In Greek mythology, Eros was a god who was in charge of passionate and physical love, as well as a fertility god. His name is the base of words such as erotic. His Roman equivalent was Amor ("love") or Cupid ("desire"). As Cupid, he was often accompanied by the Amoretti. Eros was associated with Aphrodite. He was sometimes called Protogonus as one of the firstborn, primordial deities.
Eros is as the name of the primal force of love which sprang forth from the primordial Chaos along with Gaea (Earth) and Tartarus (the Greek concept of Hell as punishment). Alternatively, he was the son of Erebus and Nyx. Eros was later the name given to the child of Aphrodite and either Ares or Hephaestus, or the son of Porus and Penia, or sometimes a son of Iris and Zephyrus. He was the god created to harness the power of the primordial "Eros" and direct it into mortals with such force that it consumes them. Hence he is the god of desire or lust. This would be apt for the issue of a union between "Love" and either "War" or "Fire." In some myths, he is portrayed as mindful of the power he wields and even refusing the entreaties of his mother and other gods to interfere in the course of some mortals' lives. He is identified with Cupid of Roman Mythology.
Eros presence as a primordial deity is most interesting in that it implies that love was one of the prime moving forces in the creation of the universe. Eros caused Gaia and Uranus to make love, thereby initiating the creation of all life. In spite of his ancient history, Eros was not widely worshipped in early Greece. Later, he became very popular. A fertility cult in Thespiae worshipped him fervently. In Athens, the fourth day of every month was sacred to him and he shared, with Aphrodite, a very popular cult.
Apollo chased the nymph Daphne, daughter of Ladon, who had scorned him. His infatuation was caused by an arrow from Eros, who was jealous because Apollo had made fun of his archery skills. Eros also claimed to be irritated by Apollo's singing. Daphne prayed to the river god Peneus to help her and he changed her into a laurel tree, which became sacred to Apollo.
In art, Eros was usually depicted as a young winged boy or infant, with his bow and arrows at hand. He had two kinds of arrows: one was golden with dove feathers that caused instant love; the other was lead with owl feathers that caused indifference. The poet Sappho described him as "bittersweet" and "cruel" to his victims; he was also unscrupulous, mischievous and charismatic.
Eros' mother, Aphrodite, was jealous of the beauty of a mortal woman named Psyche. She asked Eros to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. Eros agreed but then fell in love with Psyche on his own, or by accidentally pricking himself with a golden arrow. Meanwhile, Psyche's parents were anxious that their daughter remained unmarried. They consulted an oracle who told them she was destined for no mortal lover, but a monster who lived on top of a particular mountain. Psyche was resigned to her fate and climbed to the top of the mountain. There, Zephyrus, the west wind, gently floated her downwards. She entered a cave on the appointed mountain, surprised to find it full of jewelry and finery. Eros visited her every night in the cave and they made love; he demanded only that she never light any lamps because he did not want her to know who he was (having wings made him distinctive). Her two sisters, jealous of Psyche, convinced her to do so one night and she lit a lamp, recognizing him instantly. A drop of hot lamp oil fell on Eros' chest and he awoke, then fled.
When Psyche told her two, jealous, elder sisters what had happened; they rejoiced secretly and each separately walked to the top of the mountain and did as Psyche described her entry to the cave, hoping Eros would pick them instead. Zephyrus did not pick them and they fell to their deaths at the base of the mountain.
Psyche searched for her lover across much of Greece, finally stumbling into a temple to Demeter, where the floor was covered with piles of mixed grains. She started sorting the grains into organized piles and, when she finished, Demeter spoke to her, telling her that the best way to find Eros was to find his mother, Aphrodite, and earn her blessing. Psyche found a temple to Aphrodite and entered it. Aphrodite assigned her a similar task to Demeter's temple, but gave her an impossible deadline to finish it by. Eros intervened, for he still loved her, and caused some ants to organize the grains for her. Aphrodite was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. Psyche went to the field and and saw the sheep but was stopped by a river-god, whose river she had to cross to enter the field. He told her the sheep were mean and vicious and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Psyche did so and Aphrodite was even more outraged at her survival and success. Finally, Aphrodite claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Persephone, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a black box that Aphrodite gave to Psyche. Psyche walked to a tower, deciding that the quickest way to the underworld would be to die. A voice stopped her at the last moment and told her a route that would allow her to enter and return still living, as well as telling her how to pass Cerberus, Charon and the other dangers of the route. She pacified Cerberus, the three-headed dog, with a sweet honey-cake and paid Charon an obolus to take her into Hades. Once there, Persephone offered her a feast but Psyche refused, knowing it would keep her in the underworld forever.
Psyche left the underworld and decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside was a "Stygian sleep" which overtook her. Eros, who had forgiven her, flew to her body and healed her, then begged Zeus and Aphrodite for their consent to his wedding of Psyche. They agreed and Zeus made her immortal.
Psyche's visit and return to the underworld made her an object of some devotion, like Dionysus and Persephone. She was an object of some mystery religions and was occasionally mentioned in connection with the popular Eleusinian mysteries.
Eros is sometimes referred to with the epithet Eleutherios ("the liberator") as well as Protagonus ("the first born"). He was also worshipped under the plural form of "Eros", Erotes.