Cupid
A statue of Eros, the Greek god of love IStock

Cupid, most commonly represented as a flying baby with a bow and arrow, is one of the most common symbols of Valentine's Day – the day of love and romance.

In classical mythology, Cupid was actually the god of desire, the son of the goddess Venus and the god of war Mars. Before the figure was adopted by the Romans, Cupid was known to the Greeks as Eros – the god of love.

Cupid
A statue of Cupid circa 1820 Rischgitz/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In art dating back to classical Greek times, Eros – or Cupid – is portrayed as youthful and slender.

During the Hellenistic period, marked from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to the emergence of the Roman Empire in 27 BC, he transformed into a chubbier boy and gained his bow and arrow.

These were portrayed as symbols of power; anyone shot with Cupid's arrow would be filled with desire.

Accounts of Cupid's background vary. Hesiod, one of the first authors to refer to Eros in around 700 BC, states he came into existence asexually – as a primordial god.

Other accounts suggest he was the son of Nyx – the Greek goddess of the night – and the god Erebus, or Aphrodite and Ares, the son of Zeus.

In one story from ancient Greece, Cupid causes havoc by shooting Apollo, the god of reason, music and poetry. Apollo was returning from slaying a monster named Python when he saw Cupid and bragged that his bow was bigger.

In retaliation, Cupid shot Apollo with his love arrow, causing Apollo to fall in love with the first person he saw – a nymph called Daphne, who was unable to love because Cupid had shot her with a lead-tipped arrow.

When pursued by Apollo, Daphne's cries for help were heard by the river god Peneus, who turned her into laurel tree.

One of the most famous love stories is the tale of Cupid and Psyche.

Venus - the mother of Cupid - grew jealous of the beautiful maiden Psyche, so much so that she told her son Cupid to fall in love with a monster.

Instead, Cupid fell in love with Psyche. The couple married - but on the condition that Psyche could never see Cupid's face.

Curious as to why she couldn't see her husband's face, she looked at his face by candlelight, accidentally dripping hot wax into Cupid and waking him up. Furious that her wife didn't trust him, he fled in anger.

After travelling the world in search of Cupid, the couple were eventually reunited – and Psyche was granted the gift of immortality.