Is Love a Philosopher?
An investigation of the ancient conception of Eros and its relationship to Wisdom
Guest article by Paul G. Vaughan
Proem by Occult Mysteries
In this continuation of the ideas he explored in his article on The Ascent to the Beautiful, Paul G. Vaughan explores the Platonic conception of Eros, or Love, and its relation to Beauty, Immortality and Wisdom. For beauty, as he explains as he develops his theme, is closely connected to love. Indeed, we might say they are two sides of the same precious coin, for both, when rightly understood, lead us to the Source of beauty and love which is God, however we may conceive that Divine Principle.
Of all the ancient conceptions known to modern man, that of Eros is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misused and distorted. It is with Eros the same as with our modern notion of Love, which is not at all strange, since Eros stood for Love in ancient Greece, and today both are often degraded in their common use to signify nothing more than the passion of bodies, or erotic desire. Although the title I've chosen may seem rather unusual, I assure you that it is not without merit. In my previous article, I endeavoured to trace the path of ascent from sensual to divine beauty; but this winged flight, which leads from garrulous matter all the way to the hallowed sanctuary of the beautiful itself, could never be accomplished without the medium and assistance of Eros, or Love—terms which I shall henceforth use interchangeably, as befits the premise of this discourse. Indeed, Love and Beauty are so closely knit together, that it is almost impossible to consider one without the other, as I will demonstrate later.
It is not my intention to improve upon the excellent article on The mystery of Love, published by the authors of this website. Their treatment of the subject, and John Temple's masterful analysis of the biblical themes concerning the same, can hardly be bettered. My object is to investigate the hidden meaning of what the ancient Philosophers signified by Eros and correct the erroneous conception it now has, and to demonstrate its relationship to Wisdom and Beauty. As such, you may consider it a companion piece to Occult Mysteries' article, and a continuation of my previous investigation of Beauty—thus forming a triptych on a truly divine mystery, two-fold yet one in its essence, which can only be fully comprehended by the Wisdom of the Heart. Since my object is to restore something of the ancient dignity and purity of Philosophy, so sorely missed in this dark and ignorant age, I shall turn again to the writings of Plato, who bequeathed to us something of the primitive and luminous wisdom of the Land of the Pharaohs. Although the Mystery Schools which had once flourished in ancient Egypt were already closed by the time Pythagoras and Plato travelled there in search of its secret lore, the temples with their Priest-Philosophers were still centres of instruction, and played a crucial role in the transmission and preservation of what remained of the Ancient Wisdom in their times.
What's in a name?
The word 'Eros' is most likely of a very ancient origin, and does not seem to have originated in ancient Greece. Although the word is usually rendered as 'desire', Dr. E. V. Kenealy, the inspired scholar and author of Enoch: The Book of God, said it had a triple meaning. Firstly it denoted God, and His Divine Love, which generated the Beautiful in all things; secondly, it represented what he calls the Spirit of Love, or a certain Daemon (from the Greek word daimon, meaning a middle-nature). Thirdly, the same word with an aspirate and a slight change of sound, Éros—is the root of our word 'Hero'. This originally signified one descended from the Heroic order of souls, from among whom the Archangelic Messenger, or Man-Eros "stepped forth, and offered himself on his Minerval mission to fallen mortals." Heroes in the mystic sense were Messengers of Light, whom the poet Hesiod praised by the name of Holy Guardians of Mankind, while Minerva, which was the Roman name of the Goddess Athena, stood for Divine Intelligence. Immediately we are in the realm of the Messianic archetypes, and here, if anywhere, lies a clue to the Pre-Greek origin of the name Eros, which seems eerily reminiscent of the Egyptian Horus, or Heru. This cannot be a mere coincidence, since even some of the most ancient depictions of Eros, such as the Orphic Eros Protogonos, show him as a winged creature; a type which has continued all the way down to our chubby Christian Cherubs, the offspring of Roman Cupids. I need not remind our regular readers that the zootype of Horus in ancient Egypt was a Peregrine Falcon, the fastest flying bird on earth, while in the Old Kingdom bas-relief at the Temple of Horus at Edfu, Horus is symbolised by the Winged Sun. Gerald Massey in his masterwork Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World identifies Eros and his double, Anteros, as a form of the double Horus, or Horus the Elder and Horus the Younger. Massey writes: "The marriage of Cupid and Psyche is a fable that was founded on this union of the two souls which we have traced in the [Egyptian] Ritual as the soul in matter, or the human soul [Higher Mind in our terminology], and the soul in spirit [Divine Soul]. Cupid, under another name, is Eros, whilst Eros and Anteros are a form of the double Horus; Eros in spirit, Anteros in matter, and the blending of the two in the mysteries was the marriage of Cupid and Psyche in the mystery of Tattu." The explanations in square parenthesis are mine.
