Primitive Love and Love-Stories
by Henry Theophilus Finck
Previous Part     1 ... 3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

In the case of the women, not even their individual preference is hinted at, and this is eminently characteristic of the ancient Hebrew notions and practices in regard to marriage. Did Rachel and Leah marry Jacob because they preferred him to all other men they knew? To Laban and his contemporaries such a question would have seemed absurd. They knew nothing of marriage as a union of souls. The woman was not considered at all. The object of marriage, as in India, was to raise sons, in order that there might be someone to represent the departed father. Being chiefly for the father's benefit, the marriage was naturally arranged by him. As a matter of fact, even Jacob did not select his own wife!

"And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, thy mothers father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother."

And Jacob did as ordered. His choice was limited to the two sisters.


Isaac himself had even less liberty of choice than Jacob. He courted Rebekah by proxy—or rather his father courted her through her father, for him, by proxy! When Abraham was stricken with age he said to his servant, the elder of his house, that ruled over all that he had, and enjoined on him, under oath,

"thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I shall dwell; but thou shalt go into my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac."

And the servant did as he had been ordered. He journeyed to the city of Mesopotamia where Abraham's brother Nahor and his descendants dwelt. As he lingered at the well, Rebekah came out with her pitcher upon her shoulder. "And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her." And she filled her pitcher and gave him drink and then drew water and filled the trough for all his camels. And he gave her a ring and two bracelets of gold. And she ran and told her mother's house what had happened. And her brother Laban ran out to meet the servant of Abraham and brought him to the house. Then the servant delivered his message to him and to Rebekah's father, Bethuel; and they answered: "Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife." And he wanted to take her next day, but they wished her to abide with them at the least ten days longer. "And they said, We will call the damsel, and inquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go. And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men." And Isaac was in the field meditating when he saw their camels coming toward him. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she lighted off her camel, and asked the servant who was the man coming to meet them; and when he said it was his master, she took her veil and covered herself. And Isaac brought her into her mother's tent and she became his wife, and he loved her.

Such is the story of the courting of Rebekah. It resembles a story of modern courtship and love about as much as the Hebrew language resembles the English, and calls for no further comment. But there is another story to consider; my critics accused me of ignoring the three R's of Hebrew love—Rachel, Rebekah, and Ruth. "The courtship of Ruth and Boaz is a bold and pretty love-story." Bold and pretty, no doubt; but let us see if it is a love-story. The following omits no essential point.


It came to pass during a famine that a certain man went to sojourn in the country of Moab with his wife, whose name was Naomi, and two sons. The husband died there and the two sons also, having married, died after ten years, leaving Naomi a widow with two widowed daughters-in-law, whose names were Orpah and Ruth. She decided to return to the country whence she had come, but advised the younger widows to remain and go back to the families of their mothers. I am too old, she said, to bear again husbands for you, and even if I could do so, would you therefore tarry till they were grown? Orpah thereupon kissed her mother-in-law and went back to her people; but Ruth clave unto her and said "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.... Where thou diest, will I die." So the two went until they came to Bethlehem, in which place Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a mighty man of wealth, whose name was Boaz. They arrived in the beginning of the barley harvest, and Ruth went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. Her hap was to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz. When he saw her he asked the reapers "Whose damsel is this?" And they told him. Then Boaz spoke to Ruth and told her to glean in his field and abide with his maidens, and when athirst drink of that which the young men had drawn; and he told the young men not to touch her. At meal-time he gave her bread to eat and vinegar to dip it in, and he told his young men to let her glean even among the sheaves and also to pull out some for her from the bundles, and leave it, and let her glean and rebuke her not. And he did all this because, as he said to her,

"It hath been shewed me, all that them hast done to thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore."

So Ruth gleaned in the field until even; then she beat out what she had gleaned and took it to Naomi and told her all that had happened. And Naomi said unto her,

"My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is there not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to-night in the threshing-floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the threshing-floor; but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou wilt do."

And Ruth did as her mother-in-law bade her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn; and she came softly and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid [startled], and turned himself; and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, "who art thou?" And she answered, "I am Ruth thine handmaid; spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman." And he said,

"Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter; thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end, than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou sayest; for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman. And now it is true that I am a near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I. Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part; but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning."

And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could discern another. For he said, "Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing-floor." Then he gave her six measures of barley and went into the city. He sat at the gate until the other kinsman he had spoken of came by, and Boaz said to him,

"Naomi selleth the parcel of land which was our brother Elimelech's. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it; but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me that I may know; for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance."

And the near kinsman said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance; take then my right of redemption on thee; for I cannot redeem it. Buy it for thyself." And he drew off his shoe. And Boaz called the elders to witness, saying,

"Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place."

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.

How anyone can read this charmingly told, frank, and realistic tale of ancient Hebrew life and call it a love-story, passeth all understanding. There is not the slightest suggestion of love, either sensual or sentimental, on the part of either Ruth or Boaz. Ruth, at the suggestion of her mother-in-law, spends a night in a way which would convict a Christian widow, to say the least, of an utter lack of that modesty and coy reserve which are a woman's great charm, and which, even among the pastoral Hebrews, cannot have been approved, inasmuch as Boaz did not want it to be known that she had come to the threshing-floor. He praises Ruth for following "not young men, whether rich or poor." She followed him, a wealthy old man. Would love have acted thus? What she wanted was not a lover but a protector ("rest for thee that it may be well for thee," as Naomi said frankly), and above all a son in order that her husband's name might not perish. Boaz understands this as a matter of course; but so far is he, on his part, from being in love with Ruth, that he offers her first to the other relative, and on his refusal, buys her for himself, without the least show of emotion indicating that he was doing anything but his duty. He was simply fulfilling the law of the Levirate, as written in Deuteronomy (25:5), ordaining that if a husband die without leaving a son his brother shall take the widow to him to wife and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her; that is, to beget a son (the first-born) who shall succeed in the name of his dead brother, "that his name be not blotted out of Israel." How very seriously the Hebrews took this law is shown by the further injunction that if a brother refuses thus to perform his duty,

"then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand and say, I like not to take her; then shall his brother's wife come into him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say, so shall it be done unto the man that doth not build up his brother's house. And his name shall be called in Israel, the house of him that hath his shoe loosed."

Onan was even slain for thus refusing to do his duty (Gen. 38:8-10).


The three R's of Hebrew love thus show how these people arranged their marriages with reference to social and religious customs or utilitarian considerations, buying their wives by service or otherwise, without any thought of sentimental preferences and sympathies, such as underlie modern Christian marriages of the higher order. It might be argued that the ingredients of romantic love existed, but simply are not dwelt on in the old Hebrew stories. But it is impossible to believe that the Bible, that truly inspired and wonderfully realistic transcript of life, which records the minutest details, should have neglected in its thirty-nine books, making over seven hundred pages of fine print, to describe at least one case of sentimental infatuation, romantic adoration, and self-sacrificing devotion in pre-matrimonial love, had such love existed. Why should it have neglected to describe the manifestations of sentimental love, since it dwells so often on the symptoms and results of sensual passion? Stories of lust abound in the Hebrew Scriptures; Genesis alone has five. The Lord repented that he had made man on earth and destroyed even his chosen people, all but Noah, because every imagination in the thoughts of man's heart "was only evil continually." But the flood did not cure the evil, nor did the destruction of Sodom, as a warning example. It is after those events that the stories are related of Lot's incestuous daughters, the seduction of Dinah, the crime of Judah and Tamar, the lust of Potiphar's wife, of David and Bath-sheba, of Amnon and Tamar, of Absalom on the roof, with many other references to such crimes.[288]


There is every reason to conclude that these ancient Jews, unlike many of their modern descendants, knew only the coarser phases of the instinct which draws man to woman. They knew not romantic love for the simple reason that they had not discovered the charm of refined femininity, or even recognized woman's right to exist for her own sake, and not merely as man's domestic servant and the mother of his sons. "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee," Eve was told in Eden, and her male descendants administered that punishment zealously and persistently; whereas the same lack of gallantry which led Adam to put all the blame on Eve impelled his descendants to make the women share his part of the curse too—"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread"; for they were obliged to do not only all the work in the house, but most of that in the fields, seething under a tropical sun. From this point of view the last chapter of the Proverbs (31:10-31) is instructive. It is often referred to as a portrait of a perfect woman, but in reality it is little more than a picture of Hebrew masculine selfishness. Of the forty-five lines making up this chapter, nine are devoted to praise of the feminine virtues of fidelity to a husband, kindness to the needy, strength, dignity, wisdom, and fear of the Lord; while the rest of the chapter goes to show that the Hebrew woman indeed "eateth not the bread of idleness," and that the husband "shall have no lack of gain"—or spoil, as the alternative reading is:

"She seeketh wool and flax and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchant ships: she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and their task to the maidens. She considereth a field and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.... She perceiveth that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.... She maketh for herself carpets of tapestry.... She maketh linen garments and selleth them; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant."

As for the husband, he "is known in the gates, When he sitteth among the elders of the land," which is an easy and pleasant thing to do; hardly in accordance with the curse the Lord pronounced on Adam and his male descendants. The wife being thus the maid of all work, as among Indians and other primitive races, it is natural that the ancient Hebrew ideal of femininity should he masculine: "She girdeth her loins with strength, and maketh strong her arms;" while the feminine charms are sneered at: "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain."


