On love

By Ellis Washington

Note:: This article is based in part on excerpts from “Great Books of the Western World,” Vol. 3, Chp. 50 – “Love” and Vol. 4 – “Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey.”

Dilige, et quod vis fac – “Love, and do what you will.”

~ Augustine

According to the theologian, love is not restricted to realm of the divine and human, nor to those beings inferior to man who possess conscious desires. Natural love, Aquinas writes, is not only “in all the soul’s powers, but also in all the parts of the body, and universally in all things: because, as Dionysius says, ‘Beauty and goodness are beloved by all things.'”

The diversity of love appears to be both the general fact and the general problem for the psychologist, the ethicist, the theologian. The ancients had three separate words for the primary forms of love: eros, philia, agape in Greek; amor, amicitia (or dilectio), caritas in Latin. Because English has only word for love, it appears essential to apply such expressions as “sexual love,” “love of friendship” and “love of charity” with the purpose of plainly indicating that love is mutual to all three, and to differentiate the three connotations. Nevertheless, we are compelled to embrace Augustine’s view of law as he argues that the Bible “makes no distinctions between amor, dilectio and caritas,” and the Scriptures in the “amor is used in a good connection.”

Regarding the objects of law: the good, the true, the beautiful; God, man and things, we now come to Homer’s “Iliad.” In Book III the two sages, Ucalegon and Antenor, remark to on another when they see Helen toward the tower, “Small wonder that Trojans and Achaeans, should endure so much and so long, for the sake of a woman so marvelously and divinely lovely. Still, fair though she be, let them take her and go, or she will breed sorrow for us and for our children after us.” Recall that it was the love/lust of Paris, Troy’s King Priam’s son, for Helen (sister-in-law of King Agamemnon) that compelled Paris to kidnap her back to Troy, thus precipitating the ancient version of World War II – the Trojan War (c. 1260-1240 B.C.).

Regarding the intensity and power of law: its increase or decrease; its constructive or destructive force, in Homer’s “Iliad” Book XVIII the hero Achilles responds to a question by his mother, “My son, why are you thus weeping? What sorrow has now befallen you?” Achilles groaned and answered, “… seeing that my dear comrade Patroclus has fallen.” The 2004 movie “Troy,” featuring Brad Pitt as Achilles, effectively dramatized this event from the “Iliad” in the pivotal battle scene against Hector to avenge the death of his cousin Patroclus, whom Hector had killed in an earlier battle thinking it was Achilles. Here again is the irony of love causing death.

Regarding patterns of love and friendship in the family, in Homer’s “Odyssey” Book XVI, after 20 years of privation suffered in the Trojan War, countless ordeals with monsters, tsunamis, witches and the unpredictable wrath of the gods, our hero Ulysses, gray and haggard comes disguised as a beggar. Yet Minerva (Athena), goddess of wisdom and magic, “touched him with her golden wand,” changed his clothes and gave him the appearance of a strong, vigorous young man to such a degree that Ulysses’ son Telemachus for a time insisted that he was a god and refused to look directly at him for fear of offending the gods. Finally, Ulysses said, “‘I am no god. … I am your father on whose account you grieve and suffer so much at the hands of lawless men.’ As he spoke he kissed his son, and a tear fell from his cheek on to the ground, for he had restrained all tears till now.”

Regarding marital love: its sexual, fraternal and romantic components, recall that Circe made Ulysses her love slave for a year in order to remove the curse by which the sorceress turning Ulysses’ men into pigs (from which I believe the aphorism originated, “Men are pigs”). If this sexual slavery wasn’t bad enough, Ulysses later had to spend seven years in captivity on Calypso’s island, Ogygia, because Calypso falls deeply in love with Ulysses.

For all of his 20 years of Strum und Drang (storm and stress), passion, war, death, starvation, cunning, imprisonment, fear, privation, pressure, pain and loss, Homer’s “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” in particular is a love story of Ulysses – a singular man, a father, a husband … the king of Ithaca just trying to come home after doing his duty as a soldier, fulfilling his mission as a general of the Greek legions fighting heroically in the Trojan War, yet the gods were against him every step of his long odyssey back home to embrace and comfort his loving, long-suffering wife, Penelope. Ulysses could have remained on the island of Aeaea with the sorceress Circe, but he didn’t. Ulysses could have stayed on the island of Ogygia as Calypso’s love slave where she promised to make him a demigod, but he refused. Why? His heart didn’t belong to either of those strange women; it belonged to his wife, and he would not rest until he embraced his beloved or died trying.

In my mind, the story of Ulysses is the ultimate love story for the Ages – a pure, eternal love that fulfills the scripture John 15:13: There isno greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Media wishing to interview Ellis Washington, please contact [email protected].


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