In Greek mythology, Eros was the god responsible for lust, love, and sex; he was also worshipped as a fertility deity. His name is the root of words such as erotic. His Roman equivalent was Cupid, "desire", also known as Amor, "love". He was often associated with Aphrodite. He was, like Dionysus, sometimes referred to as Eleutherios, "the liberator".
Conceptions of Eros
Throughout Greek thought, there appear to be two sides to the conception of Eros; in the first, he is a primeval deity who embodies not only the force of erotic love but also the creative urge of ever-flowing nature, the first-born Light that is responsible for the coming into being and ordering of all things in the cosmos. In Hesiod's Theogony, the most famous Greek creation myth, Eros sprang forth from the primordial Chaos together with Gaia, Earth, and Tartarus, the underworld; according to Aristophanes' play The Birds, he burgeons forth from an egg laid by Night conceived with Darkness. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, he was worshipped as Protogonus, the first-born.
Alternately, later in antiquity, Eros was the son of Aphrodite and either Ares or Hephaestus, or of Porus and Penia, or sometimes of Iris and Zephyrus; this Eros was an attendant to Aphrodite, harnessing the primordial force of love and directing it into mortals, an apt role for the issue of a union between "Love" and either "War" or "Fire." In some myths, he is portrayed as being playful, frequently causing trouble for gods and mortals; in others, he is mindful of the power he wields, sometimes refusing the entreaties of his mother and other gods to interfere in the course of some mortals' lives. In some versions he had brothers named Anteros, the embodiment and Himerus.
In art, Eros was usually depicted as a winged young boy or infant, with his bow and arrows in 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. In his ancient identification with Protogones and Phanes he was adorned represented as a bull, a serpent, a lion, and with the heads of a ram.
But of course Eros is not always percieved as a child; that was more of "Cupid" based off the Roman belief system. In the Greek religion he was a young man; a teenager as opposed to a baby in a diaper.
Worship of Eros was uncommon in early Greece, but eventually became widespread. He was fervently worshipped by a fertility cult in Thespiae, and played an important role in the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Athens, he shared a very popular cult with Aphrodite, and the fourth day of every month was sacred to him.
Myths associated with Eros
Eros, angry at Apollo for making fun of his archery skills, caused him to fall in love with the nymph Daphne, daughter of Ladon, who had scorned him. Daphne prayed to the river god Peneus to help her and was changed into a laurel tree, which became sacred to Apollo.
The story of Cupid and Psyche, first attested in Apuleius' Latin novel, The Golden Ass, recounts the love between Cupid and Psyche, whose name means "soul". Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of Psyche, a mortal, and asked Cupid to make her fall in love with the ugliest man on earth; instead, Cupid fell in love with her himself and spirited her away to his home. Their peace was ruined by the jealousy of Psyche's sisters, and Psyche was forced to complete a number of trials, including descending to the underworld, in order to be reunited with Cupid. Eventually, she bore him a daughter, Voluptas, whose name means "pleasure", and became immortal herself. Psyche's visit to and return from 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.