The pedigree of Valentine’s Day is, appropriately, obscure. We know Cupid’s relation to his Mother, Venus. Or, as Wikipedia appropriately garbles it:
In classical mythology, Cupid (Latin Cupido, meaning “desire”) is the god of desire, erotic love, and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus, and is known in Latin also as Amor (“Love”). His Greek counterpart is Eros.
Er … Amor is DIFFERENT from Eros. Amorous is ofttimes confused with erotic, but not so much anymore, ever since sexuality was rediscovered after the Victorian Era, lying in a ditch outside of Manchester, England by an itinerate Leftenant named Roscoe Boswell, who later figured prominently in nothing much else.
The Greek conception of love held philosophical sway in the Classical world: eros, amor, agape. Or, sexual desire (Cupid), romantic love (Mon amour, Mi amoré, etc. the pattern is repeated throughout the Romance languages–pun intended and not actually a pun), and “spiritual” love, often called “Platonic” love. The notion of “agape” is well preserved in fundamentalist and charismatic Christianity, while amor and eros haven’t exactly vanished from the scene.
We are hobbled in English with only one word for love, and the ambiguity of “love” in English is matched in “Shalom” and “Aloha.”
No: we pretend to celebrate amorous/romantic love on Valentine’s day, but no: Cupid speaks to a fundamental truth of human existence.
The “arrows of desire” represent the manner in which that lightning bolt of erotic shock hits us. And that fundamental truth is that we do not choose, we are CHOSEN.
This causes great anger in the human species that that most intimate and necessary of relations, the sexual relation, is NOT CHOSEN BY US. If you don’t have chemistry, all the shared interests in the world won’t help. But even then, as long as the relatively simple act is engaged in, reproduction proceeds just fine.
But we do not choose who we are attracted to — no not “interested” or “flirtation,” no: I mean that bolt of lightning that makes you weak in the knees, hollow in the pit of the loins, difficult to breathe bolt from young Mister Cupid.
Cupid by Caravaggio, 1601
Because, please note, the successful accomplishment of that Desire produces an entity that very rapidly looks EXACTLY like Cupid, save for the archery equipment.
A very elegant symbol of eros, which is what we celebrate, clothed in the obligatory amor.
But remember: eros does not require amor. It is, however, MUCH better WITH amor.
And THAT is what we celebrate with Valentine’s day.
As Bernard Shaw wrote to Frank Harris, asking his old editor to take the porn out of his memoir My Life and Loves, which Harris, happily, ignored:
The sex relation is not a personal relation. It can be irresistibly desired and rapturously consummated between persons who could not endure one another for a day in any other relation.
But with amor, eros becomes something else entirely, not merely the brute reproduction of more squalling bodies, but a dance and an art of delight between two (or more, but never less) persons. And Valentine’s Day properly celebrates the mingling of both. (Still, Cupid’s arrow is impervious to hearts and flowers. It has a deadly earnest business to get on with, after all.)
To put it rather indelicately, the hearts and flowers and romantic dinners; the amorous notes and the liqueurs and the “special” herbs mask the true purpose of Valentine’s Day, which is the worship of Cupid, and the surrender to Cupid’s arrow, surely the most dangerous piece of ordnance in the history of humankind on Planet Earth.
How many emperors, senators, kings, popes, prelates, honchos, headmen, senators, congressmen, mayors and so on and so forth have been felled by Cupid’s arrow?
We always cluck our tongues and say “How could HE/SHE have been that stupid! What a knucklehead! “
Cupid’s arrow can strike at any time, in any place
Which is either profoundly forgetful or pathetically naive. When Cupid’s arrow strikes US, we usually do dumb stuff, too.
That’s called an “understatement.”
Horny makes you stupid, and history is replete with horny stupidity. Henry VIII’s many spearings by Cupid irrevocably changed the history of the British Isles and of Europe, by making the British not merely competitors on the World Stage, but HERETICS, to boot.
Cupid is heretical in the Western canon, save that we have always had that slight schizophrenia that has allowed Zeus to share the stage with John the Baptist, David, Goliath, Achilles and Hercules with disciples and Old Testament stuff, even though they are contradictory. Halloween is clearly not a “Christian” holiday, even though “All Saints’ Day” clearly is.
So too with Valentine’s Day, the Feast of Saint Valentine, and Roman Lupercalia, which is a sort of relative to this day, occupying the same calendar date in the Roman calender, which, like monogamous marriage, was imposed on the Roman Empire and, thus, the Western world by Julius Caesar.
Another mashup of the
This odd festival of Cupid fuels and propels itself on the desires of merchants and restaurateurs, of greeting card and lingerie manufacturers, of chocolate companies and many more. But it is Cupid’s arrow that we celebrate this day.
And the rituals and mating displays of the most complex mammal species on the planet.
Eros! we cry today, remembering that the Grail King, Amfortas, was wounded as he rode into battle, uttering his war-cry, which was “Amor!” and was pierced through the thighs, with the wound that would not heal until either Percival or, later, the Disneyfied version of Parsifal, Galahad, asked the question which healed the Grail King and relieved him of his crown, as the quest was fulfilled and Parsifal/Persival/Galahad becomes the Grail’s keeper.
Pirate lovers of the prairies
What becomes of the healed Anfortas is also obscure, but the former wasteland becomes green and fertile again.
You know: Valentine’s Day. My conception day, and my father’s birthday.
When you’ve got a name like this, you keep up on these things.
Happy Valentine’s Day.