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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Definition. “There are so many sorts of love that
one does not know where to seek a definition of it.
The name 'love' is given boldly to a caprice of a few
days' duration; to a sentiment devoid of esteem; to a
casual liaison; to the affectations of a 'cicisbeo'; to a
frigid habit; to a romantic fantasy; to relish followed
by prompt disrelish; yes, people give this name to a
thousand chimeras” (Voltaire, Encyclopédie, art.
“Amour”; see Schneider, I, 73).

Chimeras or realities, there are five distinguishable
groups of ideas here which have been called “love”
in Western civilization at various times or simulta-
neously: (1) the generative principle of the Cosmos,
hence the very being of God (creativity); (2) friendship,
the attachment to other creatures, the yearning for
others (benevolent, educative, transformative, admir-
ing, and exalting) or for concrete or ideal things (an
active attitude); (3) the emotional attraction, the effects
in man of a power which “possesses him,” a physio-
logical, psychological, or mythical force (a passive
attitude); (4) the torment of a passion willfully chosen,
the artificial devices and “perversions” of eroticism,
desire cultivated for its own sake (culture); (5) sexual
relations, procreative and generic desire (instinct).

These are the “ideas of love,” ranging from the
divine to the sexual, which we shall try to distinguish
in this article by describing the most typical of their
successive manifestations in the history of Western

The Method of this Article and its Limits. Whatever
can be said about love through the ages is based on
discourse on love, for what love “really” is must escape
us. Surely multitudes have loved without having even
dreamed of writing about it. It is, for all that, doubt-
ful that they have “loved” very differently from the
way love is spoken of in stone inscriptions, poems,
songs, and then the books of their time; or else,
they were not aware of it and had no “idea” of love;
it will not be possible therefore, to talk about it in
such cases.

It is often very difficult to decide whether an author
quoted on love (e.g., Plato or the Marquis de Sade)
is representative of his time, or whether we picture
his time according to our interpretation of the author;
we lack nonliterary verifications of the love customs
of the times in particular countries and classes. Fur-
thermore, how sure are we that these historico-genetic
categories are relevant to our topic? After all, in an
article of this kind we are exploring the meaning of
an idea “for us” rather than some hypothetical
“meaning-in-itself-for-some person or other.” The lat-
ter meaning would be interesting only by way of con
trast or similarity to our own reactions. So much for
the first limitation on objectivity.

The second limitation: any definition of love which
would not convey the signs of a basic emotion aroused
by the mere enunciation of this word would be radi-
cally inadequate because it would be ruined by an
objectivity fatal to the real meaning of the term.

Ancient Greece provided the sole language which
exercises a verifiable influence on all the modes of
expression associated with the idea of love in the West.
Not only are all the varieties of amorous experience
foreshadowed and anticipated in the Greeks—but also
a strange unity, that is to say, everything that Western
man for twenty-five centuries was able to see or feel
as common to what are at times radically heterogene-
ous experiences, which he designates by the same word.

There are numerous words in Greek which stand for
the diverse forms of friendship (philia or philotes):
kindness among creatures of the same race (physike);
benevolence towards guests (xenike); the mutual at-
tachment of friends (hetairike); sexual desire (erotike).
This last form of friendship is close to Eros, a love of
feeling or passion which ennobles the soul and “makes
a poet even of a bumpkin” (Euripides), a love espe-
cially appropriate among men, whereas the voluptuous
relations between men and women derive from
Aphrodite (aphros, foam, sperm), the dark, cruel,
chthonic (infernal) goddess, very like the Babylonian

The Greeks established very clear distinctions be-
tween these diverse natures of philia or eros, on the
one hand, and, on the other, agapē or disinterested
affection (a term with a promising future in Christian-
ity), storge or tenderness, eunoia or good will, charis
or the love of gratitude. Plato placed frenzied or un-
chained passion on as high a level as enthousiasmos,
that is, divine possession, while Plutarch, on the con-
trary, saw in it a form of mental disease: “certain
people think it is a madness.”

The common denominator of these dozen or more
terms is an attraction, in some instances, physical or
physiological, in others, more moral or more senti-
mental. Let us examine the usage made of this very
rich lexicon by Greek thinkers.

For Heraclitus (end of the sixth century B.C.) and
Empedocles (fifth century B.C.), fathers of our Western
philosophy, love is not a sentiment but the physical
principle of the universe and its unifying agent. (We
must understand “physical” in the modern scientific
sense, and not in the banal sense of a purely sexual
attraction, said to be “purely physical.”) There are two
forces in the cosmos: attraction and repulsion. Heracli-
tus held that harmonia, his name for love, results from
the tension of opposites: “What is opposed, cooperates,


and from conflict arises the most beautiful harmony.
Everything is done through discord.” Empedocles, on
the contrary, held that similars attract similars, but the
result of the process of attraction is the same:

Things never cease continually changing places, at one time
all uniting in one through Love, at another each borne in
different directions by the repulsion of Strife. Thus, it is
their nature to grow out of many, and to become many once
more when the one is parted asunder...

(Schneider, I, 23).

This problem of the Same and the Other, of the One
and the Many—as fundamental for all Western philos-
ophy as for Hindu wisdom (although they have solved
the problem in opposite ways)—is of course located
at the center of Plato's thought. In Plato, the problem
takes the form of opposition between the Singular and
the “infinite Dyad,” and of their final reconciliation
in an eternal unity: Love is the agent of this dialectic
and this unifying function is its very definition.

Though love is the basis of all moral and spiritual
progress—as it is for Plato and for his teacher Socrates—
and is even the very specific instinct of immortality
and universality, it must be qualified by the condition
that in and through love the search for the good of
the person loved always prevails over the sexual in-
stinct. However, this qualification cannot be applied
to marriage which has no other end than to produce
children in families for the State. (Aristotle added later
that “man does not unite with a woman solely for
procreation, but also for seeking what is indispensable
to exist.... That is why in this sort of affection, the
useful is joined to the agreeable” (Nicomachean Ethics
VIII, 12, 7). The true eros, for Plato, is one which drives
men and boys to embrace: “This bachelor Plato con-
ceives a love between a man and a woman profound
only when it exists outside of and in violation of the
laws of marriage” (Flacelière, p. 162).

The theory of a primordial androgynous creature,
whose two halves after separation seek each other
(Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium), is not ex-
pressed without Plato's critical comments. He thus has
Diotima address herself to Socrates: “... to my mind
the object of love is neither a half nor a whole.” True
love tends to “a creation of the beautiful, whether of
body or soul.... The union of man and woman is
a creative art, and in this act there is something of
the divine; there is even in this living creature, though
mortal, a quality of immortality present in fertility and
procreation.” However, spiritual and philosophical
fertility remains the superior attribute of true eros,
which can only be the love of boys, extramarital love,
or chaste love. Eros had his statue in the temple of
Diana, goddess of virginity, and he was especially
known as the enemy of Aphrodite—his mother!

In the order of ideas it is very certain that the Platonic
conception has dominated the whole development of Euro-
pean civilization, despite some isolated cases of resistance;
Plato's idea surely constitutes the main Greek contribution
to what may be called “the metaphysics” of love

p. 222).

Assuredly there is little chance that the mind of a
genius like Plato should simply answer to the social
condition of his people and his time. It took nearly
two thousand years for the Florentine Renaissance to
make this esoteric philosopher and his doctrine sym-
bolic of Greek thought and the Greek idea of love.
“Esoteric” here refers to that essential part of Plato's
work which he taught only to the students of the
Academy, and which was neither published nor even
written; a fact that has been shown by K. Gaiser (1963).

Aristotle's Lyceum, with his “economical” theory of
marriage, and Epicurus' Garden, with his theory
(expressed so remarkably later by Lucretius' De rerum
IV) of the dissociation of baneful pain and
beneficent pleasure, were both radically opposed to
Plato's Academy, but they only the better interpret
the moral and emotional facts of daily life in Greek
society. The hedonist Aristippus of Cyrene says of his
mistress Lais: “She doesn't love me? Why should I
care? I don't think that wine or fish have any love for
me, and yet I consume them with pleasure.”

