THE fact, already mentioned, that the romance of love among the Greeks was chiefly felt towards male friends, naturally led to their poetry
being largely inspired by friendship; and Greek literature contains such a great number of poems of this sort, that I have thought it worth while
to dedicate the main portion of the following section to quotations from them. No translations of course can do justice to the beauty of the
originals, but the few specimens given may help to illustrate the depth and tenderness as well as the temperance and sobriety which on the
whole characterized Greek feeling on this subject, at any rate during the best period of Hellenic culture. The remainder of the section is devoted
to Roman poetry of the time of the Caesars.
It is not always realized that the Iliad of Homer turns upon the motive of friendship, but the extracts immediately following will perhaps make this
clear. E. F. M. Benecke in his Position of Women in Greek Poetry (p. 76) says of the Iliad:
"It is a story of which the main motive is the love of Achilles for Patroclus. This solution is astoundingly simple, and yet it took me so long to bring myself to accept it that I am quite ready to forgive any one who feels a similar hesitation. But those who
do accept it cannot fail to observe, on further consideration, how thoroughly suitable a motive of this kind would be in a national
Greek epic. For this is the motive running through the whole of Greek life, till that life was transmuted by the influence of
Macedonia. The lover-warriors Achilles and Patroclus are the direct spiritual ancestors of the sacred Band of Thebans, who died
to a man on the field of Chaeronaea"
The following two quotations are from The Greek Poets by J. A. Symonds, ch. iii., p. 80 et seq.
"The Iliad therefore has for its whole subject the passion of Achilles - that ardent energy or ***** of the hero which displayed
itself first as anger against Agamemnon, and afterwards as love for the lost Patroclus. The truth of this was perceived by one of
the greatest poets and profoundest critics of the modern world, Dante. When Dante, in the Inferno, wished to describe Achilles,
he wrote, with characteristic brevity:
"Achille/ Che per amore al fine combatteo."
("Achilles/ Who at the last was brought to fight by love.")
"In this pregnant sentence Dante sounded the whole depth of the Iliad. The wrath of Achilles for Agamemnon, which prevented
him at first from fighting; the love of Achilles, passing the love of women, for Patroclus, which induced him to forego his anger
and to fight at last; these are the two poles on which the Iliad turns."
Note by Website Editor - Use of the symbol ****** indicates use of greek letters by Carpenter which I cannot (yet) reproduce.
After his quarrel with Agamemnon, not even all the losses of the Greeks and the entreaties of Agamemnon himself will induce Achilles to fight - not till Patroclus is slain by Hector - Patroclus, his dear friend "whom above all my comrades I honored, even as myself." Then he rises up, dons
his armour, and driving the Trojans before him revenges himself on the body of Hector. But Patroclus lies yet unburied; and when the fighting is
over, to Achilles comes the ghost of his dead friend:
"The son of Peleus, by the shore of the roaring sea lay, heavily groaning, surrounded by his Myrmidons; on a fair space of sand
he lay, where the waves lapped the beach. Then slumber took him, loosing the cares of his heart, and mantling softly around him,
for sorely wearied were his radiant limbs with driving Hector on by windy Troy. There to him came the soul of poor
Patroclus, in all things like himself, in stature, and in the beauty of his eyes and voice, and on the form was raiment like his own.
He stood above the hero's head, and spake to him:-
"'Sleepest thou, and me hast thou forgotten, Achilles? Not in my life wert thou neglectful of me, but in death. Bury me soon, that
I may pass the gates of Hades. Far off the souls, the shadows of the dead, repel me, nor suffer me to join them on the river bank;
but, as it is, thus I roam around the wide-doored house of Hades. But stretch to me thy hand I entreat; for never again shall I
return from Hades when once ye shall have given me the meed of funeral fire. Nay, never shall we sit in life apart from our dear
comrades and take counsel together. But me hath hateful fate enveloped - fate that was mine at the moment of my birth. And for
thyself, divine Achilles, it is doomed to die beneath the noble Trojan's wall. Another thing I say to thee, and bid thee do it if thou
wilt obey me:- lay not my bones apart from thine, Achilles, but lay them together; for we were brought up together in your house,
when Menetius brought me, a child, from Opus to your house, because of woeful bloodshed on the day in which I slew the son
of Amphidamas, myself a child, not willing it but in anger at our games. Then did the horseman, Peleus, take me, and rear me in
his house, and cause me to be called thy squire. So then let one grave also hide the bones of both of us, the golden urn thy
goddess-mother gave to thee.'
