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Hades and Persephone in the underworld

Hades and Persephone in the underworld

People have been falling in love for hundreds of thousands of years, since they were monkeys and not really even people yet. And they have been telling stories about famous lovers for probably almost that long. Our earliest love stories go back to about 2500 BC, when people were just beginning to know how to write down stories. These stories tell us about people who did very brave things because of love, and about people who suffered terribly because of love. Sometimes they warn us about people who are mean or selfish when they are in love (that usually turns out badly!).

Some love stories are about the gods, whose love first created the earth – the love of Gaia and Ouranos in Greek myth, for instance. Or check out the story of Lei Kung and Lei Zi, the Chinese gods of thunder and lightning. Later on, the gods often had complicated love stories, like Ares and Aphrodite or Hades and Persephone.

stone carving of a scene from the Ramayana

A scene from the Ramayana

Other stories are about people. Some people were very brave because of their love. Medea, for example, risked her life to help Jason bring home the Golden Fleece, and Ariadne risked hers to help Theseus kill the Minotaur. In the Indian story of the Ramayana, Prince Rama has all kinds of adventures to rescue his wife Sita.

The medieval couple Heloise and Abelard, on the other hand, suffered terribly because of their love. So did Oedipus and Jocasta, in Greek myth.

Kidnapping Helen of Troy (from Pompeii)

Kidnapping Helen of Troy (from Pompeii)

How about some people who acted badly because they were in love? Well, there’s Helen of Troy, who left her husband and ran off with another man. There’s Apollo, the god who cursed Cassandra because she didn’t want to go out with him. Or how about Actaeon, who spied on Aphrodite when she was taking a bath? Medusa, who was kissing her boyfriend in Athena’s temple? Phaedra, who lied to get Hippolytus in trouble when he didn’t want to go out with her? The Sumerian goddess Ishtar killed Gilgamesh’s best friend, because Gilgamesh didn’t want to marry her.

People also wrote stories and poems about how love could bring people closer to God. The Islamic poets Rumi and Omar Khayyam wrote about this, for instance.

More about Heloise and Abelard
More about Phaedra and Hippolytus

Bibliography and further reading about the history of love:

Stories about friends
Greek friends
Indian friends home