The fact remains that Plato acts on us as our hered-
ity, a sort of chromosomal “information.” Was it not
an inborn or hereditary Platonism which came to life
again in the love courtship (cortezia) of the trouba-
dours, the love which ennobles, which lives in violation
of matrimonial rules, and, whether chaste or not, is
liberated from the procreative instinct? Plato, who
could be read perhaps by one out of a thousand Greeks,
is nonetheless one of the detectors (in the chemical
sense) or indicators (in the sociological sense) privileged
to reveal the condition of Western man. Moreover, as
José Ortega y Gasset has said, “It is impossible to tell
to what deep levels of the Western mind Platonic
notions have penetrated. The simplest sort of person
regularly employs expressions and betrays views which
are derived from Plato” (Estudios sobre el amor, 1939).
Illustrating Ortega's remark, we call unwitting or in-
nocent Platonists all those—from German romanticism
to recent popular poetry—who speak of “soul brother
or sister,” “the fusion of souls” in “the ecstasy of love”
in which lovers believe they are “joined as One,” and
those who describe themselves as being loved by their
“better half.” We may also include those who have
proposed an article on the “Idea of Love,” and the
author who writes the article.

Though the Platonic idea of love is resolutely posi-
tive, creative, edifying, and idealistic, it would be


wrong to infer that the Greeks did not know the dark
and sombre couple Eros-Thanatos, love and death:

Three myths, in fact, show us that the Greeks meditated
on the mysterious relations between love and death, well
before the courtly Middle Ages and the romance of Tristan
and Isolde which contains moreover so many reminiscences
of antiquity: Orpheus and Eurydice, Admetus and Alcestis,
Protesilaus and Laodamia

(Flacelière, p. 54).

Orpheus and Eurydice served as the model for the
other two stories. It seems that these three myths
illustrate also the dream or the ideal of “love stronger
than death,” more so than the passion of “the love of
death” which is, as we shall see, the secret of Tristan.
Or, let us at most admit that in Greek mythology the
theme of mortal passion is virtually present, like the
black point in the white part of yin and the white point
in the black part of yang.

Two Latin poets seem to have had some idea of love
such as we experience it, both exalting personal at-
tachment “until death” (but we must insist again that
this attachment is not for death). Propertius inaugurates
a great theme of love rhetoric:

A great love goes beyond the shores of death.

Tibullus, in his Sixth Elegy, expresses a new senti-
ment for his time, which comes close to matrimonial
love, when he addresses his mistress:

Let me gaze upon you when the hour comes for me
That, dying, with my feeble hand I hold thee.
(Te spectem, suprema mihi cum venerit hora,
Te teneam moriens deficiente manu.)

Five centuries after Plato, Plutarch praised marriage
for love in the highest terms: “The physical union with
one's wife is a source of friendship; it is like sharing
a great mystery together” (hierōn megalōn). A contem-
porary of Plutarch, Saint Paul, had written on his part
that marriage is a “great mystery” (mysterion mega).

This meeting of minds, before the Gospels had been
composed, is all the more surprising insofar as Saint
Paul in his Epistles constantly denounced both Jewish
and pagan (especially Hellenistic-Roman) sacrament as
coming under the category of law in contrast to the
“freedom of the children of God.” The key to the
mystery, to which he alludes above, does not lie in
Delphos (where Plutarch was one of the high priests),
for it does not have nor can it have a key at all, because
it designates a human condition whose spiritual signifi-
cance lies “buried with Christ, in God.” Saint Paul's
revolution is contained in his proclamation that “all
things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expe-
dient...” (I Corinthians 6:12), referring to the totality
of prohibitions and taboos, the system of sexual taboos
being foremost always, and in all religions except that
of Christ.
However, in the same Epistle, Saint Paul
again inveighs against lewdness and incontinence, and
goes on to write that it is good for man not to have
any contact with woman. Sexual relations thus re-
mained taboo for him—though not for the Evangelists;
therein is the source of the passionate contradictions
into which he fell as soon as he approached the topic,
clearly associated with his neurosis. This first “seculari-
zation” of ethics came about through a substitution
of Grace for the Law, as though God's love permitted
one thereafter to dispense with all religious strictures
imposed by priest, prince, or custom—the magic of
sovereignty, power, and fertility according to the
trinity of fundamental Indo-European values, so thor-
oughly investigated by G. Dumézil (1968). This revo-
lutionary and secular liberation is given complete ex-
pression by Saint Augustine's dictum: dilige et fac quod
or “love and do what you will” (Super epistulam
quoted by Abélard in his Sic et non).

The paradox of Christianity is that this religion of
love declares that “God is love,” yet has no code of
love, no sexual rites, and no eroticism either sacred
or profane. As distinct from the great Asiatic religions,
Christianity gives little or no importance to sexual love
or sentimental love, in short, to eros, and antithetically
bestows the highest rank on active love or agapē.

The Gospels never confuse these two terms as
twentieth-century Occidentals think it “quite natural”
to do. If we wish to recover the true sense of agapē,
we must first see clearly the radical contrast between
Jesus' use of this word and our current use of the word
“love” which stands for sexuality as well as for the
feeling or action for others' welfare.

If eros had been in the eyes of Christ the sin above
all, as it became for certain Church Fathers, for the
more or less Gnostic ascetics, for the medieval clergy,
for the puritans of all faiths, and subsequently for the
devout bourgeois starting from the first third of the
nineteenth century, it would have been logical that
some sort of sexual temptation should overshadow all
those that Satan made Jesus experience in the desert;
but the Evangelists do not say anything about this.

The phrase “she loved exceedingly” does not mean
that Mary Magdalene had a great many clients as a
prostitute, but refers to the disinterested act—sacrific-
ing a high priced perfume—in favor of a human being
in order to honor the Spirit in him. “She will be
pardoned for much” means that agapē wipes out the
prejudice against the profession and socially degraded
condition of a prostitute. But this phrase perhaps also
implies, when addressed to quasi-Essene disciples, a
certain reflection on their asceticism, on their pseudo-


Manichaean conviction that sexuality is equivalent to

The definition of agapē occurs in the parable of the
Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). To the question,
“and who is my neighbor?” Jesus in effect answers,
him for whom you can do something in particular and
who expects it from you. That agapē is an act and not
a sentiment is also the result of two sentences (Levit-
icus 19:8 and Deuteronomy 6:5), united in one by
Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God and thy
neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:35-40). For one can-
not command or order a feeling, but one can pre-
scribe an act.

Finally, Saint Paul's statement: “Husbands, love your
wives, even as Christ also loved the Church...”
(Ephesians 5:25) raises marriage to the level of highest
love (against the general opinion of the Greeks and
of religious Asia) and makes matrimonial love in all
its aspects—sexual, social, and personal—a form of
spiritual existence.

With all that, there is no ethics other than the Beati-
tudes, in which love does not enter; there is no mystical
or practiced ritualistic or pedagogical eroticism, and
even less of sexual or matrimonial casuistry.

It is an especially disturbing fact that the Christian doctrine
and the doctors of the Church have not remarked the
phenomena of love and said nothing about its meaning. All
that we find in patristic literature concerning marriage and
the family strikes us by its low level. Saint Methodus'
treatise The Feast of the Ten Virgins is pitifully banal. It
amounts to a description of physiological processes and to
an exaltation of virginity. But no problem of sex or of
marriage is explored by it. As to Saint Augustine's treatise,
it is almost unreadable, exhaling as it does so much of

(N. Berdyaev [1935], p. 300).

Berdyaev explains this last word by adding the follow-
ing note: “Saint Augustine's attitude towards the
woman who was his companion for sixteen years and
by whom he had a child witnesses the mediocrity of
his ideas of love” (ibid.).

What impresses and scandalizes Berdyaev is the fact
that the Church Fathers' treatises on sex and marriage
“are treatises on the organization of generic life and
remind one singularly of dissertations on child-rearing.
Personal destiny and love are completely lacking in
their works. Nobody mentions the phenomenon of love
which is radically distinct from the physiological
phenomenon of sexual satisfaction and from the social
phenomenon of the family life of the species.” Now
though it is true that “love by its essence signifies
destruction and choice” and that it “proceeds from a
person to a person” (Berdyaev, p. 244)—and that ob-
servation should be applied in the first place to matri-
monial love—it is nonetheless true that in the course
of the first millennium of the Christianization of the
Near East and the West, this form of personal love
does not seem to have played any practical, legal, or
even psychological role. Marriage was certainly a
sacrament, but it linked two inheritances and two
families, clans, ranks, and procreators, not two persons.
It was indeed no more than a social sacrament, a sort
of demographic relation, a mystery of fertility, “reli-
gious” in the sociological sense of Émile Durkheim,
and devised solely for the welfare of the species. From
the fourth to the twelfth century, love as antiquity
knew it was eclipsed, and the love which we think
to be only “natural” and “as old as mankind” does not
yet appear, directly or indirectly, in any historical
indication or in any documentary proof of its existence
in Europe during this period.

