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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Sickness of Eros

The sickness of eros is often described in the context of the seasons. The idea of polar opposites, hot and cold, moist and dry, allow for a blend in temperance and harmony, they bring to men, animals, and plants health and plenty, and do them no harm; whereas the wanton love, getting the upper hand and affecting the seasons of the year, is very destructive and injurious, being the source of pestilence, and bringing many other kinds of diseases on animals and plants; for hoar-frost and hail and blight spring from the excesses and disorders of these elements of love, which to know in relation to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies and the seasons of the year is termed astronomy. However, the sickness of eros can also be observed in many forms and in many sources of literature. We see this illness of love in Euripides’ Medea, Chloe and Daphnis, and also in the tyrannical rule of governors as well as their ill rebutted affairs and love of youths, described by Socrates as “a disease of the soul” in the Symposium by Plato.

Lingus' tale of Chloe and Daphnis is an attempt to portray a woman in her most un-desirous form. As a creature of lust and prone to the pathetic notions of admiring someone from a far she might not deserve. However, the ultimate theme or resolution to this romantic obstacle course is marriage, and the consummation of that union. The entire plot is wreaked with longing and love sickness, as Chloe admires and lusts for Daphnis. Yet, she is in the beginning of womanhood and she is not well versed in the sexual exploits of men. As the story unfolds, Daphnis sleeps with older women and gains worldly experience as opposed to Chloe who has the opportunity to experiment, but doesn’t. She must remain virginal until her wedding night, which is the stereotypical idea of women and the same for men. The intrigue and unbearable nature of the story explains the notion of eros. You will succumb to diseases of love if you don’t satisfy it, and in Chloe and Daphnis’s case, love is death unless consummated.

We also see the concept of eros as a sickness in Medea. If eros had not inspired Medea to fall in love with Jason, and be cast aside, her lust would have never drove her to act in such a violent way. She murdered her brother and essentially hacked him up into little pieces like a serial murderer; killed her children with Jason; murdered Jason’s new wife with a crown and robe laced with poison, which burned the skin off her body. After which, her father King Creon died holding her lifeless body. She later tried to trick her husband into poisoning his son Theseus. The idea here is that not only is eros destructive, but for some like Medea, it is a love illness. She never acts with moderation and never just accepts the fact the love can be fleeting. Her approach to her husband was not much different than a young girl with an innocent crush on an older man. They are often delirious with hope or resentment, and see no woman as a match to herself.

Plato’s Symposium is a drinking party held essentially to explain love using a sequence of speeches. The party is for Agathon to celebrate his prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in 416 B.C.. Each man must deliver an encomium (praise of a person or thing), a speech in praise of Eros. Love is the supreme god and only the young can enjoy it. Socrates in his speech asserts that the highest purpose of love is to become a philosopher, or literally, a lover of wisdom. However he also speaks of the sickness of eros, which is hidden behind the lines of the speeches and conversation. Socrates experiences difficulty in explaining what the sickness of tyrannical eros is. He evidently does associate it with desire, but is that not the same as eros? Socrates declares that it is a human madness, a disease of the soul.

There are several manifestations and types of the sickness of tyrannical eros, but typically it is directed simultaneously at individual persons and would be a tyrant's polity. The diseased eros variously desires to use its beloveds not only as agents of sexual pleasure but also as slavish sources of wealth, position, and honor. The sick eros hopes to convert its polity into an instrument of world conquest that improves its domestic status; a guarantee of its illicit sexual and social interests; a tool that facilitates a tyrannical technician's conquest of nature; an engine that co-opts all mankind into its metaphysical revolt; a vast association organized to worship its metaphysical revolt; a vast association organized to worship the man who incarnates it; and the slavish power base that deifies the tyrant by making him ruler of the world . In all these forms, the diseased eros employs "moving logoi" that transfer the emotional effects of beauty from beautiful realities to itself in order to seduce the intended slaves, charming them into embracing the tyrant and the tyranny as beautiful.

Eryximachus explains that there two kinds of love in the human body. One love is healthy and the other is diseased. Their desires are unlike one another, and as Pausanias stated prior to this speech, to indulge good men is honorable, and bad men dishonorable, so too in the body the good and healthy elements are to be indulged, and the bad elements and the elements of disease are not to be indulged, but discouraged . On the other hand, Phaedrus articulated that eros could be a public expression if the cities rules for love permitted lovers to openly walk about like average citizens. Aristophanes thought Phaedrus was wrong to believe that one could let eros go public and still retain a private good: there is no non-lover; eros is definitive of the human and, as essentially political, rules our any transpolitical life defined by a transpolitical good available to man as man. The city is a world of falsehood from which there is no ascent and man is not merely suffering from a sickness, he is a sickness and this sickness has no cure .

Socrates battles with himself throughout the Symposium about the cures that could possibly heal or cure the aristocratic forms of the sickness, and the Phaedrus depicts them working to defeat his attempt to heal the democratic prototype of the disease. However, we might be able to apply Socrates' therapies to our own would-be tyrants with better results, if we catch their illnesses in time. According to Aristophanes, the only cure to the illness of love, plutonic love, or however these men may define it, is through eros. This is because Eros is not the chief attribute of human beings or the most prominent symptom of our illness, but a god or a divine physician who is able to overcome our suffering and heal our affliction .

Therefore love, or the sickness of love, was not only about inhibited love or desire, but the way in which one acted upon their desires. Medea believed in violence and revenge, not only because her honor had been put at stake, but also because the love that she professed for Jason was so great, thus turning to obsession. Chloe and Daphnis was merely a case of unrequited love, and love unconsummated until marriage. In Plato’s Symposium, the speeches touch on plutonic love and the acceptance of eros between two men, as long as it was behind closed doors. Yet, an underlying theme existed in the Symposium, which allowed the speech givers to understand the sickness of love expressed between two men, which only eros could be the cure.

Work's Cited
  • Berg, Steven. Eros and the intoxications of enlightenment: on Plato's Symposium. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010.
  • Rhodes, James M. Eros, Wisdom, and Silence: Plato's erotic dialogues. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.
  • Jowett, Benjamin trans.Plato’s Symposium. Penguin Books Limited, London, 1956.


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