Not only feminine charms, but the highest feminine virtues are sometimes strangely, nay, shockingly disregarded, as in the story of Lot (Gen. 19:1-12), who, when besieged by the mob clamoring for the two men who had taken refuge in his house, went out and said:

"I pray you, my brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing, forasmuch as they are come under the shadow of my roof."

And this man was saved, though his action was surely more villainous than the wickedness of the Sodomites who were destroyed with brimstone and fire. In Judges (19: 22-30) we read of a man offering his maiden daughter and his concubine to a mob to prevent an unnatural crime being committed against his guest: "Seeing that this man is come into my house, do not this folly." This case is of extreme sociological importance as showing that notwithstanding the strict laws of Moses (Levit. 20: 10; Deut. 22: 13-30) on sexual crimes, the law of hospitality seems to have been held more sacred than a father's regard for his daughter's honor. The story of Abraham shows, too, that he did not hold his wife's honor in the same esteem as a modern Christian does:

"And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, 'Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon; and it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife; and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, Thou art my sister; that it may be well with me for thy sake, and that my soul may live because of thee."

And it happened as he had arranged. She was taken into Pharaoh's house and he was treated well for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and other presents. When he went to sojourn in Gerar (Gen. 20:1-15) Abraham tried to repeat the same stratagem, taking refuge, when found out, in the double excuse that he was afraid he would be slain for his wife's sake, and that she really was his sister, the daughter of his father, but not the daughter of his mother. Isaac followed his father's example in Gerar:

"The man of the place asked him of his wife; and he said, She is my sister: for he feared to say, My wife; lest (said he) the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah; because she was fair to look upon."

Yet we were told that Isaac loved Rebekah. Such is not Christian love. The actions of Abraham and Isaac remind one of the Blackfoot Indian tale told on page 631 of this volume. An American army officer would not only lay down his own life, but shoot his wife with his own pistol before he would allow her to fall into the enemy's hands, because to him her honor is, of all things human, the most sacred.


Emotions are the product of actions or of ideas about actions. Inasmuch as Hebrew actions toward women and ideas about them were so radically different from ours it logically follows that they cannot have known the emotions of love as we know them. The only symptom of love referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures is Amnon's getting lean from day to day and feigning sickness (II. Sam. 13: 1-22); and the story shows what kind of love that was. It would be contrary to all reason and psychological consistency to suppose that modern tenderness of romantic feeling toward women could have existed among a people whose greatest and wisest man could, for any reason whatever, chide a returning victorious army, as Moses did (Numbers 31: 9-19), for saving all the women alive, and could issue this command:

"Now, therefore, kill every male among the living ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves."

The Arabs were the first Asiatics who spared women in war; the Hebrews had not risen to that chivalrous stage of civilization. Joshua (8:26) destroyed Ai and slew 12,000, "both of men and women:" and in Judges (21:10-12) we read how the congregation sent an army of 12,000 men and commanded them, saying,

"Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the little ones. And this is the thing ye shall do; ye shall utterly destroy every male and every woman that hath lain by man."

And they did so, sparing only the four hundred virgins. These were given to the tribe of Benjamin, "that a tribe be not blotted out from Israel;" and when it was found that more were needed they lay in wait in the vineyards, and when the daughters of Shiloh came out to dance, they caught them and carried them off as their wives; whence we see that these Hebrews had not advanced beyond the low stage of evolution, when wives are secured by capture or killed after battle. Among such seek not for romantic love.


Dr. Trumbull's opinion has already been cited that there are certainly "gleams of romantic love from out of the clouds of degraded human passions in the ancient East," in the stories of Shechem and Dinah, Samson and the damsel of Timnah, David and Abigail, Adonijah and Abishag. But I fail to find even "gleams" of romantic love in these stories. Shechem said he loved Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, but he humbled her and dealt with her "as with an harlot," as her brothers said after they had slain him for his conduct toward her. Concerning Samson and the Timnah girl we are simply told that he saw her and told his father, "Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well" (literally, "she is right in my eyes"). And this is evidence of romantic love! As for Abigail, after her husband has refused to feed David's shepherds, and David has made up his mind therefore to slay him and his offspring, she takes provisions and meets David and induces him not to commit that crime; she does this not from love for her husband, for when David has received her presents he says to her, "See, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person." Ten days later, Abigail's husband died, and when David heard of it he

"sent and spake concerning Abigail, to take her to him to wife.... And she rose and bowed herself with her face to the earth, and said, Behold, thine handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord. And Abigail, hasted, and arose, and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that followed her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife."

And as if to emphasize how utterly unsentimental and un-Christian a transaction this was, the next sentence tells us that "David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel; and they became both of them his wives."


The last of the stories referred to by Dr. Trumbull, though as far from proving his point as the others, is of peculiar interest because it introduces us to the maiden who is believed by some commentators to be the same as the Shulamite, the heroine of the Song of Songs. After Solomon had become king his elder brother, Adonijah, went to the mother of Solomon, Bath-sheba, and said:

"Thou knowest thy kingdom was mine, and that all Israel set their faces on me, that I should reign: howbeit the kingdom is turned about, and is become my brother's: for it was his from the Lord. And now I ask one petition of thee, deny me not.... Speak, I pray thee, unto Solomon the king (for he will not say thee nay) that he give me Abishag the Shunammite to wife."

But when Solomon heard this request he declared that Adonijah had spoken that word against his own life; and he sent a man who fell on him and killed him.

Who was this Abishag, the Shunammite? The opening lines of the First Book of Kings tell us how she came to the court:

"Now King David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king, a young virgin, and let her stand before the king and cherish him; and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair; and she cherished the king, and ministered to him; but the king knew her not."


Now it is plausibly conjectured that this Abishag of Shunam or Shulam (a town north of Jerusalem) was the same as the Shulamite of the Song of Songs, and that in the lines 6:11-12 she tells how she was kidnapped and brought to court.

I went down into the garden of nuts, To see the green plants of the valley, To see whether the vine budded, And the pomegranates were in flower, Or ever I was aware, my soul [desire] set me Among the chariots of my princely people.

She also explains why her face is tanned like the dark tents of Kedar: "My mother's sons were incensed against me, They made me keeper of the vineyards." The added words "mine own vineyard have I not kept" are interpreted by some as an apology for her neglected personal appearance, but Renan (10) more plausibly refers them to her consciousness of some indiscretion, which led to her capture. We may suppose that, attracted by the glitter and the splendor of the royal cavalcade, she for a moment longed to enjoy it, and her desire was gratified. Brought to court to comfort the old king, she remained after his death at the palace, and Solomon, who wished to add her to his harem, killed his own brother when he found him coveting her. The maiden soon regrets her indiscretion in having exposed herself to capture. She is "a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley," and she feels like a wildflower transplanted to a palace hall. While Solomon in all his glory urges his suit, she, tormented by homesickness, thinks only of her vineyard, her orchards, and the young shepherd whose love she enjoyed in them. Absent-minded, as one in a revery, or dreaming aloud, she answers the addresses of the king and his women in words that ever refer to her shepherd lover:[289]

"Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest thy flock." "My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna flowers in the vineyards of En-gedi." "Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea pleasant: Also our couch is green." "As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." "The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills." "My beloved is mine, and I am his: He feedeth his flock among the lilies," "Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field, let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards.... There will I give thee my love."

The home-sick country girl, in a word, has found out that the splendors of the palace are not to her taste, and the thought of being a young shepherd's darling is pleasanter to her than that of being an old king's concubine. The polygamous rapture with which Solomon addresses her: "There are three-score queens and four-score concubines, and maidens without number," does not appeal to her rural taste. She has no desire to be the hundred and forty-first piece of mosaic inlaid in Solomon's palanquin (III., 9-10), and she stubbornly resists his advances until, impressed by her firmness, and unwilling to force her, the king allows her to return to her vineyard and her lover.

The view that the gist of the Song of Songs is the Shulamite's love of a shepherd and her persistent resistance to the advances of Solomon, was first advanced in 1771 by J.F. Jacobi, and is now universally accepted by the commentators, the overwhelming majority of whom have also given up the artificial and really blasphemous allegorical interpretation of this poem once in vogue, but ignored in the Revised Version, as well as the notion that Solomon wrote the poem. Apart from all other arguments, which are abundant, it is absurd to suppose that Solomon would have written a drama to proclaim his own failure to win the love of a simple country girl. In truth, it is very probable that, as Renan has eloquently set forth (91-100), the Song of Songs was written practically for the purpose of holding up Solomon to ridicule. In the northern part of his kingdom there was a strong feeling against him on account of his wicked ways and vicious innovations, especially his harem, and other expensive habits that impoverished the country. "Taken all in all," says the Rev. W.E. Griffis, of Solomon (44),

"he was probably one of the worst sinners described in the Old Testament. With its usual truth and fearlessness, the Scriptures expose his real character, and by the later prophets and by Jesus he is ignored or referred to only in rebuke."

The contempt and hatred inspired by his actions were especially vivid shortly after his death, when the Song of Songs is believed to have been written (Renan, 97); and, as this author remarks (100),

"the poet seems to have been animated by a real spite against the king; the establishment of a harem, in particular, appears to incense him greatly, and he takes evident pleasure in showing us a simple shepherd girl triumphing over the presumptuous sultan who thinks he can buy love, like everything else, with his gold."

That this is intended to be the moral of this Biblical drama is further shown by the famous lines near the close:

"For love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave [literally: passion is as inexorable (or hard) as sheol]: The flashes thereof are flashes of fire, a very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench it, nor can the floods drown it: If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he [it] would utterly be contemned."

