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

This drama admirably illustrates the selfish view of the marital relation entertained by Greek men. Its moral may be summed up in this advice to a wife:

"If your husband falls in love with a younger woman and brings her home, let him, for he is a victim of Cupid and cannot help it. Display no jealousy, and do not even try to win back his love, for that might annoy him or cause mischief."

In other words, The Trachiniae is an object-lesson to Greek wives, telling us what the men thought they ought to be. Probably some of the wives tried to live up to that ideal; but that could hardly be accepted as genuine, spontaneous devotion deserving the name of affection. Most famous among all the tragedies of the Greeks, and deservedly so, is the Antigone. Its plot can be told in such a way as to make it seem a romantic love-story, if not a story of romantic love. Creon, King of Thebes, has ordered, under penalty of death, that no one shall bestow the rites of burial on Prince Polynices, who has fallen after bearing arms against his own country. Antigone, sister of Polynices, resolves to disobey this cruel order, and having failed to persuade her sister, Ismene, to aid her, carries out her plan alone. Boldly visiting the place where the body is exposed to the dogs and vultures, she sprinkles dust on it and pours out libations, repeating the process the next day on finding that the guards had meanwhile undone her work. This time she is apprehended in the act and brought before the king, who condemns her to be immured alive in a tomb, though she is betrothed to his son Haemon. "Would you murder the bride of your own son?" asks Ismene; but the king replies that there are many other women in the world. Haemon now appears and tries to move his father to mercy, but in vain, though he threatens to slay himself if his bride is killed. Antigone is immured, but at last, moved by the advice of the Chorus and the dire predictions of the seer Tiresias, Creon changes his mind and hastens with men and tools to liberate the virgin. When he arrives at the tomb he sees his son in it, clinging to the corpse of Antigone, who had hanged herself. Horrified, the king begs his son to come out of the tomb, but Haemon seizes his sword and rushes forward to slay his father. The king escapes the danger by flight, whereupon Haemon thrusts the sword into his own body, and expires, clasping the corpse of his bride.

If we thus make Haemon practically the central figure of the tragedy, it resembles a romantic love-story; but in reality Haemon is little more than an episode. He has a quarrel with his father (who goes so far as to threaten to kill his bride in his presence), rushes off in a rage, and the tomb scene is not enacted, but merely related by a messenger, in forty lines out of a total of thirteen hundred and fifty. Much less still have we here a story of romantic love. Not one of the fourteen ingredients of love can be found in it except self-sacrifice, and that not of the right kind. I need not explain once more that suicide from grief over a lost bride does not benefit that bride; that it is not altruistic, but selfish, unmanly, and cowardly, and is therefore no test whatever of love. Moreover, if we examine the dialogue in detail we see that the motive of Haemon's suicide is not even grief over his lost bride, but rage at his father. When on first confronting Creon, he is thus accosted: "Have you heard the sentence pronounced on your bride?" He answers meekly: "I have, my father, and I yield to your superior wisdom, which no marriage can equal in excellence;" and it is only gradually that his ire is aroused by his father's abusive attitude; while at the end his first intention was to slay his father, not himself. Had Sophocles understood love as we understand it, he would have represented Haemon as drawing his sword at once and moving heaven and earth to prevent his bride from being buried alive.

But it is in examining the attitude of Antigone that we realize most vividly how short this drama falls of being a love-story. She never even mentions Haemon, has no thought of him, but is entirely absorbed in the idea of benefiting the spirit of her dead brother by performing the forbidden funeral rites. As if to remove all doubt on that point, she furthermore tells us explicitly (lines 904-912) that she would have never done such a deed, in defiance of the law, to save a husband or a child, but only for a brother; and why? because she might easily find another husband, and have new children by him, but another brother she could never have, as her parents were dead.[303]


Of Euripides it cannot be said, as of his two great predecessors, that woman plays an insignificant role in his dramas. Most of the nineteen plays which have come down to us of the ninety-two he wrote are named after women; and Bulwer-Lytton was quite right when he declared that "he is the first of the Hellenic poets who interests us intellectually in the antagonism and affinity between the sexes." But I cannot agree with him when he says that with Euripides commences "the distinction between love as a passion and love as a sentiment." There is true sentiment in Euripides, as there is in Sophocles, in the relations between parents and children, friends, brothers and sisters; but in the attitude of lovers, or of husband and wife, there is only sensuality or at most sentimentality; and this sentimentality, or sham sentiment, does not begin with Euripides, for we have found instances of it in the fond words of Clytaemnestra regarding the husband she intended to murder, and did murder, and even in the Homeric Achilles, whose fine words regarding conjugal love contrast so ludicrously with his unloving actions. These, however, are mere episodes, while Euripides has written a whole play which from beginning to end is an exposition of sentimentality.

The Fates had granted that when the Thessalian King Admetus approached the ordained end of his life it should be prolonged if another person voluntarily consented to die in his place. His aged parents had no heart to "plunge into the darkness of the tomb" for his sake. "It is not the custom in Greece for fathers to die for children," his father informs him; while Adinetus indulges in coarse abuse: "By heaven, thou art the very pattern of cowards, who at thy age, on the borderland of life, would'st not, nay, could'st not find the heart to die for thy own son; but ye, my parents, left to this stranger, whom henceforth I shall justly hold e'en as mother and as father too, and none but her." This "stranger" is his wife Alcestis, who has volunteered to die for him, exclaiming:

"Thee I set before myself, and instead of living have ensured thy life, and so I die, though I need not have died for thee, but might have taken for my husband whom I would of the Thessalians, and have had a home blest with royal power; reft of thee, with my children orphans, I cared not to live."

The world has naively accepted this speech and the sacrifice of Alcestis as belonging to the region of sentiment; but in reality it is nothing more than one of those stories shrewdly invented by selfish men to teach women that the object of their existence is to sacrifice themselves for their husbands. The king's father tells us this in so many words: "By the generous deed she dared, hath she made her life a noble example for all her sex;" adding that "such marriages I declare are gain to man, else to wed is not worth while." If these stories, like those manufactured by the Hindoos, were an indication of existing conjugal sentiment, would it be possible that the self-sacrifice was invariably on the woman's side? Adinetus would have never dreamt of sacrificing his life for his wife. He is not even ashamed to have her die for him. It is true that he has one moment when he fancies his foe deriding him thus:

"Behold him living in his shame, a wretch who quailed at death himself, but of his coward heart gave up his wedded wife instead, and escaped from Hades; doth he deem himself a man after that?"

It is true also that his father taunts him contemptuously,

"Dost thou then speak of cowardice in me, thou craven heart!... A clever scheme hast thou devised to stave off death forever, if thou canst persuade each new wife to die instead of thee."

Yet Admetus is constantly assuring everyone of his undying attachment to his wife. He holds her in his arms, imploring her not to leave him. "If thou die," he exclaims,

"I can no longer live; my life, my death, are in thy hands; thy love is what I worship.... Not a year only, but all my life will I mourn for thee.... In my bed thy figure shall be laid full length, by cunning artists fashioned; thereon will I throw myself and, folding my arms about thee, call upon thy name, and think I hold my dear wife in my embrace.... Take me, O take me, I beseech, with thee 'neath the earth;"

and so on, ad nauseam—a sickening display of sentimentality, i.e., fond words belied by cowardly, selfish actions.

The father-in-law of Alcestis, in his indignation at his son's impertinence and lack of filial pity, exclaims that what made Alcestis sacrifice herself was "want of sense;" which is quite true. But in painting such a character, Euripides's chief motive appears to have been to please his audience by enforcing a maxim which the Greeks shared with the Hindoos and barbarians that "a woman, though bestowed upon a worthless husband, must be content with him." These words are actually put by him into the mouth of Andromache in the play of that name. Andromache, once the wife of the Trojan Hector, now the concubine of Achilles's son, is made to declare to the Chorus that "it is not beauty but virtuous acts that win a husband's heart;" whereupon she proceeds to spoil this fine maxim by explaining what the Greeks understood by "virtuous acts" in a wife—namely, subordinating herself even to a "worthless husband." "Suppose," she continues, "thou hadst wedded a prince of Thrace... where one lord shares his affections with a host of wives, would'st thou have slain them? If so, thou would'st have set a stigma of insatiate lust on all our sex." And she proceeds to relate how she herself paid no heed in Troy to Hector's amours with other women: "Oft in days gone by I held thy bastard babes to my own breast, to spare thee any cause for grief. By this course I bound my husband to me by virtue's chains." To spare him annoyance, no matter how much his conduct might grieve her—that was the Greek idea of conjugal devotion—all on one side. And how like the Hindoos, and Orientals, and barbarians in general, is the Greek seen to be in the remarks made by Hermione, the legitimate wife, to Andromache, the concubine—accusing the latter of having by means of witchcraft made her barren and thus caused her husband to hate her.

