By: Marc De Kesel
At least Eros is blind. Aphrodite’s son, shooting his arrows around, is usually pictured blind-folded. The joys his arrows cause are never without pain, for the love that they make someone fall into is a real fall, often ending in tragedy. At times, even his mother finds it too difficult to bear, and punishes him for acting so irresponsibly. How does he dare to break lives by means of erotic enjoyment!?
In Phaedrus, the question is raised who is most capable of rational thinking: the amorous one or the one not hit by Eros’ arrows? The answer is no doubt the first. Thinking, using reason, searching the truth: it is impossible without mania, without the demon of madness that Eros admits into our minds.
However, is it real madness that Plato’s Eros affects our mind with? This is what it seems to be from the perspective of the ones locked up in the cave full of doxa and mimesis; but from the perspective of truth, from that of the ones who have escaped the cave and are sun bathing on Truth’s golden shore, it is not madness at all. The mania with which human thinking starts is just the necessary element in turning away from the mad, illusionary world we see with our mortal eyes.
Yet, for Plato, thinking remains earthly. It happens here, in the ‘cave’, which is why the amorousness of Truth must keep on operating in the realm of untruth and, while there, it should never forget that human rational insight has its origin in blindness, a blindness becoming aware of itself by delivering itself consciously to that blindness, by believing in rationality and truth without seeing them.
Is Christian Love blind?
At least Christian insight is explicitly linked with blindness, more precisely with “madness” or “foolishness”. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) Here, too, the formal structure is the same as in Plato. From the perspective of the earthly realm of sin and death, the Good Tidings seem foolish. But whoever embraces that foolishness receives access to the realm of Truth and Eternal Life.
And the same goes for Love. To find our real and true self, the Christian should abandon his self-love (eros) and deliver himself to the source of all self, which is God’s Love (agape). Yet, the Christian lives not on agape’s shore, but on the field where the latter is in constant fight with its erotic antipode. The chastising of Eros is repeated here, but now done by Agape.
Remember an early sixteenth century painting by Giovanni Baglioni, Divine Love and Earthly Love. The scene can be interpreted as a Christianization of the one in which not Aphrodite but her lover, Mars, beats Eros – as in a painting from the same years by Bartolomeo Manfredi. Baglioni replaces Manfredi’s war god by Divine Love, equally dressed as a warrior. If Mars is beating Eros because of the disastrous whimsicality with which he ruined so many lives by means of love, then, in Baglioni’s painting, Divine Love has taken over that task. And could it be that it is Mars’s back we see, leaving the field where Divine Love has taken his place? In Bagnoli’s paining, it is the Angel of Love who is beating Eros, not with a whip, but with the lightening of Truth’s divine revelation.
Is Christian Love freed from blindness? Maybe in heaven, among the angels, it will be. But not now. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
Eros’s blindness persists within Agape’s insight.