These lines constitute the last of the passages cited by my critics to prove that the ancient Hebrews knew romantic love and its power. They doubtless did know the power of love; all the ancient civilized nations knew it as a violent sensual impulse which blindly sacrifices life to attain its object. The ancient Hindoos embodied their idea of irresistible power in the force and fury of an amorous elephant. Among animals in general, love is even stronger than death. Male animals of most species engage in deadly combat for the females. "For most insects," says Letourneau, "to love and to die are almost synonymous terms, and yet they do not even try to resist the amorous frenzy that urges them on." Yet no one would dream of calling this romantic love; from that it differs as widely as the insect mind in general differs from the human mind. Waters cannot quench any kind of love or affection nor floods drown it. What we are seeking for are actions or words describing the specific symptoms of sentimental love, and these are not to be found in this passage any more than elsewhere in the Bible. An old man may buy a girl's body, but he cannot, with all his wealth and splendor, awaken her love, either sentimental or sensual; love, whatever its nature, will always prefer the apple-tree and the shepherd lover to the vain desires and a thousand times divided attentions of a decrepit king, though he be a Solomon.

It would be strange if this purely profane poem, which was added to the Scriptural collection only by an unusual stretch of liberality,[290] and in which there is not one mention of God or of religion, should give a higher conception of sexual love than the books which are accepted as inspired, and which paint manners, emotions, and morals as the writers found them. As a matter of fact the Song of Songs was long held to be so objectionable that the Talmudists did not allow young people to read it before their thirtieth year. Whiston denounced it as foolish, lascivious, and idolatrous. "The excessively amative character of some passages is designated as almost blasphemous when supposed to be addressed by Christ to his Church,"[291] as it was by the allegorists. On the other hand there is a class of commentators to whom this poem is the ideal of all that is pure and lovely. Herder went into ecstasies over it. Israel Abrahams refers to it (163) as "the noblest of love-poems;" as "this idealization of love." The Rev. W.E. Griffis declares rapturously (166, 63, 21, 16, 250) that "the purest-minded virgin may safely read the Song of Songs, in which is no trace of immoral thought." In it "sensuality is scorned and pure love glorified;" it "sets forth the eternal romance of true love," and is "chastely pure in word and delicate in idea throughout." "The poet of the Canticle shows us how to love." "An angel might envy such artless love dwelling in a human heart."

The truth, as usual in such cases, lies about half-way between these extreme views. There is only one passage which is objectionably coarse in the English version and in the Hebrew original obscene;[292] yet, on the other hand, I maintain that the whole poem is purely Oriental in its exclusively sensuous and often sensual character, and that there is not a trace of romantic sentiment such as would color a similar love-story if told by a modern poet. The Song of Songs is so confused in its arrangement, its plan so obscure, its repetitions and repeated denouements so puzzling,[293] that commentators are not always agreed as to what character in the drama is to be held responsible for certain lines; but for our purpose this difficulty makes no difference. Taking the lines just as they stand, I find that the following:—1: 2-4, 13 (in one version), 17; 2: 6; 4: 16; 5: 1; 8: 2, 3—are indelicate in language or suggestion, as every student of Oriental amorous poetry knows, and no amount of specious argumentation can alter this. The descriptions of the beauty and charms of the beloved or the lover, are, moreover, invariably sensuous and often sensual. Again and again are their bodily charms dwelt on rapturously, as is customary in the poems of all Orientals with all sorts of quaint hyperbolic comparisons, some of which are poetic, others grotesque. No fewer than five times are the external charms thus enumerated, but not once in the whole poem is any allusion made to the spiritual attractions, the mental and moral charms of femininity which are the food of romantic love. Mr. Griffis, who cannot help commenting (223) on this frequent description of the human body, makes a desperate effort to come to the rescue. Referring to 4: 12-14, he says (212) that the lover now "adds a more delicate compliment to her modesty, her instinctive refinement, her chaste life, her purity amid court temptations. He praises her inward ornaments, her soul's charms." What are these ornaments? The possible reference to her chastity in the lines: "A garden shut up is my sister, my bride. A spring shut up, a fountain sealed"—a reference which, if so intended, would be regarded by a Christian maiden not as a compliment, but an insult; while every student of Eastern manners knows that an Oriental makes of his wife "a garden shut up," and "a fountain sealed" not by way of complimenting her chastity, but because he has no faith in it whatever, knowing that so far as it exists it is founded on fear, not on affection. Mr. Griffis knows this himself when he does not happen to be idealizing an impossible shepherd girl, for he says (161):

"To one familiar with the literature, customs, speech, and ideas of the women who live where idolatry prevails, and the rulers and chief men of the country keep harems, the amazing purity and modesty of maidens reared in Christian homes is like a revelation from heaven."[294]

Supersensual charms are not alluded to in the Song of Songs, for the simple reason that Orientals never did, and do not now, care for such charms in women or cultivate them. They know love only as an appetite, and in accordance with Oriental taste and custom the Song of Songs compares it always to things that are good to eat or drink or smell. Hence such ecstatic expressions as "How much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all manner of spices!" Hence her declaration that her beloved is

"as the apple-tree among the trees of the wood.... I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.... Stay ye me with raisins, comfort me with apples: For I am sick of love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me."

Hence the shepherd's description of his love: "I am come into the garden, my sister, my bride: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice: I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk."

Modern love does not express itself in such terms; it is more mental and sentimental, more esthetic and sympathetic, more decorous and delicate, more refined and supersensual. While it is possible that, as Renan suggests (143), the author of the Canticles conceived his heroine as a saint of her time, rising above sordid reality, it is clear from all we have said that the author himself was not able to rise above Orientalism. The manners of the East, both ancient and modern, are incompatible with romantic love, because they suppress the evolution of feminine refinement and sexual mentality. The documents of the Hebrews, like those of the Hindoos and Persians, Greeks, and Romans, prove that tender, refined, and unselfish affection between the sexes, far from being one of the first shoots of civilization, is its last and most beautiful flower.


The most obstinate disbeliever in the doctrine that romantic love, instead of being one of the earliest products of civilization, is one of the latest, will have to capitulate if it can be shown that even the Greeks, the most cultivated and refined nation of antiquity, knew it only in its sensual and selfish side, which is not true love, but self-love. In reality I have already shown this to be the case incidentally in the sections in which I have traced the evolution of the fourteen ingredients of love. In the present chapter, therefore, we may confine ourselves chiefly to a consideration of the stories and poems which have fostered the belief I am combating. But first we must hear what the champions of the Greeks have to say in their behalf.


Professor Rohde declares emphatically (70) that "no one would be so foolish as to doubt the existence of pure and strong love" among the ancient Greeks. Another eminent German scholar, Professor Ebers, sneers at the idea that the Greeks were not familiar with the love we know and celebrate. Having been criticised for making the lovers in his ancient historic romances act and talk and express their feelings precisely as modern lovers in Berlin or Leipsic do, he wrote for the second edition of his Egyptian Princess a preface in which he tries to defend his position. He admits that he did, perhaps, after all, put too warm colors on his canvas, and frankly confesses that when he examined in the sunshine what he had written by lamplight, he made up his mind to destroy his love-scenes, but was prevented by a friend. He admits, too, that Christianity refined the relations between the sexes; yet he thinks it "quite conceivable that a Greek heart should have felt as tenderly, as longingly as a Christian heart," and he refers to a number of romantic stories invented by the Greeks as proof that they knew love in our sense of the word—such stories as Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche, Homer's portrait of Penelope, Xenophon's tale of Panthea and Abradates.

"Can we assume even the gallantry of love to have been unknown in a country where the hair of a queen, Berenice, was transferred as a constellation to the skies; or can devotion to love be doubted in the case of peoples who, for the sake of a beautiful woman, wage terrible wars with bitter pertinacity?"

Hegel's episodic suggestion referred to in our first chapter regarding the absence of romantic love in ancient Greek literature having thus failed to convince even his own countrymen, it was natural that my revival of that suggestion, as a detail of my general theory of the evolution of love, should have aroused a chorus of critical dissent. Commenting on my assertion that there are no stories of romantic love in Greek literature, an editorial writer in the London Daily News exclaimed: "Why, it would be less wild to remark that the Greeks had nothing but love-stories." After referring to the stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, Meleager and Atalanta, Alcyone and Ceyx, Cephalus and Procris, the writer adds,

"It is no exaggeration to say that any school-girl could tell Mr. Finck a dozen others." "The Greeks were human beings, and had the sentiments of human beings, which really vary but little...."

The New York Mail and Express also devoted an editorial article to my book, in which it remarked that if romantic love is, as I claim, an exclusively modern sentiment,

"we must get rid of some old-fashioned fancies. How shall we hereafter classify our old friends Hero and Leander? Leander was a fine fellow, just like the handsomest boy you know. He fell in love with the lighthouse-keeper's daughter[!] and used to swim over the river[!] every night and make love to her. It was all told by an old Greek named Musaeus. How did he get such modern notions into his noddle? How, moreover, shall we classify Daphnis and Chloe? This fine old romance of Longus is as sweet and beautiful a love-story as ever skipped in prose."

"Daphnis and Chloe," wrote a New Haven critic, "is one of the most idyllic love-stories ever written." "The love story of Hero and Leander upsets this author's theory completely," said a Rochester reviewer, while a St. Louis critic declared boldly that "in the pages of Achilles Tatius and Theodorus, inventors of the modern novel, the young men and maidens loved as romantically as in Miss Evans's latest." A Boston censor pronounced my theory "simply absurd," adding:

"Mr. Finck's reading, wide as it is, is not wide enough; for had he read the Alexandrian poets, Theoeritus especially, or Behr A'Adin among the Arabs, to speak of no others, he could not possibly have had courage left to maintain his theory; and with him, really, it seems more a matter of courage than of facts, notwithstanding his evident training in a scientific atmosphere."