With the twelfth century came a complete change.
As the witty sally of the French historian, Charles
Seignobos, put it: “Love is an invention of the twelfth
century!” Love, which for us denotes sentimental feel-
ing or passion, took on this meaning only with the
poetry of the troubadours, written and sung, which
appeared suddenly in southwest France (Poitou,
Limousin, and Languedoc), and spread over the whole
continent with surprising rapidity. This love resembled
nothing that the ancient or Christianized world knew;
it seemed to fall from the sky. La cortezia, with its
fixed and refined forms and its absolutely novel doc-
trine, could not possibly have been only the more or
less accidental discovery of a few pious musical mem-
bers of the church at Saint-Martial de Limoges, and/or
minstrels with little education, which is the “prudent”
thesis of most nineteenth- and twentieth-century
specialists of the Trobar. But if they are right, how
could this poetry have conceivably transformed our
ways of feeling, our customs, and our arts for centuries?
Would it not be, on the contrary, the sign of a more
general revolution operative in the Western mind at
this time? Let us try then to draw a general picture
of the twelfth century and of its leading intellectual
and moral phenomena. Shall we find among these
phenomena considered as a whole—heterogeneous and
independent of one another as they may be—some
system of causal, final, successive, or simultaneous

Since the beginning of the eleventh century, hetero-
dox religious movements proliferated in Italy, the
German Rhineland, Flanders, the north and then the
center and south of France—Reims, Orléans, Poitou,
Périgord, Aquitaine—all these movements being more
or less associated with Manichaeism. They confronted
the Church with a purified spirituality; all condemned
marriage—which Pope Gregory VII had just forbidden
to priests—and all declared the soul to be divine, and


judged the body to be so vile that nothing it did could
be conducive to well-being.

The most powerful of these heresies was Catharism
which came from the Armenian sect of Paulines, across
Anatolia, the Balkans, Bosnia, and northern Italy,
spreading from northern Italy in one direction to the
north of France and even to England, and in another
direction towards the West where it was firmly in-
stalled in the courts and castles of Provence, Aquitaine,
and Toulouse, and then among the artisans of the cities
of the South. Its teaching was Manichaean: the soul
or the part of man created by the true God, is a pris-
oner of the body, or that part of man created by the
Demiurge or the Devil. Hence, the necessity, for the
genuinely spiritual, or “Perfect Ones,” to abstain from
carnal procreation, which would cause the soul to fall
more deeply into the body's vileness. Most of the plain
“believers,” finding it too difficult to obey the require-
ment of absolute chastity, limited themselves to cursing
marriage, that legal fornication (uirata fornicatio) de-
vised in the laws of the human species, of inheritance,
and of masculine brutishness.

An itinerant preacher, Robert d'Arbrissel (born about
1050), famous for his impassioned diatribes against
luxury, founded (in 1101) at Fontevrault a women's
convent governed by a woman. It soon became re-
nowned because the highest ranked ladies of Poitou
and of France came to seek refuge in it against the
gross tyranny of feudal and Catholic marriage. Around
Fontevrault there developed an “epithalamic” litera-
ture, but it was intended only for the nuns and nurtured
by commentaries on the Song of Songs.

Another convent for women, the Paraclete, was
founded a little later by Abélard, in a very different
spirit and purpose. Pierre Abélard of Brittany, poet,
philosopher, theologian, and the greatest “Doctor” of
his time, was also the first hero of the love-passion,
that is to say, of love frustrated by encountering in-
creasingly tragic obstacles, and exalted in the resulting
torment. Abélard and his young pupil, Héloïse, experi-
enced a passion that was both carnal and spiritual, and
which ended in the tragedy of their separation. Each
of them entered religious orders, Héloïse, obeying her
husband, became the Abbess of the Paraclete, but
they swore to each other to meet again in death. They
had previously exchanged love poems in Latin (all lost)
which the young priests of the time knew by heart,
and used to sing.

A very new form of sung poetry soon arose in Poitou
and Limousin with the first works (of which eleven
are extant) of the very high lord William, sixth Count
of Poitiers and ninth Duke of Aquitaine. He was
immediately followed by hundreds of poets who were
called “troubadours” (i.e., inventors, composers). This
poetry exalted woman, hitherto neglected and de-
spised, and celebrated her under the name of “Lady”
(Dame or domina)—whence the name “mistress” given
later to the beloved female—thus assimilating her to
the feudal lord to whom the knight owed allegiance.
Against the marriage “of reason,” as against gross lux-
ury, arose the cult of love the conqueror, respectful
of woman but not of social ties.

At the same time appeared the romance of Tristan
and Isolde
(known in the south of troubadour France
even before it was published in the first French version
by Béroul around 1150-60). This very ancient Celtic
myth, reinterpreted under the influence of the cortezia
of the Western troubadours—whence the name “ro-
mance” given to the work—became the very paradigm
of all love-passion, of all love “subjected” to constantly
renewed trials and separations, which can only lead
lovers to the supreme rendezvous in death.

Against this powerful and widespread rise of a love
that was almost religious, and therefore smelling of
heresy, and against the cult of idealized woman made
into a symbol of the power of salvation, the Church
and its monks could not fail to erect a belief and a
cult which would answer to the same deep desire
emerging from the collective soul. Thus, Saint Bernard
of Clairvaux who intended to combat Abélard's doc-
trines on the one hand, and the Catharist heresy and
no doubt the growing exaltation of the troubadours
on the other, preached the first mystic “Love of the
Divine,” the love which is its own end: Amo ut

During the same period the canons of Lyon, in 1140,
established the holy day of the Immaculate Conception
of the Virgin: “Our Lady” (Notre-Dame) was the an-
tithesis of the ideal Lady (Dame) of the courtier's love.
In the same vein the multiplying monastic orders were
replies to the knights' orders inspired by the cortezia
of the South; the Franciscans called themselves
“Knights of Mary,” and Saint Francis himself preferred
to be a disciple of the troubadours, whose verses he
sang. He called friar Gilles a “Knight of the Round

A last typical trait of this era seems to be all the
more striking in being absolutely independent of all
those traits just described. It appeared in the twelfth
century: in the game of chess, the Queen (La Dame
in French) became the principal piece; for some mys-
terious reason, it was substituted for the four kings
which at first dominated the game, originally from

The above paragraphs thus present the lively back-
ground out of which arose the poetry of the trouba-
dours and its new doctrine of Love (cortezia). The
twelfth century was really the stage of a fundamental


revolution in the European mind, a revolution at once
moral and spiritual, the quintessence of which ap-
peared in the lyricism of the Provençal poets.

Once the doctrine of courtly love is placed back in
the spiritual complex of the twelfth century, we can
see better why the times occasioned the success it had:
the troubadours contributed the language needed to
express the aspirations of the medieval soul, and
thereby to confess itself in broad daylight in the puri-
fied form of the rhetoric of courtship.

What still remains mysterious is the origin of this
beautiful rhetoric which was at a given point all ready
and formed to respond to these aspirations. Until a
generation ago the question was completely enigmatic.
Today we know at least two possible solutions, which
are moreover in no way mutually exclusive, provided
that we place the answers in the whole which has just
been described “by enumeration” of its aspects.

1. The Count-Duke William IX wrote ribald songs
and sang of his sexual prowess. He lodged in a tower
of his castle a notorious woman answering to the name
of the “Dangereuse de Chatellerault.” But then, in
1115, his second wife, Philippa of Aragon, and their
daughter left him for the convent of Fontevrault—
where, furthermore, they found his first wife, repudi-
ated by him. Thus, they passed into the camp of Robert
d'Arbrissel and his spiritualism, which both liberated
woman from the servitude of sex and opened to her
the “exalted” position of “Superior,” even over men
(see Reto Bezzola). The Count-Duke's reaction: a po-
lemical parody. Legend has it that he founded an
“anti-abbey” of courtisans because the founder of
Fontevrault first wished to gather prostitutes con-
verted by his preaching. Then he began to praise
woman in songs having the form of monastic hymns,
rhythms, stanzas, and systems of rhymes imitating runs
and codettas (sequentiae et conductus) which were
particularly plentiful in the Abbey of Saint Martial of
Limoges. Now he became its “lay abbot” as Count
of Poitou. However, form gradually gained over
content—the medium became the message—and from
the sixth fragment (out of the eleven extant) he went
on to praise an unknown Lady whom he had never
seen and did not know when or where he would find,
but of whom he had dreamt while riding. He did not
know what difficulties she had in reserve for him, but
he was burning to undergo them, so great is her worth!
The fragments which follow praise obedience to the
Lady, the principle of fidelity to one's self and also
the law of every community. And, of course, he con-
stantly praises profane love:

All the world's joy is ours
Lady, when we love each other.
But he ends with a cry that is stupefying for a theo-
logical age:

Through her alone shall I be saved!

