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Sleeping Eros

January 29–June 23, 2013

The Cult of Eros in Ancient Greece

The earliest and most important cult site of Eros in ancient Greece was at Thespiae in Boeotia, where a monolithic aniconic cult statue represented the god. Dedications to Eros at Thespiae featured statues by major Classical and Hellenistic sculptors, among them Praxiteles and Lysippos. In Classical and Hellenistic Athens, Eros was worshipped with Aphrodite in a sanctuary on the north slope of the Acropolis and in a temple by the Ilissos River. Images of Eros are recorded in the Hellenistic period among the temple treasures of the Athenian Acropolis. In the coastal city-state of Megara near Athens, a temple of Aphrodite housed the famous statue of the goddess and her three sons—Eros (Love), Pothos (Longing), and Himeros (Desire)—by the Late Classical sculptor Skopas. Eros was also worshipped at gymnasia and in domestic shrines as well as at diverse religious festivals. The cult of Eros had many different aspects. As the god of love, he was a major figure in courtship and marriage rituals. Like his mother, Aphrodite, Eros received offerings of thanks in the form of precious vessels, jewelry, and other objects in addition to sacrifices made in his honor. For the ancient Greeks, Eros symbolized all attractions that provoke love. As a cosmic primordial deity tied to creation, he is frequently associated with plants and fecundity. The rose was his sacred flower. Greek philosophers from Plato to Epikouros reflected on his power and its centrality to human existence.