The divers specifications of my ignorance and stupidity contained in the foregoing criticisms will be attended to in their proper place in the chronological order of the present chapter, which naturally begins with Homer's epics, as nothing definite is known of Greek literature before them. Homer is now recognized as the first poet of antiquity, not only in the order of time; but it took Europe many centuries to discover that fact. During the Middle Ages the second-rate Virgil was held to be a much greater genius than Homer, and it was in England, as Professor Christ notes (69), that the truer estimate originated. Pope's translation of the Homeric poems, with all its faults, helped to dispel the mists of ignorance, and in 1775 appeared Robert Wood's book, On the Original Genius and Writings of Homer, which combated the foolish prejudice against the poet, due to the coarseness of the manners he depicts. Wood admits (161) that "most of Homer's heroes would, in the present age, be capitally convicted, in any country in Europe, on the poet's evidence;" but this, he explains, does not detract from the greatness of Homer, who, upon an impartial view, "will appear to excel his own state of society, in point of decency and delicacy, as much as he has surpassed more polished ages in point of genius."

In this judicious discrimination between the genius of Homer and the realistic coarseness of his heroes, Wood forms an agreeable contrast to many modern Homeric scholars, notably the Rt. Hon. W.E. Gladstone, who, having made this poet his hobby, tried to persuade himself and his readers that nearly everything relating not only to Homer, but to the characters he depicts, was next door to perfection. Confining ourselves to the topic that concerns us here, we read, in his Studies on Homer (II., 502), that "we find throughout the poems those signs of the overpowering force of conjugal attachments which ... we might expect." And in his shorter treatise on Homer he thus sums up his views as to the position and estimate of woman in the heroic age, as revealed in Homer's female characters:

"The most notable of them compare advantageously with those commended to us in the Old Testament; while Achaiian Jezebels are nowhere found. There is a certain authority of the man over the woman; but it does not destroy freedom, or imply the absence either of respect, or of a close mental and moral fellowship. Not only the relation of Odysseus to Penelope and of Hector to Andromache, but those of Achilles to Briseis, and of Menelaus to the returned Helen, are full of dignity and attachment. Briseis was but a captive, yet Achilles viewed her as in expectation a wife, called her so, avowed his love for her, and laid it down that not he only, but every man must love his wife if he had sense and virtue. Among the Achaiian Greeks monogamy is invariable; divorce unknown; incest abhorred.... The sad institution which, in Saint Augustine's time, was viewed by him as saving the world from yet worse evil is unknown or unrecorded. Concubinage prevails in the camp before Troy, but only simple concubinage. Some of the women, attendants in the Ithacan palace, were corrupted by the evil-minded Suitors; but some were not. It should, perhaps, be noted as a token of the respect paid to the position of the woman, that these very bad men are not represented as ever having included in their plans the idea of offering violence to Penelope. The noblest note, however, of the Homeric woman remains this, that she shared the thought and heart of her husband: as in the fine utterance of Penelope she prays that rather she may be borne away by the Harpies than remain to 'glad the heart of a meaner man' (Od. XX., 82) than her husband, still away from her."

Only a careful student of Homer can quite realize the diplomatic astuteness which inspired this sketch of Homeric morals. Its amazing sophistry can, however, be made apparent even to one who has never read the Iliad and the Odyssey.


The Trojan War lasted ten years. Its object was to punish Paris, son of the King of Troy, for eloping with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, and taking away a shipload of treasures to boot. The subject of Homer's Iliad is popularly supposed to be this Trojan War; in reality, however, it covers less than two months (fifty-two days) of those ten years, and its theme, as the first lines indicate, is the wrath of Achilles—the ruinous wrath, which in the tenth year, brought on the other Greek warriors woes innumerable. Achilles had spent much of the intervening time in ravaging twelve cities of Asia Minor, carrying away treasures and captive women, after the piratical Greek custom. One of these captives was Briseis, a high priest's daughter, whose husband and three brothers he had slain with his own hand, and who became his favorite concubine. King Agamemnon, the chief commander of the Greek forces, also had for his favorite concubine a high priest's daughter, named Chryseis. Her father came to ransom the captive girl, but Agamemnon refused to give her up because, as he confessed with brutal frankness, he preferred her to his wife.[295] For this refusal Apollo brings a pestilence on the Greek army, which can be abated only by restoring Chryseis to her father. Agamemnon at last consents, on condition that some other prize of honor be given to him—though, as Thersites taunts him (II, 226-228), his tents are already full of captive women, among whom he always has had first choice. Achilles, too, informs him that he shall have all the women he wants when Troy is taken; but what really hurts Agamemnon's feelings is not so much the loss of his favorite as the thought that the hated Achilles should enjoy Briseis, while his prize, Chryseis, must be returned to her father. So he threatens to retaliate on Achilles by taking Briseis from his tent and keeping her for himself. "I would deserve the name of coward," retorts Achilles

"were I to yield to you in everything.... But this let me say—Never shall I lift my arm to strive for the girl either with you or any other man; you gave her, you can take her. But of all else, by the dark ship, that belongs to me, thereof you shall not take anything against my will. Do that and all shall see your black blood trickle down my spear."

Having made this "uncowardly," chivalrous, and romantic distinction between his two kinds of property—yielding Briseis, but threatening murder if aught else belonging to him be touched—Achilles goes and orders his friend Patroclus to take the young woman from the tent and give her to the king. She leaves her paramour—her husband's and brothers' murderer—unwillingly, and he sits down and weeps—why? because, as he tells his mother, he has been insulted by Agamemnon, who has taken away his prize of honor. From that moment Achilles refuses to join the assemblies, or take a part in the battles, thus bringing "woes innumerable" on his countrymen. He refuses to yield even after Agamemnon, alarmed by his reverses, seeks to conciliate him by offering him gold and horses and women in abundance; telling him he shall have back his Briseis, whom the king swears he has never touched, and, besides her, seven Lesbian women of more than human beauty; also, the choice of twenty Trojan women as soon as the city capitulates; and, in addition to these, one of the three princesses, his own daughters—twenty-nine women in all!

Must not a hero who so stubbornly and wrathfully resented the seizure of his concubine have been deeply in love with her? He himself remarks to Odysseus, who comes to attempt a reconciliation (IX., 340-44):

"Do the sons of Atreus alone of mortal men love their bedfellows? Every man who is good and sensible loves his concubine and cares for her as I too love mine with all my heart, though but the captive of my spear."

Gladstone here translates the word [Greek: alochos] "wife," though, as far as Achilles is concerned, it means concubine. Of course it would have been awkward for England's Prime Minister to make Achilles say that "every man must love his concubine, if he has sense and virtue;" so he arbitrarily changes the meaning of the word and then begs us to notice the moral beauty of this sentiment and the "dignity" of the relation between Achilles and Briseis! Yet no one seems to have denounced him for this transgression against ethics, philology, and common sense. On the contrary, a host of translators and commentators have done the same thing, to the obscuration of the truth.

Nor is this all. When we examine what the Achilles of Homer means by the fine phrase "every man loves his bedfellow as I love mine," we come across a grotesque parody even of sensual infatuation, not to speak of romantic love. If Achilles had been animated by the strong individual preference which sometimes results even from animal passion, he would not have told Agamemnon, "take Briseis, but don't you dare to touch any of my other property or I will smash your skull." If he had been what we understand by a lover, he would not have been represented by the poet, after Briseis was taken away from him, as having "his heart consumed by grief" because "he yearned for the battle." He would, instead, have yearned for the girl. And when Agamemnon offered to give her back untouched, Achilles, had he been a real lover, would have thrown pride and wrath to the winds and accepted the offer with eagerness and alacrity.

But the most amazing part of the story is reached when we ask what Achilles means when he says that every good and sensible man [Greek: phileei kai kaedetai]—loves and cherishes—his concubine, as he professes to love his own. How does he love Briseis? Patroclus had promised her (XIX., 297-99), probably for reasons of his own (she is represented as being extremely fond of him), to see to it that Achilles would ultimately make her his legitimate wife, but Achilles himself never dreams of such a thing, as we see in lines 393-400, book IX. After refusing the offer of one of Agamemnon's daughters, he goes on to remark:

"If the gods preserve me and I return to my home, Peleus himself will seek a wife for me. There are many Achaian maidens in Hellas and Phthia, daughters of city-protecting princes. Among these I shall select the one I desire to be my dear wife. Very often is my manly heart moved with longing to be there to take a wedded wife [Greek: mnaestaen alochon], and enjoy the possessions Peleus has gathered."

And if any further detail were needed to prove how utterly shallow, selfish, and sensual was his "love" of Briseis, we should find it a few lines later (663) where the poet naively tells us, as a matter of course, that

"Achilles slept in the innermost part of the tent and by his side lay a beautiful-cheeked woman, whom he had brought from Lesbos. On the other side lay Patroclus with the fair Isis by his side, the gift of Achilles."

