It feels like a lifetime ago when I first met you. I suppose it was. A few lifetimes ago, perhaps. I don’t remember all of the details…was it daytime or nighttime? What was the day of the week? I do remember the navy blue shirt you wore. And the smile. Mostly, I remember that you felt like home.
Although the timing was not right for us…I kept on loving you. I loved you when I didn’t love myself. I loved you when my days were dark and nights cold. I loved you in the happy moments, as well…and imagined an alternate universe where you and I shared those moments. And as much as I tried to keep you tucked away in a tiny little box, ribbon tied tightly, neatly placed upon a dusty half-broken shelf in my heart…you continued to escape and come crashing to the surface.
I’ve always called you “friend,” although you’ve always been so much more than that.
It’s funny how time has a way of making us into new people…while ensuring that we hold onto parts of our old selves. I have learned, through great transformation in the past few years, that some of the best parts of me are the ones that bear traces of you. The ones that connect us, somehow. I have learned that you are a part of me. And there is nothing that I can do to change that. And I don’t think I want to. I don’t know how to live not loving you. Even if we are never more than “friends.” For I would rather have that…than nothing at all. So I keep much of my feelings to myself, to hold onto the part of me that is you.
I feel you sometimes. You are in music…and places…poetry…and the spaces in between. And you are loved. You are loved for all of the right reasons…by someone who truly knows your soul. Is there anything better in the world than being deeply loved by someone who sees inside of you? I believe you once loved me that way. Perhaps a part of you still does. It’s beautiful really. And incredibly rare. And we are the lucky ones to have experienced that…even for a moment.
Maybe this thing between us was always too big. Maybe it was too perfect to be fully realized. Maybe two people with that type of connection are not supposed to end up together. Maybe this world cannot handle it. Maybe it is a love designed for a superior world than ours. And maybe we will find ourselves there in another lifetime, and all of the pieces will fall into place. Maybe then the timing will be perfect. Or time won’t exist at all, to interfere. And I will let you love me. And you will let me love you. And our story will be one that inspires timeless tales of love. It will be a story that everyone hopes to end up with…but doesn’t believe truly exists. It will be epic.
I write about you often. And I know you likely will never read my words. So I suppose I mostly do it for me. There is a healing in the words. Perhaps someday my heart will be open again…and I can love another. And I hope that you find someone that can love you for all the parts of you that you keep hidden from the world. And if she loves you just a fraction as much as I…then you will be the happiest you have ever been. And if our paths should cross, I will call you “old friend”….and cherish the moments that I get to be near the missing part of me that I gave to you. After all, what is a life worth living…if we are not giving pieces ourselves to those we love along the way? And collecting pieces from those who love us back? And who are we if we cannot find a way to smile through the tears…to persevere through the disappointment..and to continue loving-even when it’s hard. Some would hear our story and say that it’s sad…tragic, even. And perhaps when situated in this lifetime alone, that is true. But when situated in eternity…and the lifetimes to come…our story is not tragic. It is merely unfinished.
The Human Condition: Marlowe’s Relationship with Ovid in “Hero and Leander”
Echoing the opening speech in his translation of Ovid’s Elegies, Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander” conveys that the human condition lies not in a rebirth of epic tales of war, but rather in epic tales involving innate human emotion, particularly when dealing with love and sexual desire. Marlowe hristian norms in a distinctly Ovidian way through his representation of Leander. Ovid’s writings are a useful vehicle for exploring this topic in Renaissance literature because his works deal with social constructs that not only pre-date, but are in many ways distinctly at odds with the Christian ideals of sixteenth-century England. By employing Ovidian ideals of sexuality, Marlowe challenges Elizabethan traditions of love and chastity associated with Petrarchan attempts at courtship. He suggests that traditional Elizabethan rituals of courtly love contradict the natural impulses of men. Ultimately, it is innate desire and base sexual instincts that drive the action in “Hero and Leander.” In Ovidian fashion, Marlowe suggests that these feelings cannot be governed by outside forces. This article will explore common themes of love and sexuality, in both the classical verse of Ovid and the Renaissance verse of Marlowe, in order to demonstrate that Marlowe’s undermining of epic poetry in favor of erotic verse raises important questions concerning tradition and the ways that Renaissance men and women felt about the strict moral climate they were living in.
