This morning I was given my first blogging assignment. A dear friend of mine has asked me to write a blog on the rather daunting subject of Eros and the Erotic. This European friend has very particular views on this subject, which I will attempt to convey here, as well as giving my own perspective on what these words mean and why they are important.
To begin with: for those of you who are not familiar with the origin of Eros, let me enlighten you. Eros is one of the most important gods in the ancient Greek pantheon. The poet Hesiod wrote in circa 800 B.C.,
“Eros, who is love, handsomest among all the immortals
who breaks the limb’s strength, who in all gods, in all human beings
overpowers the intelligence in the breast, and all their shrewd planning.”
Thomas Moore, in his book The Soul of Sex, writes about Eros in his introduction. He says,
“In Greek literature eros is nothing less than the magnetism that holds the entire universe together, and human love in its many forms is simply a participation in the greater eros. Later, the Greek philosopher Empedocles linked the binding attraction that keeps all things connected and working in harmony with the allures and desires that ordinarily we call sexual.”
Plato developed an idealistic concept of Eros. In Plato’s dialogue The Symposium, he argues that Eros is initially felt for a person, but that with contemplation it can become an appreciation for the beauty within that person, or even an appreciation for Beauty itself. Eros can help the soul to remember Beauty in its pure form. Ultimately, Plato considers Eros to be a longing for wholeness or completeness. (Wikipedia)
My friend reminds me, “Remember that the important part of the Eros story is that he is a half god.”
“’What then is love?’ I asked ‘Is he mortal?’ ‘No.’ ‘What then?’ ‘As the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two.’ ‘What then is he, Diotima?’ ‘He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.’ ‘And what,’ I said, ‘is his power?’ ‘He interprets, ‘she replied, ‘between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all, prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love.’” (Plato, the Symposium)
For many of us who grew up in the English-speaking world, we can search our memory banks for what we were taught about Eros in Western literature class in high school or college, and that might be the last time we really thought about Eros in the Greek way. Now we come to another aspect of Eros, that having to do with sexuality. Thomas Moore again,
“Eros is not the physical expression in sex alone, but is rather the physical and the emotional combined. More accurately, it is the meaningful connection established by sex, felt and understood by people making love. This eros we feel in sex and romance is also the broader magnetism that holds the universe together, the go-between spirit said to keep the planets in orbit and the seasons on track. The soul has a need for all that eros offers, for a world that holds together and a whole life that is creative and motivated by love.”
My friend writes, “On the continent we have a totally mad logic, not based on rational dividing and defining, but something called dialectics, or Hegel’s logics: Nothing, Becoming, Eternity and all that erotic mad stuff. But in England they are practical, that is their madness, they have their own logos, logic, so different from the continental thinking. That makes what they say easy to comprehend. But not necessarily true.”
From here we can see that, according to my friend, Europeans and us humans in England and the United States have quite different perspectives about Eros and the Erotic. Since I am American, I can only write about eros from the more American, modern way of thinking and use of these terms. From this perspective, it is my opinion that the Erotic,or that which can be called erotic, also has a lot to do with a kind of sensuality which could easily morph into sexuality in any given moment. These are simply words, but the reality of life does not separate concepts into neat boxes the way that dictionaries do, as my friend pointed out. What comes to your minds when you hear the word Erotic, dear Readers? The answers are most likely widely varied, and yet I would venture to guess that for many of you, some elements of sexuality are included, as well as love and beauty. They are all wrapped up with each other, you see. There are, no doubt, shelves of library tomes devoted to this very subject strewn all over the western world. It is a fascinating subject, one worth spending some time pondering.
What we say to each other matters. In order to have real communication between people, we need words which we both understand when having a conversation. And yet. Many words which we might consider a no-brainer to understand, actually have far more subtle and varied meanings than we realize. And then we can get into all sorts of trouble in our communication, because I am using this word, (for example, erotic,) and mean one thing, while you hear it, and understand it in another way from how I intended. Then we end up not really understanding each other and instead getting trapped into strange, convoluted meanderings and possible hurt feelings, all because we were not on solid ground to begin with, linguistically speaking. As you can easily see, language is vastly complex.
The main thing my intelligent and thoughtful friend has taught me about the idea of eros and the erotic, is that it has a far broader and more spiritual meaning than I realized before we had this dialogue about it. Rather than just using it to describe sensual and sexually-based images and experiences, I now see that Eroticism has more to do with the connection between our physical being and our spiritual one. We stand in the middle ground between heaven and earth, between levity and gravity, between light and darkness. Use whatever metaphor you wish, but the truth remains that we are all of it and none of it, and we need eros (as another word for love) to become aware of the whole of our existence. Love is the middle ground, the great connector between divinity and humanity. Love in the form of Eros does for us humans what sun and rain do for the plant world; it makes us grow and bloom and become glorious.
Dear Readers, thanks for reading my attempt at clarification of this intricate and ponderous subject. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.