Obviously even individual preference was not a strong ingredient in the "love" of these "heroes," and we may well share the significant surprise of Ajax (638) that Achilles should persist in his wrath when seven girls were offered him for one. Evidently the tent of Achilles, like that of Agamemnon, was full of women (in line 366 he especially refers to his assortment of "fair-girdled women" whom he expects to take home when the war is over); yet Gladstone had the audacity to write that though concubinage prevailed in the camp before Troy, it was "only single concubinage." In his larger treatise he goes so far as to apologize for these ruffians—who captured and traded off women as they would horses or cows—on the ground that they were away from their wives and were indulging in the "mildest and least licentious" of all forms of adultery! Yet Gladstone was personally one of the purest and noblest of men. Strange what somersaults a hobby ridden too hard may induce a man to make in his ethical attitude!


If we now turn from the hero of the Iliad to the hero of the Odyssey, we find the same Gladstone declaring (II., 502) that "while admitting the superior beauty of Calypso as an immortal, Ulysses frankly owns to her that his heart is pining every day for Penelope;" and in the shorter treatise he goes so far as to say (131), that

"the subject of the Odyssey gives Homer the opportunity of setting forth the domestic character of Odysseus, in his profound attachment to wife, child, and home, in such a way as to adorn not only the hero, but his age and race."

The "profound attachment" of Odysseus to his wife may be gauged in the first place by the fact that he voluntarily remained away from her ten years, fighting to recover, for another king, a worthless, adulterous wench. Before leaving on this expedition, from which he feared he might never return, he spoke to his wife, as she herself relates (XVIII., 269), begging her to be mindful of his father and mother, "and when you see our son a bearded man, then marry whom you will, and leave the house now yours"—namely for the benefit of the son, for whose welfare he was thus more concerned than for a monopoly of his wife's love.

After the Trojan war was ended he embarked for home, but suffered a series of shipwrecks and misfortunes. On the island of Aeaea he spent a whole year sharing the hospitality and bed of the beautiful sorceress Circe, with no pangs of conscience for such conduct, nor thought of home, till his comrades, in spite of the "abundant meat and pleasant wine," longed to depart and admonished him in these words: "Unhappy man, it is time to think of your native land, if you are destined ever to be saved and to reach your home in the land of your fathers." Thus they spoke and "persuaded his manly heart." In view of the ease with which he thus abandoned himself for a whole year to a life of indulgence, till his comrades prodded his conscience, we may infer that he was not so very unwilling a prisoner afterward, of the beautiful nymph Calypso, who held him eight years by force on her island. We read, indeed, that, at the expiration of these years, Odysseus was always weeping, and his sweet life ebbed away in longing for his home. But all the sentiment is taken out of this by the words which follow: [Greek: epei ouketi aendane numphae] "because the nymph pleased him no more!" Even so Tannhaeuser tired of the pleasures in the grotto of Venus, and begged to be allowed to leave.

While thus permitting himself the unrestrained indulgence of his passions, without a thought of his wife, Odysseus has the barbarian's stern notions regarding the duties of women who belong to him. There are fifty young women in his palace at home who ply their hard tasks and bear the servant's lot. Twelve of these, having no one to marry, yield to the temptations of the rich princes who sue for the hand of Penelope in the absence of her husband.

Ulysses, on his return, hears of this, and forthwith takes measures to ascertain who the guilty ones are. Then he tells his son Telemachus and the swineherd and neatherd to

"go and lead forth these serving-maids out of the stately hall to a spot between the roundhouse and the neat courtyard wall, and smite them with your long swords till you take life from all, so that they may forget their secret amours with the suitors."

The "discreet" Telemachus carried out these orders, leading the maids to a place whence there was no escape and exclaiming:

"'By no honorable death would I take away the lives of those who poured reproaches on my head and on my mother, and lay beside the suitors.'"

"He spoke and tied the cable of a dark-bowed ship to a great pillar, then lashed it to the roundhouse, stretching it high across, too high for one to touch the feet upon the ground. And as the wide-winged thrushes or the doves strike on a net set in the bushes; and when they think to go to roost a cruel bed receives them; even so the women held their heads in line, and around every neck a noose was laid that they might die most vilely. They twitched their feet a little, but not long."

A more dastardly, cowardly, unmanly deed is not on record in all human literature, yet the instigator of it, Odysseus, is always the "wise," "royal," "princely," "good," and "godlike," and there is not the slightest hint that the great poet views his assassination of the poor maidens as the act of a ruffian, an act the more monstrous and unpardonable because Homer (XXII., 37) makes Odysseus himself say to the suitors that they outraged his maids by force ([Greek: biaios]). What world-wide difference in this respect between the greatest poet of antiquity and Jesus of Nazareth who, when the Scribes and Pharisees brought before him a woman who had erred like the maids of Odysseus, and asked if she should be stoned as the law of Moses commanded, said unto them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her;" whereupon, being convicted by their own consciences, they went out one by one. And Jesus said, "Where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?" She said, "No man, Lord." And Jesus said unto her, "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more." He is lenient to the sinner because of his sense of justice and mercy; yet at the same time his ethical ideal is infinitely higher than Homer's. He preaches that "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart;" whereas Homer's ideas of sexual morality are, in the last analysis, hardly above those of a savage. The dalliance of Odysseus with the nymphs, and the licentious treatment of women captives by all the "heroes," do not, any more than the cowardly murder of the twelve maids, evoke a word of censure, disgust, or disapproval from his lips.

His gods are on the same low level as his heroes, if not lower. When the spouse of Zeus, king of the gods, wishes to beguile him, she knows no other way than borrowing the girdle of Aphrodite. But this scene (Iliad, XIV., 153 seq.) is innocuous compared with the shameless description of the adulterous amours of Ares and Aphrodite in the Odyssey (VIII., 266-365), in presence of the gods, who treat the matter as a great joke. For a parallel to this passage we would have to descend to the Botocudos or the most degraded Australians. All of which proves that the severity of the punishment inflicted on the twelve maids of Odysseus does not indicate a high regard for chastity, but is simply another illustration of typical barbarous fury against women for presuming to do anything without the consent of the man whose private property they are.


If the real Odysseus, unprincipled, unchivalrous, and cruel, is anything but a hero who "adorns his age and race," must it not be conceded, at any rate, that "the unwearied fidelity of Penelope, awaiting through the long revolving years the return of her storm-tossed husband," presents, as Lecky declares (II., 279), and as is commonly supposed, a picture of perennial beauty "which Rome and Christendom, chivalry and modern civilization, have neither eclipsed nor transcended?"

We have seen that the fine words of Achilles regarding his "love" of Briseis are, when confronted with his actions, reduced to empty verbiage. The same result is reached in the case of Penelope, if we subject her actions and motives to a searching critical analysis. Ostensibly, indeed, she is set up as a model of that feminine constancy which men at all times have insisted on while they themselves preferred to be models of inconstancy. As usual in such cases, the feminine model is painted with touches of almost grotesque exaggeration. After the return of Odysseus Penelope informed her nurse (XXIII., 18) that she has not slept soundly all this time—twenty years! Such phrases, too, are used as "longing for Odysseus, I waste my heart away," or "May I go to my dread grave seeing Odysseus still, and never gladden heart of meaner husband." But they are mere phrases. The truth about her attitude and her-feelings is told frankly in several places by three different persons—the goddess of wisdom, Telemachus, and Penelope herself. Athene urges Telemachus to make haste that he may find his blameless mother still at home instead of the bride of one of the suitors.

"But let her not against your will take treasure from your home. You know a woman's way; she strives to enrich his house who marries her, while of her former children and the husband of her youth, when he is dead she thinks not, and she talks of him no more" (XV., 15-23).

In the next book (73-77) Telemachus says to the swineherd:

"Moreover my mother's feeling wavers, whether to bide beside me here and keep the house, and thus revere her husband's bed and heed the public voice, or finally to follow some chief of the Achaians who woos her in the hall with largest gifts."

And a little later (126) he exclaims, "She neither declines the hated suit nor has she power to end it, while they with feasting impoverish my home."

These words of Telcinachus are endorsed in full by Penelope herself, whose remarks (XIX., 524-35) to the disguised Odysseus give us the key to the whole situation and explain why she lies abed so much weeping and not knowing what to do.

" ... so does my doubtful heart toss to and fro whether to bide beside my son and keep all here in safety—my goods, my maids, and my great high-roofed house—and thus revere my husband and heed the public voice, or finally to follow some chief of the Achaiians who woos me in my hall with countless gifts. My son, while but a child and slack of understanding, did not permit my marrying and departing from my husband's home; but now that he is grown and come to man's estate, he prays me to go home again and leave the hall, so troubled is he for that substance which the Achaiians waste."

If these words mean anything, they mean that what kept Penelope from marrying again was not affection for her husband but the desire to live up to the demands of "the public voice" and the fact that her son—who, according to Greek usage, was her master—would not permit her to do so. This, then, was the cause of that proverbial constancy! But a darker shadow still is cast on her much-vaunted affection by her cold and suspicious reception of her husband on his return. While the dog recognized him at once and the swineherd was overjoyed, she, the wife, held him aloof, fearing that he might be some man who had come to cheat her! At first Odysseus thought she scorned him because he "was foul and dressed in sorry clothes;" but even after he had bathed and put on his princely attire she refused to embrace him, because she wished to "prove her husband!" No wonder that her son declared that her "heart is always harder than a stone," and that Odysseus himself thus accosts her:

"Lady, a heart impenetrable beyond the sex of women the dwellers on Olympus gave you. There is no other woman of such stubborn spirit to stand off from the husband who, after many grievous toils, came in the twentieth year home to his native land. Come then, good nurse, and make my bed, that I may lie alone. For certainly of iron is the heart within her breast."