With the subtle ingenuity of masculine selfishness the Greek dramatist doubles the force of all his fine talk about the "virtuous acts" of wives by representing the women themselves as uttering these maxims and admitting that their function is self-denial—that woman is altogether an inferior and contemptible being. "How strange it is," exclaims Andromache,

"that, though some god has devised cures for mortals against the venom of reptiles, no man ever yet hath discovered aught to cure a woman's venom, which is far worse than viper's sting or scorching flame; so terrible a curse are we to mankind."

Hermione declares:

"Oh! never, never—this truth will I repeat—should men of sense, who have wives, allow women-folks to visit them in their homes, for they teach them mischief; one, to gain some private end, helps to corrupt their honor; another having made a slip herself, wants a companion in misfortune, while many are wantons; and hence it is men's houses are tainted. Wherefore keep strict guard upon the portals of your houses with bolts and bars."

Bolts and bars were what the gallant Greek men kept their wives under, hence this custom too is here slyly justified out of a woman's mouth. And thus it goes on throughout the pages of Euripides. Iphigenia, in one of the two plays devoted to her, declares: "Not that I shrink from death, if die I must,—when I have saved thee; no, indeed! for a man's loss from his family is felt, while a woman's is of little moment." In the other she declares that one man is worth a myriad of Women—[Greek: heis g' anaer kreisson gunaikon murion]—wherefore, as soon as she realizes the situation at Aulis, she expresses her willingness to be immolated on the altar in order that the war against Troy may no longer be delayed by adverse minds. She had, however, come for a very different purpose, having been, with her queen mother, inveigled from home under the pretext that Achilles was to make her his wife. Achilles, however, knew as little of the plot as she did, and he is much surprised when the queen refers to his impending marriage. A modern poet would have seen here a splendid, seemingly inevitable, opportunity for a story of romantic love. He would have made Achilles fall in love at sight of Iphigenia and resolve to save her life, if need be at the cost of his own. What use does Euripides make of this opportunity? In his play Achilles does not see the girl till toward the close of the tragedy. He promises her unhappy mother that "never shall thy daughter, after being once called my bride, die by her father's hand;" But his reason for this is not love for a girl or a chivalrous attitude toward women in distress, but offended vanity. "It is not to secure a bride that I have spoken thus," he exclaims; "there be maids unnumbered, eager to have my love—no! but King Agamemnon has put an insult on me; he should have asked my leave to use my name as a means to catch the child." In that case he "would never have refused" to further his fellow-soldiers' common interest by allowing the maiden to be sacrificed.

It is true that after Iphigenia has made her brave speech declaring that a woman's life was of no account anyway, and that she had resolved to die voluntarily for the army's sake, Achilles assumes a different attitude, declaring,

"Some god was bent on blessing me, could I but have won thee for my wife.... But now that I have looked into thy noble nature, I feel still more a fond desire to win thee for my bride,"

and promising to protect her against the whole army. But what was it in Iphigenia that thus aroused his admiration? A feminine trait, such as would impress a modern romantic lover? Not in the least. He admired her because, like a man, she offered to lay down her life in behalf of the manly virtue of patriotism. Greek men admired women only in so far as they resembled men; a truth to which I shall recur on another page.

It would be foolish to chide Euripides for not making of this tragedy a story of romantic love; he was a Greek and could not lift himself above his times by a miracle. To him, as to all his contemporaries, love was not a sentiment, "an illumination of the senses by the soul," an impulse to noble actions, but a common appetite, apt to become a species of madness, a disease. His Hippolytus is a study of this disease, unpleasant but striking; it has for its subject the lawless pathologic love of Phaedra for her step-son. She is "seized with wild desire;" she "pines away in silence, moaning beneath love's cruel scourge;" she "wastes away on a bed of sickness;" denies herself all food, eager to reach death's cheerless bourn; a canker wastes her fading charms; she is "stricken by some demon's curse;" from her eyes the tear-drops stream, and for very shame she turns them away; on her soul "there rests a stain;" she knows that to yield to her "sickly passion" would be "infamous;" yet she cannot suppress her wanton thoughts. Following the topsy-turvy, unchivalrous custom of the Greek poets, Euripides makes a woman—"a thing the world detests"—the victim of this mad passion, opposing to it the coy resistance of a man, a devotee of the chaste Diana. And at the end he makes Phaedra, before committing suicide, write an infamous letter which, to save her reputation, dooms to a cruel death the innocent victim of her infatuation.

To us, this last touch alone would demonstrate the worldwide difference between lust and love. But Euripides knows no such difference. To him there is only one kind of love, and it varies only in being moderate in some cases, excessive in others. Love is "at once the sweetest and the bitterest thing," according as it is one or the other of the two. Phaedra's nurse deplores her passion, chiefly because of its violence. The chorus in Medea (627 seqq.) sings:

"When in excess and past all limits Love doth come, he brings not glory or repute to man; but if the Cyprian queen in moderate might approach, no goddess is so full of charm as she."

And in Iphigenia at Aulis the chorus declares:

"Happy they who find the goddess come in moderate might, sharing with self-restraint in Aphrodite's gift of marriage and enjoying calm and rest from frenzied passions.... Be mine delight in moderate and hallowed [Greek: hosioi] desires, and may I have a share in love, but shun excess therein."

To Euripides, as to all the Greeks, there is no difference in the loves of gods and goddesses or kings and queens on the one hand, and the lowest animals on the other. As the chorus sings in Hippolytus:

"O'er the land and booming deep, on golden pinion borne, flits the god of love, maddening the heart and beguiling the senses of all whom he attacks, savage whelps on mountains bred, ocean's monsters, creatures of this sun-warmed earth, and man; thine, O Cypris, thine alone, the sovereign power to rule them all."[304]


The Greeks, instead of confuting my theory that romantic love is the last product of civilization, afford the most striking confirmation of it. While considering the love-affairs of Africans, Australians, and other uncivilized peoples, we were dealing with races whose lack of intelligence and delicacy in general made it natural to expect that their love, too, must be wanting in psychic qualities and refinement. But the Greeks were of a different calibre. Not only their men of affairs—generals and statesmen—but their men of thought and feeling—philosophers and poets—were among the greatest the world has ever seen; yet these philosophers and poets—who, as everywhere, must have been far above the emotional level of their countrymen in general—knew nothing of romantic love. What makes this the more remarkable is that, so far as their minds were concerned, they were quite capable of experiencing such a feeling. Indeed, they were actually familiar with the psychic and altruistic ingredients of love; sympathy, devotion, self-sacrifice, affection, are sometimes manifested in their dramas and stories when dealing with the love between parents and children, brothers and sisters, or pairs of friends like Orestes and Pylades. And strangest of all, they actually had a kind of romantic love, which, except for one circumstance, is much like modern romantic love.

Euripides knew this kind of romantic love. Among the fragments that remain to us of his lost tragedies is one from Dictys, in which occurs this sentiment:

"He was my friend, and never did love lead me to folly or to Cypris. Yes, there is another kind of love, love for the soul, honorable, continent, and good. Surely men should have passed a law that only the chaste and self-contained should love, and Cypris [Venus] should have been banished."

Now it is very interesting to note that Euripides was a friend of Socrates, who often declared that his philosophy was the science of love, and whose two pupils, Xenophon and Plato, elucidated this science in several of their works. In Xenophon's Symposium Critobulus declares that he would rather be blind to everything else in the world than not to see his beloved; that he would rather give all he had to the beloved than receive twice the amount from another; rather be the beloved's slave than free alone; rather work and dare for the beloved than live alone in ease and security. For, he continues, the enthusiasm which beauty inspires in lovers

"makes them more generous, more eager to exert themselves, and more ambitious to overcome dangers, nay, it makes them purer and more continent, causing them to avoid even that to which the strongest appetite urges them."

