[Male Friendship: David and Jonathan, Castor and Pollux, Achilles and Patroclus, and Roland and Oliver.] Bronze doors on the former Adelphi Bank, Castle Street, Liverpool, by Thomas Stirling Lee (1857-1916). Building designed by W. D. Caröe, c. 1891-92; the doors are dated 1892 (actually, 1A8 9D2). [Click on the images above for larger ones.]

Lee, a London sculptor, caused a stir amd received much criticism for an earlier Liverpool commission when his The Attributes and Results of Justice portrayed the child Justice and the girl Justice as nude girls. Perhaps he considered these four examples of homosocial — same-sex — friendship a safer subject. Certainly, his examples, one biblical, two classical, and the last medieval, had a long history in the literature of friendship.

Books 1 and 2 Samuel in the Old Testament tell the story of the passionate friendship of David and Jonathan, the son of King Saul who protects him from his father's murderous jealousy. The middle panel here depicts the passage from 1 Samuel 19-22 when Jonathan instructs him to hide "by the stone Ezel" for three days after which he will come, shoot three arrows as if practicing archery, and signal” by what he tells his servant whom he sends to retrieve the arrows whether David can safely come out of hiding or should instead flee for his life. Although some rabbinic commentaries have stressed the covenant that the two men swore to each other (Wikipedia), most interpreters have taken David and Jonathan to represent the archetype of perfect friendship. After his friend dies in battle, David famously laments: “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” These words plus the actions of the two men have long made them embody an ideal Platonic friendship between men, and some commentators, particularly in the last century or so, have taken them signify — and justify — a homoerotic relationship. In fact, about the time Lee created these doors, Oscar Wilde cited David and Jonathan in defending his own homosexual relationships.

The middle panel depicts the scene in The Iliad in which Achilles mourns the death of his dear friend Patroclus, killed after he borrowed the hero's armor when he refused to fight. Achilles thereupon returns battle in order to avenge him, thereby exchanging a promised long fruitful life for glory and an early death. Robert Graves's translation of the The Iliad, The Anger of Achilles, offers the folowing version of the scene Lee depicts:

He pleadingly addressed his dead friend: 'Patroclus, since I must soon follow you underground, allow me to delay the funeral until I have taken vengeance on Hector, fetching his armour and his head as a gift for you. In proof of my anger and sincere grief, I swear to cut the throats of twelve noble Trojan prisoners before your pyre. In the meantime, pray lie here patiently among the ships. The young Trojan and Dardanian women captives whom you and I won by hard fighting at the assault of their cities, shall bewail you, day and night.'

Achilles ordered his comrades to make preparations for laying out Patroclus' corpse. They kindled fires beneath a large, three-legged cauldron, full of sweet water. Flames wrapped themselves around the belly of the cauldron, and it presently came to a boil. This hot water served to wash the gory corpse, which the layers-out then rubbed with olive oil. After pouring fresh unguents into the v/ounds, they placed Patroclus on a bier and threw over him a thin linen sheet and a white cloak. The assembled Myrmidons lamented loudly at Achilles' side throughout the hours of darkness.

Roland, Oliver, and a scene from The Song of Roland. The fourth scene, which is not here illustrated, depicts Castor and Pollux.

Photographs by Robert Freidus. Text by George P. Landow. [You may use thess images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.]

Last modified 1 November 2015