A much closer approximation to the modern ideal of conjugal love than the attachment between Odysseus and Penelope with the "heart of iron," may be found in the scene describing Hector's leave-taking of Andromache before he goes out to fight the Greeks, fearing he may never return. The serving-women inform him that his wife, hearing that the Trojans were hard pressed, had gone in haste to the wall, like unto one frenzied. He goes to find her and when he arrives at the Skaian gates, she comes running to meet him, together with the nurse, who holds his infant boy on her bosom. Andromache weeps, recalls to his mind that she had lost her father, mother, and seven brothers, wherefore he is to her a father, mother, brothers, as well as a husband. "Have pity and abide here upon the tower, lest thou make thy child an orphan and thy wife a widow." Though Hector cannot think of shrinking from battle like a coward, he declared that her fate, should the city fall and he be slain, troubles him more than that of his father, mother, and brothers—the fate of being led into captivity and slavery by a Greek, doomed to carry water and to be pointed at as the former wife of the brave Hector. He expresses the wish that his boy—who at first is frightened by the horse-hair crest on his helmet—may become greater than his father, bringing with him blood-stained spoils from the enemy he has slain, and gladdening his mother's heart; then caressing his wife with his hand, he begs her not to sorrow overmuch, but to go to her house and see to her own tasks, the loom and the distaff. Thus he spake, and she departed for her home, oft looking back and letting fall big tears.

This scene, which takes up four pages of the Iliad (VI., 370-502), is the most touching, the most inspired, the most sentimental and modern passage not only in the Homeric poems, but in all Greek literature. Benecke has aptly remarked (10) that the relation between Hector and Andromache is unparalleled in that literature; and he adds:

"At the same time, how little really sympathetic to the Greek of the period was this wonderful and unique passage is sufficiently shown by this very fact, that no attempt was ever made to imitate or develop it. It may sound strange to say so, but in all probability we to-day understand Andromache better than did the Greeks, for whom she was created; better, too, perhaps than did her creator himself."

Benecke should have written Hector in place of Andromache. There was no difficulty, even for a Greek, in understanding Andromache. She had every reason, even from a purely selfish point of view, to dread Hector's battling with the savage Greeks; for while he lived she was a princess, with all the comforts of life, whereas his fall and the fall of Troy meant her enslavement and a life of misery. What makes the scene in question so modern is the attitude of Hector—his dividing his caresses equally between his wife and his son, and assuring her that he is more troubled about her fate and anguish than about what may befall his father, mother, and brothers. That is an utterly un-Greek sentiment, and that is the reason why the passage was not imitated. It was not a realistic scene from life, but a mere product of Homer's imagination and glowing genius—like the pathetic scene in which Odysseus wipes away a tear on noting that his faithful dog Argos recognized him and wagged his tail. It is extremely improbable that a man who could behave so cruelly toward women as Odysseus did could have thus sympathized with a dog.

Certainly no one else did, not even his "faithful" Penelope. As long as Argos was useful in the chase, the poet tells us, he was well taken care of; but now that he was old, he "lay neglected upon a pile of dung," doomed to starve, for he had not strength to move. Homer alone, with the prophetic insight of a genius, could have conceived such a touch of modern sentiment toward animals, so utterly foreign to ancient ideas; and he alone could have put such a sentiment of wife-love into the mouth of the Trojan Hector—a barbarian whose ideal of manliness and greatness consisted in "bringing home blood-stained spoils of the enemy."


It seems like a touch of sarcasm that Homer incarnates his isolated and un-Greek ideal of devotion to a wife in a Trojan, as if to indicate that it must not be accepted as a touch of Greek life. From our point of view it is a stroke of genius. On the other hand it is obvious that attributing such a sentiment to a Trojan likewise cannot be anything but a poetic license; for these Trojans were quite as piratical, coarse, licentious, and polygamous as the Greeks, Hector's own father having had fifty children, nineteen of whom were borne by his wife, thirty-one by various concubines. Many pages of the Iliad bear witness to the savage ferocity of Greeks and Trojans alike—a ferocity utterly incompatible with such tender emotions as Homer himself was able to conceive in his imagination. The ferocity of Achilles is typical of the feelings of these heroes. Not content with slaughtering an enemy who meets him in honorable battle, defending his wife and home, he thrust thongs of ox-hide through the prostrate Hector's feet, bound him to his chariot, lashed his horses to speed, and dragged him about in sight of the wailing wife and parents of his victim. This he repeated several times, aggravating the atrocity a hundredfold by his intention—in spite of the piteous entreaties of the dying Hector—to throw his corpse to be eaten by the dogs, thus depriving even his spirit of rest, and his family of religious consolation. Nay, Achilles expresses the savage wish that his rage might lead him so far as to carve and eat raw Hector's flesh. The Homeric "hero," in short, is almost on a level in cruelty with the red Indian.

But it is in their treatment of women—which Gladstone commends so highly—that the barbarous nature of the Greek "heroes" is revealed in all its hideous nakedness. The king of their gods set them the example when he punished his wife and queen by hanging her up amid the clouds with two anvils suspended from her feet; clutching and throwing to the earth any gods that came to her rescue. (Iliad, XV., 15-24.) Rank does not exempt the women of the heroic age from slavish toil. Nausicaea, though a princess, does the work of a washerwoman and drives her own chariot to the laundry on the banks of the river, her only advantage over her maids being that they have to walk.[296] Her mother, too, queen of the Phoeaceans, spends her time sitting among the waiting maids spinning yarn, while her husband sits idle and "sips his wine like an immortal." The women have to do all the work to make the men comfortable, even washing their feet, giving them their bath, anointing them, and putting their clothes on them again (Odyssey, XIX., 317; VIII., 454; XVII., 88, etc.),[297] even a princess like Polycaste, daughter of the divine Nestor, being called upon to perform such menial service (III., 464-67). As for the serving-maids, they grind corn, fetch water, and do other work, just like red squaws; and in the house of Odysseus we read of a poor girl, who, while the others were sleeping, was still toiling at her corn because her weakness had prevented her from finishing her task (XX., 110).

Penelope was a queen, but was very far from being treated like one. Gladstone found "the strongest evidence of the respect in which women were held" in the fact that the suitors stopped short of violence to her person! They did everything but that, making themselves at home in her house, unbidden and hated guests, debauching her maidservants, and consuming her provisions by wholesale. But her own son's attitude is hardly less disrespectful and insulting than that of the ungallant, impertinent suitors. He repeatedly tells his mother to mind her own business—the loom and the distaff—leaving words for men; and each time the poet recommends this rude, unfilial speech as a "wise saying" which the queen humbly "lays to heart." His love of property far exceeds his love of his mother, for as soon as he is grown up he begs her to go home and get married again, "so troubled is he for the substance which the suitors waste." He urges her at last to "marry whom she will," offering as an extra inducement "countless gifts" if she will only go.

To us it seems topsy-turvy that a mother should have to ask her son's consent to marry again, but to the Greeks that was a matter of course. There are many references to this custom in the Homeric poems. Girls, too, though they be princesses, are disposed of without the least regard to their wishes, as when Agamemnon offers Achilles the choice of one of his three daughters (IX., 145). Big sums are sometimes paid for a girl—by Iphidamas, for instance, who fell in battle, "far from his bride, of whom he had known no joy, and much had he given for her; first a hundred kine he gave, and thereafter promised a thousand, goats and sheep together." The idea, too, occurs over and over again that among the suitors the one who has the richest gifts to offer should take the bride. How much this mercenary, unceremonious, and often cruel treatment of women was a matter of course among these Greeks is indicated by Homer's naive epithet for brides, [Greek: parthenoi alphesiboiai], "virgins who bring in oxen." And this is the state of affairs which Gladstone sums up by saying "there is a certain authority of the man over the woman; but it does not destroy freedom"!

The early Greeks were always fighting, and the object of their wars, as among the Australian savages, was usually woman, as Achilles frankly informs us when he speaks of having laid waste twelve cities and passed through many bloody days of battle, "warring with folk for their women's sake." (Iliad, IX., 327.) Nestor admonishes the Greeks to "let no man hasten to depart home till each have lain by some Trojan's wife" (354-55). The leader of the Greek forces issues this command regarding the Trojans:

"Of them let not one escape sheer estruction at our hands, not even the man-child that the mother beareth in her womb; let not even him escape, but all perish together out of Ilios, uncared for and unknown" (VI., 57);

while Homer, with consummate art, paints for us the terrors of a captured city, showing how the women—of all classes—were maltreated:

"As a woman wails and clings to her dear husband, who falls for town and people, seeking to shield his home and children from the ruthless day; seeing him dying, gasping, she flings herself on him with a piercing cry; while men behind, smiting her with the spears on back and shoulder, force her along to bondage to suffer toil and trouble; with pain most pitiful her cheeks are thin...." (Odyssey, VIII., 523-30.)[298]


Having failed to find any traces of romantic love, and only one of conjugal affection, in the greatest poet of the Greeks, let us now subject their greatest poetess to a critical examination.

Sappho undoubtedly had the divine spark. She may have possibly deserved the epithet of the "tenth Muse," bestowed on her by ancient writers, or of "the Poetess," as Homer was "the Poet." Among the one hundred and seventy fragments preserved some are of great beauty—the following, for example, which is as delightful as a Japanese poem and in much the same style—suggesting a picture in a few words, with the distinctness of a painting:

"As the sweet apple blushes on the end of the bough, the very end of the bough, which the gatherers overlooked, nay overlooked not, but could not reach."[299] It is otherwise in her love-poems, or rather fragments of such, comprising the following:

"Now love masters my limbs, and shakes me, fatal creature, bitter-sweet." "Now Eros shakes my soul, a wind on the mountain falling on the oaks." "Sleep thou in the bosom of thy tender girl-friend." "Sweet Mother, I cannot weave my web, broken as I am by longing for a maiden, at soft Aphrodite's will." "For thee there was no other girl, bridegroom, like her."