Several of Plato's dialogues, especially the Symposium and Phaedrus, also bear witness to the fact that the Socratic conception of love resembled modern romantic love in its ideal of purity and its altruistic impulses. Especially notable in this respect are the speeches of Phaedrus and Pausanius in the Symposium (175-78), in which love is declared to be the source of the greatest benefits to us. There can be no greater blessing to a young person, we read, than a virtuous lover. Such a lover would rather die a thousand deaths than do a cowardly or dishonorable deed; and love would make an inspired hero out of the veriest coward. "Love will make men dare to die for the beloved—love alone." "The actions of a lover have a grace which ennobles them." "From this point of view a man fairly argues that in Athens to love and be loved is a very honorable thing." "There is a dishonor in being overcome by the love of money, or of wealth, or of political power." "For when the lover and beloved come together ... the lover thinks that he is right in doing any service which he can to his gracious loving one." And in the Republic (VI., 485): "He whose nature is amorous of anything cannot help loving all that belongs or is akin to the object of his affections."[305]

All this, as I have said, suggests romantic love, except for one circumstance—a fatal one, however. Modern romantic love is an ecstatic adoration of a woman by a man or of a man by a woman, whereas the romantic love described by Xenophon and Plato—so-called "Platonic love"—has nothing whatever to do with women. It is a passionate, romantic friendship between men and boys, which (whether it really existed or not) the pupils of Socrates dilate upon as the only noble, exalted form of the passion that is presided over by Eros. On this point they are absolutely explicit. Of course it would not do for a Greek philosopher to deny that a woman may perform the noble act of sacrificing her life for her husband—that is her ideal function, as we have seen—so Alcestis is praised and rewarded for giving up her life; yet Plato tells us distinctly (Symp., 180) that this phase of feminine love is, after all, inferior to that which led Achilles to give his life for the purpose of avenging the death of his friend Patroclus.[306] What chiefly distinguishes the higher love from the lower is, in the opinion of the pupils of Socrates, purity; and this kind of love does not exist, in their opinion, between men and women. In discussing this higher kind of love both Plato and Xenophon consistently and persistently ignore women, and not only do they ignore them, but they deliberately distinguish between two goddesses of love, one of whom, the celestial, presides—not over refined love between men and women, as we would say—but over the friendships between men only, while the feelings toward women are always inspired by the common goddess of sensual love. In Plato's Symposium (181) this point is made clear by Pausanias:

"The Love who is the offspring of the common Aphrodite is essentially common, and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner sort of men feel, and is apt to be of women as well as of youths, and is of the body rather than of the soul.... But the offspring of the heavenly Aphrodite is derived from a mother in whose birth the female has no part,—she is from the male only; this is that love which is of youths, and the goddess being older, there is nothing of wantonness in her."


In thus excluding women from the sphere of pure, super-sensual romantic love, Plato shows himself a Greek to the marrow. In the Greek view, to be a woman was to be inferior to man from every point of view—even personal beauty. Plato's writings abound in passages which reveal his lofty contempt for women. In the Laws (VI., 781) he declares that "women are accustomed to creep into dark places, and when dragged out into the light they will exert their utmost powers of resistance, and be far too much for the legislator." While unfolding, in Timaeus (91), his theory of the creation of man, he says gallantly that "of the men who came into the world, those who were cowards or led unrighteous lives may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation;" and on another page (42) he puts the same idea even more insultingly by writing that the man

"who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed existence. But if he failed in attaining this, at the second birth he would pass into a woman, and if, when in that state of being, he did not desist from evil, he would continually be changed into some brute who resembled him in the evil nature which he had acquired."

In other words, in Plato's mind a woman ranks half-way between a man and a brute. "Woman's nature," he says, "is inferior to that of men in capacity for virtue" (Laws, VI., 781); and his idea of ennobling a woman consists in making her resemble a man, giving her the same education, the same training in athletics and warlike exercises, in wrestling naked with each other, even though the old and ugly would be laughed at (Republic, Bk. V.). Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, will, in his ideal republic, go to war together.

"Let a man go out to war from twenty to sixty years, and for a woman if there appear any need of making use of her in military service, let the time of service be after she shall have brought forth children up to fifty years of age" (Laws, VI., 785).

Having thus abolished woman, except as a breeder of sons, Plato proceeds to eliminate marriage and morality. "The brave man is to have more wives than others, and he is to have first choice in such matters more than others" (Republic, V., 468). All wives, however, must be in common, no man having a monopoly of a woman. Nor must there be any choice or preference for individuals. The mothers are to be arranged by officials, who will see that the good pair with the good, the bad with the bad, the offspring of the latter being destroyed, just as is done in the breeding of animals. Maternal and filial love also must be abolished, infants being taken from their mothers and educated in common. Nor must husband and wife remain together longer than is necessary for the perpetuation of the species. This is the only object of marriage in Plato's opinion; for he recommends (Laws, VI., 784) that if a couple have no children after being married ten years, they should be "divorced for their mutual benefit."

In all history there is not a more extraordinary spectacle than that presented by the greatest philosopher of Greece, proposing in his ideal republic to eliminate every variety of family affection, thus degrading the relations of the sexes to a level inferior in some respects even to that of Australian savages, who at least allow mothers to rear their own children. And this philosopher, the most radical enemy love has ever known—practically a champion of promiscuity—has, by a strange irony of fate, lent his name to the purest and most exalted form of love![307]


Had Plato lived a few centuries earlier he might have visited at least one Greek state where his barbarous ideal of the sexual relations was to a considerable extent realized. The Spartan law-maker Lycurgus shared his views regarding marriage, and had the advantage of being able to enforce them. He, too, believed that human beings should be bred like cattle. He laughed, so Plutarch tells us in his biographic sketch, at those who, while exercising care in raising dogs and horses, allowed unworthy husbands to have offspring. This, in itself, was a praiseworthy thought; but the method adopted by Lycurgus to overcome that objection was subversive of all morality and affection. He considered it advisable that among worthy men there should be a community of wives and children, for which purpose he tried to suppress jealousy, ridiculing those who insisted on a conjugal monopoly and who even engaged in fights on account of it. Elderly men were urged to share their wives with younger men and adopt the children as their own; and if a man considered another's wife particularly prolific or virtuous he was not to hesitate to ask for her. Bridegrooms followed the custom of capturing their brides. An attendant, after cutting off the bride's hair and putting a man's garment on her, left her alone in the dark, whereupon her bridegroom visited her, returning soon, however, to his comrades. For months—sometimes until after children had been born—the husband would thus be unable to see his wife.

Reading Greek literature in the light of modern science, it is interesting to note that we have in the foregoing account unmistakable allusions to several primitive customs which have prevailed among savages and barbarians in all parts of the world.[308] The Greek writers, ignorant of the revelations of anthropology regarding the evolution of human habits, assumed such customs to have been originated by particular lawgivers. This was natural enough and pardonable under the circumstances; but how any modern writer can consider such customs (whether aboriginal or instituted by lawgivers) especially favorable to love, passes my comprehension. Yet one of the best informed of my critics assured me that "in Sparta love was made a part of state policy, and opportunities were contrived for the young men and women to see each other at public games and become enamored." As usual in such cases, the writer ignores the details regarding these Spartan opportunities for seeing one another and falling in love, which would have spoiled his argument by indicating what kind of "love" was in question here.

Plutarch relates that Lycurgus made the girls strip naked and attend certain festivals and dance in that state before the youths, who were also naked. Bachelors who refused to marry were not allowed to attend these dances, which, as Plutarch adds with characteristic Greek naivete, were "a strong incentive to marriage." The erudite C.O. Mueller, in his history of the Doric race (II., 298), while confessing that in all his reading of Greek books he had not come across a single instance of an Athenian in love with a free-born woman and marrying her because of a strong attachment, declares that Sparta was somewhat different, personal attachments having been possible there because the young men and women were brought together at festivals and dances; but he has the acumen to see that this love was "not of a romantic nature."[309]


Romantic love, as distinguished from friendship, is dependent on sexual differentiation, and the highest phases of romantic love are possible only, as we have seen, where the secondary and tertiary sexual qualities, physical and mental, are highly developed. Now the Spartans, besides maintaining all the love-suppressing customs just alluded to, made special and systematic efforts to convert their women into Amazons devoid of all feminine qualities except such as were absolutely necessary for the perpetuation of the species. One of the avowed objects of making girls dance naked in the presence of men was to destroy what they considered as effeminate modesty. The law which forbade husbands to associate with their wives in the daytime prevented the growth of any sentimental, sympathetic attachment between husband and wife. Even maternal feeling was suppressed, as far as possible, Spartan mothers being taught to feel proud and happy if their sons fell in battle, disgraced and unhappy if they survived in case of defeat. The sole object, in brief, of Spartan institutions relating to women was to rear a breed of healthy animals for the purpose of supplying the state with warriors. Not love, but patriotism, was the underlying motive of these institutions. To patriotism, the most masculine of all virtues, the lives of these women were immolated, and what made it worse was that, while they were reared as men, these women could not share the honors of men. Brought up as warriors, they were still despised by the warriors, who, when they wanted companionship, always sought it in association with comrades of their own sex. In a word, instead of honoring the female sex, the Spartans suppressed and dishonored it. But they brought on their own punishment; for the women, being left in charge of affairs at home during the frequent absence of their warlike husbands and sons, learned to command slaves, and, after the manner of the African Amazons we have read about, soon tried to lord it over their husbands too.

