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Love in the Western World Essay

This paper will trace in general the different views on love as expressed by the different speakers in Plato’s Symposium and explore in detail the theories of Eros, Philia, Storge and Agape and the bearing it has on the notions of erotic love, filial love, sacrificial love and spiritual love. Another area that will be drawn into focus is the theory of “platonic love” based on Plato’s hypothesis. The context of the symposium is a get-together of the students of Socrates who get to talking and decide to take turns and speak in praise of Eros, the God of Love.Of the speakers Phaedrus speaks first and talks about the virtuosity Eros promotes in those who experience love. He talks about the awareness that true love can inspire in humans so that man becomes conscious of the noble qualities of honor, loyalty, courage and fidelity.Pausanius is the next to speak and dwells on the different kinds of love, from the common banal love to the higher, spiritual kind of love. The earthy love is not as noble as the intellectual love which is more faithful and elevates the mind and is completely devoid of desire. According to him the pursuit of higher knowledge and wisdom is the more honorable and the wantonness of physical love is shameful.Eryximachus talks about the concept of good love that helps man to be judicious and methodical. Eryximachus is a doctor and philosopher and talks about love beyond relationships, about intellectualism, the love of ideas, concepts and the fine arts like music. He speaks of the advantages love brings to humans, the most important being the ability to discern between honor and dishonor. He believes that there are opposing kinds of loves in every living being including animals and plants. However, true love is achieved through a synthesis of these opposing elements and that it can be the fountain and source of power, friendship and happiness (Plato’s Symposium).Aristophanes, the jester and humorist came up with the concept of love as man in search of his soul mate and partner in order to feel one complete whole. He talks about man being split into half by Zeus for threatening to over run the Gods. Later Zeus modified his terrible act and allowed the two halves to marry as man and woman. It is said that ever since the two halves have been in search of the other.Socrates himself speaks last of all and talks of love as being the human desire for knowledge, wisdom and beauty. Love is the desire for what is beautiful and may not necessarily mean beauty in itself. According to Socrates love is the mere interface between what he desires and the object of his desire. When man has achieved real love he will be able to create beauty, conceptualize perfection and become wise and virtuous.In Greek mythology Eros is one of the three oldest Gods along with Cronos and Chaos and stands for love. The word ‘erotic’ is derived from the God of love, Eros, who encourages and endorses all those who seek him to perform acts of virtue and merit. As has been mentioned before, all those present at the party or symposium have laid down their postulates and have spoken about different kinds of love and what it does for man. To further explore the concept of the various kinds of love let us consider the broad definition of these categories: Agape, Storge, Philia and Eros.Agape stands for spiritual love, the kind of love God has for his creatures and the love man strives to return. This kind of love transcends physical boundaries and is a higher form of love which finds fulfillment in just being there. It kindles spirituality and is perfection itself. Nothing can tarnish this kind of love and to most mortals seems almost impossible to attain. We can find examples of this kind of love in Christianity. In literature, I have found this kind of love being depicted in certain kinds of love lyrics that belong to the Renaissance age. In Petrarch’s poetry for instance, the poet’s object of desire, the enigmatic Laura, is continually shown as someone unreachable. Laura’s eyes are compared to stars; her face is often described as being so radiant as to make looking at her impossible. This imagery often ties up with how the apprehension of God is described in Christianity. Here, the conflict between Eros and Agape is continually present. The poet often feels helplessly tied between the demands of the earthier, physical Eros and the spiritual, the allegedly purer kind of Agape (Houston).Storge is synonymous with love that engenders sacrifice and purity. This is the kind of love parents feel for their children. This kind of love does not wait for reciprocity to grow and is there notwithstanding. The story of Abraham and Isaac is an interesting biblical instance of these two kinds of love where Storge is compelled to be sacrificed for the greater Agape. In order to prove the full extent of his Agape, his total devotion to God, Abraham is asked to sacrifice the thing he loves most. This happens to be Abraham’s son Isaac, the person for who he feels the greatest Storge. In the biblical context, Agape is undeniably higher than Storge. Abraham is therefore first made to prove the full extent of his Agape before God relents and lets him keep the object of his Storge. Other instances of pronounced Storge in literature include the love Cordelia feels for her father, King Lear in Shakespeare’s play. In this case however the Storge is made to complete its