Love at first sight is a common trope in Western literature, in which a person, character, or speaker feels romantic attraction for a stranger on the first sight of them. Described by poets and critics from the Greek world on, it has become one of the most powerful tropes in Western fiction.
In the classical world, the phenomenon of “love at first sight” was understood within the context of a more general conception of passionate love, a kind of madness or, as the Greeks put it, theia mania (“madness from the gods”). This love passion was described through an elaborate metaphoric and mythological psychological schema involving “love’s arrows” or “love darts,” the source of which was often given as the mythological Eros or Cupid, sometimes by other mythological deities (such as Rumor). At times, the source of the arrows was said to be the image of the beautiful love object itself. If these arrows arrived at the lover’s eyes, they would then travel to and ‘pierce’ his or her heart, overwhelming them with desire and longing (love sickness). The image of the “arrow’s wound” was sometimes used to create oxymorons and rhetorical antithesis.
“Love at first sight” was explained as a sudden and immediate beguiling of the lover through the action of these processes, and is illustrated in numerous Greek and Roman works. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Narcissus becomes immediately spellbound and charmed by his own (unbeknownst to him) image. In Achilles Tatius’s Leucippe and Clitophon, the lover Clitophon thus describes his own experience of the phenomenon: “As soon as I had seen her, I was lost. For Beauty’s wound is sharper than any weapon’s, and it runs through the eyes down to the soul. It is through the eye that love’s wound passes, and I now became a prey to a host of emotions…””Love at first sight” was not, however, the only mode of entering into passionate love in classical texts; at times the passion could occur after the initial meeting or could precede the first glimpse.
Another classical interpretation of the phenomenon of “love at first sight” is found in Plato’s Symposium in Aristophanes’ description of the separation of primitive double-creatures into modern men and women and their subsequent search for their missing half: “… when [a lover] … is fortunate enough to meet his other half, they are both so intoxicated with affection, with friendship, and with love, that they cannot bear to let each other out of sight for a single instant.”
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