Thus all the rhetoric and metaphysics of the trouba-
dours burst out all at once on the threshold of an era
which was to witness the simultaneous blossoming of
Catharism and courtly lyricism in the same courts and
the same castles.

2. William and his first disciple, the Viscount Eble
of Ventadour and Marcabru, seem to have borrowed
from Arabic poetry the forms and themes, the rhyming
systems, the verse stops, and at times the melodies of
their appropriately called “court songs” (chansons
). William of Poitiers had sojourned in the
Near East during a Crusade, and he was linked to Spain
through his second wife, widow of a king of Aragon.
He borrowed from the Arab poets of the Cordovan
school certain formulas of his art, if not of making love,
at least of the expression of love, which is for our
purpose just as important.

3. The relationship of Hispano-Arabic poetry to the
old Provençal troubadours is known in the world of
scholars (see especially A. R. Nykl, 1946). However,
not enough importance has been placed on the fact
that the love poetry of the Arabs of Andalusia was
intimately linked to the mystical school of the Sufis
(from Iraq) whose chief representatives were Al-Hallaj
of Bagdad, Ruzbehan of Shiraz, Suhrawardī of Aleppo,
and later, Ibn-'Arabī of Murcia in Spain. All these
mystics went back to the forms of the poetry of profane
love in order to express their ideas of divine love; such
poetry appeared heretical enough to lead several of
the poets to execution. The parallel between the Arabic
poetry of courtship (muwassaha)—a popular form of
which was called sadjal—and the poetry of the
Provençal troubadours is duplicated by a very re-
markable parallel between the sects of the Sufis and
the Cathars.

William of Poitiers arrived at a lyricism exalting the
Lady by means of a parody on the convent asceticism
and on the poetic forms taken from the liturgy (hymns,
runs, and conductus). In Islam, the poets inspired by
Sufi mysticism exalted the object of their love (often
a male) in terms judged blasphemous by the orthodox.
Thus the orthodox poet Ibn-Dawoud denounced the
great mystic Al-Hallaj, accusing him of Manichaeism.
However, Ibn-Dawoud and his Andalusian disciples,
in the work entitled The Dove's Neck-Ring (trans. A. R.
Nykl, Paris, 1931) had recourse to the same rhetoric
as the Sufis! The relation between the Cathars and the
troubadours seems illumined by these two cases, and
would be directly homologous to the relation which
contrasts and links Robert d'Arbrissel to William IX,


and inversely homologous to the contrast and linkage
between the Sufi and the orthodox poets.

Furthermore, was not the asceticism of Robert
d'Arbrissel, condemning “the flesh,” closer to the doc-
trine of the Catharite “Perfect Ones” than to evangel-
ical Christianity? And, on the other hand, was not
William of Poitiers more Christian in his realism, ac-
ceptance of the incarnation, and his humanism than
his monastic adversary? Were not poets, found in both
camps, in dialectical relation with the religious groups
(“heretics” like the Sufis, or the “orthodox” like R.
d'Arbrissel) from whom they borrowed their vocabu-
lary and problems, free to arrive at opposite conclu-
sions? Whether they wished and believed themselves
to be Sufis, Cathars, or orthodox followers of Islam and
of Catholicism, the rhetoric of heresy spoke for them
and expressed its message in “courtship” language,
which was fundamentally Manichaean.

It is evident that the Catharist doctrine was derived
from Manichaeism, which on its side greatly influenced
the Sufi mystics. Persian Manichaeism was then the
common source of two more or less heretical traditions,
one in Christianity and the other in Islam.

The Christian heresy travelled along the northern
shores of the Mediterranean, from Iran, the fatherland
of Mani, across the Pauline sect in Asia Minor, the
Bogomil kingdom of Bulgaria and northern Italy, until
it reached France in the north, then the center and
the south, remaining triumphant for two centuries
under the name “Catharism.” The other heresy came
out of Bagdad, Aleppo, and Damascus until it reached
Arabic Andalusia, following the southern shores of the
Mediterranean. And it was in the Catharist south in
the twelfth century that appeared one of the most
extraordinary convergences of history, viz., a literally
congenital union of a rhetoric of love with a religious
heresy. The poetry of courtship originated at the con-
fluence of two spiritual currents along the two shores
of the sea of civilization; and from that poetry come
all our European literatures as well as all the common-
places of love as we sing of it, as we write about it,
and as we live it, even to this day.

But concerning this idea of love, which has become
so familiar to us that we imagine that it has always
and everywhere existed unchanged, how can anyone
explain that this idea remains inconceivable outside the
domain defined by the Koran and the Bible?

For the fact is that the Asia of the Brahmins and
Buddhists has never known our idea of love and regards
it with astonishment mixed with irony and suspicious
fear. For the Hindu, the Chinese, the Malayan, the
Korean, and the traditional Japanese the relations be-
tween the sexes belong to the domain of nature or to
social morality. Any kind of romanticism, of ideal
ization, or quasi-mystical ardor is excluded. Love, such
as we understand it since our twelfth century does not
even have a name in their languages. In Chinese the
nearest approach to our verb “to love” is a word which
denotes the relationship between a mother and her son.
There is desire and there are the recipes for physical
pleasure such as India has codified in the Kama-Sutra
or represented in statues of didactic eroticism on the
facades of its temples. There are family attachments,
conjugal rules, rites of initiation with puberty, liturgies
of fertility; but that is all. On the opposite side, ideal
passions, moral anxieties, nostalgia, feelings of guilt,
problems, and obsessions which fill our novels, trage-
dies, and operas, and occupy so much time in our
thoughts, our dreams, our actions, and the secrecy of
our confessionals, all these are simply unknown in Asia.
From the viewpoint of the idea of love, there are really
two worlds, the Oriental and the Occidental. We have
just seen that historically at least, the Arab contribution
has become an integral part not of the Orient but
indeed of the Occident.

These salient facts about culture and civilization
seem ultimately to bring into relief man's religious
attitudes and his fundamental religious preferences.
The religions of India, or those originally from India,
know no personal God, and regard the individual as
an illusion.

“There is only one Self for all creatures,” we read
in the Upanishads. The individual self is destined to
disappear and become absorbed in the nameless and
formless Absolute of pure spirit. The sooner the indi-
vidual escapes from the cycle of reincarnations in space
and time, the sooner will he cease being an individual
self, and the better off he will be, for the self is after
all an error: it can only be corrected by its progressive
disappearance! In such a world how impossible it is
to imagine the importance of personal relations which
are the basis of love? If “the idea of Me enters only
into the thought of fools,” as a Tibetan text says, the
idea of Thou is no better. But if our neighbor is an
illusion, why love him? We may desire him or her,
for that is the natural order of a quite imperfect and
provisional creation, but that poses no serious problem,
the aim still being to detach oneself from everything
and to extinguish the ties.

There is a complete basic and concrete change in
a world which was dominated and remains forever
shaped by the “Abrahamic” religions of Judaism,
Christianity, and Muhammadanism. In these, God is
a Person who says “I,” and man is a person also, who
must answer to God: his eternal welfare depends on
the very nature of his answer. The relations of Person
to person, between God and man, are relations of
obedience or revolt, confidence or doubt, happy agree-


ment or despairing hostility; hence, active and emo-
tional relations, and after all, relations of love. Orien-
tals might thoroughly understand the Gospel's
definition “God is Spirit,” but not “God is Love.”

It follows that in the Asiatic religions the sentiments
of human love cannot be the reflection of a spiritual
process. Whereas in Christianity, for example (as we
have seen), marriage may very well serve as a symbol
of the union in spirit between the Lord and his faithful.
In like manner, the Christian mystics and the Sufis
compare the union of the soul with God to the salutory
torment, mild burning, ecstasy, and intoxication of
human love. Saint Theresa of Avila borrowed her vo-
cabulary from the love poets of Languedoc and from
the romances of court chivalry in the cycle of the
Round Table which had delighted her in her youth.
Without going so high, there were the canticles sung
in the churches, Protestant as well as Catholic, expres-
sing the piety of the faithful in feelings of fervor and
ardor, eternal vows, and yearning for union, in short,
in terms of love.