And this utter suppression of femininity, this glorification of the Amazon—a being as repulsive to every refined mind as an effeminate man—has been lauded by a host of writers as emancipation and progress!

"If your reputation for prowess and the battles you have fought were taken away from you Spartans, in all else, be very sure, you have not your inferiors," exclaims Peleus in the Andromache of Euripides, thus summing up Athenian opinion on Sparta. There was, however, one other respect in which the enemies of Sparta admired her. C.O. Mueller alludes to it in the following (II., 304):

"Little as the Athenians esteemed their own women, they involuntarily revered the heroines of Sparta, such as Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas; Lampito, the daughter of Leotychidas, the wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis."

This is not surprising, for in Athens, as among the Spartans and all other Greeks, patriotism was the supreme virtue, and women could be compared with men only in so far as they had the opportunity and courage to participate in this masculine virtue. Aristotle appears to have been the only Greek philosopher who recognized the fact that "each sex has its own peculiar virtues in which the other rejoices;" yet there is no indication that even he meant by this anything more than the qualities in a woman of being a good nurse and a chaste housemaid.[310] Plato, as we have seen, considered woman inferior to man because she lacked the masculine qualities which he would have liked to educate into her; and this remained the Greek attitude to the end, as we realize vividly on reading the special treatise of Plutarch—who flourished nearly half a thousand years after Plato—On the Virtues of Women, in which, by way of proving "that the virtues of a man and a woman do not differ," a number of stories are told of heroic deeds, military, patriotic, and otherwise, performed by women.

Greek ideas on womanhood are admirably symbolized in their theology. Of their four principal goddesses—using the more familiar Latin names—Juno is a shrew, Venus a wanton, while Minerva and Diana are Amazons or hermaphrodites—masculine minds in female bodies. In Juno, as Gladstone has aptly said, the feminine character is strongly marked; but, as he himself is obliged to admit, "by no means on its higher side." Regarding Minerva, he remarks with equal aptness that "she is a goddess, not a god; but she has nothing of sex except the gender, nothing of the woman except the form." She is the goddess, among other things, of war. Diana spends all her time hunting and slaughtering animals, and she is not only a perpetual virgin but ascetically averse to love and feminine tenderness—as unsympathetic a being as was ever conceived by human imagination—as unnatural and ludicrous as her devotee, the Hippolytus of Euripides. She is the Amazon of Amazons, and was represented dressed as an Amazon. Of course she is pictured as the tallest of women, and it is in regard to the question of stature that the Greeks once more betray their ultra-masculine inability to appreciate true femininity; as, for example, in the stupid remark of Aristotle (Eth. Nicom., IV., 7), [Greek: to kallos en megalo somati, hoi mikroi d' asteioi kai summetroi, kaloi d' ou.]—"beauty consists in a large body; the petite are pretty and symmetrical, but not beautiful."[311]


Both Diana and Venus were brought to Greece from Asia. Indeed, when we examine Greek life in the light of comparative Culturgeschichte, we find a surprising prevalence of Oriental customs and ideas, especially in Athens, and particularly in the treatment of women. In this respect Athens is the antipode of Sparta. While at Sparta the women wrestled naked with the men, in Athens the women were not even permitted to witness their games. The Athenians moreover had very decided opinions about the effect of Spartan customs. The beautiful Helen who caused the Trojan war by her adulterous elopement was a Spartan, and the Athenian Euripides makes Peleus taunt her husband Menelaus in these words:

"Thou who didst let a Phrygian rob thee of thy wife, leaving thy home without bolt or guard, as if forsooth the cursed woman thou hadst was a model of virtue. No! a Spartan maid could not be chaste, e'en if she would, who leaves her home and bares her limbs and lets her robe float free, to share with youth their races and their sports—customs I cannot away with. Is it any wonder that ye fail to educate your women in virtue?"

The Athenian, to be sure, did not any more than the Spartan educate his women in virtue. What he did was to compel them to be virtuous by locking them up in the Oriental style. Unlike the Spartan, the Athenian had a regard for paternity and genealogy, and the only way he knew to insure it was the Asiatic. He failed to make the discovery that the best safeguard of woman's virtue is education—as witness America; and to this failure is due to a large extent the collapse of Greek civilization. Athenian women were more chaste than Spartans because they had to be, and they were superior also in being less masculine; but the topsy-turvy Athenian men looked down on them because they were not more masculine and because they lacked the education which they themselves perversely refused to give them! Few Athenian women could read or write, nor had they much use for such accomplishments, being practically condemned to life-long imprisonment. The men indorsed the Oriental idea that educating a woman is an unwise and reprehensible thing.[312]

Widely as the Athenian way of treating women differed from the Spartan, the result was the same—the frustration of pure love. The girls were married off in their early teens, before what little mind they had was developed, to men whom they had never seen before, and in the selection of whom they were not consulted; the result being, in the words of a famous orator, that the men married respectable women for the sake of rearing legitimate offspring, keeping concubines for the daily wants and care of the body, and associating with hetairai for pleasant companionship. Hence, as Becker justly remarks (III., 337), though we come across stories of passionate love in the pages of Terence (i.e. Menander) and other Greek writers, "sensuality was always the soil from which such passion sprang, and none other than a sensual love between a man and a woman was even acknowledged."


Although dogs are the most intelligent of all animals and at the same time proverbial for their faithful attachment to their masters, they are nevertheless, as I have before pointed out, in their sexual relations utterly incapable of that approximation to conjugal love which we find instinctive in some birds. Most readers of this book, too, are probably acquainted with men and women, who while highly educated and refined, as well as devoted to the members of their family, are strangers to romantic love; and I have pointed out (302) that men of genius may in this respect be in the same boat as ordinary mortals. In view of these considerations, and of the rarity of true love even in modern Europe and America, it surely is not unnatural or reckless to assume that there may have been whole nations in this predicament, though they were as advanced in many other respects as were the Greeks and as capable of other forms of domestic attachment. Yet, as I remarked on page 6, several writers, including so eminent a thinker as Professor William James, have held that the Greeks could have differed from us only in their ideas about love, and not in their feelings themselves. "It is incredible," he remarks in the review referred to,

"that individual women should not at all times have had the power to fill individual manly breasts with enchanted respect.... So powerful and instinctive, an emotion can never have been recently evolved. But our ideas about our emotions, and the esteem in which we hold them, differ very much from one generation to another."

In the next paragraph he admits, however, that "no doubt the way in which we think about our emotions reacts on the emotions themselves, dampening or inflaming them, as the case may be;" and in this admission he really concedes the whole matter. The main object of my chapter "How Sentiments Change and Grow" is to show how men's ideas regarding nature, religion, murder, polygamy, modesty, chastity, incest, affect and modify their feelings in relation to them, thus furnishing indirectly a complete answer to the objection made to my theory.[313]

Now the ideas which the Greeks had about their women could not but dampen any elevated feelings of love that might otherwise have sprung up in them. Their literature attests that they considered love a degrading, sensual passion, not an ennobling, supersensual sentiment, as we do. With such an idea how could they have possibly felt toward women as we do? With the idea firmly implanted in their minds that women are in every respect the inferiors of men, how could they have experienced that emotional state of ecstatic adoration and worship of the beloved which is the very essence of romantic love? Of necessity, purity and adoration were thus entirely eliminated from such love as they were capable of feeling toward women. Nor can they, though noted for their enthusiasm for beautiful human forms, have risen above sensualism in the admiration of the personal beauty of women; for since their girls were left to grow up in utter ignorance, neither their faces nor their minds can have been of the kind which inspires supersensual love. With boys it was different. They were educated mentally as well as physically, and hence as Winckelmann—himself a Greek in this respect—has remarked, "the supreme beauty of Greek art is male rather than female." If the healthy Greek mind could be so utterly different from the healthy modern mind in regard to the love of boys, why not in regard to the love of women? The perverseness of the Greeks in this respect was so great that, as we have seen, they not only adored boys while despising women, but preferred masculine women to feminine women.

