Whence came her love? thence, whence it comes to us now. The love of the creature to its Creator, of man to God, is the grand and yet gracious gift of Christianity. Christ’s command to love our neighbor called into existence not only the conception of philanthropy, but of humanity itself, an idea unknown to the heathen world, where love had been at widest limited to their native town and country. The love of man and wife has without doubt been purified and transfigured by Christianity; still it is possible that a Greek may have loved as tenderly and longingly as a Christian. The more ardent glow of passion at least cannot be denied to the ancients. And did not their love find vent in the same expressions as our own? Who does not know the charming roundelay:
the glad wine with me,
With me spend youth’s gay hours;
Or a sighing lover be,
Or crown thy brow with flowers.
When I am merry and mad,
Merry and mad be you;
When I am sober and sad,
Be sad and sober too!”
—written however by no poet of modern days, but by Praxilla, in the fifth century before Christ. Who would guess either that Moore’s little song was modelled on one written even earlier than the date of our story?
o’er her loom the Lesbian maid
In love-sick languor hung her head.
Unknowing where her fingers stray’d,
She weeping turned away and said,’
Oh, my sweet mother, ’tis in vain,
I cannot weave
as once I wove;
So wilder’d is my heart and brain
With thinking of that youth I love.’”
If my space allowed I could add much more on this subject, but will permit myself only one remark in conclusion. Lovers delighted in nature then as now; the moon was their chosen confidante, and I know of no modern poem in which the mysterious charm of a summer night and the magic beauty which lies on flowers, trees and fountains in those silent hours when the world is asleep, is more exquisitely described than in the following verses, also by Sappho, at the reading of which we seem forced to breathe more slowly, “kuhl bis an’s Herz hinan.”
“Planets, that around the beauteous moon
Attendant wait, cast into shade
Their ineffectual lustres, soon
As she, in full-orb’d majesty array’d,
Her silver radiance pours
Upon this world of ours.”
“Thro’ orchard plots with fragrance crown’d,
The clear cold fountain murm’ring flows;
And forest leaves, with rustling sound,
Invite to soft repose.”
The foregoing remarks seemed to me due to those who consider a love such as that of Sappho and Bartja to have been impossible among the ancients. Unquestionably it was much rarer then than in these days: indeed I confess to having sketched my pair of lovers in somewhat bright colors. But may I not be allowed, at least once, to claim the poet’s freedom?