But there is more. Love, such as the troubadours
or authors of the romance of Tristan conceived it,
cannot be addressed to the body alone (as animal in-
stinct does), nor surely to the intellect alone; it does
address itself to the spiritual and the soul, and tends
to deify them. For all love seeks in the beloved that
which is most exalting, that which justifies the passion.
Love ennobles both the one who loves and the one
who is loved, as the troubadours endlessly repeat.
However, to desire to the point of creating that which
is best in the other, viz., his divine element, is to wish
for God through the other. The great Sufi mystic of
Andalusia of the twelfth century, Ibn-'Arabī, dared to
carry courtly love to an ambitious extreme by writing:

It is God who in each loved one manifests himself to the
gaze of each lover... for it is impossible to adore a being
without imagining the divinity present in that being....
Thus it goes for love: a creature really loves no one but
his Creator

(Corbin, p. 111).

This recalls the golden rule of Christianity: “Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God and thy neighbor as thy-
self.” To love God really is to love Him through one's
neighbor. But it takes two to be in love, the popular
saying goes. Then how can one love one's self except
by loving the best in the self, that which in the self
reflects the divine, the call recognized as coming from
God? To love one's neighbor as one's self is, therefore,
to love in the other what is best in him, i.e., to love
his angel.

Let us then bring out the last fundamental feature
which distinguishes all the Oriental religious (Hindu,
Chinese, Japanese) from the Islamic and the Christian
religions: all the Oriental religions with their imper-
sonal absolute know no angels. The angels, for ancient
Persia, for the Muhammadans, Jews, and Christians,
are those beings intermediary between the individual
and God, that correspond to the divine part of each
person. Perfect love is addressed to the angel of the
loved one, to what the mystics call his “Divine Name,”
and which is what will remain of him after death.
When lovers call one another “my angel,” they repeat
an old cliché; they don't know what they are saying,
but they are saying something which is the real core
of all love of the mystical type and which is more true
of themselves than they realize.

Thus the love-passion arose, was avowed, and was
developed in a context in which men were able to
conceive it as a symbol and reflection of the relations
between the soul and its God. Orthodoxy (both Chris-
tian and Islamic) condemned it because it was thought
that this new passion was going to explode the taboos
of morals and reason. But though it is true that heresy
cannot survive the death of orthodoxy, it is also quite
true that the love-passion is nurtured by the same
sources as the Occidental religions and that it is con-
demned to perish to the extent that these religions will
cease to animate it, combat it, and be combatted by
it. In short, a culture indifferent to religion is the only
real danger threatening our passions, for indifference
can dry up the very wells of passion.

Only in Europe, therefore, did the love-passion
deploy all its powers, both for civilization and for
anarchy, and become for centuries not only the great
inspiring theme of poetry, the novel, the theater, and
music, but also the central problem of individual and
social morality. It has, finally, invaded the most diverse
domains of civilization, giving its language to mysti-
cism and its rules of art to war. All this has happened
in Europe and not elsewhere. How can we explain this
new enigma?

The answer is undoubtedly to be found in the evi-
dence of experience that passion is deepened and re-
leases its energies only in proportion to the resistance
it meets.
Europe, in the Catholic and northern regions,
was to offer the most persistent and deepest resistance
to the spread of cortezia from the shores of the Arabic
and Latin Mediterranean, where the climate is more
cheerful, the customs freer, and sensual pleasure more

We already see in the poetry of the troubadours that
courtly love is distinguishable from simple sexual at-
traction by the refinement of its expressions, the culti-
vation of feelings, and the quasi-religious respect for
the woman whom they put on a pedestal, and of whom
they complained that she was placed “too high above”
or that she was even inaccessible, like the distant


Princess of Jauffré Rudel. “The Love at a distance,”
that Rudel sang, the praise of chastity, the strictly
codified laws of Love, the rules of chivalry, all indi-
cated the same wish to impose a control over the
instincts and to put a distance between lovers. This
constraint allows natural attraction to rise to exaltation
and to become a passion.

Self-control or constraint is the fundamental feature
that was to manifest itself in a much more open and
dramatic manner when courtly love was to find its
romantic expression in northern France (Brittany and
Normandy). The living link between the troubadors
and the authors of the Romance of Tristan is a very
noble woman of strong character, who played a very
important role in the history of European ideas and
customs: Eleanor (Alienor) of Aquitaine, granddaughter
of the first troubadour William of Poitiers, wife of
Louis VII, King of France, whom she accompanied on
a crusade, then wife of Henry II, Plantagenet King of
England, and finally mother of Richard the Lion
Hearted (himself a court poet) and of Countess Marie
de Champagne, famous for her “court of love.” The
Countess, in her turn, was the protector and inspiration
of poets like Chrétien de Troyes, the principal author
of the romances of the Round Table. Out of this im-
pressive constellation of high nobility and genius was
to arise the cycle of Breton romances, the Quest of
the Grail, the characters of King Arthur, Perceval or
Parsifal, Galahad, and finally Tristan.

The story of Tristan and Isolde remains the eternal
prototype of the love-passion discovered or invented
by the poetry of the south of France but transposed
in the more somber and tempestuous climate of Brit-
tany, Ireland, and Wales. Analyses of this romance par
excellence have led to the following conclusion: pas-
sion is that form of love which is nurtured by the
obstacles put in its way.

Tristan, having conquered Princess Isolde after a
great struggle, does not keep her for himself—as cus-
tom would like to have it—but gives her to King Mark
whom she marries. Then the lovers, resuming their
liaison, taken by surprise are driven from the court.
They live hidden in a forest, with apparently nothing
to oppose their desire. However, Tristan at times de-
posits the sword of chastity between the Queen and
himself and this conventional obstacle is to permit their
passion to maintain itself. Nevertheless, after three
years of exile, Tristan sends Isolde back to King Mark,
for this separation, a new obstacle which he deliber-
ately chooses, cannot but inflame his passion. And
finally, love having conquered all the shackles of life—
morals, matrimonial and feudal law, physical separa-
tion, jealousy, and even the attrition of time—the
lovers discover in death the supreme obstacle which
transfigures their passion and renders it eternal.

Without obstacles there is no passion. “Happy peo-
ple have no history,” a French proverb says. A happy
couple do not make a romance. The history of love
in Europe is hence to be the history of love's obstacles
and its misfortunes, preferred to plain happiness. But
this history begins with a catastrophe.

The civilization of the troubadours was crushed in
the beginning of the thirteenth century by the crusade
against the Albigenses. This was the first and also the
most tragic manifestation of relentless hostility which
northern Europe and Catholic orthodoxy were to hurl
against the fascinating and tempting heresy which the
new love represented. But, from the stakes ignited by
the Inquisition in the south, the sparks were to jump
out far, spreading to all of Europe the ideal of courtly
love and the current of religious heresy which favored
its birth. It can be assumed that without the bloody
repression of the crusades, courtly love would not have
known the incredible prestige which it has enjoyed
until recently, and which had exhausted its role without
any catastrophe as it was soon to do in the Arab world.

The principal avenues for the diffusion of courtly
love, its poetry, and its music, correspond in Europe
to the avenues for the diffusion of the heresies to
England, Flanders, The Rhineland, Hungary, Bohemia,
Russia (the Dukhobors). The legend of Tristan was
spread from the fifteenth century on. Everywhere the
Church and the public powers fought heresy and de-
nounced the literature of love, considered, not without
reason, as subversive and as contrary to morality and
the marriage sacrament. But the more they fought, the
more these heresies proliferated and profoundly con-
taminated the psyche of the European elite. All Euro-
pean literature was converted to the style of the

Dante (a disciple of the Provençal poets) and his
associates baptized themselves the “Faithful in Love”
(Fedeli d'Amore). All the Rhenish, Flemish, Italian,
and then Spanish mystics submitted to the secret influ-
ence of religious Manichaeism.

In an entirely different sphere the rules of courtesy
became the orders of chivalry, and in this indirect way
were to transform the art of war: the “Tournament,”
whose prize was the love of a woman, shows the con-
ventional model of the “battle array,” that is to say,
a battle conducted according to the customary rites
and conventions. Since then, it is possible to observe
a constant parallel between the style of wars in Europe
and the style of love in the same period: hand to hand
combat and the group tournament correspond to
courtly love; war in laced costume (guerre en dentelles)
corresponds to the facile, passionless love of the
eighteenth century; the revolutionary battles of Bona-
parte and national wars of the nineteenth century to
the passionate kind of love let loose again by romanti-


cism. This parallelism came to an end only in the
twentieth century with the advent of total war, which
no longer has any equivalent kind of love (because total
war aims at annihilating whatever it conquers), and
thus, perhaps, marks the end of an era in our culture.
For until the twentieth century we witnessed the vicis-
situdes of the constantly renewed duel between the
religion of the “Faithful in Love” and the orthodoxy
of the Christian churches, between individual passion
and the collective morality of the community, between
eternal romanticism and the necessities of social order.

