This last fortnight has seen the celebration of Valentine’s day and Chap Goh Mei (Lantern Festival). The spirit of love on campus has not diminished much. I have been inspired to seek out old love stories that survive till this day. Various cultures understand love differently and many have deities that embody love. In Greek mythology, there is Aphrodite, the goddess of love and her son Eros, god of desire. They were known respectively as Venus and Cupid to the Romans. Going further back into the ancient civilizations, you have Hathor in Ancient Egypt and Innana or Ishtar in Mesopotamia. In Hinduism, Radha and Krishna are worshiped together as the embodiment of love. . Here are a few timeless love stories from the past.
Cupid and Psyche
The story of Cupid and Psyche is recounted by Apuleius in The Golden Ass. It is the only Latin novel from Ancient Rome that survived. Thought to be an adaptation of a lost Greek original, the novel tells the story of a man called Lucius. But embedded in this novel are many short stories, one of which is about Cupid falling in love with Psyche despite his mother, Venus’ order to curse her into loving a hideous creature. The West Wind Zephyr sweeps her away from her death and Cupid finds her. They are married on the condition that Psyche will never look upon Eros. Psyche’s sister comes to visit her and taunting to check if her husband isn’t some horrific demon. Psyche gazes upon Eros one night and in alarm, spills hot oil from the lamp. Eros flees and because of the violation of the trust, Psyche has to pass three tasks to get back her love. I fail to understand why she is the only one having to take any tests in the first place. But, as the story goes, she completes the tasks and is reunited with Eros. Hurrah!
Ariadne and Theseus
Since myth is passed down mostly by oral tradition, a variety of written versions exist for this particular piece, however, the one chosen here is from Nonnos De Panopolis’s Dionysiaques. Ariadne, beautiful daughter of Minos, King of Crete falls in love with the hero Theseus and helps him escape from the labyrinth and later eloped with him. However, Theseus abandoned her in Naxos. Talk about bad break ups!
Layla and Majnun
‘Layla and Majnun is an Iranian epic poem written by
Niẓāmi Ganjavi. It is one of the most tragic love stories ever. Qays and Layla fell in love when they were young. Qays is so engrossed by his love for her that he creates poem after poem for her, giving no attention to anything else. Hence he earns the label of ‘majnun’ (madman). Layla’s father disapproves of Qays and arranges marriage for Layla with a rice merchant. Hearing this, Majnun flees to the desert and shuns food and only recites verses after verses of poetry for Qays wrote for her. On Layla’s eventual death and burial, the majnun is found dead near her grave with three verses of his poetry carved on a rock beside the grave:
I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within them
Devdas and Paro
If you are a Bollywood fan, the movie Devdas will be very familiar to you. However, it is a tragic bengali romance novel originally written by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee which was given a film adaptation. Devdas and Parvati were childhood friends and neighbors. Devdas shortly left for Calcutta to continue his studies, meanwhile Parvati (nicknamed: Paro) waited for him to return. When he finally returns, Devdas and Paro realize that their friendship has turned to something more. Parvati’s mother, as tradition dictates, proposes their marriage to Devdas’s mother. Devdas’s parents refuse for the marriage owing to the fact that Paro’s culture asks for dowry from the groom instead of providing it on behalf of the bride. Devdas is furious because of the rejection and leaves for Calcutta in a fit. He suggests that they should only remain friends. Paro’s marriage is fixed with a wealthy family as an act of revenge by her mother. Hence, Paro’s and Devdas’s path diverge. Devdas gets addicted to alcohol in order to forget Paro. Paro seeks one last promise from Devdas that he will see her once before his death, which he fulfills as alcohol addiction finally gets hold of his life.
Though at times overcast with tragic endings, these stories have endured through time and are retold through movies and books alike. It can be said that the real tests for each of these stories were the test of time, which they have survived with unyielding stubbornness to be reproduced in this article and be read by others. Truly, if any of you want to immortalize your love, maybe make it a part of literature. Who knows, in the far future, somebody might dig it out and sing praises of your imperishable emotion.
There is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness.
―Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
Written by Namita Suberi