"Bitter-sweet," "giver of pain," "the weaver of fictions," are some expressions of Sappho's preserved by Maximus Tyrius; and Libanius, the rhetorician, refers to Sappho, the Lesbian, as praying "that night might be doubled for her." But the most important of her love-poems, and the one on which her adulators chiefly base their praises, is the following fragment addressed [Greek: Pros Gunaika Eromenaen] ("to a beloved woman"):

"That man seems to me peer of gods, who sits in thy presence, and hears close to him thy sweet speech and lovely laughter; that indeed makes my heart flutter in my bosom. For when I see thee but a little I have no utterance left, my tongue is broken down, and straightway a subtle fire has run under my skin, with my eyes I have no sight, my ears ring, sweat bathes me, and a trembling seizes all my body; I am paler than grass, and seem in my madness little better than one dead. But I must dare all, since one so poor ..."

The Platonist Longinus (third century) said that this ode was "not one passion, but a congress of passions," and declared it the most perfect expression in all ancient literature of the effects of love. A Greek physician is said to have copied it into his book of diagnoses "as a compendium of all the symptoms of corroding emotion." F.B. Jevons, in his history of Greek literature (139), speaks of the "marvellous fidelity in her representation of the passion of love." Long before him Addison had written in the Spectator (No. 223) that Sappho "felt the passion in all its warmth, and described it in all its symptoms." Theodore Watts wrote: "Never before these songs were sung, and never since, did the human soul, in the grip of a fiery passion, utter a cry like hers." That amazing prodigal of superlatives, the poet Swinburne, speaks of the

"dignity of divinity, which informs the most passionate and piteous notes of the unapproachable poetess with such grandeur as would seem impossible to such passion."

And J.A. Symonds assures us that "Nowhere, except, perhaps, in some Persian or Provencal love-songs, can be found more ardent expressions of overmastering passion."

I have read this poem a score of times, in Greek, in the Latin version of Catullus, and in English, German, and French translations. The more I read it and compare with it the eulogies just quoted, the more I marvel at the power of cant and conventionality in criticism and opinion, and at the amazing current ignorance in regard to the psychology of love and of the emotions in general. I have made a long and minute study of the symptoms of love, in myself and in others; I have found that the torments of doubt and the loss of sleep may make a lover "paler than grass"; that his heart is apt to "flutter in his bosom," and his tongue to be embarrassed in presence of the beloved; but when Sappho speaks of a lover bathed in sweat, of becoming blind, deaf, and dumb, trembling all over, and little better than one dead, she indulges in exaggeration which is neither true to life nor poetic.

An amusing experiment may be made with reference to this famous poem. Suppose you say to a friend:

"A woman was walking in the woods when she saw something that made her turn pale as a sheet; her heart fluttered, her ears rang, her tongue was paralyzed, a cold sweat covered her, she trembled all over and looked as if she would faint and die: what did she see?"

The chances are ten to one that your friend will answer "a bear!" In truth, Sappho's famous "symptoms of love" are laughably like the symptoms of fear which we find described in the books of Bain, Darwin, Mosso, and others—"a cold sweat," "deadly pallor," "voice becoming husky or failing altogether," "heart beating violently," "dizziness which will blind him," "trembling of all the muscles of the body," "a fainting fit." Nor is fear the only emotion that can produce these symptoms. Almost any strong passion, anger, extreme agony or joy, may cause them; so that what Sappho described was not love in particular, but the physiologic effects of violent emotions in general. I am glad that the Greek physician who copied her poem into his book of diagnoses is not my family doctor.

Sappho's love-poems are not psychologic but purely physiologic. Of the imaginative, sentimental, esthetic, moral, altruistic, sympathetic, affectional symptoms of what we know as romantic love they do not give us the faintest hint. Hegel remarked truly that "in the odes of Sappho the language of love rises indeed to the point of lyrical inspiration, yet what she reveals is rather the slow consuming flame of the blood than the inwardness of the subjective heart and soul." Nor was Byron deceived: "I don't think Sappho's ode a good example." The historian Bender had an inkling of the truth when he wrote (183):

"To us who are accustomed to spiritualized love-lyrics after the style of Geibel's this erotic song of Sappho may seem too glowing, too violent; but we must not forget that love was conceived by the Greeks altogether in a less spiritual manner than we demand that it should be."

That is it precisely. These Greek love-poems do not depict romantic love but sensual passion. Nor is this the worst of it. Sappho's absurdly overrated love-poems are not even good descriptions of normal sensual passion. I have just said that they are purely physiologic; but that is too much praise for them. The word physiologic implies something healthy and normal, but Sappho's poems are not healthy and normal; they are abnormal, they are pathologic. Had they been written by a man, this would not be the case; but Sappho was a woman, and her famous ode is addressed to a woman. A woman, too, is referred to in her famous hymn to Venus in these lines, as translated by Wharton:

"What beauty now wouldst thou draw to love thee? Who wrongs thee, Sappho? For even if she flies, she shall soon follow, and if she rejects gifts shall yet give, and if she loves not shall soon love, however loth."

In the five fragments above quoted there are also two at least which refer to girls. Now I have not the slightest desire to discuss the moral character of Sappho or the vices of her Lesbian countrywomen. She had a bad reputation among the Romans as well as the Greeks, and it is a fact that in the year 1073 her poems were burnt at Rome and Constantinople, "as being," in the words of Professor Gilbert Murray, "too much for the shaky morals of the time." Another recent writer, Professor Peck of Columbia University, says that

"it is difficult to read the fragments which remain of her verse without being forced to come to the conclusion that a woman who could write such poetry could not be the pure woman that her modern apologists would have her."

The following lament alone would prove this:

[Greek: Deduke men a Selana kai Plaeiades, mesai de nuktes, para d' erxet ora ego de mona katheudo.]


Several books and many articles have been written on this topic,[300] but the writers seem to have overlooked the fact that in the light of the researches of Krafft-Ebing and Moll it is possible to vindicate the character of Sappho without ignoring the fact that her passionate erotic poems are addressed to women. These alienists have shown that the abnormal state of a masculine mind inhabiting a female body, or vice versa, is surprisingly common in all parts of the world. They look on it, with the best of reasons, as a diseased condition, which does not necessarily, in persons of high principles, lead to vicious and unnatural practices. In every country there are thousands of girls who, from childhood, would rather climb trees and fences and play soldiers with the boys than fondle dolls or play with the other girls. When they get older they prefer tobacco to candy; they love to masquerade in men's clothes, and when they hear of a girl's love-affair they cannot understand what pleasure there can be in dancing with a man or kissing him, while they themselves may long to kiss a girl, nay, in numerous cases, to marry her.[301] Many such marriages are made between women whose brains and bodies are of different sexes, and their love-affairs are often characterized by violent jealousy and other symptoms of intersexual passion. Not a few prominent persons have been innocent victims of this distressing disease; it is well-known what strange masculine proclivities several eminent female novelists and artists have shown; and whenever a woman shows great creative power or polemic aggressiveness the chances are that her brain is of the masculine type. It is therefore quite possible that Sappho may have been personally a pure woman, her mental masculinity ("mascula Sappho" Horace calls her) being her misfortune, not her fault. But even if we give her the benefit of the doubt and take for granted that she had enough character to resist the abnormal impulses and passions which she describes in her poems, and which the Greeks easily pardoned and even praised, we cannot and must not overlook the fact that these poems are the result of a diseased brain-centre, and that what they describe is not love, but a phase of erotic pathology. Normal sexual appetite is as natural a passion as the hunger for food; it is simply a hunger to perpetuate the species, and without it the world would soon come to an end; but Sapphic passion is a disease which luckily cannot become epidemic because it cannot perpetuate itself, but must always remain a freak.[302]


There is considerable uncertainty regarding the dates of the earliest Greek poets. By dint of ingenious conjectures and combinations philologists have reached the conclusion that the Homeric poems, with their interpolations, originated between the dates 850 and 720 B.C.—say 2700 years ago. Hesiod probably flourished near the end of the seventh century, to which Archilochus and Alcman belong, while in the sixth and fifth centuries a number of names appear—little more than names, it is true, since of most of them fragments only have come down to us—Alcaeus, Mimnermus, Theognis, Sappho, Stesichorus, Anacreon, Ibycus, Bacchylides, Pindar, and others. Best known of all these, as a poet of love, is Anacreon, though in his case no one has been so foolish as to claim that the love described in his poems (or those of his imitators) is ever supersensual. Professor Anthon has aptly characterized him as "an amusing voluptuary and an elegant profligate," and Hegel pointed out the superficiality of Anacreontic love, in which there is no conception of the tremendous importance to a lover of having this or that particular girl and no other, or what I have called individual preference. Benecke puts this graphically when he remarks (25) regarding Mimnermus: "'What is life without love?' he says; he does not say, 'What is life without your love?'" Even in Sappho, I may add here, in spite of the seeming violence of her passion, this quality of individual preference is really lacking or weak, for she is constantly transferring her attention from one girl to another. And as Sappho's poems are addressed to girls, so are Anacreon's and those of the other poets named, to boys, in most cases. The following, preserved by Athenaeus (XIII., 564D), is a good specimen:

[Greek: "O pai parthenion blepon, dixemai se, su d' ou koeis, ouk eidos hoti taes emaes psuchaes haeniocheueis."]

