Love in western literature

26 Oct

In the previous post we commented on an unusual example in literature which is human love seen from a Christian narrative point of view, there are others of course, but this one is due to the repercussion of Francine Rivers’ work and its recent transformation into a film (2022) and the critics applauded.

In history we can remember some works that marked literature: The Banquet by Plato, The art of loving by Ovid and Sobre el Amor by Plutarco, highlighting in the medieval period The Romance of Tristan and Isolde and Correspondences of Abelard and Heloise.

The philosophical style of the Banquet where there is a predominance of mythological elements that explain or denote love, perhaps hence the idea of ​​platonic love, but which has nothing sublime or non-carnal, what commentators say is that there are homoerotic relationships that are part of the dialogue between partners in relationships.

If there is something elevated, it is in Socrates’ dialogue that defines the so-called philosophical love, which is outside the sentimental sphere and inserted in an idealism (I always remember here that it is for the Greeks to remember Being in its essence, and not something that lives only in mind), is a love that is related to beauty and good.

Ovid (45 BC – 18 AD) is not interested in achieving this asceticism towards a deified love, he seeks to find the necessary tools to realize a more sensual love in a carnal world.

Ovid does not restrict love to the conjugal sphere, Plutarch (45 – 120 AD) sees it within a social and political institution, it is a “path” within marriage towards happiness, like an asceticism of the type that the Greeks considered conceived, this is not a spiritual asceticism.

The romance of Tristan and Isolde and the Correspondences of Abelard and Heloise must be understood in a reality dominated by Christian philosophy in medieval Europe, where the Love of God is indisputable, but love as a union of two bodies is still subject to debate.

This type of romance, inserted in the troubadour tradition, is imbued with a “courtly” element; we find an interesting description of this love in the work of Denis de Rougemont:

What they love is love, it is the very fact of loving. And they act as if they had understood that what opposes love guarantees it and consecrates it in their hearts, to exalt it to infinity in the instant of the absolute obstacle that is death. Tristan likes to feel love, much more than he loves Isolde, the blonde. And Isolde does nothing to keep him close to her: a passionate dream is enough for her.

Among modern novels, I would highlight among the most characteristic: Eugénie Glandet by Honoré de Balzac, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, while Eugénie Grandet shows the reality of the material interest surrounding the novel, Madame Bovary will show the lack of lucidity, excess and human selfishness, Anna Karenina shows the tragic colors of her infidelity with her husband Vronsky, but there are two other marriages: a happy marriage (Levin and Kitty) and another that only supports each other (Stiva and Dolly).


ROUGEMONT, Denis de. (1983) Love in the Western World. Transl. Montgomery Belgion. USA: Princeton University Press.




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