Family trees in Ancient Greek mythology are massive, complicated, and tedious. Who was whose brother, mother, cousin, or lover? Or all four? With so many sources and traditions, all borrowing from the last account while contradicting it entirely, who can figure it out? Just thinking about drawing one of these family trees gives me a headache. However, while illustration is quite literally impossible (assuming you desire to get a complete picture), education and thought exercises are not. When I find a god or goddess with conflicting origin stories, such as Eros, I find it useful to ask what all of those tales could mean to my practice and understanding of that god(dess).
Let’s evaluate Eros’ origin, then. The first version we’ll cover suggests he was a primordial god, meaning he emerged from Chaos (or Tartarus, the abyss) alongside Gaia (earth) and Nyx (night). In this case, he had no parents, and would have been less anthropomorphised than the Titans or later gods like the Olympians. This is one of the less common geneses of Eros, but also one of the earliest. Plus, it’s Hesiod’s version, and in my highly biased opinion, anything Hesiod is worth mentioning. But what does Eros being a primordial god mean for him, and us? It means, first off, that he’s less of a being to be reasoned with, and more of a force to be reckoned with. Like Gaia, and the forces of the earth, he has his own agenda. Like Nyx, and night, he is inevitable. Like both of them, he has his own patterns that have little (read: nothing) to do with human desires and plans. The god of love, a love we have no control over and will lead us whatever way it will, with no consideration for our wellbeing. A rather dismal outlook, but an important contributor to our grasp on who/what Eros is.
The more often-cited birth story of Eros is that he came from Aphrodite. There are debates over who the father would be (if there was one at all), and that divides the myths a good amount. However, Ares seems to be the most likely of fathers, as he’s most often referenced. So why should we focus on the union of Ares and Aphrodite? Aphrodite is the goddess of love and procreation, whereas Ares’ main domain is over courage and warfare. Eros and Anteros were two of their offspring, and were counterparts to one another. Eros was god of love and procreation, much like his mother, and Anteros was the god of love shared. Anteros was a god who punished those who didn’t reciprocate another’s love, whereas Eros’ love didn’t care. There was a relief described by Pausanias wherein Eros held a palm branch, and Anteros was trying to take it away. The children of Ares and Aphrodite are perfectly opposite each other, and yet perfectly similar. Anteros is jealous, punitive, and hates as strongly as he loves. Eros is brave, passionate, and loves unconditionally. He draws the passion (and procreation-aspects) from his mother, but like his father, will not back down from a fight to get what (or whom) he wants.
How do we combine these two “personalities” of Eros, then? If he’s truly a primordial god, then he’s primitive, natural, unavoidable, and inescapable. If he’s the child of Aphrodite and Ares, well. If we’re being honest, what does that really change? To be brave in love is illogical and primitive, unconditional love is inescapable, passionate love is unavoidable, and overall, what is more natural than loving in the first place? Love comes and goes, much like the tides, and so does passion. But Eros is either his father Ares or an ancient force of nature: you can either meet him bravely, or surrender to something that will never change. It’s how you relate to him, how you understand him, that determines what love will be to you.