Knocking at each other’s door

The ancient Greek and Roman poets would be thrilled to learn that one of the key motifs of their poetry has become routine these days.

The world of lockdown is also one of paraclausithyron, the doleful cry of a lover standing at the beloved’s door, begging for entry and bewailing the exclusion. The ‘lament at the door’ is one of the enduring concepts of ancient erotic poetry. Think Romeo and Juliet, think Pyramus and Thisbe (R&J’s archetypes, in fact), or Dirty Dancing. Love often encounters a palisade, whether it be a metaphorical door, a mythical wall, or a genuine social-distancing measure.

For the Roman poets Horace and Tibullus, the door’s the enemy. For the other masters of the paraclausithyron, the enemy is that which causes the door, the wall, the separator, to isolate the two lovers. In our own inarticulate rendition of the motif, we blame the deus-ex-pestilentia of Covid-19 for prompting a daily paraclausithyron for our loved ones – we are all exclusi amatores, excluded lovers.

The lesson we learn from the ancient lovers’ conflict with the claustral door is that temporary separation should not lead to despair, but to hope and to a renewed desire for each other.

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