THE extent to which the idea of friendship (in a quite romantic sense) penetrated the Greek mind is a thing very difficult for us to realize; and some modern critics entirely miss this point. They laud the Greek culture to the skies, extolling the warlike bravery of the people, their enthusiastic political and social sentiment, their wonderful artistic sense, and so forth; and at the same time speak of the stress they laid on friendship as a little peculiarity of no particular importance--not seeing that the latter was the chief source of their bravery and independence, one of the main motives of their art, and so far an organic part of their whole polity that it is difficult to imagine the one without the other. The Greeks themselves never made this mistake; and their literature abounds with references to the romantic attachment as the great inspiration of political and individual life. Plato, himself, may almost be said to have founded his philosophy on this sentiment.
Nothing is more surprising to the modern than
to find Plato speaking, page after page, of Love, as the safeguard of states and the tutoress of philosophy, and then to discover that what we call love, i.e., the love between man and woman, is not meant at all--scarcely comes within his consideration--but only the love between men--what we should call romantic friendship. His ideal of this latter love is ascetic; it is an absorbing passion, but it is held in strong control. The other love--the love of women--is for him a mere sensuality. In this, to some extent, lies the explanation of his philosophical position.
But it is evident that in this fact--in the fact that among the Greeks the love of women was considered for the most part sensual, while the romance of love went to the account of friendship, we have the strength and the weakness of the Greek civilization. Strength, because by the recognition everywhere of romantic comradeship, public and private life was filled by a kind of divine fire; weakness, because by the non-recognition of woman's equal part in such comradeship, her saving, healing, and redeeming influence was lost, and the Greek culture doomed to be to that extent one-sided. It will, we may hope, be the great triumph of the modern love (when it becomes more
of a true comradeship between man and woman than it yet is) to give both to society and to the individual the grandest inspirations, and perhaps in conjunction with the other attachment, to lift the modern nations to a higher level of political and artistic advancement than even the Greeks attained.
BISHOP THIRLWALL, that excellent thinker and scholar, in his History of Greece (vol. I, p. 176) says:--
"One of the noblest and most amiable sides of the Greek character is the readiness with which it lent itself to construct intimate and durable friendships; and this is a feature no less prominent in the earliest than in the latest times. It was indeed connected with the comparatively low estimation in which female society was held; but the devotedness and constancy with which these attachments were maintained was not the less admirable and engaging. The heroic companions whom we find celebrated, partly by Homer and partly in traditions, which if not of equal antiquity were grounded on the same feeling, seem to have but one heart and soul, with scarcely a wish or object apart, and only to live, as they are always ready to die, for one another. It is true that the relation between them is not always one of perfect equality: but this is a circumstance which, while it
often adds a peculiar charm to the poetical description, detracts little from the dignity of the idea which it presents. Such were the friendships of Hercules and Ioläus, of Theseus and Pirithöus, of Orestes and Pylades: and though these may owe the greater part of their fame to the later epic or even dramatic poetry, the moral groundwork undoubtedly subsisted in the period to which the tradition referred. The argument of the Iliad mainly turns on the affection of Achilles for Patroclus--whose love for the greater hero is only tempered by reverence for his higher birth and his unequaled prowess. But the mutual regard which united Idomeneus and Meriones, Diomedes and Sthenelus--though, as the persons themselves are less important, it is kept more in the background--is manifestly viewed by the poet in the same light. The idea of a Greek hero seems not to have been thought complete, without such a brother in arms by his side."
The following is from Ludwig Frey (Der Eros und die Kunst, p. 33):--
"Let it then be repeated: love for a youth was for the Greeks something sacred, and can only be compared with our German homage to women--say the chivalric love of mediæval times."
G. LOWES DICKINSON, in his Greek View of Life, noting the absence of romance in the relations between men and women of that civilization, says:--
"Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to conclude, from these conditions, that the element of romance was absent from Greek life. The fact is simply that with them it took a different form, that of passionate friendship between men. Such friendships, of course, occur in all nations and at all times, but among the Greeks they were, we might say, an institution. Their ideal was the development and education of the younger by the older man, and in this view they were recognized and approved by custom and law as an important factor in the state." Greek View of Life, p. 167.