Many of Marlowe’s contemporaries dealt with works from antiquity, although mostly in the form of epic tales of battle and the founding of civilizations belonging to Homer, Virgil, and even Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the opening lines of his translations of Ovid’s Elegies, Marlowe writes, “With muse prepared I meant to sing of Arms,/Choosing a subject fit for fierce alarms./Both verses were alike till love men say,/Began to smile and took one foot away” (Elegia 1, 5-8). This is both a reference to the actual meter of the poem and a nod to the power of poetry dealing with love. Marlowe understands the powerful nature of human desire associated with love that Ovid describes. In Elegia One, Ovid asks,
What helps it me of fierce Achill to sing?/What good to me will either Ajax bring?/Or he who warred and wandered twenty year?/Or woeful Hector, whom wild jades did tear?/But when I praise a pretty wench’s face,/She in requital doth me oft embrace (“All Ovid’s Elegies,” 128, 29-34).
When dealing with poetry of war, politics cannot be ignored. Erotic love poetry does not presume political overtones and therefore allows Marlowe a playground, lacking censorship, to explore the fundamentals of human nature and the opposing demands of social norms. He is simply retelling a story from antiquity. Warren Boutcher explains, “at the core of the story of Hero and Leander, humanists saw a heroic but private act of free or ‘licentious’ speech-the winning over of a traditional enemy in an unlikely foreign place” (“Who Taught Thee Rhetoricke,” 21). Desire for Marlowe is a motivating factor in this condition of the human psyche, and it is best understood through poetry dealing with love.
The games involved in pursuing the lover are comparable to those of war, only much more rewarding for Marlowe and his muse. Ovid explains this understanding of desire in Book Two of the Elegies, “Pardon me Jove, thy weapons aid me nought,/Her shut gates greater lightning than thine brought./Toys and light elegies, my darts, I took,/Quickly soft words hard doors wide open strook”( “All Ovid’s Elegies,” 127, 19-22). Marlowe mirrors this ideal when Leander pursues Hero. The narrator writes, “To give her leave to rise; away she ran,/After went Mercury, who used such cunning,/As she to hear this tale, left off her running./Maids are not won by brutish force and might,/But speeches full of pleasure and delight” (“Hero,” 416-19). In “Who Taught Thee Rhetorick,” Boutcher argues that Ovid’s texts offer erotic stories of women “captured in actual or affective terms by their heroes…allowing intimate access and rhetorical power over a weaker, doubting, more effeminate sensibility.” This concept complements my argument that Marlowe is appealing to the baseness of sexuality in order to connect Leander and Hero and explain human flourishing. Although Boutcher assigns women to this role of weakness when compared to their male counterparts, the same concept could apply to Leander, who is clearly weaker when Neptune pursues him. Marlowe’s poetry reflects the sentiment offered by Ovid; human nature is the reigning force in a society, and an appeal to the baseness of humanity is far more effective in games of capture and submission than the epic battles of Homer and Virgil.
