Her love that has been, it is that which shall be;
and there is no one love but a thousand loves:
A gentleman and a foreman, a mister and a master,
A soldier and a sailor, a wrangler and a rancher,
A fighter and a keeper, a preacher and a paramour,
A singer and an actor, a drifter and a deceiver –
A Shapeshifter with a thousand faces of a lover
changing and changing, round and round, forever
all but his heart true blue to his mistress, dear.
P.S.: This is my a priori adaptation of Shakespeare’s idea of the perfect better half or lover in “All’s Well That Ends Well”. She sees different aspects of her sweetness dear whose various characteristics promise her fresh delights and never bore her.
When the night gently descends upon the day on the earth’s bed
And he silences her secretly with a force of darkness
Whispering softly in delirium, murmuring faintly in fever
blinding her with an extraordinary frisson of ecstatic fear
the spirts of tragic heroines of love – Dido and Ariadne-
run to the top of the hill where the sky lies above the earth
and lament their earthly journeys that ended in love alone
as Hounds of Love howl beside the beautiful losers in love
till the lovers’ tryst ends in a mist of passion and intoxication.
P.S.: I am always inclined to the stories of beautiful losers whose loves for their figures of the affairs of the hearts are not returned because there’s something tragically beautiful in them. Dido, the beautiful queen of Carthago, was cruelly forsaken by trojan refuge and founder of Rome Aeneas and chose to end her own life thereafter. Ariadne was a Cretan princess who helped Athenian prince Theseus to kill the Minotaur and to bring out the Athenian youths from the labyrinth with her inscrutable ball of threads as a guide to a route out. But Ariadne was also later deserted by Theseus and let alone on an island and forced to marry Dionysus, the god of wine. Hence this poem about those who are unlucky in the affairs of the hearts.
From a land ravaged by a wooden horse with a golden apple for the fairest of the divine beauties appearing to a prince so young, so impetuous in judgment thereof,
There came a poor beautiful stranger destined for the supernal fate to rule the mortal to the diamond eyes of a maiden queen ethereal in beauty, graceful in act and hapless in love.
Blindsided by Juno’s machination, swept by passion growing strong, growing stronger for the stranger,
The queen bade him with tears and roses in succession day and night, in desperate attempt to keep his presence, his body and his soul, all but an entreaty so futile,
So forlorn, with a promise of her kingdom and her fidelity in return for nothing but his surrendering of himself to her and herself to him till the mortal fate was ended, till one had to cross the River of Styx.
Alas, but the queen’s to be thwarted, she’s to be abandoned by the divine plan forced by the arrival of Mercury, god of war whispering to the poor stranger for the imminent departure for destiny far more magnificent, far more supreme,
As dictated by Jupiter, god of all regions crossing death and life forever who put forward a divine plan over mortal feelings however pitiable.
Thus did the stranger set to sail the seas full of perils ever more.
The queen defied, she cried, she pleaded, but all ended in nought as the poor stranger was to depart cruelly with no tender words of love that’s planted, nourished,
And admired by the queen so now distraught by his betrayal of her love with her plea wreathed in tears and flowers.
Now her love became her poison consuming all of her ever more,
Now he became her foe ravishing all of her in surrender of love.
But what of it when all’s ended in a sea of heartaches thousand times, with no reason to reign as a queen without her lover by her side?
Nothing, nothing’s to remedy her spirit that’s broken thousand times, for nothing, nothing would console the lonely queen in cruel abandonment,
But the last will to burn her body and soul consumed in madness of passion on an ancient funeral pyre that engulfed every part of her whispering to her departing spirit that love would come never more – Nevermore!
Hector was wide awake in the middle of the night. His bare chest was covered with beads of sweat, and his lips wet with drops of water from the jar beside their bedside. Hector looked at his wife sound asleep: Moira’s pretty face looked lifeless in the moonlit darkness, and her silhouette of the slender frame even more soulless against the luminescent lunar beauty from her celestial abode in the nightly sky. Maybe it was that moon, the Full Moon in the midsummer night that filled his heart with a tempestuous desire of a dangerous liaison, of violent passion, of primitive instinct, all of which was a forbidden play for a man like Hector whose status and condition could move heaven and earth, as it were, whose valiant beauty also matched the sweetness of his mind. He was indeed a curious conflation of innocence and worldliness, an enchanting consilience of Platonism with Eroticism, in the manifestation of those thousand actions, those thousand expressions that flew from his own person, fascinatingly interacting with his irresistible manhood.
Hector was looking at the lunar beauty at the terrace, hypnotically infatuated with an indescribable yearning for a secret escapade from the confinement of his conjugal life. No, it wasn’t just one of those whims and caprices that a married man bored with his marriage usually craved. Moira was a loyal and dutiful wife with a practical sense of the world who bore him two beautiful daughters. She was a daughter of a well-to-do merchant in Rome, assisting her father at his shop where Hector used to visit for his trade. Pretty as she was, she wasn’t exactly a Helen whose faces launched thousands of ships. Yet her sensible words and lively actions were what prompted Hector to pursue her as his would-be wife who could settle into his way of life. Funny that, my dear reader. For someone like Hector had remained unattached for long despite his beauty, talent, and character. No, he wasn’t a shameless cult of sybaritic Bacchus, nor did he attempt to, nor was he inclined to cross over the boundary of Eros in any mode of preference. He was rather an idealist, a romantic follower of Apollo in search of endless love consummated by Eros and Psyche. Call it cloddish, vagarious, or hokum even, but that was what he was, really. That was how he kept his wild horse of desire in him, still. That was why he wanted to release it from its rein, now.
