Ancient History & Civilisation

The Erotes:
Love posse to the sex goddess

Naughty boy Eros had his own entourage of godlings or godlets, called the Erotes. The Greeks, who always made room for another deity, identified them as the additional progeny of Ares and Aphrodite, the gods of war and love, respectively. (No clue as to why the children of a Greek war god would pursue a “make love, not war” philosophy.)

There was a strong family resemblance between Eros and his brothers. They all had wings, hot youthful bodies, and ran around naked. Like big brother, they carried bow and arrows as weapons. They first showed up on sculptured friezes in Hellenistic times, after Alexander the Great died. Originally there were luscious young maidens with wings depicted with the Erotes, but apparently they did not make the cut.

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Venus, or Aphrodite, the love goddess, had an entourage of godlings called the Erotes. Usually portrayed as winged babies, they were sought for such issues as sexual yearning.

Because of their pinchable cuteness, Erotes became very popular subject matter for sculptors, potters, vase painters, and the creators of bronze jewelry, lamps, and household knickknacks.

Although Eros seemed to have the bases covered on love, lust, beauty, and sexual intercourse, he was later burdened with additional chores. He became the god of athleticism and a backup deity for fertility. He also shouldered the job of guarding male-to-male sexuality.

Nevertheless, it was felt by a higher Olympian authority that some areas of romantic love and biology were not being addressed. In addition, Eros had complained of being lonely. Thus an Erote called Antero became the god of love returned, that is, requited love. A charming fellow, he wore his hair long and had wings resembling a butterfly. He also carried a golden club, apparently to enforce that “love ’em or else” idea—and to avenge those rebels who refused to commit.

After Antero, another offspring of Ares and Aphrodite came into being. Named Himeros, he became the deity of unrequited love. He also backed up Eros on sexual desire issues. To distinguish him from the other Erotes, he carried a fashionable taenia or headband, like the colorful ones that Greek athletes wore. It looked more dopey than sexy to carry the taenia instead of wearing it, but that was the burden Himero had to bear.

The Erotes sibling that attracted the most attention, however, especially from the love-gone-wrong crowd, was Pothos, who represented sexual longing or yearning. From time to time Ares and Aphrodite disavowed him as a son, insisting that Zephyrus the wind god and Iris the rainbow-maker were his parents. To humans in pain, it didn’t matter what his parentage was, they were simply glad to have a deity to moan to about their rotten love life.

Just as Anteros and Himeros represented the opposing aspects of unrequited and requited love, another pair of Erotes covered the bases of persuasive seduction versus sweet-talk and flattery. Peitho personified the art of romantic seduction, while Hedylogos was the deity to consult for the best opening lines and charming patter.

Greco-Roman artists were delighted to have the Erotes as subject matter, as they enlivened murals and lent a mischievous air to otherwise dull paintings. They also became important symbols in art; when they appeared in a portrait of two women, for instance, the wink-wink Erotes provided a sexual subtext.

These godlets might have seemed a charming afterthought, a trivial matter, but they were a splendid idea. Since long-ago cultures had to get along without any human therapists, much less any self-pitying country-music lyrics to sing along with, the Erotes lent a listening ear to our mortal obsession with love.

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