Eros is defined as the representation of the Greek god of love, Cupid, intimate and physical love, or sexual desire (Dictionary Website, 2010). Eros had been the one of the most popular themes used in literature and arts, particularly the works from the Renaissance period and the Era of Romanticism. So often was it used as a strong bond between two beings, whether it be a heterosexual or homosexual. It captivated the interests of not only poets but also philosophers from different time periods.
Two of the most distinguished icons of Greek civilization had incorporated Eros in their works; Plato in his Symposium and Sappho with her poetry. Both interpretations for Eros clashed with each other. It was quite understandable seeing that both famous figures practiced different arts; Plato with Socratic philosophies while Sappho had her mythological-influenced poetry. Each may have an opposing definition of Eros; however, one could not deny that their Eros also carried risks. This essay would like to discuss what the risks behind varying definitions of Eros are and what the precautions in overcoming the problem are.
Plato wrote on his Symposium the past events circling his predecessor, Socrates, and his debates with his followers before his execution. Eros, according to both Plato and Socrates, is a common desire that sought beauty through ideas. Love and wisdom should be treated in the same manner as the hunger for beauty and philosophical curiosity is endless. Eros is above physical intimacy. Sexual intercourse is considered by these philosophers as nothing more but giving in to animalistic instincts, hence considered as being on the same level with dogs and donkeys.
Eros produced from rational discourse or exchange of ideas is the ultimate pursuit of beauty (Idea). It appears that Eros for Plato is often one-sided love; reciprocity is not a requirement for attaining it. The desire itself is sufficient for one philosopher. The risk in Plato’s Eros is that there is an imbalance of emotions. It seems that only one party had to do the labor while his significant other could just float away. This seems to contradict with the reciprocity requirement; how could two beings achieved the Ideal Beauty if there was no exchange of discourse?
This was also inquired by Hippothales, who shared the same preference with Socrates for beautiful young boys in the Symposium. Socrates berated Hippothales’ spoiling of his ardent desire in the form of the boy Lysis. Quoted from the Symposium, Socrates stated, “the greater your praise of his beauty and goodness, the more you will seem to have lost and the more you will be ridiculed— This is how you should talk to your boyfriends, Hippothales, making them humble and drawing in their sails, instead of swelling them up and spoiling them, as you do” (Reeve, 2007; Mosely, 2005)
Sappho’s poetry, on the other hand, defined Eros differently. She considered her poems as a public medium between her and the audience. Gestures, dancing, and music are required on her poetry recital to enchant or persuade the listeners the message she was delivering. In her most noted poem the phainetai moi, Eros is defined as force of power or magic, to the point of describing its strength as godlike. Sappho interpreted Eros through the love shared and bonded by women, quite the irony to Plato’s Symposium.
Personal encounter is the focal point in this poem. Sappho measured this encounter with passionate and erotic emotions. Eros is seen as ritualistic, almost pagan. Sappho seemed to celebrate Eros through a communal setting with the oral recital of this poem. Compared to Plato where Eros is seen as the ultimate stage to enlightenment through rational discussion, Sappho is quit more liberal, artistic, and more vocal on displaying the emotions on Eros. Eros is defined as a feeling of what is lacking and always seeking to fill this emptiness.
The risk on Sappho’s Eros is that one foot is on reality while the other is on fantasy. Passion alone would not help a man to keep his sanity. This Eros could blind the men’s sight on intellect, similar to how Dionysus made his follower frenzy with lust and inebriated. To prevent of being overwhelmed by this Eros, one must keep his mind working and to think several times before allowing one’s self to be swallowed by emotions. Society’s norms would keep this insanity at bay as the people would rather follow their traditions and laws rather being ostracized (Greene, 1996; West, 2010).
References: Reeve, C. D. C. , “Plato on Friendship and Eros”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed. ), URL = <http://plato. stanford. edu/archives/fall2008/entries/plato-friendship/>. WEST, ELEONORA. “Eros”. May 4 2010 <http://www. bookrags. com/research/eros-eorl-04/>. Greene, Ellen. Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1996 1996. http://ark. cdlib. org/ark:/130130/ft3199n81q