Each time that society created new obstacles to the
anarchy of the passions, the religion of love with re-
newed vitality discovered fresh ways of expressing itself
and spreading its “contagion.”

Thus, when French society—which set the tone for
all of Europe in the seventeenth century—was firmly
organized under Louis XIV's reign, the anarchy of the
Fronde was countered by that quasi-totalitarian order
of the state, of religious belief, and of the culture of
the so-called “Great Century.” Passion contrived the
means for expressing itself with all its strength on the
stage—the theater being a powerful social force—in
the guise of classical forms: Andromaque, Bérénice, and
Phèdre owed much less to antiquity (which Racine
pretended was what inspired him) than to courtly love
and the passion fatal to Tristan. We can thus see how
passion became the way to “feel love,” which there-
after became the “natural” way for Europeans.

The eighteenth century offered a contrasting exam-
ple of how passion weakens with the weakening of
social and moral obstacles, and is submerged by ration-
alist criticism or ridiculed by those who set the fashion,
such as that great lady of letters, Madame du Deffand,
who wrote: “We still find good households among
people of the lower classes, but among people of qual-
ity, I do not know a single example of reciprocal
affection nor of faithfulness.” It was the character of
Don Juan who at that time was on the stage and
triumphed in Mozart's opera. Now Don Juan was the
antithesis of Tristan, his complete negation: faithless
by definition, a man of endless love affairs, while
Tristan was a man of a single fatal love; Don Juan
violated all the rules of courtesy and became the hero
of a cynical century, indifferent to spiritual values, and
hence incapable of passion. Only the rebellious Rous-
seau who, moreover, came from Switzerland and hated
the customs of the century, revived courtly love in the
subject and the style of his Nouvelle Héloïse—a work
with a significant title, since it recalls the passion of
Abélard, the first living model resembling the myth
of Tristan.

It was Rousseau who indicated the opposite direction
which passion was soon to take: romanticism. Even the
name of the new movement reveals to us its profound
sources: “romanticism” comes from “romance”; the
first romance was that of Tristan, and it was called
romance because it inspired the troubadours who sang
in a romance language, in other words, in the vernac-
ular instead of Latin. Romanticism was a forceful
return of the religion of the “Faithful in Love” under
its most anarchistic and subversive forms in all spheres:
morality, politics, religion, art, and literature. It
happened thus because the obstacle against which
romanticism revolted and mobilized its strength was
none other than the entire bourgeois order, the reign
of a new materialism, the daily tyranny of a utilitarian
morality, of a new system of taboos; and it was also
the beginning of the rise of the masses, of timetables,
of work with fixed hours, and of mechanism in its
ugliest forms. Against all that, romanticism was going
to set up justifications of passion, which at that time
were confused with those of liberty. The German poets,
like Novalis, rediscovered the secrets of the courtly
mystique, singing of the night and of mortal love. They
brought back into fashion the troubadours, Héloïse,
Petrarch, and Dante's Vita nuova.

But here this same romanticism was to mark a fatal
turning point in the evolution of passion. By too easily
adopting and absorbing certain romantic values, by
vulgarizing and making them bourgeois, Western soci-
ety was to succeed in suppressing in large measure the
savage energy of passion. It was to begin little by little
to base marriage itself on love, that is to say that
Western society was going to attempt to reconcile the
two sworn enemies of the original drama, passion and

Considered from the viewpoint of courtly values,
marriage for love, which seems so natural to us today,
was a scandalous novelty; it was introduced into bour-
geois customs in the eighteenth century and has tri-
umphed since the middle of the nineteenth century.
The love tribunals of the Middle Ages had condemned
it without appeal: “Love cannot extend its laws be-
tween husband and wife,” clearly proclaims a judgment
of the Countess Marie de Champagne, in 1174. Four
centuries later Montaigne repeated this judgment,
however, with different considerations. “One does not
marry for himself, no matter what is said,” but for
posterity and family, the “love license” has nothing
to do with it: “A good marriage, if there be any,
dispenses with the companionship and condition of
love” (Montaigne, pp. 86, 90).

The classical age made no innovations in this area.
“There are good marriages, there are no delightful
ones,” Rochefoucauld was to state. But the rise to
power of the bourgeoisie, especially with the ethical
and cultural values characteristic of their class (begin-
ning with Rousseau, Diderot, and Richardson) was to
produce a profound transformation in the motivations


for marriage and in the idea of marriage that would
be given to young people.

The bourgeoisie did not share the cynicism of the
nobility with respect to erotic pleasures, and the
dowries of their daughters were without prestige: in-
stead of influential names and fiefs, sums of money.
The bourgeoisie acceded to social and political power
from 1789 to 1830, at the same time that capitalism,
individualism, and romanticism began to rise. These
three phenomena had the conjoint effect (which was
greatly accelerated by the Revolution of 1789 and then
by Napoleonic ventures) of dissolving traditional bands,
historic rights, and sacred customs, making way for
contracts freely agreed to among individuals equal in
principle. At the same time romanticism revived the
values of passion and ideal love capable of offering
to women and young people the elements of dream
and poetry which real life suppressed more and more.
But passion became diluted in too eloquent outpourings
of “sentiment,” the tragic style revolved in gloom, and
this edulcorated form of cortezia modestly concealed,
without disturbing, the money interests, while serving
the purposes of the human race. Thus economic inter-
ests, the new social ethics, and the new cultural style
found themselves acting in concert, and as though it
were connived, proceeded to mystify the prosaic reali-
ties of marriage. The whole Victorian era (to which
the Louis-Philippe and the Biedermeyer styles corre-
spond) was to live on these matrimonial conventions,
born of these forces, and conjoined and destined to
safeguard their equilibrium. More and more they spoke
and wrote as though marriage were only an affair of
love, and love an affair of feeling. Any allusion to
money or to sex was rigorously forbidden at the table
of a family whose members respected each other.

It was then, between 1830 and 1848, that expressions
such as “eroticism,” “sexuality,” and “sexual problem,”
appeared, first in Fourier and his socialist disciples,
then in Kierkegaard; that is to say, in the most radical
critics of the bourgeoisie and of its system of values
which were judged incompatible either with social
justice or with Christian duty or liberty.

Baudelaire, sensing profoundly the feelings of his
age, expressed an inward and woeful erotic view, as
a defense against industrial civilization, thriving on
urban spleen and on a nostalgia for a crepuscular sky
(romanticism, Baudelaire, and symbolism were to cul-
tivate a lyricism of love, surfeited and weary, and
therefore crepuscular, in contrast to the passion of the
dawn of the troubadours). In his Journaux intimes,
Baudelaire wrote: “Mysticism is the other pole of the
magnet of which Catullus and his crew knew only the
pole of sensuality.” Entering, in spite of himself, into
the bourgeois categories which he wished to combat,
he added that “the sole and supreme pleasure in Love
lies in the absolute knowledge of doing evil. And man
and woman know, from birth, that in evil is to be found
all voluptuousness (Intimate Journals, p. 34).

Meanwhile, the English novel (from C. R. Maturin's
Melmoth the Wanderer to the Brontë sisters and then
to Thomas Hardy) betrayed the underlying influence
of the myth of Tristan, and reactivated by the taboos
of the new society reintroduced the blissful torments
of impossible and forbidden love. But it was Richard
Wagner who was to reveal its esoteric meaning mu-
sically, at the time that bourgeois marriage, sufficiently
established, permitted and encouraged a psychological
and dramatic form of escape in a dream of passion
with its culminating climax in death, beyond the prison
of the body, in the ectasy of the union of souls, the
“supreme happiness” of Isolde in agony. Supreme, but
at the same time an exemplary unhappy ending.

All this was evolving toward a radical crisis. The
hypocrisy of the “marriage of love,” repressing eco-
nomic motives and disguising its sexual motives, was
bound to end in a neurotic situation and to create a
real social uneasiness. But, above all, sentimental love
was precisely the most unstable basis that one could
imagine for marriage; as an institution its primary
reason for being was to satisfy the need for what is
lasting, stronger in mankind than the need for surprise
offered by passion and its storms. The young man who
only asks of a young girl “Do I love her?”—to the
exclusion of all considerations of social milieu, of
character, and of level of culture—eliminates the most
enduring factors and retains only those most subject
to change.

