Love at first sight is an emotional condition whereby a person feels romantic attraction for a stranger on the first encounter with the stranger. The term may be used to refer to a mere sexual attraction or crush, but it usually refers to actually falling in love with someone literally the very first time one sees him or her, along with the deep desire to have an intimate relationship with that person. The stranger may or may not be aware that the other person has any such notion, and may not even be aware of the other person's presence (such as in a crowded place). Sometimes two people experience this phenomenon towards each other at the same time, usually when their eyes meet. See also love.
Classical authors (as exemplified by Ovid in his The Art of Love, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon, or Dido's passion for Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid) explained the phenomenon of "love at first sight" through an elaborate metaphoric (and sometimes mythological) psychological schema: the image of the beautiful loved object (and in particular the sight of his or her eyes) was said to be like arrows; if these arrows were to arrive at the lover's eyes, they would then travel to and 'pierce' and 'wound' his or her heart and overwhelm him/her with desire and longing (love sickness). In the event that the loved object was cruel or uninterested, this desire would drive the lover into a state of depression, causing lamentation and illness. Occasionally, the loved objects — because of their sublime beauty — are depicted as unwitting ensnares of lovers (their beauty is a "divine curse" that inspires men to kidnap them or try to rape them).
The source of "arrows" were sometimes translated through the mythological image of Cupid. The gaze of a beautiful woman is sometimes compared to the sight of a basilisk. Stories in which unwitting men catch sight of the naked body of Diana the huntress (and sometimes Venus) lead to similar ravages (as in the tale of Actaeon). The image of the "arrow's wound" is sometimes used to create oxymorons and rhetorical antithesis.
Another classical interpretation of the phenomenon of "love at first sight" could be 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."
Love at first sight in literature
The classical schema of the lover's eyes, the arrows and the ravages of "love at first sight" were frequently borrowed in western Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque literature and pictoral imagery . Such is, for example, the case of the classically inspired images of If Love's a Sweet Passion from Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen (act 3):
If Love's a Sweet Passion, why does it torment?
If a Bitter, oh tell me whence comes my content?
Since I suffer with pleasure, why should I complain,
Or grieve at my Fate, when I know 'tis in vain?
Yet so pleasing the Pain is, so soft is the Dart,
That at once it both wounds me, and Tickles my Heart.
Other works which use these tropes include:
• The first sight of the beautiful princess Angelica (character) in Ariosto's Orlando furioso and the witch Armida in Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered enchant the knights that perceive them; Giovanni Boccaccio's Elegy of Lady Fiammetta describes the ravages of love at first sight on a woman.
• Love at first sight is a recurring popular theme in fiction. Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare is probably the best-known example.
• In the French novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, the characters Marius Pontmercy and Cosette fall in love after glancing into each others' eyes.
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