Before reviewing the authors who deal with this subject in detail, or discussing the customs of the several Greek states, it will be well to illustrate in general the nature of this love, and to collect the principal legends and historic tales which set it forth.
Greek love was, in its origin and essence, military. Fire and valour, rather than tenderness or tears, were the external outcome of this passion; nor had Malachia, effeminacy, a place in its vocabulary. At the same time it was exceedingly absorbing. "Half my life," says the lover, "lives in thine image, and the rest is lost. When thou art kind, I spend the day like a god; when thy face is turned aside, it is very dark with me." 2 Plato, in his celebrated description of a lover's soul, writes 3:--
"Wherever she 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."
These passages show how real and vital was the passion of Greek love. It would be difficult to find more intense expressions of affection in modern literature. The effect produced upon the lover by the presence of his beloved was similar to that inspiration which the knight of romance received from his lady.
"I know not," says Phædrus, in the Symposium of Plato, 1" 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 honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am, I speaking? Of the sense of honour and dishonour, 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 dishonourable act, or submitting, through cowardice, when any dishonour 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 dishonour; and emulating one another in honour; 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 inspires into the lover."
With the whole of this quotation we might compare what Plutarch in the Life of Pelopidas relates about the composition of the Sacred Band; 2 while the following anecdote from the Anabasis of Xenophon may serve to illustrate the theory that regiments should consist of lovers. 3 Episthenes of Olynthus, one of Xenophon's hoplites, saved a beautiful boy from the slaughter commanded by Seuthes in a Thracian village. The king could not understand why his orders had not been obeyed, till Xenophon excused his hoplite by explaining that Episthenes was a passionate boy-lover, and that he had once formed a corps of none but beautiful men. Then Seuthes asked Episthenes if he was willing to die instead of the boy, and he answered, stretching out his neck, "Strike," he says, "if the boy says 'Yes,' 4 and will be pleased with it." At the end of the affair, which is told by Xenophon with a quiet humour that brings a little scene of Greek military life vividly before us, Seuthes gave the boy his liberty, and the soldier walked away with him.
In order further to illustrate the hardy nature of Greek love I may allude to the speech of Pausanias in the Symposium of
[paragraph continues] Plato. 1 The fruits of love, he says, are courage in the face of danger, intolerance of despotism, the virtues of the generous and haughty soul.
"In Ionia," he adds, "and other places, and generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians, the custom is held to be dishonourable; 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."
8:2 Theocr., Paidika, probably an Æolic poem of much older date.
8:3 Phædrus, p. 252. Jowett's translation.
9:1 Page 178, Jowett.
9:2 Clough, vol. ii. p. 218.
9:3 Book vii. 4, 7.
9:4 We may compare a passage from the Symposium ascribed to Xenophon VIII. 32.