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Eros in the Greco-Roman tradition
In the classical world, the phenomenon of love was generally understood as a kind of madness or, as the Greeks put it, theia mania (“madness from the gods”).
This love passion was described through an elaborate metaphoric and mythological psychological schema involving “love’s arrows” or “love darts”, the source of which was often given as the mythological Eros or Cupid, sometimes by other mythological deities (such as Rumor.
At times, the source of the arrows was said to be the image of the beautiful love object itself. If these arrows were to arrive at the lover’s eyes, they would then travel to and ‘pierce’ or ‘wound’ his or her heart and overwhelm him/her with desire and longing (love sickness). The image of the “arrow’s wound” was sometimes used to create oxymorons and rhetorical antithesis concerning its pleasure and pain.
“Love at first sight” was explained as a sudden and immediate beguiling of the lover through the action of these processes, but was not the only mode of entering into passionate love in classical texts.
At times the passion could occur after the initial meeting, as, for example, in Phraedra’s letter (IV) to Hippolytus in Ovid’s Heroides: "That time I went to Eleusis… it was then most of all (though you had pleased me before) that piercing love lodged in my deepest bones.
At times, the passion could precede the first glimpse, as in Paris’ letter (XVI) to Helen of Troy in the same work, where Paris says that his love for her came upon him before he had set eyes on her: “…you were my heart’s desire before you were known to me. I beheld your features with my soul ere I saw them with my eyes; rumour, that told me of you, was the first to deal my wound.”
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