But the most serious oversight of the champions of Greek love is that they regard love as merely an emotion, or group of emotions, whereas, as I have shown, its most essential ingredients and only safe criteria are the altruistic impulses of gallantry and self-sacrifice, allied with sympathy and affection. That there was no gallantry and self-sacrifice in Greek love of women I have already indicated (188, 197, 203, 163); and that there was no sympathy in it is obvious from the heartless way in which the men treated the women—in life I mean, not merely in literature—refusing to allow them the least liberty of movement, or choice in marriage, or to give them an education which would have enabled them to enjoy the higher pleasures of life on their own account. As for affection, it is needless to add that it cannot exist where there is no sympathy, no gallant kindness and courtesy, and no willingness to sacrifice one's selfish comfort or pleasures for another.

Of course we know all these things only on the testimony of Greek literature; but it would surely be the most extraordinary thing in the world if these altruistic impulses had existed in Greek life, and Greek literature had persistently and absolutely ignored them, while on the other hand it is constantly harping on the other ingredients of love which also accompany lust. If literature has any historic value at all, if we can ever regard it as a mirror of life, we are entitled to the inference that romantic love was unknown to the Greeks of Europe, whereas the caresses and refinements and ardent longings of sensual love—including hyperbole and the mixed moods of hope and despair—-were familiar to them and are often expressed by them in poetic language (see 137, 140-44, 295, 299). I say the Greeks of Europe, to distinguish them from those of Greater Greece, whose capacities for love we still have to consider.


It is amusing to note the difference of opinion prevailing among the champions of Greek love as to the time when it began to be sentimental and "modern." Some boldly go back to Homer, at the threshold of literature. Many begin with Sappho, some with Sophocles, and a host with Euripides. Menander is the starting-point to others, while Benecke has written a book to prove that the credit of inventing modern love belongs to Antimachus of Colophon. The majority hesitate to go back farther than the Alexandrian school of the fourth century before Christ, while some modestly content themselves with the romancers of the fourth or fifth centuries after Christ—thus allowing a latitude of twelve or thirteen hundred years to choose from.

We for our part, having applied our improved chemical test to such love as is recorded in the prose and verse of Classical Greece, and having found the elements of romantic sentiment missing, must now examine briefly what traces of it may occur in the much-vaunted erotic poems and stories of Greater Greece, notably the capital of Egypt in the third century before Christ.

It is true that of the principal poets of the Alexandrian school—Theocritus, Callimachus, and Apollonius—only the last named was probably a native of Alexandria; but the others made it their home and sphere of influence, being attracted by the great library, which contained all the treasures of Greek literature, and other inducements which the Ptolemies held out to men of letters. Thus it is permissible to speak of an African or Alexandrian period of Greek literature, all the more as the cosmopolitan influences at work at Alexandria gave this literature a peculiar character of its own, erotically as well as otherwise, which tinged Greek writings from that time on.

In reading Homer we are struck by the utter absence not only of stories of romantic love but of romantic love-stories. Even the relations of Achilles and Briseis, which offered such fine romantic opportunities, are treated in an amazingly prosaic manner. An emphatic change in this respect is hardly to be noted till we come to Euripides, who, though ignorant of romantic love, gave women and their feelings more attention than they had previously received in literature. Aristophanes, in several of his plays, gave vent to his indignation at this new departure, but the tendency continued in the New Comedy (Menander and others), which gave up the everlasting Homeric heroes and introduced everyday contemporary scenes and people. Thus the soil was prepared for the Alexandrians, but it was with them that the new plant reached its full growth. Not content with following the example of the New Comedy, they took up the Homeric personages again, gods as well as heroes, but in a very different fashion from that of their predecessors, proceeding to sentimentalize them to their hearts' content, the gods being represented as sharing all the amorous weaknesses of mortals, differing from them only, as Rohde remarks (107), in being even more fickle than they, eternally changing their loves.

The infusion of this romantic spirit into the dry old myths undoubtedly brings the poems and stories of the Alexandrians and their imitators a step nearer to modern conditions. The poets of the Alexandrian period must also be credited with being the first who made love (sensual love, I mean)—which had played so subordinate a role in the old epics and tragedies—the central feature of interest, thus setting a fashion which has continued without interruption to the present day. As Couat puts it, with the pardonable exaggeration of a specialist (155): "Les Alexandrins n'ont pas invente l'amour dans la litterature ... mais ils ont cree la litterature de l'amour." Their way of treating love was followed in detail by the Roman poets, especially Ovid, Catullus, Propertius, and Tibullus, and by the Greek novelists, Xenophon Ephesius, Heliodorus, Achilles Tatius, Chariton, Longus, etc., up to the fourth or fifth centuries (dates are uncertain) of our era.

There is a "suprising similarity" in the descriptions of love-affairs by all these writers, as is noted by Rohde, who devotes twenty pages (145-165, chiefly foot-notes, after the fashion of German professors) to detailed proof of his assertion. The substance of these pages, may, however be summed up very briefly, under seventeen heads. In all these writings, if the girl is represented as being respectable, (1) the lovers meet or see each other for the first time at religious festivals, as those were practically the only occasions where such women could appear in public. (2) The love is sudden, at first sight, no other being possible under circumstances that permit of no prolonged courtship. (3) The youth is represented as having previously felt a coy, proud aversion to the goddess of love, who now avenges herself by smiting him with a violent, maddening passion. (4) The love is mutual, and it finds its way to the heart through the eyes. (5) Cupid with his arrows, urged on by Venus, is gradually relegated to the background as a shadowy abstraction. (6) Both the youth and the maiden are extraordinarily beautiful. No attempt is made, however, to describe the points of beauty in detail, after the dry fashion of the Oriental and the later Byzantine authors. Hyperbole is used in comparing the complexion to snow, the cheeks to roses, etc; but the favorite way of picturing a youth or maiden is to compare the same to some one of the gods or goddesses who were types familiar to all through pictures and statues—a characteristically Greek device, going back as far as Hesiod and Homer. (7) The passion of the lovers is a genuine disease, which (8) monopolizes their souls, and (9) makes them neglect the care of the body, (10) makes pallor alternate with blushes, (11) deprives them of sleep, or fills their dreams with the beloved; (12) it urges them to seek solitude, and (13) to tell their woes to the trees and rocks, which (14) are supposed to sympathize with them. (15) The passion is incurable, even wine, the remedy for other cares, serving only to aggravate it. (16) Like Orientals, the lovers may swoon away or fall into dangerous illness. (17) The lover cuts the beloved's name into trees, follows her footsteps, consults the flower oracle, wishes he were a bee so he could fly to her, and at the banquet puts his lips to the spot where she drank from the cup.

Having finished his list of erotic traits, Rohde confesses frankly that it "embraces, to be sure, only a limited number of the simplest symptoms of love." But instead of drawing therefrom the obvious inference that love which has no other symptoms than those is very far from being like modern love, he adds perversely and illogically that "in its essential traits, this passion is presumably the same at all times and with all nations."[314]


It is in the Alexandrian period of Greek literature and art that, according to Helbig (194), "we first meet traits that suggest the adoration of women (Frauencultus) and gallantry." This opinion is widely prevalent, a special instance being that ecstatic exclamation of Professor Ebers: "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?" In reality this act was inspired by selfish adulation and had not the remotest connection with love.

The story in brief is as follows: Shortly after his marriage to Berenice, Ptolemy went on an expedition into Syria. To insure his safe return to Egypt Berenice vowed to consecrate her beautiful hair to Venus. On his return she fulfilled her vow in the temple; but on the following day her hair could not be found. To console the king and the queen, and to conciliate the royal favor, the astronomer Conon declared that the locks of Berenice had been removed by divine interposition and transferred to the skies in the form of a constellation.[315]

A still more amusing instance of Alexandrian "gallantry" is to be found in the case of the queen Stratonice, whose court-poets were called upon to compete with each other in singing of the beauty of her locks. The fact that she was bald, did not, as a matter of course, make the slightest difference in this kind of homage.

Unlike his colleagues, Rohde was not misled into accepting such adulation of queens as evidence of adoration of women in general. In several pages of admirable erudition (63-69), which I commend to all students of the subject, he exposes the hollowness and artificiality of this so-called Alexandrian chivalry. Fashion ordained that poems should be addressed to women of exalted rank:

"As the queens were, like the kings, enrolled among the gods, the court-poets, of course, were not allowed to neglect the praise of the queens, and they were called upon to celebrate the royal weddings;[316] nay, in the extravagance of their gallant homage they rose to a level of bad taste the pinnacle of which was reached by Callimachus in his elegy—so well-known through the imitation of Catullus—on the hair of queen Berenice placed among the constellations by the courtesy of the astronomer Conon."

He then proceeds to explain that we must be careful not to infer from such a courtly custom that other women enjoyed the freedom and influence of the queen or shared their compliments.