"Him answered swift-footed Achilles:
'Why, dearest and most honored, hast thou hither come, to lay on me this thy behest? All things most certainly will I perform,
and bow to what thou biddest. But stand thou near: even for one moment let us throw our arms upon each other's neck, and take
our fill of sorrowful wailing.'
"So spake he, and with his outstretched hands he clasped, but could not seize. The spirit, earthward, like smoke, vanished with a
shriek. Then all astonished arose Achilles, and beat his palms together, and spake a piteous word:-
"'Heavens! is there then, among the dead, soul and the shade of life, but thought is theirs no more at all? For through the night
the soul of poor Patroclus stood above my head, wailing and sorrowing loud, and bade me do his will; it was the very semblance
"So spake he, and in the hearts of all of them he raised desire of lamentation; and while they were yet mourning, to them
appeared rose-fingered dawn about the piteous corpse."
[Iliad, xxiii. 59 et seq.]
PLATO in the Symposium dwells tenderly on this relation between Achilles and Patroclus:-
[And great] "was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus - his lover and not his love (the notion
that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the
two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far). And greatly as the
gods honor the virtue of love, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and valued and
rewarded by them, for the lover has a nature more divine and worthy of worship. Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been
told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector.
Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only on his behalf, but after his death. Wherefore the
gods honored him even above Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest."
[Symposium, speech of Phaedrus, trans. by B. Jowett.]
And on this passage Symonds has the following note:-
"Plato, discussing the Myrmidones of Aeschylus, remarks in the Symposium that the tragic poet was wrong to make Achilles the
lover of Patroclus, seeing that Patroclus was the elder of the two, and that Achilles was the youngest and most beautiful of
all the Greeks. The fact however is that Homer raises no question in our minds about the relation of lover and beloved. Achilles
and Patroclus are comrades. Their friendship is equal. It was only the reflective activity of the Greek mind, working upon the
Homeric legend by the light of subsequent custom, which introduced these distinctions."
[The Greek Poets, ch. iii. p. 103]
From the time of Homer onwards, Greek literature was full of songs celebrating friendship:
"And in fact there was such emulation about composing poems of this sort, and so far was any one from thinking lightly of the
amatory poets, that Aeschylus, who was a very great poet, and Sophocles too introduced the subject of the loves of men on the
stage in their tragedies: the one describing the love of Achilles for Patroclus, and the other, in his Niobe, the mutual love of her
sons (on which account some have given an ill name to that tragedy); and all such passages as those are very agreeable to the
[Athenaeus, bk. xiii. ch. 75.]
ONE of the earlier Greek poets was Theognis (B.C. 550) whose Gnomae or Maxims were a series of verses mostly addressed to his young friend
Kurnus, whom by this means he sought to guide and instruct out of the stores of his own riper experience. The verses are reserved and
didactic for the most part, but now and then, as in the following passage, show deep underlying feeling:-
"Lo, I have given thee wings wherewith to fly
Over the boundless ocean and the earth;
Yea, on the lips of many shalt thou lie
The comrade of their banquet and their mirth.
Youths in their loveliness shall make thee sound
Upon the silver flute's melodious breath;
And when thou goest darkling underground
Down to the lamentable house of death,
Oh yet not then from honour shalt thou cease,
But wander, an imperishable name,
Kurnus, about the seas and shores of Greece,
Crossing from isle to isle the barren main.