By undermining epic tradition in favor of erotic verse, Marlowe devalues other modes of tradition as well. He channels Ovid’s pre-Christian approach to courtship in favor of a Petrarchan ritual evident in Elizabethan England. Through the voice of Leander, Marlowe challenges the status of chastity that his contemporaries revere. He reduces virginity to nothingness by saying, “This idol which you term virginity/Is neither essence subject to the eye,/No, nor to any one exterior sense,/Nor hath it any place of residence,/Nor is’t of earth or mould celestial,/Or capable of any form at all./Of that which hath no being do not boast;/Things that are not at all are never lost” (“Hero,” 269-74). Ovid offers chastity as a sort of nothingness also explaining that, “We break chaste vows when we live loosely ever;/But bound as we are, we live loosely never./Two constant lovers being joined in one,/Yielding to one another, yield to none” (“All Ovid’s Elegies,” 129, 14-17). There is a freedom in sexual submission, that permeates through Ovid’s verse, that one cannot experience in the rigid ideals of courtship in sixteenth-century Elizabethan culture. Leander uses verse as a means of asserting authority over his heroine, and critic Heather James suggests that Leander’s persuasion of Hero “illustrates a contrast to orthodoxy and quiet conformity” (“The Poet’s Toys,” 110). There is an innate desire within Leander, and his sexual pursuits of Hero allow a certain release that cannot otherwise be had. To ignore this licentious nature is to “lapse into silence” or a sort of voluntary slavery. James seems to suggest in her essay concerning the liberties of erotic elegy, that Marlowe understands a society that functions under a system of law and servitude. However, due to innate human impulse man must have a place free of governance, and that place exists in acts of love and eroticism (James, 103-27).
Classical texts serve Renaissance artists well because of the heroic forms of persuasion, and Marlowe is no exception. Leander’s attempt to persuade Hero takes on a distinctly Ovidian theme. In Elegia VIII, Ovid suggests that a woman’s body is most valuable when it is used. He writes, “Brass shines with use; good garments would be worn;/Houses not dwelt in are with filth forlorn./Beauty not exercised with age is spent,/Not one or two men are sufficient” (“All Ovid’s Elegies,” 113, 50-54). Marlowe’s Leander tells Hero, “Like untuned golden strings all women are,/Which, long time lie untouched, will harshly jar./Vessels of brass oft handled brightly shine;/What difference betwixt the richest mine,” and “Ah, simple Hero, learn thyself to cherish;/Lone women, like to empty houses perish” (“Hero,” 229-32, 241-42). Marlowe allows love and erotic desire to motivate the action. He displays Ovid’s overwhelming influence in both essence and verse. Both authors imply that anyone who understands these powerful feelings of base desire can achieve a certain level of authority, overturning traditional and potentially slavish customs. He suggests that the use of reason involved in the more Petrarchan tradition will only take the lover to a certain point. Ultimately human nature prevails over reason, and to deny oneself sexual pleasure is to be enslaved. Scholar Richard Neuse explains that perhaps the narrator of “Hero and Leander” follows “the tradition of the Epicurean naturalists: he shows himself skeptical of human reason and metaphysical pretentions, not to mention social institutions and conventions by which man fetters his own impulse” (“Atheism and Some Functions of Myth,” 427). Neuse suggests that myth in this fashion speaks to our nature as human beings. While I am not suggesting that Marlowe is trying to promote a particular type of behavior, I do suggest that Marlowe is emphasizing an aspect of the human condition that religious institutions of his period treated with contempt, rather than inherent characteristics outside of one’s control, like gender. Sexual ambiguity is not understood by praising particular qualities as either virtuous or not, but rather as seeing a person for whom he or she is, without the pretenses that Judeo-Christian society often demands.
Ultimately, I argue that the poetry of Marlowe and Ovid demonstrates that conventional bonds of servitude associated with religion may be better understood when a deeper understanding of the human condition is realized. In other words, ‘if I don’t understand my own desires and feelings, how am I to understand my relationships with others, in particular God?’ Ovid often plays with themes of human animalism throughout his works, suggesting that a force beyond our control is actively involved in who we are as sexual beings. For example, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Lycaon is transformed into a wolf, and Actaeon is transformed into a stag, relative to their animal natures. Marlowe does this as well throughout “Hero and Leander,” illustrating the base animal nature of the protagonists. When Leander is in bed with Hero for the first time she feels overcome with shame, “like chaste Diana when Actaeon spied her” (“Hero,” 745). After they consummate their love, Hero attempts to leave the bed when Leander clings to her so that “mermaid-like unto the floor she slid,/And half appeared; the other half was hid” (799-800). Ovid often describes his lover as nourishing, while Marlowe’s Leander is described as “delicious meat is to the taste” (63). For both poets, bold and licentious speech allows a certain outlet to express the base desires of humanity that many Elizabethan authors attempt to stifle. This leads to an understanding of the human condition that is intensely personal because the lover is transformed into more than just a man or woman. He or she is a vessel of nourishment as well as a beast that cannot be fully tamed. These paradoxes contribute to the impossible task of fully understanding human behavior.
