Visitors to Piccadilly Circus may be surprised to learn of the history of its famous centrepiece – the statue of Eros atop his fountain – and one fact about it, in particular. Namely that the winged chap that delicately stands there, balanced on one foot, as he shoots his arrow in the direction of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, isn’t Eros at all. It’s, in fact, Eros’s brother – Anteros.
Granted, there’s no great controversy about this. Eros – commonly recognised as one of Greek mythology’s chief gods of love throughout Western culture – is simply better known than Anteros (who is, technically speaking, the Greek god of requited love). And it isn’t particularly odd that Anteros should have been chosen as a subject for a major statue over the more famous Eros; Greek mythological figures were perhaps better known back in the Victorian era when the statue was erected.
Eros and Anteros in Greek Mythology
The statue of Anteros plays on the recognisable Greek God of requited love, fitting as a tribute for the benevolent acts of Anthony Ashley Cooper, who the statue was made in honour of – but we’ll get on to the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury later.
Anteros and his brother were the sons of Ares and Aphrodite. Anteros, in fact, came second to his brother, for whom he was created as a playmate for the lonely only child. The logic behind this was that love must be given and received, and so Anteros was created as a response to Eros’s call.
Whilst Anteros was developed as the response to love, Eros was a more primal being and represents love and sex. As the god of love and indeed, lust, it’s no surprise that his brother was chosen as the god to depict on the statue, a little more in keeping with the more conservative and restrained attitudes during the Victorian era. Eros, like his brother, was a winged, young adult male who was thought to have strong artistic and sexual powers.
Interestingly, these two gods were created as part of a group of love gods known as the Erotes. Interestingly, in modern Western culture, these gods have merged into, and are often mistaken for the well-known Cupid angel. Alongside Eros ad Anteros, the lesser-known yet still winged and youthful gods also included Hedylogos, Hermaphroditus, Himeros, Hymenaeus and Pothos. Each of these gods also comes with their own focal points for worship, including unrequited love, weddings and even a god for hermaphrodites and effeminate men! It’s no wonder then, that Anteros was chosen, his being the broader ranging and less unusual of the Erotes subjects.
Despite its history and symbolism for Christian charity, the statue wasn’t actually seen as that major a monument to start with. Cast in aluminium (the first statue in the world, in fact) by sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert and positioned in 1893, the Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus was received by the era’s UK-based Magazine of Art as “a work … [to] … beautify … one of our hitherto desolate open spaces”. Which just shows how much things have changed more than a hundred years on – imagine considering Piccadilly Circus as a desolate, empty and dull open space of London today! One walk through the space while staying at the best hotels near Piccadilly Circus and you’ll surely struggle to come to that conclusion!
Also, back in the day, the Anteros/ Eros Statue wasn’t meant to take on the life of its own that down through the decades it has (mostly as the meeting place-of-choice of millions of millions of London visitors). For, the statue itself is actually part of an overall monument that includes the bronze fountain on which it stands. Together these make up what’s officially referred to as the Shaftesbury Monument.
So, what is Piccadilly Circus Famous for?
You may very well have passed through Piccadilly Circus on your way to other parts of London. With the nearby book now pay later hotels in London’s West End, many cafes, entertainment venues and historic institutions, you may very well find yourself travelling through Piccadilly Circus without fully realising its importance and richness.
Located on the junction between Piccadilly Circus and the corner of Great Windmill Street, guests at the Picturehouse Central is the main branch of the UK’s many Picturehouse independent cinemas. The Central branch, like it’s siblings across many cities in the UK, offers an eclectic mix of box office hits and more independent fare. With its foreign films and international big hitters, the Picturehouse Central is also known for hosting one-off Q & A’s and for its glamorous bar and cafe area that offers great afternoon tea London offers alongside a drink’s menu and cinema-friendly food.
One of the best-known West End Theatres is in fact located on Piccadilly Circus. The Criterion Theatre dates back to 1874, and was originally a music hall that showcased the works of famous British thespians such as Henry James Byron and W.S Gilbert. Today, the 588 capacity, triple-tiered theatre plays host to the Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a farcical send-up of heist movies that has gained rave reviews from audiences and critics across the country.
Body World is an interactive museum that explores the anatomy of the human body. With temporary exhibits alongside permanent galleries, the museum combines multimedia installations with digestible information that is easy to understand for all ages. Based on Piccadilly Circus, this museum is a fun way for guests at Piccadilly Circus based London hotel special offer accommodation to enjoy a family-friendly day out that’s right on your doorstep.
Who was Anthony Ashley Cooper?
The Shaftesbury Monument was commissioned and erected to commemorate the life of the Victorian politician and major social reformer, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, whom (concerning himself with making conditions better for miners, factory workers, asylum patients and trying to eradicate child chimney sweeps) was the Bill Gates of his time.
Educated at Christ Church College in Oxford, Anthony Ashley Cooper and despite having an estranged relationship with his parents, Cropley Ashley-Cooper, 6th Earl of Shaftesbury and his Lady Anne Spencer, Ashley went on to become one of the most philanthropic and empathetic politicians of his era. Whilst he may have been a smalltime MP, it was the committees he chaired that made a real difference over his lifetime.
As part of the Select Committee on Pauper Lunatics, Cooper managed to bring about reforms in the law concerning Middlesex based patients at lunatic asylums. The reason for this is that many of the privately-owned institutions treated their patients dismally, and so over his political career, Cooper pushed through a number of laws that led to better treatment of the mentally ill in London and the surrounding areas.
Cooper was also a huge advocate of abolishing child labour in the country. With his famous Ten Hours Act introduced in 1833, Cooper made it law that children under the age of nine who worked in the cotton and wool industries could not work more than ten hours a day. Whilst this might still seem cruel by today’s standards, it was a huge breakthrough for the increasing of children’s rights and the lessening of abuse for the poor. Furthermore, five years later Cooper brought in a law that banned women and children from working in coal mines and banning sold children from working in the dangerous chimney sweep profession.
The times then, Piccadilly Circus and even the way the ‘Eros statue’ is seen have changed quite dramatically over the decades – but it seems, reassuringly, the statue itself never has. However, this also isn’t actually true.
Originally the monument (statue and fountain) was erected dead-centre in the Circus as opposed its relatively southerly position today. Moreover, following Eros’s bowstring being broken by a loutish tourist, a replacement was fitted in 2012 and, even less well known is that fact that, owing to damage in the early 1980s, it vacated the space entirely until it was repaired and re-spotted in 1985 – and the same happened again in the mid-1990s! Make the most of the trip to London by booking your stay at The Hotel Piccadilly London Westend and choosing the best rooms and other features & hospitality available here.
How to get to Piccadilly Circus
Reaching Piccadilly Circus and the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is very easy if you’re travelling through the centre of the city. Many bus routes pass through Piccadilly Circus, whilst the Piccadilly Line runs and stops right through the road. With Trafalgar Square nearby, you’ll find Charing Cross Station within a ten-minute walk of Piccadilly Circus, giving you national rail routes across the city and South East of England.