Friends and Lovers

Friends and Lovers

Friends and Lovers

Friends and Lovers

Excerpt

In our cold-comfort culture the emotional demonstration of love, particularly between members of the same sex, may be restricted to the occasional handshake, a furtive Valentine card, or an annual Christmas present. Even the formal kiss on the cheek which an Italian gives his friend is looked upon by the Anglo-Saxon as a betrayal of virility. Yet when Jonathan 'fell in love' with David, one of his first actions was to strip himself of the robe that he was wearing, his sword, his bow, and his girdle and give them to his friend - the gift of his personal belongings symbolizing, according to oriental ideas, the gift of his personality. And in his funeral oration over the bodies of Jonathan and his father, Saul, David unselfconsciously admitted to a love for his friend which was 'wonderful, passing the love of women'. Achilles, on the death of Patroclus, gathered black mould from the ground, smeared his 'lovely face' in it, rent his clothes, and tore out his 'gracious curls'. Even in Europe two men who loved one another expressed it more fulsomely in the past - pledging undying friendship and even exchanging blood in the sacred precincts of a church, with a priest officiating. Why have we learnt to restrict ritual, passionate declaration, and open mourning to the association of spouses in marriage or romantic lovers ? Why has friendship lost both emotional expression and ceremonial patterning in our culture?

Western culture, as in so many other things, is unique in its attitudes to love. We talk confidently, for example, of the heart as the seat of love and have convinced ourselves that this really is so. Yet the Trobrianders place it in the intestines or on the surface of the stomach. Some West Africans feel it in the nose, while Australian Aborigines use the subincised penis as an organic symbol of friendship. Among the Busama of New . . .

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