Horses thou shalt not need, but lightly ride
Sped by the Muses of the violet crown,
And men to come, while earth and sun abide,
Who cherish song shall cherish thy renown.
Yea, I have given thee wings! and in return
Thou givest me the scorn with which I burn."
[Theognis Gnomai, lines 237-254, trans. by G. Lowes Dickinson.]
AS Theognis had his well-loved disciples, so had the poetess Sappho (600 B. C.). Her devotion to her girl-friends and companions is indeed
"What Alcibiades and Charmides and Phaedrus were to Socrates, Gyrinna and Atthis and Anactoria were to the Lesbian."
[Max Tyrius,quoted in H. T. Wharton's Sappho, p. 23.]
Perhaps the few lines of Sappho, translated or paraphrased by Catullus under the title To Lesbia, form the most celebrated fragment of her extant
work. They may be roughly rendered thus:
"Peer of all the gods unto me appeareth
He of men who sitting beside thee heareth
Close at hand thy syllabled words sweet spoken,
Or loving laughter -
That sweet laugh which flutters my heart and bosom.
For, at sight of thee, in an instant fail me
Voice and speech, and under my skin there courses
Swiftly a thin flame;
"Darkness is on my eyes, in my ears a drumming,
Drenched in sweat my frame, my body trembling;
Paler ev'n than grass - 'tis, I doubt, but little
From death divides me."
SEVERAL of the odes of Anacreon (B.C. 5 20) are addressed to his young friend Bathyllus. The following short one has been preserved to us
by Athenaeus (bk. xiii. #17):-
"O boy, with virgin-glancing eye,
I call thee, but thou dost not hear;
Thou know'st not how my soul doth cry
For thee, its charioteer."
Anacreon had not the passion and depth of Sappho, but there is a mark of genuine feeling in some of his poems, as in this simple little epigram:-
"On their hindquarters horses
Are branded oft with fire,
And any one knows a Parthian
Because he wears a tiar;
And I at sight of lovers
Their nature can declare,
For in their hearts they too
Some subtle flame-mark bear"
The following fragment is from Pindar's Ode to his young friend Theoxenos - in whose arms Pindar is said to have died (B.C. 442):-
"O soul, 'tis thine in season meet,
To pluck of love the blossom sweet,
When hearts are young:
But he who sees the blazing beams,
The light that from that forehead streams,
And is not stung;
Who is not storm-tossed with desire,
Lo! he, I ween, with frozen fire,
Of adamant or stubborn steel
Is forged in his cold heart that cannot feel."
[Trans. by J. Addington Symonds, The Greek Poets, vol. I, p. 286.]
PLATO'S epigrams on Aster and Agathon are well known. The two first-quoted make a play of course on the name Aster (star).
"Thou wert the morning star among the living,
Ere thy fair light had fled;
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendor to the dead."
To the same:
"Thou at the stars dost gaze, who art my star
- O would that I were
Heaven, to gaze on thee, ever with thousands of eyes."
"Thee as I kist, behold! on my lips my own soul was trembling;
For, bold one, she had come, meaning to find her way through."
There are many other epigrams and songs on the same subject from the Greek writers. The following is by Meleager (a native of Gadara in
Palestine) about 60 B. C., and one of the sweetest and most human of the lyric poets:
"O mortals crossed in love! the Southwind, see!
That blows so fair for sailor folk, hath ta'en
Half of my soul, Andragathos, from me.
Thrice happy ships, thrice blessed billowy main,
And four times favored wind that bears the youth,
O would I were a Dolphin! so, in truth,
High on my shoulders ferried he should come
To Rhodes, sweet haunt of boys, his island-home."
[From the Greek Anthology, ii. 402.]
Also from the Greek Anthology:
"O say, and again repeat, fair, fair - and still I will say it
How fair, my friend, and good to see, thou art;
On pine or oak or wall thy name I do not blazon
Love has too deeply graved it in my heart."