Such a poem, even if addressed properly, would indicate nothing more than simple admiration and a longing which is specified in the following:

[Greek: Alla propine radinous, o phile, maerous.]

It would hardly be worth while, even if the limitations of space permitted, to subject the fragments of the other poets of this period to analysis. The reader has the key in his hands now—the altruistic and supersensual ingredients of love pointed out in this volume; and if he can find those ingredients in any of these poems, he will be luckier than I have been. We may therefore pass on to the great tragic poets of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.


In the Frogs of Aristophanes, Aeschylus is made to declare that he had never introduced a woman in love into any of his plays—[Greek: ouk oid' oudeis haentin erosan popt' epoiaesa gunaika]. He certainly has not done so in any one of the seven plays which have survived of the ninety that he wrote, according to Suidas; and Aristophanes would not have put that expression in his mouth had it not been true of the others, too. To us it seems extraordinary that an author should boast of having kept out of his writings the element which constitutes the greatest fascination of modern literature; but after reading his seven surviving tragedies we do not wonder that Aeschylus should not have introduced a woman in love, or a man either, in plays wherewith he competed for the state prize on the solemn occasions of the great festivals at Athens; for love of an exalted kind, worthy of such an occasion, could not have existed in a community where such ideas prevailed about women as Aeschylus unfolds in the few places where he condescends to notice such inferior beings. The only kind of sexual love of which he shows any knowledge is that referred to in the remarks of Prometheus and Io regarding the designs of Zeus on the latter.

An apparent exception seems at first sight to exist in the cordial reception Clytaemnestra accords to her husband, King Agamemnon, when he returns from the Trojan war. She calls the day of his return the most joyous of her life, asserts her complete fidelity to him during his long absence, declares she is not ashamed to tell her fond feelings for her spouse in public, and adds that she has wept for him till the gushing fountains of her eyes have been exhausted. Indeed, she goes so far in her homage that Agamemnon protests and exclaims, "Pamper me not after the fashion of women, nor as though I were a barbaric monarch.... I bid thee reverence me as a man, not a god." But ere long we discover (as in the case of Achilles), that all this fine talk of Clytaemnestra is mere verbiage, and worse—deadly hypocrisy. In reality she has been living with a paramour, and the genuineness and intensity of her "fond feelings" for her husband may be inferred from the fact that hardly has he returned when she makes a murderous assault on him by throwing an artfully woven circular garment over him, while he is taking a bath, and smiting him till he falls dead. "And I glory in the deed" she afterwards declares, adding that it "has long since been meditated."

Agamemnon, for his part, not only brought back with him from Troy a new concubine, Cassandra, and installed her in his home with the usual Greek indifference to the feelings of his legitimate wife, but he really was no better than his murderous wife, since he had been willing to kill her daughter and his own, Iphigenia, to please his brother, curb a storm, and expedite the Trojan war. In the words of the Chorus,

"Thus he dared to become the sacrificer of his daughter to promote a war undertaken for the avenging of a woman, and as a first offering for the fleet: and the chieftains, eager for the fight, set at naught her supplications and her cries to her father, and her maiden age. But after prayer her father bade the ministering priests with all zeal, to lift, like a kid, high above the altar, her who lay prostrate wrapped in her robes, and to put a check upon her beauteous mouth, a voice of curses upon the house, by force of muzzles and strength which allowed no vent to her cry."

The barbarous sacrifice of an innocent maiden is of course a myth, but it is a myth which doubtless had many counterparts in Greek life. Aeschylus did not live so very long after Homer, and in his age it was still a favorite pastime of the Greeks to ravage cities, a process of which Aeschylus gives us a vivid picture in a few lines, in his Seven against Thebes:

"And for its women to be dragged away captives, alas! alas! both the young and the aged, like horses by their hair, while their vestments are rent about their persons. And the emptied city cries aloud, while its booty is wasted amid confused clamors.... And the cries of children at the breast all bloody resound, and there is rapine, sister of pell-mell confusion ... And young female slaves have new sorrows ... so that they hope for life's gloomy close to come, a guardian against these all-mournful sorrows."

For women of rank alone is there any consideration—so long as they are not among the captives; yet even queens are not honored as women, but only as queens, that is, as the mothers or wives of kings. In The Persians the Chorus salutes Atossa in terms every one of which emphasizes this point: "O queen, supreme of Persia's deep-waisted matrons, aged mother of Xerxes, hail to thee! spouse to Darius, consort of the Persians, god and mother of a god thou art," while Clytaemnestra is saluted by the chorus in Agamemnon in these words: "I have came revering thy majesty, Clytaemnestra; for it is right to honor the consort of a chieftain hero, when the monarch's throne has been left empty."

We read in these plays of such unsympathetic things as a "man-detesting host of Amazons;" of fifty virgins fleeing from incestuous wedlock and all but one of them cutting their husbands' throats at night with a sword; of the folly of marrying out of one's own rank. In all Aeschylus there is on the other hand only one noticeable reference to a genuine womanly quality—the injunction of Danaus to his daughters to honor modesty more than life while they are travelling among covetous men; an admonition much needed, since, as Danaus adds—characterizing the coarseness and lack of chivalry of the men—violence is sure to threaten them everywhere, "and on the fair-formed beauty of virgins everyone that passes by sends forth a melting dart from his eyes, overcome by desire." Masculine coarseness and lack of chivalry are also revealed in such abuse of woman as Aeschylus—in the favorite Greek manner, puts in the mouth of Eteocles:

"O ye abominations of the wise. Neither in woes nor in welcome prosperity may I be associated with woman-kind; for when woman prevails, her audacity is more than one can live with; and when affrighted she is still a greater mischief to her home and city."


Unlike his predecessor, Sophocles did not hesitate, it seems, to bring "a woman in love" on the stage. Not, it is true, in any one of the seven plays which alone remain of the one hundred and twenty-three he is said to have written. But there are in existence some fragments of his Phaedra, which Rohde (31) and others are inclined to look on as the "first tragedy of love." It has, however, nothing to do with what we know as either romantic or conjugal love, but is simply the story of the adulterous and incestuous infatuation of Phaedra for her stepson Hippolytus. It is at the same time one of the many stories illustrating the whimsical, hypocritical, and unchivalrous attitude of the early Greeks of always making woman the sinful aggressor and representing man as being coyly reserved (see Rohde, 34-35). The infatuation of Phaedra is correctly described (fr., 611, 607 Dind.) as a [Greek: Theaelatos nosos]—a maddening disease inflicted by an angry goddess.

Among the seven extant tragedies of Sophocles there are three which throw some light on the contemporary attitude toward women and the different kinds of domestic attachment—the Ajax, the Trachiniae and Antigone. When Ajax, having disgraced himself by slaughtering a flock of sheep and cattle in the mad delusion that they were his enemies, wishes he might die, Tecmessa, his concubine, declares, "Then pray for my death, too, for why should I live if you are dead?" She has, however, plenty of egotistic reasons for dreading his death, for she knows that her fate will be slavery. Moreover, instead of being edified by her expression of attachment, we are repelled when we bear in mind that Ajax slew her father when he made her his concubine. The Greeks were too indelicate in their ideas about concubines to be disturbed by such a reflection. Nor were they affected disagreeably by the utter indifference toward his concubine which Ajax displays. He tells her to attend to her own affairs and remember that silence is a woman's greatest charm, and before committing suicide he utters a monologue in which he says farewell to his parents and to his country, but has no last message for Tecmessa. She was only a woman, forsooth.

Only a woman, too, was Deianira, the heroine of the Trachiniae, and though of exalted rank she fully realized this fact. When Hercules first took her to Tiryns, he was still sufficiently interested in her to shoot a hydra-poisoned arrow into the centaur Nessus, who attempted to assault her while carrying her across the river Evenus. But after she had borne him several children he neglected her, going off on adventures to capture other women. She weeps because of his absence, complaining that for fifteen months she has had no message from him. At last information is brought to her that Hercules, inflamed with violent love for the Princess Iole, had demanded her for a secret union, and when the king refused, had ravaged his city and carried off Iole, to be unto him more than a slave, as the messenger gives her to understand distinctly. On receiving this message; Deianira is at first greatly agitated, but soon remembers what the duty of a Greek wife is. "I am well aware," she says in substance, "that we cannot expect a man to be always content with one woman. To antagonize the god of love, or to blame my husband for succumbing to him, would be foolish. After all, what does it amount to? Has not Hercules done this sort of thing many times before? Have I ever been angry with him for so often succumbing to this malady? His concubines, too, have never received an unkind word from me, nor shall Iole; for I freely confess, resentment does not become a woman. Yet I am distressed, for I am old and Iole is young, and she will hereafter be his actual wife in place of me." At this thought jealousy sharpens her wit and she remembers that the dying centaur had advised her to save some of his blood and, if ever occasion should come for her to wish to bring back her husband's love, to anoint his garment with it. She does so, and sends it to him, without knowing that its effect will be to slowly burn the flesh off his body. Hearing of the deadly effect of her gift, she commits suicide, while Hercules spends the few remaining hours of his life cursing her who murdered him, "the best of all men," and wishing she were suffering in his place or that he might mutilate her body. Nor was his latest and "violent love" for Iole more than a passing appetite quickly appeased; for at the end he asks his son to marry her!

Previous Part     1 ... 3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20     Next Part
Home - Random Browse