"In actual life a certain chivalrous attitude toward women existed at most toward hetairai, in which case, as a matter of course, it was adulterated with a very unpleasant ingredient of frivolous sentimentality.... Of an essential change in the position of respectable girls and women there is no indication."

Though there were a number of learned viragoes, there is "absolutely no evidence" that women in general received the compliment and benefit of an education. The poems of Philetas and Callimachus, like those of Propertius and Ovid, so far as they referred to women, appealed only to the wanton hetairai. As late as our first century Plutarch felt called upon to write a treatise, oti kai gunaikas paideuteon—"that women too should be educated." Cornelius Nepos still speaks of the gynaikonitis as the place where women spend their time.

"In particular, the emancipation of virgins from the seclusion of their jealous confinement would have implied a revolution in all social arrangements of the Greeks of which we have no intimation anywhere,"

including Alexandria (69). In another chapter, Rohde comments (354-356) with documentary proof, on the "extraordinary tenacity," with which the Greeks down to the latest periods of their literature, clung to their custom of regarding and treating women as inferiors and servants—a custom which precluded the possibility of true chivalry and adoration. That sympathy also—and consequently true, altruistic affection—continued to be wanting in their emotional life is indicated by the fact, also pointed out by Rohde, that "the most palpable mark of a higher respect," an education, was withheld from the women to the end of the Hellenic period.[317]


Another current error regarding the Alexandrian period both in Egypt and in Greece (Menander and the New Comedy) is that a regard for purity enters as a new element into its literature. It does, in some instances, less, however, as a virtue than as a bonne bouche for epicures,[318] as is made most patent in that offshoot of the Alexandrian manner, the abominably raffine story of Daphnis and Chloe. There may also be traces of that "longing for an ennobling of the passion of love" of which Rohde speaks (though I have not found any in my own reading, and the professor, contrary to his favorite usage, gives no references); but apart from that, the later Greek literature differs from the older not in being purer, but by its coarse and shameless eroticism, both unnatural and natural. The old epics and tragedies are models of purity in comparison, though Euripides set a bad example in his Hippolytus, and still more his Aeolus, the coarse incestuous passion of which was particularly admired and imitated by the later writers.[319] Aristophanes is proverbial for his unspeakable license and obscenity. Concerning the plays of Menander (more than a hundred, of which only fragments have come down to us and Latin versions of several by Terence and Plautus), Plutarch tells us, indeed, that they were all tied together by one bond—love; but it was love in the only sense known to the Greeks, and always involving a hetaira or at most a [Greek: pseudokorae] or demie-vierge, since respectable girls could not be involved in realistic Greek love-affairs.

Professor Gercke has well remarked (141) that the charm of elegance with which Menander covers up his moral rottenness, and which made him the favorite of the jeunesse doree of his time, exerted a bad influence on the stage through many centuries. There are a few quasi-altruistic expressions in the plays of Terence and Plautus, but they are not supported by actions and do not reach beyond the sphere of sentimentality into that of sentiment. Here again I may adduce Rohde as an unbiassed witness. While declaring that there is "a longing for the ennobling of the passion in actual life" he admits that

"really sentimental effusions of love are strikingly rare in Plautus and Terence.[320] One might think the authors of the Latin versions had omitted the sentimental passages, were it not that in the remnants of the Newer Comedy of the Attic writers themselves there are, apart from general references to Eros, no traces whatever of sentimental allusions."[321]


Let us now return from Athens and Rome to Alexandria, to see whether we can find a purer and more genuinely romantic atmosphere in the works of her leading poets. Of these the first in time and fame is Theocritus. He, like Sappho, has been lauded as a poet of love; and he does resemble Sappho in two respects. Like her, he often glorifies unnatural passion in a way which, as in the twelfth and twenty-third Idyls, for example, tempts every normal person who can read the original to throw the whole book away in disgust. Like Sappho and the Hindoos (and some modern Critics) he also seems to imagine that the chief symptoms of love are emaciation, perspiration, and paralysis, as we see in the absurdly overrated second Idyl, of which I have already spoken (116). Lines 87-88 of Idyl I., lines 139-142 of Idyl II., and the whole of Idyl XXVII., practically sum up the conception of love prevailing in the bucolic school of Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, except that Theocritus has an idea of the value of coyness and jealousy as stimulants of passion, as Idyl VI. shows. Crude coyness and rude jealousy no doubt were known also to the rustic folk he sings about; but when he makes that ugly, clumsy, one-eyed monster, the Cyclops Polyphemus, fall in love with the sea-nymph Galatea (Idyl XI.) and lament that he was not born with fins that he might dive and kiss her hand if his lips she refused, he applies Alexandrian pseudo-gallantry to pastoral conditions where they are ludicrously out of place. The kind of "gallantry" really to be expected under these conditions is realistically indicated in Idyl XIV., where Aeschines, after declaring that he shall go mad some day because the beautiful Cyniska flouted him, tells his friend how, in a fit of jealousy, he had struck the girl on the cheek twice with clenched fist, while she was sitting at his own table. Thereupon she left him, and now he laments: "If I could only find a cure for my love!"

Another quaintly realistic touch occurs in the line (Idyl II.) in which Battis declares that Amaryllis, when she died, was as dear to him as his goats. In this line, no doubt, we have the supreme ideal of Sicilian pastoral love; nor is there a line which indicates that Theocritus himself knew any higher phases of love than those which he embodies in his shepherds. In a writer who has so many poetic charms[322] this may seem strange, but it simply bears out my theory that romantic love is one of the latest products of civilization—as late as the love of romantic scenery, which we do not find in Theocritus, though he writes charmingly of other kinds of scenery—of cool fountains, shady groves, pastures with cattle, apple trees, and other things that please the senses of man—as women do while they are young and pretty.

Callimachus, the younger contemporary of Theocritus, is another Alexandrian whose importance in the history of love has been exaggerated. His fame rests chiefly on the story of Acontius and Cydippe which occurred in the collection of legends and tales he had brought together in his [Greek: Aitia]. His own version is now lost, like most of his other works; and such fragments of the story as remain would not suffice for the purpose of reconstruction were we not aided by the two epistles which the lovers exchange with each other in the Heroides of Ovid, and more still by the prose version of Aristaenetus, which appears to be quite literal, judging by the correspondence of the text with some of the extant fragments of the original.[323] The story can be related in a few lines. Acontius and Cydippe are both very beautiful and have both been coy to others of the opposite sex. As a punishment they are made to fall in love with each other at first sight in the Temple of Diana. It is a law of this temple that any vow made in it must be kept. To secure the girl, Acontius therefore takes an apple, writes on it a vow that she will be his bride and throws it at her feet. She picks it up, reads the vow aloud and thus pledges herself. Her parents, some time after, want to marry her to another man; three times the wedding arrangements are made, but each time she falls ill. Finally the oracle at Delphi is consulted, which declares that the girl's illness is due to her not keeping her vow; whereupon explanations follow and the lovers are united.

In the literary history of love this story may be allowed a conspicuous place for the reason that, as Mahaffy remarks (G.L. & T., 230), it is the first literary original of that sort of tale which makes falling in love and happy marriage the beginning and the end, while the obstacles to this union form the details of the plot. Moreover, as Couat points out (145), the later Greek romances are mere imitations of this Alexandrian elegy—Hero and Leander, Leucippe and Clitophon, and other stories all recall it. But from my point of view—the evolutionary and psychological—I cannot see that the story told by Callimachus marks any advance. The lovers see each other only a moment in the temple; they do not meet afterward, there is no real courtship, they have no chance to get acquainted with each other's mind and character, and there is no indication whatever of supersensual, altruistic affection. Nor was Callimachus the man from whom one would have expected a new gospel of love. He was a dry old librarian, without originality, a compiler of catalogues and legends, etc.—eight hundred works all told—in which even the stories were marred by details of pedantic erudition. Moreover, there is ample evidence in the extant epigrams that he did not differ from his contemporaries and predecessors in the theory and practice of love. Instead of having the modern feeling of abhorrence toward any suggestion of [Greek: paiderastia], he glorified it in the usual Greek style. The fame he enjoyed as an erotic poet among the coarse and unprincipled Roman bards does not redound to his credit, and he himself tells us unmistakably what he means by love when he calls it a [Greek: philopaida noson] and declares that fasting is a sure remedy for it (Epigr., 47).


