The Greeks have three words to describe love. Philadelphia or brotherly affection, fondness, friendship, attachment. Agape – spiritual devotion, respect, fidelity and Eros the passionate variety, combines the qualities of all three with adulation, amour, delight, enchantment, rapture, mystery, lust and passion.
Love has seized the imagination of writers, poets, painters, playwrights and ceramicists for millennia, describing the pain, joy and heartbreak of the intimate bonds which link us so deliciously to our fellow humans. Read of Adam and Eve, the apple of love. Orpheus and Eurydice, Greek music of love, Anthony and Cleopatra, coup de foudre of love, Thisbe and Pyramus of Babylon, spooked by a lion, under a mulberry tree, died by their sword of love, Young Lochinvar, heroic deeds of love, Romeo and Juliet, death great thief of love, Abelard and Eloise, maths to moon of love.
Love is a perfumed garden of dreams and aspirations, being happy for no reason. Love is tenderness and disappointment, sitting in silence holding hands, being who you really are, vulnerable and not afraid, sharing your innermost secrets. Love is a dance, a laugh, tears, the look in your beloved’s eyes. Love is not being able to sleep and dreams of your beloved.
It’s when music seems a thousand times more beautiful than anything you’ve ever heard before, colors more vivid. Love is poetry, being alive in every cell of your body. Love is heartbreaking farewells and transcendental meetings. Love is transparent and opaque, glittering light and dreamy shadows.
Love is the freezing mountain and the blazing plain, a raging river and mirrored lake, the coins of a fountain. Love is the soaring eagle and dancing blue wren. Love is the dazzle of stars and benevolent glow of the moon. Love is a hug in greeting and the sunshine of your soul. Love and need aren’t the same thing. Love is friendship aflame. As we grow older it often reverts to a deep, abiding fondness.
Love is one of the most popular subjects in fiction, on stage and screen. It takes us back to medieval Tristan and Isolde, an Arthurian romance. And who wasn’t enchanted by the romance between willful, fickle, Scarlett O’Hara and handsome, dangerous Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind? Paris and Helen of Troy from Homer’s Iliad, a Greek heroic legend, combines fact and fiction, capturing our imagination. The trysts of Napoleon and Josephine, the older woman, sadly come to an end when he wants an heir.
Odysseus and Penelope, torn apart, vow eternal love. Paolo and Francesca, a true story, was made famous by Dante’s Divine Comedy . We were troubled, yet fascinated, by Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Rochester, love between an orphan and a rich, brooding dude. What woman didn’t lust for Mr Darcy in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice? Despite initial setbacks, Elizabeth Bennett wins her man. With legendary Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, wife of king Arthur – we know it’s going to end badly. Sir Lancelot becomes a hermit and Guinevere joins a nunnery, as you do.
The Arab legend of Leyli and Quays- Majnum, became a dazzling romantic poem from the quill of Nezami Gangavi, a leading medieval poet from Iran, writing one thousand years before Shakespeare. Their tragic tale of unattainable love has been told and retold for centuries, depicted in stories, poetry and ceramics. Quays retreats to the desert among the animals where his bizarre behaviour and prayer makes him become known as Majnum – the madman.
Nizami’s impact on Ottoman literature is so monumental it has influenced all major writers in the Persian language. His descriptions of human passions are sensitive and sensual. Next came Jami (1414-1492), from Herat, now Afghanistan, who was initiated into the Nakshbandi Sufi order.
In Arabic, love poems bring musical inspiration, sung by classical musicians. The Koran is in epic, poetic language. In the 9th -12th C, writers in the Persian language adopted the poet Mathnawi, who wrote in the style of Rumi’s long, narrative, epic poems of independent verse’s with internal rhyme and rhyming couplets.
Human love is said to be a path to divine love, believers reaching a level of spiritual awareness that borders on incoherence. Described by Plato, in The Banquet and the Republic, then by Descartes – even The Koran describes the limits of revelation.
A number of miniatures have been painted of Leli and Magnum’s last meeting, pictures found in Petersburg, Paris, London and Tehran. Though ancient, this tale still exerts a powerful influence on modern Eastern youth, marking the contradiction between their traditions and Western sexual freedom.
Many Oriental courtly love poems, combined with poetic prose, are so lovely they’ve been set to music. One by Prince Imru al Pays is still taught in Arabic literature classes: My friends, let’s stop here and weep, in remembrance of my beloved, on her traces, at the edge of the dune. Magnum says: Dear God, for Your own sake, and for the sake of love, let my love grow stronger with each passing hour. Love is all I have, all I am, all I ever want to be.
With thanks to The Man Who Loved Too Much, the Legend of Leyli and Magnum 6.3 The Legend…htm www.library.Cornell.edu/index.html