Love has many faces, and each aesthetic work presents it in its way. Still, a narration about love’s nature is endless as long as people are unable to word it; it is an infinite way of cognition that often sets its own rules. Homer’s famous character, Odysseus had to pass through numerous obstacles to reach his beloved aims: his homeland, wife, and son. Though he was not completely loyal during his adventures, memories about his native land and relatives always returned him on the pass to Ithaca. His love and aspiration for homecoming were testified as well as the loyalty of his wife, Penelope. She was surrounded by suitors who “respected nobody on earth, bad man or good, who came among them” (Homer 285). She had to oppose their persistence as well as try to protect Ithaca from their wasteful feasts. She did not see her husband for many years, as long as at the time of their parting their son was only an infant, and when Odysseus came back, Telemachus already had a small beard. The woman did not believe in her husband’s homecoming she thought that rather some immortal (Homer 285) came and saved them from suitors. Even her nannies words about Odysseus’ scar could not convince her and she insisted: “Dear nurse it is hard for you to trace the counsels of the everlasting gods, however wise you are” (Homer 286). Her stubbornness did not mean that she did not want to see her husband again. Though, she lived in the world, where gods often deceived people. For example, Zeus came to Callisto disguised as Callisto’s goddess Diana as long as he could not seduce her in a different way. The same happened with Heracles’ mother to whom he came pretending to be her husband. Still, she understood that Odysseus had come back, when he told her about their bed and how he had made it a long time ago. Then she told him that she “feared some man might come and cheat me with a tale” (Homer 289).
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For Greeks Odysseus’s story is the story of homecoming anguish as well as wives longings for their husbands who went away. Though, it is also a story that tells about true loyalty which is often rewarded. Still, Greeks were not of carnal love and interpreted it as a part of spiritual love.
In his, Confessions Saint Augustine writes that when he was in Carthage he:
“…Sought an object for my love; I was in love with love, and I hated safety and a path free of snares. My hunger was internal, deprived of inward food that is of you yourself, my God. But that was not the kind of hunger I felt” (Saint Augustine and Chadwick 35).
Still, the author develops his narration with such words as: “Tears and agonies, therefore, are objects of love… Mercy cannot exist apart from suffering. Is that the sole reason why agonies are an object of love?” and “(Saint Augustine and Chadwick 36). Thereby, the initial point of Augustine’s moral doctrine is endless love to God which has to fill people’s lives and exceed love to a human being. The love between people reminds an ambiguous and ironic feeling which always turns into a constant thirst; a scanty thing that cannot completely satisfy a soul’s passion and search for inward food. It is only a hunger of flesh, while real feeling cannot be as destructive as carnal love is. Saint Augustine interprets asceticism as the main virtue; thereby, a man should reject many things to get closer to God. Humans’ happiness lies in God’s will cognition and soul testifying. Deep love to God unites all kinds of love and quenches carnal desires.
“For besides that concupiscence of the flesh which consisteth in the delight of all senses and pleasures, wherein its slaves, who go far from Thee, waste and perish, the soul hath, through the same senses of the body, a certain vain and curious desire, veiled under the title of knowledge and learning, not of delighting in the flesh, but of making experiments through the flesh” (Saint Augustine and Chadwick 246).
Dante’s interpretation of carnal love is also ironic. The story of Francesca and Paolo, who are destined to suffer in Hell, represents his attitude towards such actions. Whereas Francesca had been deceived by her husband, she became his wife and had to stay loyal. Still, she fell in love with Paolo and was unfaithful. Thereby, Dante placed lovers in hell. Though both lovers did not share one blood they were members of one family, as long as Paolo was the younger brother of Francesca’s husband. The main irony of their situation was that when Francesca gave an agreement to marry Giovanni she thought that he is Paolo. Betrayal and impossibility to oppose her feelings pushed her down to hell. Still, Dante’s character says that “Francesca, thy torments make me sad and piteous to weeping” (Alighieri and Norton 21). He sympathizes with lovers’ destiny as long as he knows the weakness of human nature. At the same time, although Paolo and Francesca stay together forever, they are unhappy. Speaking with Dante she does not call Paolo’s name, just: “such a lover, this one, who never from me shall be divided” (Alighieri and Norton 21). Also, she explains, that “there is no greater woe than in misery to remember the happy time” (Alighieri and Norton 21). Thereby according to the Christian understanding of the nature of love, there is no joy and happiness in carnal love. One can find true pleasure, inspiration, and harmony only when he/she is faithful to high ideals. Still, both authors, Dante and Saint Augustine understand human nature and the essence of love between humans. Still, they consider that as long as it is ambiguous and ironic, it should be balanced by some exalted concept. Love to God is the purest and salvational feeling, though it is not the easiest way of spiritual elevation.
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Alighieri, Dante, Norton, Charles Eliot. Dante’s Inferno (the Divine Comedy, Volume 1, Hell). Massachusetts: Digireads.com Publishing, 2005.
Homer, Squillace, Robert, and Palmer, George Herbert. The Odyssey. New York: Spark Educational Publishing, 2003. Print.
Saint Augustine, and Chadwick, Henry. Confessions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.