The imagery of the winged deity Eros, Cupid, riding a dolphin was a popular one, seen within the Greek and Roman artistic repertoire. Eros, as a god of love is associated significantly with the goddess Aphrodite/Venus. She herself is associated with the sea, having emerged from the ocean fully formed. Aphrodite was created when the castrated genitals of the Titan Uranus fell into the sea. She emerged fully formed from the sea foam. The Latin author, Nonnus, writing in the 5th century AD, claims within in his epic poem the ‘Dionysiaca’, that a dolphin carried Aphrodite from the sea to the island of Cyprus.
Other examples of Eros riding a dolphin are well documented. The scene appears on Roman coinage, from Republican and Imperial denominations, as well as being a popular mosaic scene for Roman frescoes. The frolicking, spirited and playful nature of Eros suited perfectly to the mischievous sea mammal.
For more information about the meanings of animals in Roman art, see our relevant blog post: Animal Symbolism in Roman Art.