Scholar W. M. Clarke

Love, in Classical Greek literature, is considered as a prominent subject. Love was prominently discussed in what’s called “Symposium”, it is known as a drinking party where it was mentioned in many classical Greek works including the Iliad by Homer, and primarily in Plato on Love. Plato’s work the Symposium is a major text of love, dated approximately 385 to 370 BC by academic scholars. Plato depicted a friendly contest between notable men, Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes and Agathon, each of them presenting a speech to either praise or define of Love. With Phaedrus’ starting and claiming that Love is the primordial god. Secondly, Pausanias and brings the idea of virtue into the discussion and sorts Love into goodness or badness. Eryximachus introduces the thought of moderation and thinks that Love controls such paths as medicine and music. Aristophanes draws attention to the origin and purposes of Love. Agathon the host of the party, pronounce that the correct way to present a eulogy is first to praise its nature and gifts. And then the most important one, Socrates connects his ideas with Diotima of Mantinea’s story of love’s origin, nature and purpose. Different from the earlier speakers who regard love as an object and praise different sides of it, Socrates, referring to Diotima’s idea, considers love as a pursuit of beauty gradually from physical beauty of people in general. Other classical Greek works like homer’s and the Euripides’ might not mention love as much as the Symposium. Nevertheless, love in these works is depicted in religion, friendship and culture. In each of these poems the consequences of love are different where in the Bacchae it results in tragic murder, and in the Iliad, love causes the death of a very close friend of Achilles and the reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon.



Love is extremely powerful in Homer's work the Iliad, in that it led the events and actions that happen throughout the whole poem. A simple example is when Aphrodite makes Helen run away to Paris, which eventually causes the entire war. In the Iliad love between friends, couples, and family is treated with great respect and honor. The love between friends is explored through the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Homer describes a deep and meaningful relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, where Achilles is tender and careful toward Patroclus and cold-hearted and egotistical toward others. Homer uncovers Achilles as the main character. Achilles, son of the mortal Peleus, king of the Myrmidons. Achilles was the bravest, handsomest, and greatest warrior of the army of Agamemnon in the Trojan War. Achilles and Agamemnon had a conflict over the unwillingness of Agamemnon to return Chrysies to the priest, Achilles convinces him to return her eventually. However, Agamemnon decides to be repaid with the girl Briseis from Achilles. Agamemnon’s action is clearly threatening Achilles pride and dignity. Thus, Achilles announces that he is withdrawing all of his troops from battle. He would not fight, and, furthermore, he and his men will return to their own country as soon as possible. Later in the Iliad Achilles refuses to fight at the war and declines all Agamemnon’s offers by Ajax and Odysseus. While the others were fighting, Patroclus came in tears to Achilles and said, “Achilles, great as you are, don’t be vengeful. They are dying out there, all of our best- or who used to be our friends-They’ve all been hit and are lying Wounded in camp.” Iliad 16.23- 30. Achilles pitied him and said, “I take it hard when someone in power uses his authority to rob his equal and strip him of his honor.” Iliad 16.53-55. Although Achilles refused to go and fight again, he agreed to let Patroclus take his armor and fight in his place. Patroclus took it too far, rather than only saving Achilles’ ship he went close to the wall of Troy, which caused his death


by Apollo and Hector. Achilles’ reaction to this incident was extreme; his madness with grief was tremendous. He had his mother Thetis make him a new armor, so he could go and kill Hector. Achilles even let everything go between him and Agamemnon and moved on with cheers. This reveals the fact that The Iliad has such a powerful meaning of love between family which was depicted in Thetis’ help to her son in making the armor, and love between friends which was depicted in Achilles is fighting for his friend Patroclus’s honor. Love was not just for physical appearance or sexual desire between lovers.