"Perhaps the most beautiful [says J. A. Symonds] of the sepulchral epigrams is one by an unknown writer, of which I here give a free
paraphrase. Anth. Pal., vii. 346:
'Of our great love, Parthenophil,
This little stone abideth still
Sole sign and token:
I seek thee yet, and yet shall seek,
Tho' faint mine eyes, my spirit weak
With prayers unspoken.
Meanwhile best friend of friends, do thou,
If this the cruel fates allow,
By death's dark river,
Among those shadowy people, drink
No drop for me on Lethe's brink:
Forget me never!'"
[The Greek Poets, vol 2, p. 298.]
THEOCRITUS, though coming late in the Greek age (about 300 B. C.) when Athens had yielded place to Alexandria, still carried on the Greek
tradition in a remarkable way. A native of Syracuse, he caught and echoed in a finer form the life and songs of the country folk of that
region - themselves descendants of Dorian settlers. Songs and ballads full of similar notes linger among the Greek peasants, shepherds and
fisher-folk, even down to the present day.
The following poem (trans. by M. J. Chapman, 1836) is one of the best known and most beautiful of his Idyls:-
"Art come, dear youth? two days and nights away!
(Who burn with love, grow aged in a day.)
As much as apples sweet the damson crude
Excel; the blooming spring the winter rude;
In fleece the sheep her lamb; the maiden in sweetness
The thrice-wed dame; the fawn the calf in fleetness;
The nightingale in song all feathered kind
So much thy longed-for presence cheers my mind.
To thee I hasten, as to shady beech,
The traveller, when from the heaven's reach
The sun fierce blazes. May our love be strong,
To all hereafter times the theme of song!
'Two men each other loved to that degree,
That either friend did in the other see
A dearer than himself. They lived of old
Both golden natures in an age of gold.'
O father Zeus! ageless immortals all!
Two hundred ages hence may one recall,
Down-coming to the irremeable river,
This to my mind, and this good news deliver:
'E'en now from east to west, from north to south,
Your mutual friendship lives in every mouth.'
This, as they please, th' Olympians will decide:
Of thee, by blooming virtue beautified,
My glowing song shall only truth disclose;
With falsehood's pustules I'll not shame my nose.
If thou dost sometime grieve me, sweet the pleasure
Of reconcilement, joy in double measure
To find thou never didst intend the pain,
And feel myself from all doubt free again.
"And ye Megarians, at Nisaea dwelling,
Expert at rowing, mariners excelling,
Be happy ever! for with honors due
Th' Athenian Diocles, to friendship true
Ye celebrate. With the first blush of spring
The youth surround his tomb: there who shall bring
The sweetest kiss, whose lip is purest found,
Back to his mother goes with garlands crowned.
Nice touch the arbiter must have indeed,
And must, methinks, the blue-eyed Ganymede
Invoke with many prayers - a mouth to own
True to the touch of lips, as Lydian stone
To proof of gold - which test will instant show
The pure or base, as money changers know."
The following Idyl, of which I append a rendering, is attributed to Theocritus:
"They say, dear boy, that wine and truth agree;
And, being in wine, I'll tell the truth to thee
Yes, all that works in secret in my soul.
'Tis this: thou dost not love me with thy whole
Untampered heart. I know; for half my time
Is spent in gazing on thy beauty's prime;
The other half is nought. When thou art good,
My days are like the gods'; but when the mood
Tormenting takes thee, 'tis my night of woe.
How were it right to vex a lover so?
Take my advice, my lad, thine elder friend,
'Twill make thee glad and grateful in the end:
In one tree build one nest, so no grim snake
May creep upon thee. For to-day thou'lt make
Thy home on one branch, and to-morrow changing
Wilt seek another, to what's new still ranging;
And should a stranger praise your handsome face,
Him more than three-year-proven friend you'll grace,
While him who loved you first you'll treat as cold
As some acquaintanceship of three days old.