The story of Eros and Psyche was his favorite, reverberating down to the bottom of his heart. But then it was more of Eros that sparked his dormant passion locked into his mind’s cabinet. For he was a man after all whose sensory organs would react to the stimuli of the seen, the beautiful, the enchanting, the mysterious, and the fatal. He’s all up for it, waiting for it, and going for it. The moon was still high above all the lives of the nightly world, and as its soft white luminescence was glowing and glowing harder, and penetrating his Olympian body deeper, Hector’s desire of a dangerous liaison was growing bigger, louder, and bolder in an ineffable ecstasy of unknown love as mysterious and adventurous as the ones shared by Goddess Circe and Odyssey and Eros and Psyche. He was in the theater of this solipsistic midsummer night’s ecstasy, swept away by his violent passion that knew no restraints with all his vigor, with all his virility, and with all his vitality.
The phantasmagorical display of the sensual dreamscapes was beginning to fade as Chariot of Apollo was approaching yonder in the dusky distance. Forget Shame. Perish Fear. Curse Fate. Hector wouldn’t let his passion for his unknown love dissipate into one night’s dream, safely ensconced in the complacency of his life. He would look for her, wherever she might be. As the dawn finally broke, Hector’s eyes sparkled with brown marbles, so beautiful that they could be sinful to look at. He decided to go to travel to Cumea, where there was his studio of paintings and sculptures. But first, he was going to tell Moira that he’s going to stay at his studio alone until he finished creating his new work of art. And he knew it would be a magnum opus following his unstoppable heart.
It would be devastating to know that the heart of your beloved has already parted with you. It would be even more catastrophic to learn that your love has been unrequited and consumable because it was never on equal terms for what’s worth to your once beloved. The affair of the heart is the common human trait that transcends the subjectivity of time and space, the boundary of ethnic, racial, and territorial demarcations. The truth of the matter is that when you are consumed with a burning passion sans the mind and the heart, you play fast and loose with your own life as collateral. In the ancient times, the unconstrained passion lured the desperately love-stricken to turn to the supernatural dependencies of magic spells or love potions at the expense of their own lives in the hope of making their beloveds fall in love with them. Such was the case of one slave girl in ancient Greece who made love a dangerous game.
Her name was Dilitra, and she was in love with her wealthy master named Philoneos, whose interest in her was to satisfy his libido and nothing more. For she was his faithful and obedient bed-mate at his command. And she was in turn assigned to a relatively comfortable domestic drudgery, such as tidying up chambers and assisting in cooking in the kitchen, while other slaves toiled to the bone, as befitted what they were. As a concubine, Dilitra wanted no more and only wanted it to last as long as his master wanted her. Then all seemed to be a denouement of her happy concubinage when she found out that Philoneos would sell her to a brothel because he was simply “bored” with her. That was a total blow to Dilitra’s faith in Philoneos whom she loved and trusted. Blindsided by her lover’s betrayal, Dilitra resorted to the magical use of herbs and potions – called pharmaka as believed to be empowered from the goddess Circe – from a sorcerer who guaranteed her that he would fall back in love with her. So she poured the potion into wine, which Philoneos voraciously gulped down at dinner. The result was the instant death of her treacherous lover and the execution of the distressed poor Dilitra after the horrible torture by the authority on the count of punitive nature of the crime against her master.
The historical record of the tragic event tells a variety of facts prevalent in classical times. First, the idea of love was primarily erotic rather than platonic, sensual rather than holistic. In fact, what we now understand about “love” would have felt alien to the ancients in terms of the relationship between man and woman because such a modern idea of love was no more than a close bond between family members or a master and a horse or a dog. That is to say, love in the minds of the ancient meant the physical play of desires – Lust. In this regard, Dilitra’s desperate measure of using the magic potion betokens her attempt to awaken the flickering erotic love in Philoneos so that he would not sell her to a brothel to let her become a pornail – a common prostitute. Hence the potion was really meant to be an aphrodisiac that went awry.
Second, the use of spells and love potions was something of a norm in ancient Greece, where religion and daily life were inseparably bound together. It is said that there were two ways of inducing lust in a person: (1) an agon spell, which included magic, through the power of a demon to drive the desired one mad with lust for the one who initiated it. The effect of the spell, I think, could amount to the image of a fanatic band of maenads accompanying the wine god Dionysus. It was known to be mostly used by men; and (2) pharmaka, which was regarded as drug-induced love preferred by women because of the supposedly less mortally dangerous than the employment of a demon. However, anyone who opted for this “mild” form of craft did not know that its effect could be more fatal than an agon spell because it was a chemical intoxication consisting of various herbs that could be lethal when mixed improperly as is illustrated in the story of Dilitra.
It would be an anachronistic or impudent mistake of assuming that Dilitra’s tragic end resulted from her own foolhardy, rash decision to turn to quackery and superstition if we were pitchforked backward in time. It was her only choice to secure her life under the aegis of her lover-master whose lust for her was the only guaranty of the cherished wishes. On one hand, the story of Dilitra tells us how we as humans have evolved in understanding the meaning of love, many special thanks to philosophers and psychologists, that it complements the body and the mind (as represented by Eros and Psyche, respectively, in Roman mythology.) On the other hand, it shows us at the heat of the passion, we can return to our animal nature governed by id only. Now, that would be quite a thespian tragedy.
Author’s note: This writing is based upon my reading of an article about the history of love spells and potions in ancient Greece from a history magazine. The woeful life of the slave girl who depended upon her master’s desire of her was pathetic enough to put pen to paper. What if she just ran away when she found out her master’s intention to sell her to a brothel, instead of resorting to the drastic measure of getting the drug? No, she should have just escaped from his household forthwith. It seems to me that it was her lack of self-confidence that chained her down to the voluntary enslavement that ultimately led her to death.