Love at first sight

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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.

Historical conceptions[edit]


Main article: Eros (love)

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").[1] 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,[2] sometimes by other mythological deities (such as Rumor[3]). 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..."[4] "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."[5]

Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque[edit]

The classical conception of love's arrows were elaborated upon by the Provençal troubadour poets of southern France in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and became part of the European courtly love tradition. In particular, a glimpse of the woman's eyes was said to be the source of the love dart:

This doctrine of the immediate visual perception of one's lady as a prerequisite to the birth of love originated among the "beaux esprits" de Provence. [...] According to this description, love originates upon the eyes of the lady when encountered by those of her future lover. The love thus generated is conveyed on bright beams of light from her eyes to his, through which it passes to take up its abode in his heart.[6]

In some medieval texts, the gaze of a beautiful woman is compared to the sight of a basilisk.[citation needed]

Boccaccio provides one of the most memorable examples in his Il Filostrato, where he mixes the tradition of love at first sight, the eye's darts, and the metaphor of Cupid's arrow:[7] "Nor did he (Troilus) who was so wise shortly before... perceive that Love with his darts dwelt within the rays of those lovely eyes... nor notice the arrow that sped to his heart."[8]

Shakespeare pays a handsome (posthumous) tribute to Marlowe by citing him in As You Like It: 'Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might: "Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?"'.[9]

These images of the lover's eyes, the arrows, and the ravages of "love at first sight" continued to be circulated and elaborated upon in the Renaissance and Baroque literature, and play an important role in Western fiction and especially the novel, according to Jean Rousset.[10]

Psychological conceptions[edit]

Research has shown two bases for love at first sight. The first is that the attractiveness of a person can be very quickly determined, with the average time in one study being 0.13 seconds. The second is that the first few minutes of a relationship have shown to be predictive of the relationship's future success, more so than what two people have in common or whether they like each other ("like attracts like").[11]

Occurrence in literature and the arts[edit]


Commentaries on The Bible often equate the account of Isaac's first view of Rebekah (Genesis 24:67) and Jacob's first sight of Rachel to love at first sight.[12]

In 2 Samuel, King David of Israel observes Bathsheba while bathing - though there is no mention of "love" or "love at first sight." - and commentators equate this to "lust at first sight."[13] He seduces her, fathers a child with her, and orders her husband Uriah the Hittite to be placed in the front of the battle, which leads to the death of Uriah. David marries Bathsheba and makes her queen of Israel. After Bathsheba gives birth to the son fathered by David's adultery, the prophet Nathan extracts a confession and repentance from David when he confronts the king about his sin brought about by lust. Nathan then predicts that the son will die, which comes to pass within a week. David laments his transgression in the writing of some of the Psalms.

Other literary works that use these tropes include:






  1. ^ Tallis, Frank (February 2005). "Crazy for You". The Psychologist 18 (2). 
  2. ^ See, for example, the Amores and the Heroides of Ovid which frequently refer to the overwhelming passion caused by Cupid's darts.
  3. ^ See Ovid's letter from Paris, below.
  4. ^ John J. Winkler (trans.), Leucippe and Clitophon, in Reardon, B.P. (1989). Collected Ancient Greek Novels. Berkeley: U of California P. p. 179. ISBN 0-520-04306-5. 
  5. ^ Hamilton, Edith; Huntington Cairns (1961). The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Princeton: Princeton UP. p. 545. 
  6. ^ From the introduction by Nathaniel Edward Griffin to Boccaccio, Giovanni (n.d.). The Filostrato. New York: Bilbo and Tannen. p. 76 n.2. ISBN 978-0-8196-0187-2. 
  7. ^ According to Nathaniel Edward Griffin: "In the description of the enamorment of Troilus is a singular blending of the Provençal conception of the eyes as the birthplace of love with the classical idea of the God of Love with his bows and quiver...," in Boccaccio, Giovanni (n.d.). The Filostrato. New York: Bilbo and Tannen. p. 77 n.2. ISBN 978-0-8196-0187-2. 
  8. ^ Boccaccio, Il Filostrato, Canto 1, strophe 29 (translation by Nathaniel Edward Griffin and Arthur Beckwith Myrick).
  9. ^ Peter Alexander ed., William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (London 1962) p. 273
  10. ^ Rousset, Jean (1981). "Leurs yeux se rencontrèrent": la scène de première vue dans le roman. Paris: 1981. 
  11. ^ "Health & Science: Love at first sight may not be as implausible as it seems - Marketplace - The Heights - Boston College". 2009-12-25. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  12. ^ Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary ed. Earl Radmacher - 1999 "29:18, 19 loved Rachel: A rare biblical example of “love at first sight” (for his father's similar response to Rebekah read Gen. 24:67). The long seven years of service provides a stunning demonstration of the value Jacob placed on Rachel."
  13. ^ David and Bathsheba: Through Nathan's Eyes Joel Cohen, Paulist Press, May 14, 2007, 113 pp.

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