Finally, as Engels saw clearly in The Origin of the
Family, Private Property, and the State
(1884; Eng.
trans., 1902), individual rights affirmed against tradi-
tion, the economic emancipation of women, and the
disappearance of the patriarchate, inasmuch as it was
tied up with property, were bound to lead logically
to a monogamous union based on “love” alone. But
“if only marriages that are based on love are moral,
then indeed only those are moral in which love con-
tinues.” This view leads to suppressing the indis-
solubility of marriage and practically announces the
anarchy which we see today. This results, on the whole,
in the rapid erosion of the taboos of the bourgeoisie
which were challenged and destroyed by Marx and
Freud: money and sex.

The reason why Freud so profoundly shocked the
Western bourgeoisie, but at the same time gave to a
small number of fanatical disciples (and after a genera-
tion spread to a wider public by hearsay) the sudden
certainty that his doctrine “explained all,” was due to
the fact that he explained neuroses and some psychoses


by starting with sex, one of the two elements tabooed
by the current morality. Not much earlier Marx pro-
duced a shocking effect and a conversion of a com-
parable intensity—and just as exaggerated—in “ex-
plaining all” by the action of the other tabooed
element, money.

Freud brought nothing new to our idea of love but
contributed greatly in removing the mystery by a
ruthless reduction of its motivations to sexuality. In the
Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse by J. Laplanche and
J. B. Pontalis (Paris, 1967), we do not find the word
love, but only the expression of genital love, defined
as “the form of love at which the subject would arrive
in the attainment of his psychosexual development,
which assumes not only access to the genital stage, but
going beyond the Oedipus complex.” The authors con-
cede that: “We find [in Freud] the idea of a complete
form of sexuality and even an 'attitude completely
normal in love' where the currents of sensuality and
'tenderness' (Zärtlichkeit) come together.” This last
term (tendresse)—placed by the authors between quo-
tation marks, as if to excuse themselves for its strange-
ness—is defined a little further on in the same work:
“In the specific usage which Freud gives to it,...
designated by opposing it to 'sensuality' (Sinnlichkeit)
an attitude towards another who perpetuates or repro-
duces the first mode of the love relation of the infant
where sexual pleasure is not found independently, but
always in supporting itself on the satisfaction of the
impulses of self-preservation.” This purely sexual and
egoistic interpretation of love, according to Freud,
seems not to take account of the opposition, which
Freud underlines several times, between “true love”
and “purely sexual desire” (cf. Ueber die allemeine
Erniedrigung des Liebeslebens,
and Essais de psychan-
II, 8). Yet, the Freudian context does not define
this love as “true” but strives to show its “exaggera-
tions,” “idealizations,” “narcissistic detours,” projec-
tions, introjections, erroneous substitutions, and illu-
sions. Absent from the work of Freud is any idea of
love for a fellow creature considered as an act (and
not a more or less disguised passion): “The core of what
we call love is formed naturally by what is commonly
recognized as love and about which poets sing, that
is to say, it is formed by sexual love whose goal is sexual
union.” On the other hand, the illusions of passionate
love are brilliantly exposed.

Sentimental love, “idealized,” is reduced to the role
of an illusion well adapted to the culture, concealing
the fact that the force which drives us is in reality
sex, “the beast within,” in the eyes of reason. In brief,
it can perhaps be said that in the eyes of Freud the
love of a fellow creature, disinterested, self-living,
friendly, in the last analysis is only a particular case
of sexual love, whereas conversely, for a Christian
conception of the world and of man, sexual love is only
a particular case of that cosmic, spiritual Love “which
moves the Sun and the other stars,” according to Dante.

Freud's pseudo-Manichaean conception (but he
chose the low form and not the high form that the
troubadours chose) corresponds to a period of maxi-
mum eroticism of the Western psyche in Paris, London,
and Berlin, as well as in Vienna, in 1900 and dur-
ing the belle Époque. Sexuality, denied by the pious
or atheistic bourgeoisie, by lay morality, and by the
Church, took a double twist, scientific and knavish. The
right-thinkers cast in the teeth of Freud a pan-sexuality
of which bourgeois art (see the salons of the Third
Republic), the theater (a large number of shows in the
nude in Paris around 1910), and European literature
(very generally masochistic, from Sacher-Masoch to
Marcel Proust) illustrated the real condition.

From the early 1930's, vulgarized Freudianism in-
fluenced an increasingly wide public which believed
that according to Freud it was necessary at any price
to avoid “suppressing” the instinctive impulses of in-
fants for fear of “giving them complexes.” The parti-
sans—anarchists and romantics—of “the rights of pas-
sion” took the occasion to condemn every form of
sexual discipline, regarding them as repressive. But
from this universal permissiveness, morality was to
suffer less than passion; nothing makes passion suffer
more than facile access. Let us indeed recall that
courtly passion thrived on shackles, resistance, and on
natural, sacred, social, or legal obstacles; passion would
even invent them if it were necessary. Without accu-
mulated obstacles among the legendary lovers—the
principal one being the marriage of Isolde with King
Mark—there would be no romance or mortal passion,
and therefore no myth. One cannot imagine the old
king Mark bowing before “the rights of passion,” ac-
cepting divorce, and authorizing the queen to marry
the knight in a properly arranged wedding. And one
recoils in dismay at the idea of Isolde's becoming Mrs.
Tristan. However, that is what we would come to as
soon as marriage is no longer a sacred, indissoluble
bond inimical to anything that is worthy of passion.
Such a marriage, far from provoking passion by its
uncompromising refusals, pretends to be based on the
love sentiment itself, that is to say, on a very dilute
substitute for passion, taken in a very weak dose, like
a vaccine one could say, thus completing the suppres-
sion of the myth and at the same time the very founda-
tions of the matrimonial institution.

This socialization of passion was antisocial par ex-
cellence and perhaps the final profanation of a great
myth. Must we now think that the powers of the myth
are exhausted, and that we shall have been the last


in this generation to submit to its “delightful torment,”
as Thomas, an author of the primitive legend, said?

As a matter of fact, in this last third of the twentieth
century, bourgeois morality is approaching complete
decadence. Its taboos no longer hold. Freud and the
psychoanalysts have accredited, in spite of themselves,
the idea which has become popular, that it is less
dangerous for society and for the equilibrium of the
individual to free the sexual instinct than to repress
it. Consequently, educative disciplines have been re-
laxed. Censorship of publications is an attempt to open
the eyes of the public, though condemning a work
reputed to be licentious will simply give the work
publicity. Eroticism and nudity are on open display
in our streets, on our billboards, in advertisements, in
literature, and in the cinema.

This, moreover, does not mean that sexuality is more
vigorous and turbulent, nor even more anarchical
today than formerly. Who can judge? What is certain
is that its expression is no longer repressed, and con-
sequently most of the social, legal, and religious prohi-
bitions have lost their virtue of taboo. Let us consider
the case of the novelists. They realize that a true
romance (roman), taking its name from the romance
language of the troubadours and the trouvères, is noth-
ing but a revitalized version of the courtly archetype
of Tristan and Isolde. They therefore are searching
all over for the resistant obstacle and they could
hardly find any. The Man Without Qualities, by Robert
Musil, who describes an incestuous passion between
brother and sister, and Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov,
which describes the passion of a quadragenarian for
a twelve-year-old nymphet, are the last echoes of the
myth, revived thanks to the last taboos which the era
still respects. But now the hero in Lolita is described
to us as an anti-hero, that is to say, as a case of mental
illness. A psychoanalyst might have cured him, and the
novel would not have been written.

And what are the artists of the new generation
doing? Anticipating the evolution that would logically
lead to the extinction of the passionate or even senti-
mental element, they are beginning to write descrip-
tions of objects “purified of all psychology,” to paint
pictures which represent nothing, to compose music
which no longer expresses any sentiment of the heart.
The new novel, abstract painting, concrete music,
therefore, use instruments conceived in such a manner
that they can no longer express the passion of love,
but only combinations of objects, brute sensations, and
mathematical relations. Everything happens as if the
young artists of these schools deny themselves in ad-
vance, and by the choice of their means of expression,
whatever comes from the soul and not from the senses
or the intellect. It is as if passion itself has become
their taboo!