"So much indeed were the Greeks impressed with the manliness of this passion, with its power to prompt to high thought and heroic action, that some of the best of them set the love of man for man far above that of man for woman. The one, they maintained, was primarily of the spirit, the other primarily of the flesh; the one bent upon shaping to the type of all manly excellence both the body and the soul of the beloved, the other upon a passing pleasure of the senses." Ibid, p. 172.
The following are some remarks of J. A. Symonds on the same subject:--
"Partly owing to the social habits of their cities, and partly to the peculiar notions which they entertained regarding the seclusion of free women in the home, all the higher elements of spiritual and mental activity, and the conditions under which a generous passion was conceivable, had become the exclusive privileges of men. It was not that women occupied a semi-servile station, as some students have imagined, or that within the sphere of the household they were not the respected and trusted helpmates of men. But circumstances rendered it impossible for them to excite romantic and enthusiastic passion. The exaltation of the emotions was reserved for the male sex." A Problem in Greek Ethics, p. 68.
And he continues:--
"Socrates therefore sought to direct and moralize a force already existing. In the Phædrus he describes the passion of love between man and boy as a 'mania,' not different in quality from that which inspires poets; and after painting that fervid picture of the lover, he declares that the true object of a noble life can only be attained by passionate friends, bound together in the chains of close yet temperate comradeship, seeking always to advance in knowledge, self-restraint, and intellectual illumination. The doctrine of the Symposium is not different, except that Socrates here takes a higher flight. The same love is treated as the method whereby the soul may begin her mystic
journey to the region of essential beauty, truth, and goodness. It has frequently been remarked that Plato's dialogues have to be read as poems even more than as philosophical treatises; and if this be true at all, it is particularly true of both the Phædrus and the Symposium. The lesson which both essays seem intended to inculcate, is this: love, like poetry and prophecy, is a divine gift, which diverts men from the common current of their lives; but in the right use of this gift lies the secret of all human excellence. The passion which grovels in the filth of sensual grossness may be transformed into a glorious enthusiasm, a winged splendor, capable of soaring to the contemplation of eternal verities."
IN the Symposium or Banquet of Plato (B.C. 428-B.C. 347), a supper party is supposed, at which a discussion on love and friendship takes place. The friends present speak in turn--the enthusiastic Phædrus, the clear-headed Pausanias, the grave doctor Eryximachus, the comic and acute Aristophanes, the young poet Agathon; Socrates, tantalizing, suggestive, and quoting the profound sayings of the prophetess Diotima; and Alcibiades, drunk, and quite ready to drink more;--each in his turn, out of the fulness of his heart, speaks; and thus in this most dramatic dialogue we have love discussed from every point of view, and with
insight, acumen, romance and humor unrivalled.
Phædrus and Pausanias, in the two following quotations, take the line which perhaps most thoroughly represents the public opinion of the day--as to the value of friendship in nurturing a spirit of honor and freedom, especially in matters military and political:--
"Thus numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any greater blessing to a young man beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live--that principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? of the sense of honor and dishonor, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonorable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonor is done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else. The beloved, too, when he is seen in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of contriving that a
state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at one another's side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved, or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the soul of heroes, love of his own nature infuses into the lover." Symposium of Plato, trans. B. Jowett.
"In Ionia and other places, and generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians, the custom is held to be dishonorable; loves of youths share the evil repute of philosophy and gymnastics, because they are inimical to tyranny; for the interests of rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love above all other motives is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by experience." Ibid.
ARISTOPHANES goes more deeply into the nature of this love of which they are speaking. He says it is a profound reality--a deep and intimate union, abiding after death, and making of the lovers "one departed soul instead of two." But in order to explain his allusion to "the other half" it must be premised that in the earlier part of his speech he: has in a serio-comic vein pretended that human beings were originally constructed double, with four legs, four arms, etc.; but that as a punishment for their sins Zeus divided them perpendicularly, "as folk cut eggs before they salt them," the males into two parts, the females into two, and the hermaphrodites likewise into two--since when, these divided people have ever pursued their lost halves, and "thrown their arms around and embraced each other, seeking to grow together again." And so, speaking of those who were originally males, he says:--
"And these when they grow up are our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saying. And when they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children, which they do, if at all, only in obedience to the law, but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded; and such a
nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them finds his other half, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment: they will pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning that each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lovers' intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she only has a dark and doubtful presentiment. Suppose Hephæstus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and say to them, 'What do you people want of one another?' they would be unable to explain. And suppose further that when he saw their perplexity he said: 'Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another's company? for if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live, live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of two--I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to attain this?'--there is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not
acknowledge that this meeting and melting in one another's arms, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need." Ibid.