Another perspective of love comes in the great play The Bacchae by Euripides. The Bacchae depicts a struggle to the death between a twin force of control and freedom. The play starts with the god Dionysos coming back to his home town after a long time with the news that he is a god, a man of power and son of Zeus. As what it clearly could be, many people did not believe in what he’s claiming rather they ignored him and some even humiliated him. The king of Thebes Pentheus, imprisoned Dionysos and insulted him in different ways. Even though lots of people did not believe Dionysos, there were still others who somehow believed and honored Dionysos. As Pentheus said, “I have been away from this land. But I hear of new evil in the city; that our women have abandoned their homes to take part in fake Bacchic reveals... dancing to honor the new god.” Bacchae 180-185. These women are known as the maenads which a

god had left their homes and families to do so, to a person they haven’t known since his birth. Their attraction to Dionysos might be for two different reasons; for fearing his power and abilities as a god, or for his physical appearance as it was described in the Bacchae by Pentheus, “Well, stranger, you are not bad looking to women at least. Which is what you came to Thebes

reference to “mad women”.

As Dionysos mentioned these maenads dancing to honor the new


for.” Bacchae 62-63. Here Dionysos is described by Pentheus as a not bad looking man. And this could be the main reason why the maenads are honoring him by dancing and being around him. Later in the play Pentheus detested the worship of Dionysos and banned worship to the god, thus he commands the women to stop what they are doing and stop honoring Dionysos. (Bacchae 31.288-282) They do not listen however, disobeyed his command. Love appears in this instance as a strong attraction of the women towards the god Dionysos. Even though in comparison to the other example from the Iliad this instance doesn’t seem as powerful, it still led to many other tragedies in the play. For example, when the Maenads disobeyed Pentheus he became more aggressive and angry with Dionysos which eventually led to a tragic death of Pentheus.

In the Symposium by Plato, Socrates repeats a speech he heard from Diotima, a woman he describes as wise, but who was apparently an imaginary character. The speech begins with pointing out the qualities of Love before talking of his works. Diotima questions Socrates, who used to think that Love was beautiful and good. Socrates retells this questioning. When Diotima stated that Socrates inferred that love was ugly and bad. The speech consists of both Socrates and Diotima questioning each other about their different thoughts, though they eventually settle and agree that love is not a god and gods are beautiful and happy. and that everyone in love would always want good things and happiness to be theirs forever. (Symposium 204-d). This’s strongly related to the previously discussed examples from the Iliad and the Bacchae, where love controls and leads many actions to certain ends some are tragic and awful. For example, in the Bacchae Dionysos feels threatened by Pentheus and feels that he is losing his worshippers. Dionysos wants the favors and honor that he has to continue and be his forever therefore, he manipulated Pentheus and had him be killed by his own mother. The story of Dionysos and Pentheus matches

the perspective of Socrates when he inferred that love was ugly and bad and that everyone wants good things to be theirs forever. Another example, in the Iliad is when Achilles loved his friend Patroclus and later lost him in the war, Achilles honored Patroclus by killing Hector. Here on the other hand, love seems good and beautiful how Achilles honors his close friend and sacrifices his dignity for reconciliation with Agamemnon. It is relevant to what Socrates and Diotima agreed on that everyone in love would always want good things and happiness to be theirs forever, and since Achilles lost Patroclus and can have anymore he sacrificed for him and honored his soul.

In the Iliad Achilles and Patroclus had a very close relationship which makes it obscure whether they are in just friendship relation or something more than that, as the scholar W. M. Clarke mentioned in his article “Achilles and Patroclus in love”. Clark says: “Modern scholars, debating the nature of the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus... Achilles homosexuality is proved when Agamemnon prepares to offer him young men among the gifts of reconciliation.” According to this article, Achilles and Patroclus were most likely lovers even though, Socrates did not mention something similar to this kind of love in the Symposium. Also, in the Iliad Achilles seems to be tender towards Patroclus and arrogant towards others, which might be a key factor in what kind of a relationship do Achilles and Patroclus have. With the conclusion of W. M. Clarke’s article, Achilles and Patroclus could possibly be a lover and a beloved.

Over all, love is shown in many different ways throughout the Greek literature. We see it as a physical appearance attraction in the Bacchae leading to tragic end, and we also see it as peaceful and strong love in the Iliad between Patroclus and Achilles. Love, though widely interpreted, is the hidden incentive behind many of the occurrences throughout the plays of the


Iliad and the Bacchae. Socrates’ views of love are multiple and different in the Symposium with each of the notable men however, his speech with the imaginary friend Diotima is more conclusive where he states multiple points and conclude that love is a pursuit of beauty gradually from physical beauty of people in general.