An Erotic Display

erosI was in the West End yesterday, watching Three Days of Rain at the Apollo Theatre. I don’t think it’s on much longer, but I recommend it if you get the chance to see it. This theatre is on Shaftesbury Avenue, the closest Tube stop being Piccadilly Circus. Which brings me to the subject of today’s entry.

Above you will notice a photo of the statue of Eros which, along with the glaring neon advertisements, is one of the things that makes Piccadilly Circus so popular with tourists.

Except that’s not Eros at all. That is actually the Shaftesbury Memorial, and the statue depicts Anteros. Eros, probably more familiar to us as the Cupid of a million cheesy Valentines and from whom we get the word “erotic”, represents selfish, sensual, immediate love. Anteros, his brother, represents a broader, more philanthropic kind of love. Apparently they were twins, so it’s an easy mistake to make.

The statue commemorates Anthony Ashley-Cooper, better known in his day as the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, known as a reformer and philanthropist. He was, to a great extent, responsible for improving labour laws (particularly where they concerned women and childen) and changing the status of the mentally ill in the eyes of the law from prisoners to patients. He also supported healthcare reform and the creation of a Jewish homeland. Anteros was considered to be an ideal representation of his life and work. The Statue of Christian Charity, the other name by which the statue is commonly known, was a retcon to please those people who thought a statue of a naked boy was somewhat inappropriate.

Of course, the late Earl is also commemorated by Shaftesbury Avenue. Legend has it that Eros’ bow is supposed to point down this thoroughfare, so that people can hilariously observe that he buries his shaft in Shaftesbury Avenue. Oh my aching sides. Actually, the arrow is intended to point towards Wimborne in Dorset, where the Earl of Shaftesbury lived.

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Filed under 19th century, History, London, West End

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