SOCRATES, in his speech, and especially in the later portion of it where he quotes his supposed tutoress Diotima, carries the argument up to its highest issue. After contending for the essentially creative, generative nature of love, not only in the Body but in the Soul, he proceeds to say that it is not so much the seeking of a lost half which causes the creative impulse in lovers, as the fact that in our mortal friends we are contemplating (though unconsciously) an image of the Essential and Divine Beauty; it is this that affects us with that wonderful "mania," and lifts us into the region where we become creators. And he follows on to the conclusion that it is by wisely and truly loving our visible friends that at last, after long, long experience, there dawns upon us the vision of that Absolute Beauty which by mortal eyes must ever remain unseen:--
"He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes towards the end will suddenly perceive a
nature of wondrous beauty . . . beauty absolute, separate, simple and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the evergrowing and perishing beauties of all other things. He who, from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end." Ibid.
This is indeed the culmination, for Plato, of all existence-the ascent into the presence of that endless Beauty of which all fair mortal things are but the mirrors. But to condense this great speech of Socrates is impossible; only to persistent and careful reading (if even then) will it yield up all its treasures.
IN the dialogue named Phædrus the same idea is worked out, only to some extent in reverse order. As in the Symposium the lover by rightly loving at last rises to the vision of the Supreme Beauty; so in the Phædrus it is explained that in reality every soul has at some time seen that Vision (at the time, namely, of its true initiation, when it was indeed winged)--but has forgotten it; and that it is the dim reminiscence of that Vision, constantly working within us, which guides us to our earthly loves and renders their effect
upon us so transporting. Long ago, in some other condition of being, we saw Beauty herself:--
"But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her here too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. For sight is the keenest of our bodily senses; though not by that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of her, and the same is true of the loveliness of the other ideas as well. But this is the privilege of beauty, that she is the loveliest and also the most palpable to sight. Now he who is not newly initiated, or who has become corrupted, does not easily rise out of this world to the sight of true beauty in the other; he looks only at her earthly namesake, and instead of being awed at the sight of her, like a brutish beast he rushes on to enjoy and beget; he consorts with wantonness, and is not afraid or ashamed of pursuing pleasure in violation of nature. But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any one having a god-like face or form, which is the expression of Divine Beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being
thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god." The Phædrus of Plato, trans. B. Fowett.
"And so the beloved who, like a god, has received every true and loyal service from his lover, not in pretence but in reality, being also himself of a nature friendly to his admirer, if in former days he has blushed to own his passion and turned away his lover, because his youthful companions or others slanderously told him that he would be disgraced, now as years advance, at the appointed age and time, is led to receive him into communion. For fate which has ordained that there shall be no friendship among the evil has also ordained that there shall ever be friendship among the good. And when he has received him into communion and intimacy, then the beloved is amazed at the goodwill of the lover; he recognizes that the inspired friend is worth all other friendships or kinships, which have nothing of friendship in them in comparison. And when this feeling continues and he is nearer to him and embraces him, in gymnastic exercises and at other times of meeting, then does the fountain of that stream, which Zeus when he was in love with Ganymede named desire, overflow upon the lover, and some enters into his soul, and some when he is filled flows out again; and as a breeze or an echo rebounds from the smooth rocks and returns whence it came, so does the
stream of beauty, passing the eyes which are the natural doors and windows of the soul, return again to the beautiful one; there arriving and quickening the passages of the wings, watering them and inclining them to grow, and filling the soul of the beloved also with love." Ibid.