Another writer of this period who has been unduly extolled for his insight into the mysteries of love, is Apollonius Rhodius, concerning whom Professor Murray goes so far as to say (382), that "for romantic love on the higher side he is without a peer even in the age of Theocritus."(!) He owes this fame to the story of Medea and Jason, introduced in the third book of his version of the Argonautic expedition (275 seq.). It begins in the old-fashioned way with Cupid shooting his arrow at Medea's heart, in which forthwith the destructive passion glows. Blushes and pallor alternate in her face, and her breast heaves fast and deep as she incessantly stares at Jason with flaming eyes. She remembers afterwards every detail about his looks and dress, and how he sat and walked. Unlike all other men he seemed to her. Tears run down her cheeks at the thought that he might succumb in his combat with the two terrible bulls he will have to tame before he can recover the Golden Fleece. Even in her dreams she suffers tortures, if she is able to sleep at all. She is distracted by conflicting desires. Should she give him the magic salve which would protect his body from harm, or let him die, and die with him? Should she give up her home, her family, her honor, for his sake and become the topic of scandalous gossip? or should she end it all by committing suicide? She is on the point of doing so when the thought of all the joys of life makes her hesitate and change her mind. She resolves to see Jason alone and give him the ointment. A secret meeting is arranged in the temple of Hecate. She gets there first, and while waiting every sound of footsteps makes her bosom heave. At last he comes and at sight of him her cheek flames red, her eyes grow dim, consciousness seems to leave her, and she is fixed to the ground unable to move forward or backward. After Jason has spoken to her, assuring her that the gods themselves would reward her for saving the lives of so many brave men, she takes the salve from her bosom, and she would have plucked her heart from it to give him had he asked for it. The eyes of both are modestly turned to the ground, but when they meet longing speaks from them. Then, after explaining to him the use of the salve, she seizes his hand and begs him after he shall have reached his home again, to remember her, as she will bear him in mind, even against her parents' wishes. Should he forget her, she hopes messengers will bring news of him, or that she herself may be able to cross the seas and appear an unexpected guest to remind him how she had saved him.

Such was the love of Medea, which historians have proclaimed such a new thing in literature—"romantic love on the higher side." For my part I cannot see in this description—in which no essential trait is omitted—anything different from what we have found in Homer, in Sappho, and in Euripides. The unwomanly lack of coyness which Medea displays when she practically proposes to Jason, expecting him to marry her out of gratitude, is copied after the Nausicaea of the Odyssey. The flaming cheeks, dim eyes, loss of consciousness, and paralysis are copied from Sappho; while the Hippolytus of Euripides furnished the model for the dwelling on the subjective symptoms of the "pernicious passion of love." The stale trick too, of making this love originate in a wound inflicted by Cupid's arrows is everlastingly Greek; and so is the device of representing the woman alone as being consumed by the flames of love. For Jason is about as unlike a modern lover as a caricaturist could make him. His one idea is to save his life and get the Fleece. "Necessity compels me to clasp your knees and ask your aid," he exclaims when he meets her; and when she gives him that broad hint "do not forget me; I shall never forget you," his reply is a long story about his home. Not till after she has threatened to visit him does he declare "But should you come to my home, you would be honored by all ... in that case I hope you may grace my bridal couch." And again in the fourth book he relates that he is taking Medea home to be his wife "in accordance with her wishes!" Without persiflage, his attitude may be summed up in these words: "I come to you because I am in danger of my precious life. Help me to get back the Golden Fleece and I promise you that, on condition that I get home safe and sound, I will condescend to marry you." Is this, perhaps, the "romantic love on the higher side" which Professor Murray found in this story? But there is more to come.

Of the symptoms of love in Medea's heart described in the foregoing paragraph not one rises above that egotistic gloating over the pangs and joys of sensual infatuation which constitute one phase of sentimentality; while the further progress of the story shows that Medea had no idea whatever of sacrificing herself for Jason, but that the one motive of her actions was the eager desire to possess him. When the fugitives are being pursued closely, and the chivalrous Argonauts, afraid to battle with a superior number, propose to retain the Golden Fleece, but to give up Medea and let some other king decide whether she is to be returned to her parents, it never occurs to her that she might save her beloved by going back home. She wants to have him at any cost, or to perish with him; so she reproaches him bitterly for his ingratitude, and meditates the plan of setting fire to the ships and burning him up with all the crew, as well as herself. He tries to pacify her by protesting that he had not quite liked the plan proposed himself, but had indorsed it only to gain time; whereupon she suggests a way out of the dilemma pleasanter to herself, by advising the Argonauts to inveigle her brother, who leads the pursuers, into their power and assassinate him; which they promptly proceed to do, while she stands by with averted eyes. It is with unconscious sarcasm that Apollonius exclaims on the same page where all these details of "romantic love on the higher side" are being unfolded: "Accursed Eros, the world's most direful plague."


The one commendable feature which the stories of Acontius and Cydippe and of Medea and Jason have in common is that the heroine in each case is a respectable and pure maiden (see Argon., IV., 1018-1025). But, although the later romance writers followed this example, it would be a great mistake to suppose, with Mahaffy (272), that this touch of virgin purity was felt by the Alexandrians to be "the necessary starting-point of the love-romance in a refined society." Alexandrian society was anything but refined in matters of love, and the trait referred to stands out by reason of its novelty and isolation in a literature devoted chiefly to the hetairai. We see this especially also in the epigrams of the period. It is astonishing, writes Couat (173), how many of these are erotic; and "almost all," he adds, "are addressed to courtesans or young boys." "Dans toutes l'auteur ne chante que la beaute plastique et les plaisirs faciles; leur Cypris est la Cypris [Greek: pandaemos], celle qui se vend a tout le monde." In these verses of Callimachus, Asclepiades, Poseidippus and others, he finds sentimentality but no sentiment; and on page 62 he sums up Alexandria with French patness as a place "ou l'on faisait assidument des vers sur l'amour sans etre amoureux"—"where they were ever writing love-poems without ever being in love." But what repels modern taste still more than this artificiality and lack of inspiration is the effeminate degradation of the masculine type most admired. Helbig, who, in his book on Campanische Wandmalerei, enforces the testimony of literature with the inferences that can be drawn from mural paintings and vases, remarks (258) that the favorite poetic ideals of the time are tender youths with milk-white complexion, rosy cheeks and long, soft tresses. Thus is Apollo represented by Callimachus, thus even Achilles by the bucolic poets. In later representations indicating Alexandrian influences we actually see Polyphemus no longer as a rude giant, but as a handsome man, or even as a beardless youth.[324]

That the Alexandrian period, far from marking the advent of purity and refinement in literature and life, really represents the climax of degradation, is made most obvious when we regard the role which the hetairai played in social life. In Alexandria and at Athens they were the centre of attraction at all the entertainments of the young men, and to some of them great honors were paid. In the time of Polybius the most beautiful houses in Alexandria were named after flute girls; portrait statues of such were placed in temples and other public places, by the side of those of generals and statesmen, and there were few prominent men whose names were not associated with these creatures.

The opinion has been promulgated countless times that these [Greek: hetairai] were a mentally superior class of women, and on the strength of this information I assumed, in Romantic Love and Personal Beauty (79), that, notwithstanding their frailty, they may have been able, in some cases, to inspire a more refined, spiritual sort of love than the uneducated domestic women. A study of the original sources has now convinced me that this was a mistake. Aspasia no doubt was a remarkable woman, but she stands entirely by herself, Theodota is visited once by Socrates, but he excuses himself from calling again, and as for Diotima, she is a seeress rather than a hetaira. Athenaeus informs us that some of these women

"had a great opinion of themselves, paying attention to education and spending a part of their time on literature; so that they were very ready with their rejoinders and replies;"

but the specimens he gives of these rejoinders and replies consist chiefly of obscene jokes, cheap puns on names or pointless witticisms. Here are two specimens of the better kind, relating to Gnathaena, who was famed for her repartee:

"Once, when a man came to see her and saw some eggs on a dish, and said, 'Are these raw, Gnathaena, or boiled?' she replied, 'They are made of brass, my boy.'" "On one occasion, when some poor lovers of the daughter of Gnathaena came to feast at her house, and threatened to throw it down, saying that they had brought spades and mattocks on purpose; 'But,' said Gnathaena, 'if you had these implements, you should have pawned them and brought some money with you.'"

The pictures of the utter degradation of the most famous of the hetairai—Leontium, Lais, Phryne, and others, drawn by Athenaeus, need not be transferred to these pages. Combined with the revelations made in Lucian's [Greek: Etairikoi dialogoi], they demonstrate absolutely that these degraded, mercenary, mawkish creatures could not have inspired romantic sentiment in the hearts of the men, even if the latter had been capable of it.