For passion needs not only obstacles and constraints,
but leisure, privacy, and distance; it also needs a spirit-
ual background, an anxious and desirous belief in the
reality of a world beyond visible and measurable
things; a world which has a soul, and not only intel-
lect and sexuality. But we have a technical, scientific,
and hygienic civilization which cultivates nothing more
than the body and the intellect, and neglects the soul.
It is true that our technical advances promise us leisure,
and this leisure allows us time to develop our culture.
Here is a new hope, or at the very least the potential
means for a more harmonious development. But a
living, creative culture assumes a spiritual horizon and
an elite which scorns fads or, on the other hand, which
dictates them in the name of a true intuition or faith.
Now we have a conception of the world which is drawn
from physics and astronomy, and which leaves no
further room for ideas of the world beyond. Its physics
describes for us a cosmos made up of a void, as
Democritus had already anticipated. There is no
meaning in that universe, or in God, or even in any
justification at all for living. But, at the same time,
sociology forecasts a world much too full of private
individuals leading their individual lives, a world much
too crowded for life to remain viable. We are already
so crowded in our cities that significant distances be-
tween living beings become minimal, at the same
time condemning us to physical promiscuity and psy-
chological solitude. And we are calmly told that hu-
manity will double its population in the course of the
next forty years. If we continue to grow and multi-
ply at the same rate, in less than three centuries there
will be more than seven hundred billion human beings,
which means one person for every ten square meters
over the entire land surface of the earth. Then by the
year 2400 there will be one man for every square
meter. A half century later, they will all be touching
each other. And there our calculations stop.

Obviously these numbers are absurd, but the fact
is that up to now not one sociologist or one moralist
has found or made acceptable anything which could
prevent the whole thing from becoming true. And even
to assume that the means to stop this demographic
nightmare is discovered, if we imagine the world of
the year 2400, what do we have the right to foresee?
Too many people, too crowded without privacy or
space, perfectly adapted to the requirements of well-
organized mass production, and thereby purged of all
individual problems.

It surely seems that passion is condemned, and that
we are heading directly towards a society without
surprises or drama, therefore without history—disci-
plined, normalized, immunized, policed, psycho-
analyzed. Every man is continually being examined,
tested, and repaired with the help of spare parts, like


an automobile. It is a world regulated by technology,
symmetry, and equal justice. This is a masculine world.
It considers only the body and the intellect. It therefore
tends to frustrate more and more the values of the soul
which form the intermediary zone between the body
and the mind—those emotional sensitive and animat-
ing values which feed the arts, love, and passion, and
which are feminine values. In short, we are approach-
ing a collective Boredom.

But it is here that the sociological forecast reverses
itself and suddenly changes signals. For it seems im-
probable that this boredom will not stir up in the
depths of our being a thirst for something which is
outside the world of order, and that it will not provoke
a rebellion of the spirit, a revolt of the unconscious,
claiming a new liberty comparable to that which was
produced in the collective psyche of the twelfth cen-
tury: a tremendous upsurge of the feminine principle
in search of new symbols, new ways of showing them-
selves and of expressing themselves.

The last works of C. G. Jung foretold this return
of powers of the soul symbolized by the eternal wis-
dom (Sophia Eterna) of the gnostic heresies, supreme
Wisdom (consubstantial with God), eternal Mother
prefiguring the coming of the godly Virgin in popular
piety. And C. G. Jung was not afraid to write—in this
far from Catholic context!—that the proclamation of
the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin was the
greatest date in religious history since the Reformation,
meaning by religious history the evolution of the col-
lective psyche.

A social psychologist of religion (in the broadest
sense of the term) nowadays could enumerate the
symptoms of this revival of soul with its irrational
powers and affections. We may mention several odd
instances ranging from the lowest to the highest: a
widespread eroticism, popularized in published works
and in advertisements; informal estimates of the extent
of magic—fortune-tellers, medical quacks, and pro-
phetesses—often exceeding scientific research budg-
ets; the sly encroachment of pseudo-oriental esoteric
ideas, initiation cults, and their erotic, magical physi-
ological procedures; the surrealist revolt culminating
in the cult of the “Woman-Child” as saving man from
his enslavement to reason (André Breton, 1944); the
“hippie” movement of Western youth; the revival of
the cult of the Virgin and the dogmas of Mariology in
Catholicism (both Roman and Eastern); the ardent
curiosity of a growing public interested in the gnostic
writings recovered in Egypt, in Manichaeism, and in
Catharist doctrines; finally, the spreading influence of
the ideas of two thinkers, viz., C. G. Jung and Teilhard
de Chardin, otherwise having little or nothing in com-
mon, but converging on this topic. All of this revival
recalls the psychical features of twelfth-century Eu
rope. Certain farfetched analogies arise between the
troubadours and surrealist poets, between the mystique
of love in Saint Bernard and the new doctrines of the
Virgin Mary, even between Jung and Joachim of Floris
or between Abélard and Teilhard de Chardin...,
which all leads to very different, even opposite, roads.

The powers of the soul, frustrated by technology and
reclaiming their own, can provoke collective neurotic
and anarchic furor, endemic crime, and religious folly.
These powers can also be wasted in delirious idealism,
whether of the Anabaptists, of the Enlightenment's
syncretism, or of the “hippies,” in whom everything
is confounded with no hope of reconciliation with
science or theology. Finally, these same powers of love
can fail in their counter-offensive, and the result will
be that any idea of love that goes beyond sex will be
judged reducible to a neurosis or even to a perverse
political idea (“capitalistic,” “imperialistic,” “liberal,”
“anti-socialistic,” and so forth), and will be cured by
chemical therapy controlled by the state.

After this happens, almost inevitably, three attitudes
will be redefined, distinguished, and then mixed in
variable proportions in the lives of our descendants;
that is, among those who will have escaped from the
totalitarian process of conditioning anticipated above:
a) an eroticism increasingly distinct from any senti-
mental love; knowing no more taboos and seeking with
diminishing success the refinements and stimulation
capable of temporarily doing duty for obstacles which
are absent, absence being ruinous for pleasure; b) a
resurgence of courtly love, for “Love is an incurable
malady which can find a remedy only in itself, being
a delectable condition and desired pain—he who has
not caught it has no desire at all to remain healthy,
and he who suffers from love finds no pleasure in being
cured.” So wrote the Andalusian poet, Ibn-Hazm, in
the thirteenth century; c) an agapē which will no
longer be preoccupied with taboos, rules, toleration,
or sin, but with its power to integrate personality in


Translations, unless identified otherwise, are by the author
of this article.

Charles Baudelaire, Journaux intimes (Paris, 1938),
Fuzées, III; trans. Christopher Isherwood as Intimate Jour-
(London, 1947). Nicolas Berdyaev, De la destination
de l'homme
(Paris, 1935); trans. as The Destiny of Man
(London, 1937). Reto Bezzola, Les origines et la formation
de la littérature courtoise en Occident
(Paris, 1944). André
Breton, L'Amour fou (Paris, 1937); idem, Arcane 17 (New
York, 1944). Henry Corbin, L'Imagination créatrice dans le
soufisme d'Ibn 'Arabī
(Paris, 1958). Georges Dumézil, Mythe
et épopée. L'Idéologie des trois fonctions dans les épopées
des peuples indo-européens
(Paris, 1968). Friedrich Engels,


The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State
(1884; trans., Chicago, 1902). Robert Flacelière, lLAmour
en Grèce
(Paris, 1960). K. Gaiser, Platons ungeschriebene
(Stuttgart, 1963). Robert G. Hazo, The Idea of Love
(New York, 1967). Carl Gustav Jung, Antwort auf Hiob
(Zurich, 1952). Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais, ed.
P. Villey (Paris, 1923). René Nelli, L'Érotique des trouba-
(Toulouse, 1963); a basic work. A. R. Nykl, Hispano-
Arabic Poetry and its Relations with the Old Provençal
(Baltimore, 1946). José Ortega y Gasset, Estu-
dios sobre el amor
(Madrid, 1939); trans. T. Talbot as On
(New York, 1957). Denis de Rougemont, Love in the
Western World
(New York, 1940; 1956); also published as
Passion and Society (London, 1940; 1956); idem, Love De-
(New York, 1963); also published as The Myths of
(London, 1963). Isidor Schneider, ed., The World of
2 vols. (New York, 1964), contains the translations
from Empedocles and Voltaire. F.-M. A. de Voltaire, articles
in L'Encyclopédie (Paris, 1751-77).


[See also Dualism; Gnosticism; Heresy; Motif; Platonism;
Romanticism; Women.