For Plato the real power which ever moves the soul is this reminiscence of the Beauty which exists before all worlds. In the actual world the soul lives but in anguish, an exile from her true home; but in the presence of her friend, who reveals the Divine, she is loosed from her suffering and comes to her haven of rest.
"And wherever she [the soul] thinks that she will behold the beautiful one, thither in her desire she runs. And when she has seen him, and bathed herself with the waters of desire, her constraint is loosened, and she is refreshed, and has no more pangs and pains; and this is the sweetest of all pleasures at the time, and is the reason why the soul of the lover will never forsake his beautiful one, whom he esteems above all; he has forgotten mother and brethren and companions, and he thinks nothing of the neglect and loss of his property; the rules and proprieties of life, on which he formerly prided himself, he now despises, and is ready to sleep like a servant, wherever he is allowed, as near as he can to his beautiful one, who
is not only the object of his worship, but the only physician who can heal him in his extreme agony." Ibid.
AT another time, in the Banquet of Xenophon, Socrates is again made to speak at length on the subject of Love--though not in so inspired a strain as in Plato:--
"Truly, to speak for one, I never remember the time when I was not in love; I know too that Charmides has had a great many lovers, and being much beloved has loved again. As for Critobulus, he is still of an age to love, and to be beloved; and Nicerates too, who loves so passionately his wife, at least as report goes, is equally beloved by her. . . . And as for you, Callias, you love, as well as the rest of us; (or who is it that is ignorant of your love for Autolycus? It is the town-talk; and foreigners, as well as our citizens, are acquainted with it. The reason for your loving him, I believe to be that you are both born of illustrious families; and at the same time are both possessed of personal qualities that render you yet more illustrious. For me, I always admired the sweetness and evenness of your temper; but much more when I consider that your passion for Autolycus is placed on a person who has nothing luxurious or affected in him; but in all things shows a vigor and temperance worthy of a virtuous soul; which is a proof at the same time
that if he is infinitely beloved, he deserves to be so. I confess indeed I am not firmly persuaded whether there be but one Venus or two, the celestial and the vulgar; and it may be with this goddess, as with Jupiter, who has many different names though there is still but one Jupiter. But I know very well that both the Venuses have quite different altars, temples and sacrifices. The vulgar Venus is worshipped after a common negligent manner; whereas the celestial one is adored in purity and sanctity of life. The vulgar inspires mankind with the love of the body only, but the celestial fires the mind with the love of the soul, with friendship, and a generous thirst after noble actions. . . . Nor is it hard to prove, Callias, that gods and heroes have always had more passion and esteem for the charms of the soul, than those of the body: at least this seems to have been the opinion of our ancient authors. For we may observe in the fables of antiquity that Jupiter, who loved several mortals on account of their personal beauty only, never conferred upon them immortality. Whereas it was otherwise with Hercules, Castor, Pollux, and several others; for having admired and applauded the greatness of their courage and the beauty of their minds, he enrolled them in the number of the gods. . . . You are then infinitely obliged to the gods, Callias, who have inspired you with love and friendship for Autolycus, as they have inspired Critobulus with the same for Amandra; for real and pure
friendship knows no difference in sexes." Banquet of Xenophon § viii. (Bohn).
PLUTARCH, who wrote in the first century A.D. (nearly 500 years after Plato), carried on the tradition of his master, though with an admixture of later influences; and philosophized about friendship, on the basis of true love being a reminiscence.
"The rainbow is I suppose a reflection caused by the sun's rays falling on a moist cloud, making us think the appearance is in the cloud. Similarly erotic fancy in the case of noble souls causes a reflection of the memory from things which here appear and are called beautiful to what is really divine and lovely and felicitous and wonderful. But most lovers pursuing and groping after the semblance of beauty in youths and women, as in mirrors, 1 can derive nothing more certain than pleasure mixed with pain. And this seems the love-delirium of Ixion, who instead of the joy he desired embraced only a cloud, as children who desire to take the rainbow into their hands, clutching at whatever they see. But different is the behavior of the noble and chaste lover: for he reflects on the divine beauty that can only be felt, while he uses the beauty of the visible body only
as an organ of the memory, though he embraces it and loves it, and associating with it is still more inflamed in mind. And so neither in the body do they sit ever gazing at and desiring this light, nor after death do they return to this world again, and skulk and loiter about the doors and bedchambers of newly-married people, disagreeable ghosts of pleasure-loving and sensual men and women, who do not rightly deserve the name of lovers. For the true lover, when he has got into the other world and associated with beauties as much as is lawful, has wings and is initiated and passes his time above in the presence of his Deity, dancing and waiting upon him, until he goes back to the meadows of the Moon and Aphrodite, and sleeping there commences a new existence. But this is a subject too high for the present occasion." Plutarch's Eroticus § xx. trans. Bohn's Classics.