It is to such vulgar persons that the poets of classical Greece and Alexandria addressed their verses. And herein they were followed by those of the Latins who may be regarded as imitators of the Alexandrians—Catullus, Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid, the principal erotic poets of Rome. They wrote all their love-poems to, for, or about, a class of women corresponding to the Greek hetairai. Of Ovid I have already spoken (189), and what I said of him practically applies to the others. Propertius not only writes with the hetairai in his mind, but, like his Alexandrian models, he appears as one who is forever writing love-poems without ever being really in love. With Catullus the sensual passion at least is sincere. Yet even Professor Sellar, who declares that he is, "with the exception perhaps of Sappho, the greatest and truest of all the ancient poets of love," is obliged to admit that he "has not the romance and purity of modern sentiment" (349, 22). Like the Greeks, he had a vague idea that there is something higher than sensual passion, but, like a Greek, in expressing it, he ignores women as a matter of course. "There was a time," he writes to his profligate Lesbia, "when I loved you not as a man loves his mistress, but as a father loves his son or his son-in-law"!

Dicebas quondam solum te nosse Catullum, Lesbia, nee prae me velle tenere Iovem. Dilexi tum te non ut volgus amicam, Sed pater ut gnatos diligit et generos.

In Tibullus there is a note of tenderness which, however, is a mark of effeminacy rather than of an improved manliness. His passion is fickle, his adoration little more than adulation, and the expressions of unselfish devotion here and there do not mean more than the altiloquent words of Achilles about Briseis or of Admetus about Alcestis, for they are not backed up by altruistic actions. In a word, his poems belong to the region of sentimentality, not sentiment. Morally he is as rotten as any of his colleagues. He began his poetic career with a glorification of [Greek: paiderastia], and continued it as an admirer of the most abandoned women. A French author who wrote a history of prostitution in three volumes quite properly devoted a chapter to Tibullus and his love-affairs.[325]


A big volume might be filled with the short love-stories in prose or verse scattered through a thousand years of Greek literature. But, although some of them are quite romantic, I must emphatically reiterate what I said in my first book (76)—that romantic love does not appear in the writings of any Greek author and that the passion of the desperately enamoured young people so often portrayed sprang entirely from sensuality. One of the critics referred to at the beginning of this chapter held me up to the ridicule of the British public because I ignored such romantic love-stories as Orpheus and Eurydice, Alcyone and Ceyx, Atalanta and Meleager, Cephalus and Procris, and "a dozen others" which "any school girl" could tell me. To begin with the one last named, the critic asks: "What can be said against Cephalus and Procris?" A great deal, I am afraid. As told by Antoninus Liberalis in No. 41 of his Metamorphoses ([Greek: metamorphoseon synagogae]) it is one of the most abominable and obscene stories ever penned even by a Greek. Some of the disgusting details are omitted in the versions of Ovid and Hyginus, but in the least offensive version that can be made the story runs thus:

Cephalus, having had experience of woman's unbridled passion, doubts his wife's fidelity and, to test her, disguises himself and offers her a bag of gold. At first she refuses, but when he doubles the sum, she submits, whereupon he throws away his disguise and confronts her with her guilt. Covered with shame, she flies. Afterward she cuts her hair like a man's, changes her clothes so as to be unrecognizable, and joins him in the chase. Being more successful than he, she promises to teach him on a certain condition; and on his assenting, she reveals her identity and accuses him of being just as bad as she was. Another version reads that after their reconciliation she suspected his fidelity on hearing that he used to ascend a hill and cry out "Come, Nephela, come" ([Greek: Nephelae] means cloud). So she went and concealed herself on the hill in a thicket, where her husband accidentally killed her with his javelin.

Is this the kind of Greek "love-stories" that English school girls learn by the dozen? Coarse as it is, the majority of these stories are no better, being absolutely unfit for literal translation, which is doubtless the reason why no publisher has ever brought out a collection of Greek "love-stories." Of those referred to above none is so objectionable as the tale of Cephalus and Procris, nor, on the other hand, is any one of them in any way related to what we call romantic love. Atalanta was a sweet masculine maiden who could run faster than any athlete. Her father was anxious to have her marry, and she finally agreed to wed any man who could reach a certain goal before her, the condition being, however, that she should be allowed to transfix with her spear every suitor who failed. She had already ornamented the place of contest with the heads of many courageous young men, this tender-hearted, romantic maiden had, when her fun was rudely spoiled by Meleager, who threw before her three golden apples which she stopped to pick up, thus losing the race to that hero, who, no doubt, was extremely happy with such a wife ever after. Even to this story an improper sequel was added.

Alcyone and Ceyx is the story of a wife who committed suicide on discovering the body of her husband on the sea-beach; and the story of Orpheus, who grieved so over the death of his wife Eurydice that he went to the lower world to bring her up again, but lost her again because, contrary to his agreement with Pluto and Proserpina, he looked back to see if she was following, is known to everybody. The conjugal attachment and grief at the loss of a spouse which these two legends tell of, are things the existence of which in Greece no one has ever denied. They are simple phenomena quite apart from the complex state of mind we call romantic love, and are shared by man with many of the lower animals. In such attachment and grief there is no evidence of altruistic affection. Orpheus tried to bring back Eurydice to please himself, not her, and Alcyone's suicide was of no possible use to Ceyx.[326]

The story of Panthea and Abradates, to which Professor Ebers refers so triumphantly, is equally inconclusive as to the existence of altruistic affection. Abradates, having been urged by his wife Panthea to show himself worthy of the friendship of Cyrus by doing valorous deeds, falls in a battle, whereat Panthea is so grieved at the result of her advice that she commits suicide. From the modern Christian point of view this was not a rational proof of affection, but a foolish and criminal act. But it harmonized finely with the Greek ideal—the notion that patriotism is even a woman's first duty, and her life not worth living except in subservience to her husband. There is good reason to believe[327] that this story was a pure invention of Xenophon and deliberately intended to be an object lesson to women regarding the ideal they ought to live up to. The whole of the book in which it appears—[Greek: Kyrou paideia]—is what the Germans call a Tendenzroman—a historic romance with a moral, illustrating the importance of a correct education and glorifying a certain form of government.

To a student of Greek love one of the most instructive documents is the [Greek: erotika pathaemata] of Parthenius, who was a contemporary of the most famous Roman poets (first century before Christ), and the teacher of Virgil. It is a collection of thirty-six short love-stories in prose, made for him by his friend Cornelius Gallus, who was in quest of subjects which he might turn into elegies. It has been remarked that these poems are peculiarly sad, but a better word for them is coarse. Unbridled lust, incest, [Greek: paiderastia], and adultery are the favorite motives in them, and few rise above the mephitic atmosphere which breathes from Cephalus and Procris or other stories of crime, like that of Philomela and Procne, which were so popular among Greek and Roman poets, and presumably suited their readers. With amusing naivete Eckstein pleads for these "specimens of antique romance" on the ground that there is more lubricity in Bandello and Boccaccio!—which is like declaring that a man who assassinates another by simply hitting him on the head is virtuous because there are others who make murder a fine art. I commend the stories of Parthenius to the special attention of any one who may have any lingering doubts as to the difference between Greek ideas of love and modern ideals.[328]


Parthenius is regarded as a connecting link of the Alexandrian school with the Roman poets on one side, and on the other with the romances which constitute the last phase of Greek erotic literature.[329] In these romances too, a number of my critics professed to discover romantic love. The reviewer of my book in Nature (London) asked me to see whether Heliodorus's account of the loves of Theagenes and Chariclea does not come up to my standard. I am sorry to say it does not. Jowett perhaps dismisses this story somewhat too curtly as "silly and obscene"; but it certainly is far from being a love-story in the modern sense of the word, though its moral tone is doubtless superior to that of the other Greek romances. The notion that it indicates an advance in erotic literature may no doubt be traced to the legend that Heliodorus was a bishop, and that he introduced Christian ideas into his romance—a theory which Professor Rohde has scuttled and sent to the bottom of the sea.[330] The preservation of the heroine's virginity amid incredible perils and temptations is one of the tricks of the Greek novelists, the real object of which is made most apparent in Daphnis and Chloe. The extraordinary emphasis placed on it on every possible occasion is not only very indelicate, but it shows how novel and remarkable such an idea was considered at the time. It was one of the tricks of the Sophists (with whom Heliodorus must be classed), who were in the habit of treating a moral question like a mathematical problem. "Given a maiden's innocence, how can it be preserved to the end of the story?" is the artificial, silly, and vulgar leading motive of this Greek romance, as of others. Huet, Villemain, and many other critics have been duped by this sophistico-mathematical aspect of the story into descanting on the peculiar purity and delicacy of its moral tone; but one need only read a few of the heroine's speeches to see how absurd this judgment is. When she says to her lover,

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