There is a privatization of sexuality in Marlowe that is directly influenced by his translations of Ovid’s Elegies. In his introduction to “Hero and Leander,” Stephen Orgel suggests that Marlowe “tempts the Renaissance reader with his deepest desires” (15). In Book One Marlowe writes, “Thy husband to a banquet goes with me,/Pray God it may his latest supper be./Shall I sit gazing as a bashful guest,/While others touch the damsel I love best?” (“All Ovid’s Elegies,” 105,1-4). Ovid consistently takes the reader to a public place where he encounters his lover, yet the tone of the moment feels private. In Hero and Leander’s first encounter the narrator explains, “He started up, she blushed as one ashamed,/Wherewith Leander much more was inflamed./He touched her hand, in touching it she trembled;/Love deeply grounded hardly is dissembled” (“Hero,” 181-4). Although a festival is taking place around them, the encounter feels incredibly intense and personal. To allow the powers that be to govern one’s sexuality is to remove something from the private sphere and make it public. However, because of innate desire and sexual impulse, actual human nature and the condition thereof seems to oppose the ideals set forth by the Judeo-Christian society that Marlowe is navigating. Although those Christian precepts would not have been obstacles for Ovid, attempts to govern morality are familiar concepts that pre-date by far the early modern period. Ovid seems to operate, in his Elegies, in a liberal fashion that presents his poetry from a first-person point of view. He appears unconcerned with convention. Perhaps it is Marlowe’s Leander that is the manifestation of Ovid, rather than the poet himself.
By channeling Ovid’s ethics concerning sexuality, Marlowe effectively illustrates the private and powerful nature of desire, primarily through the character of Leander. The way that Leander is presented is typical of that of a female character in a story. More specifically, Leander’s beauty attracts both male and female attention, and the author spares no opportunity to elevate Leander to a god-like status. He writes, “my rude pen/Can hardly blazon forth the loves of men,/Much less of powerful gods. Let it suffice,/That my slack muse sings of Leander’s eyes (“Hero,” 69-72). Marlowe’s narrator also says that “some swore he was a maid in man’s attire,/For in his looks were all that men desire” (83-4). Marlowe’s Leander is reminiscent of an Ovidian Narcissus figure. In Ovid’s tale, Narcissus understands initially that the image is not real, that he should “turn away” from that which he cannot grasp. However, this beauty and connection that he feels toward his image is too powerful for him to resist. Ultimately, he loses the battle. Leander is a version of Narcissus. There is an element to his sexuality that cannot be understood. Chaste nuns, men, and even Gods are susceptible to his charms. Goran V. Stanovukovic suggests that “the Ovidian Golden Age was an age of unrestrained passion,” and men who live in a world without war will find themselves drawn to other men, and it is unsurprising (Early Modern Sexualities, 171). Ovid’s description of Narcissus is powerful and mysterious when he says, “As golden wax melts with gentle heat, as morning frosts are thawed by the warmth of the sun, so he was worn and wasted away with love, and slowly consumed by its hidden fire” (Metamorphoses, 85-7). It is possible that Marlowe’s handling of Leander’s beauty is less about homoeroticism as it is about a specific ideal and more about his attempt at explaining the naturalness of desire toward women and men. Perhaps Marlowe’s channeling of Ovid also stems from a desire to answer questions concerning human behavior in his period. Lynn Enterline and David Hillman suggest, “the Renaissance itself was deeply concerned with these issues of otherness and (in) accessibility” (“Other Selves,” 65). They go on to question the psychoanalytic works of the period. Clearly, early modern subjects had a deep desire to understand human behavior (63-8).