sacrifice in a sense because both the king’s beloved daughter and the king himself die in the end.Philia, or brotherly love, exists between friends, brothers and neighbors. This kind of love helps people to bond closely without being passionate or amorous. This kind of love prompts the feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood. A good example at hand would be the kind of love soldiers have amongst each other, where they bond intimately and share their joys and sorrows together without a hint of any physical attraction or manifestations. In Greek history, I have noticed the love depicted in the story of Damon and Pythias to be of this form. In the legend Damon and Pythias both survive Dionysus’ wrath because of their intense love for each other. But in another tale from the bible, the ending is not nearly as fortunate. Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve, at first loved each other in the truest sense of Philia. However, with the preference God showed for Abel’s sacrifice of animals over Cain’s agricultural offerings, Cain’s love turns to intense jealousy and he ends up killing Abel. This is possibly the best known example of Philia getting overturned.Eros is passionate love, which can in most cases be closely linked to physical attraction and sexual love. Eros is often closely associated with the animal kingdom and therefore classically considered to be a lower form. Eros can often contend with Agape as we have seen earlier. And a popular example of this is in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The love that the two young nobles feel for each other is no doubt arising from a certain attraction, or Eros. And yet the manner in which they express their love for each other in a language that is similar to that of Agape. Romeo and Juliet address each other in abject terms, making it a love not of equals but of one subservient to the other. This of course is one of the most common features of Agape.Although classically Eros is considered to be a lower form than Agape, as we have seen discussed in the Symposium, I personally feel this is not entirely fair. It is true that people often consider it nobler to love a person without wanting to possess him or her in a physical or earthly way. By implication this means that a person loves someone for more than their physicality, that is to say a love founded on something deeper than superficial beauty. This is true in theory, but not always in practice. We often find that the Agape is more often than not directed towards someone of higher social standing, or towards a woman who is unreachable, like a noblewoman or even the queen. This amounts to nothing short of sycophancy sometimes. Is it then less hypocritical than loving someone for their appearance?Eros is also equated with the animal kingdom and is therefore considered “lower.” But why should something, that takes place in the natural world, be considered lower? If animals love each other erotically, does it not make it a more natural, or even a “higher” love? After all this kind of love is based on the truth of the body’s responses to the beloved; if someone is beautiful and attractive physically, why should it be wrong to feel attraction or love for this person? Even if it is based only on appearances, Eros is more genuine. There is no verbal intrusion that allows lovers to lie to each other or praise each other in hollow terms.Philia too I think is often under-rated in the present generation. Friends can often feel a lot of love between them without it being the Erotic or even the Agape type of love. We have been brainwashed by popular movies and books into always expecting friendships to turn into love as that fits in with the perfect happy ending of the plot. But why should this be? Why is simple, platonic love that expects nothing physical or romantic in return be less of a love than any other kind? After all, is it not nobler for two friends to love each other in spite of the fact that they have nothing physical or romantic to gain from each other?Storge also is often under-appreciated in popular culture. Love that exists within families has become such a rare instance in the days of divorce and estrangement that perhaps more of art needs to depict it now, more than ever. People seem to forget that our families are what we are born into. We carry our parents’ genes and share them with our siblings and nothing or no one else can ever change that. It is true that we are often unfortunate in this regard and there are many children brought into this world in an unloving family, but even so the love that exists between members of the family is something that precedes life itself. Just to think about what a pregnant mother endures for nine months and so many years following the birth, is enough to prove the argument.In conclusion, I think it is fruitless to spend hours debating on which form of love is higher than the others because each kind of love, whether borne out of devotion, lust, filial ties or friendship, is a distinct kind of love. A sort of love that is unique to itself and therefore deserving of special attention. Instead of trying to compare them it is perhaps best to be grateful to know that they all exist.Works CitedDe Rouguemont, Denis. Love in the Western World. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1940. Print.Houston, Beth. “Longing for Laura.” Able Muse. 2002. Web. 2 May 2010. 

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