Thou fliest high, methinks, in love and pride;
But I would say: keep ever at thy side
A mate that is thine equal; doing so,
The townsfolk shall speak well of thee alway,
And love shall never visit thee with woe-
Love that so easily men's hearts can flay,
And mine has conquered that was erst of steel.
Nay, by thy gracious lips I make appeal:
Remember thou wert younger a year agone
And we grow grey and wrinkled, all, or e'er
We can escape our doom; of mortals none
His youth retakes again, for azure wings
Are on her shoulders, and we sons of care
Are all too slow to catch such flying things.
Mindful of this, be gentle, is my prayer,
And love me, guileless, ev'n as I love thee;
So when thou hast a beard, such friends as were
Achilles and Patroclus we may be."
BION was a poet of about the same period as Theocritus, but of whom little is known. The following is a fragment translated by A. Lang:
"Happy are they that love, when with equal love they are rewarded. Happy was Theseus, when Pirithous was by his side, yea
tho' he went down to the house of implacable Hades. Happy among hard men and inhospitable was Orestes, for that Pylades
chose to share his wanderings. And he was happy, Achilles Aeacides, while his darling lived, - happy was he in his death,
because he avenged the dread fate of Patroclus."
[Theocritus, Bion and Moschus, Golden Treasury series, p. 182.]
The beautiful Lament for Bion by Moschus is interesting in this connection, and should be compared with Shelley's lament for Keats in
Adonais - for which latter poem indeed it supplied some suggestions:
"Ye mountain valleys, pitifully groan!
Rivers and Dorian springs for Bion weep!
Ye plants drop tears! ye groves lamenting moan!
Exhale your life, wan flowers; your blushes deep
In grief, anemonies and roses, steep!
In softest murmurs, Hyacinth! prolong
The sad, sad woe thy lettered petals keep;
Our minstrel sings no more his friends among
Sicilian muses! now begin the doleful song."
[M. F. Chapman trans. in the Greek Pastoral Poets, 1836.]
The allusion to Hyacinth is thus explained by Chapman:
"Hyacinthus, a Spartan youth, the son of Clio, was in great favor with Apollo. Zephyrus, being enraged that he preferred Apollo
to him, blew the discus when flung by Apollo, on a day that Hyacinthus was playing at discus-throwing with that god, against
the head of the youth, and so killed him. Apollo, being unable to save his life, changed him into the flower which was named after
him, and on whose petals the Greeks fancied they could trace the notes of grief ** **. [Seen within the flower we call Larkspur']. A
festival called the Hyacinthia was celebrated for three days in each year at Sparta, in honor of the god and his unhappy
[Note to Moschus, Idyl ii.]
The story of Apollo and Hyacinth is gracefully told by Ovid, in the tenth book of his Metamorphoses:
"Midway betwixt the past and coming night
Stood Titan [The Sun] when the pair, their limbs unrobed,
And glist'ning with the olive's unctuous juice,
In friendly contest with the discus vied."
[The younger one is struck by the discus; and like a fading flower]
"To its own weight unequal drooped the head
Of Hyacinth; and o'er him wailed the god:-
Liest thou so, OEbalia's child, of youth
Untimely robbed, and wounded by my fault -
At once my grief and guilt? - This hand hath dealt
Thy death! 'Tis I who send thee to the grave!
And yet scarce guilty, unless guilt it were
To sport, or guilt to love thee! Would this life
Might thine redeem, or be with thine resigned!
But thou - since Fate denies a god to die-
Be present with me ever! Let thy name
Dwell ever in my heart and on my lips,
Theme of my lyre and burden of my song;
And ever bear the echo of my wail
Writ on thy new-born flower! The time shall come
When, with thyself associate, to its name
The mightiest of the Greeks shall link his own.
