Love at first sight is a personal experience and a common theme in creative works: a person or character feels an instant, extreme, and ultimately long-lasting romantic attraction for a stranger upon first seeing that stranger. It has been described by poets and critics since the emergence of ancient Greece.

Historical conceptions


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 effect 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 8 AD epic, Metamorphoses, Narcissus becomes immediately spellbound and charmed by his own (unbeknownst to him) image, and Echo also falls in love with Narcissus at first sight. 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]

Another classical interpretation of the phenomenon of "hunger at first sight" is found in Plato's Symposium (c. 385-370 BC), 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

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]

Giovanni Boccaccio provides a memorable example 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]

William Shakespeare pays a posthumous tribute to Christopher Marlowe, who himself wrote "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" in his 1598 poem Hero and Leander, by citing him the next year 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

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, but not the first moment, of a relationship have been 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]

Infatuation, not to be confused with love at first sight, is the state of being carried away by an unreasoned passion or assumed love. Hillman and Phillips describe it as a desire to express the libidinal attraction of addictive love,[12] inspired with an intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone.

Occurrence in literature and the arts

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, 1884, by Edward Burne-Jones, depicts an older tale of love at first sight.

Biblical references


Popular songs

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Opera plots must be condensed to fit their rendition in music and are thus highly suited to plot lines in which the principals fall in love at first sight. Often, this moment inspires composers to unusually fine music. Abundant examples include:



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See also


  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 the 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; Cairns, Huntington (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. Archived from the original on 25 November 2009. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
  12. ^ Hillman and Phillips
  13. ^ 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."
  14. ^ Theodore W. Jennings Jr. (2005). Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel. Continuum. p. 25. ISBN 978-0826417121. As we have noticed, the attraction of Jonathan to David begins almost immediately as Saul is delighted in his new companion. This attraction is given extravagant expression. In the first place it appears to be love at first sight. We are told: "When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David" (1 Sam 18:1). Is it something David has said? Not likely. For what David has said to Saul is "I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite" (17:58). It is not something David has said. Instead, the reader's gaze has twice been directed to David's extraordinary beauty.
  15. ^ Yaron Peleg (2005). "Love at First Sight? David, Jonathan, and the Biblical Politics of Gender". Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 30 (2): 176. doi:10.1177/0309089205060606. S2CID 145510830.
  16. ^ Alan Redpath (2004). The Making of a Man of God: Lessons from the Life of David. Revell. p. 50. ISBN 978-0800759223. We see, in the first place, that the love of Jonathan and David was pure in its origin. It seems to have been a case of "love at first sight (1 Samuel 19:3-4). As Jonathan saw David come back from the battle with the head of Goliath in his hand, he loved him as one brave soldier might love another
  17. ^ David and Bathsheba: Through Nathan's Eyes Joel Cohen, Paulist Press, May 14, 2007, 113 pp.
  18. ^ Plot description from Henry Lowell Mason (1913) Opera Stories. Available on line at [1].
  19. ^ Quotation from [2].
  20. ^ For English translation of lyrics see [3].