Buchholz, Regina Nemni, Luisa Ranieri; D: Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni; W: Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni; C: Tonino Guerra, Christopher Doyle, Marco Pontecorvo; M: Peer Raben, Enrica Antonioni, Vinicio Milani, Chico O'Farrill.
A winged statue of Eros over the fountain in Piccadilly Circus, London, made by Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854–1934), was erected as a memorial to the philanthropist the Earl of Shaftesbury, and unveiled in 1893.