Prophetic as Apollo mourned, the blood
That with its dripping crimson dyed the turf
Was blood no more: and sudden sprang to life
Ovid's Metamorphoses trans. H. King, London, 1871
IN Roman literature, generally, as might be expected, with its more materialistic spirit, the romance of friendship is little dwelt upon; though the
grosser side of the passion, in such writers as Catullus and Martial, is much in evidence. Still we find in Virgil a notable instance. His 2nd
Eclogue bears the marks of genuine feeling; and, according to some critics, he there under the guise of Shepherd Corydon's love for Alexis
celebrates his own attachment to the youthful Alexander:
"Corydon, keeper of cattle, once loved the fair lad Alexis;
But he, the delight of his master, permitted no hope to the shepherd.
Corydon, lovesick swain, went into the forest of beeches,
And there to the mountains and woods - the one relief of his passion-
With useless effort outpoured the following artless complainings:-
Alexis, barbarous youth, say, do not my mournful lays move thee?
Showing me no compassion, thou'lt surely compel me to perish.
Even the cattle now seek after places both cool and shady;
Even the lizards green conceal themselves in the thorn-bush.
Thestylis, taking sweet herbs, such as garlic and thyme, for the reapers
Faint with the scorching noon, doth mash them and bray in a mortar.
Alone in the heat of the day am I left with the screaming cicalas,
While patient in tracking thy path, I ever pursue thee, Beloved."
Trans. by J. W. Baylis.
There is a translation of this same 2nd Eclogue, by Abraham Fraunce (1591), which is interesting not only on account of its felicity of phrase,
but because, as in the case of some other Elizabethan hexameters, the metre is ruled by quantity, i.e. length of syllables, instead of by accent.
The following are the first five lines of Fraunce's translation:
"Silly shepherd Corydon lov'd hartyly fayre lad Alexis,
His master's dearling, but saw noe matter of hoping;
Only amydst darck groves thickset with broade-shadoe beech-trees
Dayly resort did he make, thus alone to the woods, to the mountayns,
With broken speeches fond thoughts there vaynly revealing.
CATULLUS also (b. B.C. 87) has some verses of real feeling:
"Quintius, if 'tis thy wish and will
That I should owe my eyes to thee,
Or anything that's dearer still,
If aught that's dearer there can be;
"Then rob me not of that I prize,
Of the dear form that is to me,
Oh! far far dearer than my eyes,
Or aught, if dearer aught there be."
[Catullus, trans. Hon. F. Lamb, 1821.]
"If all complying, thou would'st grant
Thy lovely eyes to kiss, my fair,
Long as I pleased; oh! I would plant
Three hundred thousand kisses there.
Nor could I even then refrain,
Nor satiate leave that fount of blisses,
Tho' thicker than autumnal grain
Should be our growing crop of kisses."
"Long at our leisure yesterday
Idling, Licinius, we wrote
Upon my tablets verses gay,
Or took our turns, as fancy smote,
At rhymes and dice and wine.
But when I left, Licinius mine,
Your grace and your facetious mood
Had fired me so, that neither food
Would stay my misery, nor sleep
My roving eyes in quiet keep.
But still consumed, without respite,
I tossed about my couch in vain
And longed for day - if speak I might,
Or be with you again.
But when my limbs with all the strain
Worn out, half dead lay on my bed,
Sweet friend to thee this verse I penned,
That so thou mayest condescend
To understand my pain.
So now, Licinius, beware!
And be not rash, but to my prayer
A gracious hearing tender;
Lest on thy head pounce Nemesis:
A goddess sudden and swift she is-
Beware lest thou offend her!"
The following little poem is taken from Martial:
"As a vineyard breathes, whose boughs with grapes are bending,
Or garden where are hived Sicanian bees;
As upturned clods when summer rain's descending
Or orchards rich with blossom-laden trees;
So, cruel youth, thy kisses breathe - so sweet:-
Would'st thou but grant me all their grace, complete!"