ARISTOTLE (Ethics, bk. viii.) says:--
"Friendship is a thing most necessary to life, since without friends no one would choose to live, though possessed of all other advantages." . . . "Since then his own life is, to a good man, a thing naturally sweet and ultimately desirable, for a similar reason is the life of his friend agreeable to him, and delightful merely on its own account, and without reference to any object beyond it; and to live without friends is to be destitute of a good, unconditioned, absolute, and in itself desirable;
and therefore to be deprived of one of the most solid and most substantial of all enjoyments."
"Being asked 'What is Friendship?' Aristotle replied, 'One soul in two bodies.'" Diog. Laertius.
EPAMINONDAS and Pelopidas, the Theban statesmen and generals, were celebrated for their devotion to each other. In a battle (B.C. 385) against the Arcadians, Epaminondas is said to have saved his friend's life. Plutarch in his Life of Pelopidas relates of them:--
"Epaminondas and he were both born with the same dispositions to all kinds of virtues, but Pelopidas took more pleasure in the exercises of the body, and Epaminondas in the improvements of the mind; so that they spent all their leisure time, the one in hunting, and the pelestra, the other in learned conversation, and the study of philosophy. But of all the famous actions for which they are so much celebrated, the judicious part of mankind reckon none so great and glorious as that strict friendship which they inviolably preserved through the whole course of their lives, in all the high posts they held, both military and civil. . . . For being both in that battle, near one another in the infantry, and fighting against the Arcadians, that wing of the Lacedæmonians in which they were, gave way and was broken; which Pelopidas and Epaminondas perceiving,
they joined their shields, and keeping close together, bravely repulsed all that attacked them, till at last Pelopidas, after receiving seven large wounds, fell upon a heap of friends and enemies that lay dead together. Epaminondas, though he believed him slain, advanced before him to defend his body and arms, and for a long time maintained his ground against great numbers of the Arcadians, being resolved to die rather than desert his companion and leave him in the enemy's power; but being wounded in his breast by a spear, and in his arm by a sword, he was quite disabled and ready to fall, when Agesipolis, king of the Spartans, came from the other wing to his relief, and beyond all expectation saved both their lives."
POLEMON and Krates were followers of Plato in philosophy, and in their time (about 300 B.C.) leaders of the Platonic School. They were, according to Hesychius, devoted friends:--
"Krates and Polemon loved each other so well that they not only were occupied in life with the same work, but they almost drew breath simultaneously; and in death they shared the same grave. On account of which, Archesilaus, who visited them in company with Theophrastus (a pupil of. Aristotle), spoke of them as gods, or survivors from the Golden Age."
ALEXANDER, the great World-Conqueror, was born B.C. 356, and was King of Macedonia B.C. 336-323. His great favorite was Hephæstion, who had been brought up and educated with him.
"When Hephæstion died at Ecbatana (in 324) Alexander placed his weapons upon the funeral pyre, with gold and silver for the dead man, and a robe--which last, among the Persians is a symbol of great honor. He shore off his own hair, as in Homeric grief, and behaved like the Achilles of Homer. Indeed he acted more violently and passionately than the latter, for he caused the towers and strongholds of Ecbatana to be demolished all round. As long as he only dedicated his own hair, he was behaving, I think, like a Greek; but when he laid hands on the very walls, Alexander was already showing his grief in foreign fashion. Even in his clothing he departed from ordinary custom, and gave himself up to his mood, his love, and his tears."
Aelian's Varia Historia, vii, 8.
55:1 "For now we see by means of a mirror darkly (lit. enigmatically); but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Cor. xiii. 12.