In Christopher Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander,” the poet channels the works and essence of his Muse Ovid. While this is not a revolutionary concept in early modern analyses of Marlowe, his motivation should be approached on a more intimate level. Marlowe is not simply interested in the way that Ovid wrote. He is engaging with the Roman poet in a way that exceeds mere inspiration. Marlowe is interested in the fundamental way that Ovid’s works speak to the nature of the individual. In a pre-Christian world, free from religious restraint and a strict governance of morality, Marlowe is interested in the motivations of man. To understand human flourishing, one must begin at the root of the human psyche. For Marlowe, sexual desire and ideals of love associated with erotic verse allow insight into such a world of understanding. Like his predecessor, Marlowe engages with concepts of epic tradition, animal natures of humans, the slavish bonds of love, and the private nature of desire. He juxtaposes the two worlds of antiquity and early modern to illustrate that certain human sensibilities transcend time, religion, and culture, and by doing so he illustrates that like many other concepts in Judeo-Christian society, to understand the behavior of man and the baseness of the human condition is to not understand at all. There are questions that cannot be answered. By realizing this, man can only hope to utilize reason to temper his brutish nature.
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Enterline, Lynn, and David Hillman. “Other Selves, Other Bodies.” Shakespeare Studies 33.(2005): 62-72. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
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Neuse, Richard. “Atheism And Some Functions Of Myth In Marlowe’s “Hero And Leander..” Modern Language Quarterly 31.4 (1970): 424-439. Professional Development Collection. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
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I just loved him. There was no long list of perfections. He was no more of one thing than another. In fact, he was rather broken. And like all broken things, some pieces were large, some were small, and some would never fit back in the place from which they fell. To know him in the morning was quite different than to know him in the afternoon, and the evening often varied from the night.
But oh how I loved him. He was more than my soul mate. He was the stuff that souls are made of…the substance and the life. To love him was to become part of the definition itself. To hear his voice was like breathing the salty air after hours under the sea. To feel his embrace was to feel the sun beat down on the back of your neck on a cold, windy afternoon.
He was everything. He was the night…and the morning. To love or to be in love…it was all the same for us. One could not be distinctly marked from the other because true love only exists as a whole. One feels it in every second. True love is inescapable. It is a luxurious prison and finding it is like finding a treasure in the middle of a forest. The forest is lovely, organic, and mysterious. Sporadically one may find an exotic plant…a lovely flower…or a poisonous snake. But you walk the path anyway, despite the potential danger, and your investment multiplies the further into darkness you wander.
Some days he was only darkness. Some days he was the light that peeks through the trees and reflects off of the rocks in such a way as to make one believe in something much larger than she.
Oh how brilliant he could be. It was in his eyes and the way I could see myself in them in our most intimate moments. Yes, he was the stuff that souls are made of, and I believed in him even when I didn’t believe in souls at all.
And oh how I loved him. I loved to crawl into the spaces the separated one broken piece from the next and simply lie there. It was easy you see, for my hand was always the perfect fit, and for a moment he was whole again. There were moments that I felt like I could reach inside of him and hold his heart in the palm of my hand, wear it upon my sleeve, cover up the traces of impulse with the permanency of love. Oh, combien j’aimais son cœur. Perhaps I was a little broken as well. Can a thing be only a little broken?
Something must at some point exist in a sort of wholeness, one would think, in order to be broken. I am not sure that I was ever whole. I certainly existed in pieces however. But if he was the stuff that souls are made of, and if he was the very definition of love, then perhaps I was the brokenness. Not the pieces of the thing that is broken, but the word. Two syllables, seven letters, and more pieces than one can count.