I hope you will agree that this is getting quite interesting! What exactly the fable of Cupid and Psyche represented, I discuss in my Afterword. Meanwhile, we seem to have arrived not at three, as Dr Kenealy suggested, but four different meanings of Eros: the God of Divine Love, a Daemon or Spirit of Love, a Man-Eros or Archangelic Messenger, and finally the two-fold Eros and Anteros, the soul in spirit and the soul in matter. What now? Where does this leave the supposed god of sexual love, or the "abstract desire of Nature for procreation," which are the most common definitions of this mysterious principle to be found in modern dictionaries?
Every self-proclaimed adept of 'magick' and his dog will tell you today that Eros is nothing else but the primordial desire of Nature, manifesting as a generative force which can be harnessed in the sexual act in order to attain a state of trance or magical lucidity. This school of thinking claims that divinity, or any 'transcendental' state, can only be experienced through our bodies, and that the experience of frenzy and intoxication, which leads to ecstatic exaltation—a sort of Bacchanalian fury, in its corrupt orgiastic sense—is the true expression of Eros, and the only way this impersonal force operates throughout the Universe. This is exactly the kind of thinking that leads to black magic, which operates by perversion of the creative impulse—which in itself is sacred—and turns it into a monstrous proliferation of excess; as such it is a sure path to self-destruction. Many so-called Tantric practices sprang from the same reductionist view of desire, although again, even in the abstruse conceptions of the various tantric schools we find a distinction between three types of Kama: animal desire, human desire, and superhuman desire. Might these correspond to the triple (or is it quadruple?) nature of Eros, or Love? Is 'love' merely another word for 'desire', or is there something more to it? I wouldn't ask your average sex magician for an answer!
From the article on The mystery of Love we have learned that, just like the Egyptians and Hindus before them, the ancient Greeks recognised three varieties of love: Agàpe, Philía, and Éros, perhaps loosely corresponding to the three types of desire mentioned above, with Agàpe representing the superhuman, and Éros the animal passion. But in this instance, the latter is the lesser or earthly Eros, by some ancients denominated 'vulgar', in contradistinction to Agàpe and Philía, which stand for the higher kinds of love. This is eminently correct, as far as the common conceptions of the Greeks are concerned, who use this distinction even to this day.
The Philosophers however, as I hope to show, knew better, and understood that the divine principle of Eros, which manifests throughout the entire Universe, is triple in its nature, but one in its unific essence. "He was the god of love, and light, and heat, and is identified with that golden-winged and beautiful form who sprang to light from the primordial Egg of Chaos," says Dr Kenealy. This Primordial Egg of Chaos refers to the Orphic myth, according to which the first principle of all things is the one, or the good, from which proceeds the Duad of Aether and Chaos. The former being representative of the bound, for it is most similar to the one itself, while the latter comprehends multitude and infinity. In other words: the Father-Mother God. Their mutual connection was represented by Orpheus as the primordial Egg, from which, by the mysterious agency of Night, or Nyx, issued Eros Protogonos, the primordial God of Light, also known as Phanes, and the first beauty. I have mentioned him earlier, and I shall return to him again. From all the foregoing we can see just how tricky it can be to navigate through the tangled web of mythological conceptions and poetic effusions of the ancients in order to separate truth from mere fancy. But alas, that is what Philosophy is for, so let us press on in our quest.
The seeds of immortality
In the Afterword to my article on The Ascent to the Beautiful, I quoted the speech of Diotima from the Symposium of Plato, in which she describes to young Socrates the right way of Love. Let us sit again at the feet of that wise prophetess and see what else she can teach us about the mysteries of Love, and the subtle conceptions of the ancient Philosophers. Let us begin by looking into the greatest book of wisdom ever written: Nature. It is within her ample bosom that we find many examples of the most loving affection between animals and their offspring. This diverse and abundant realm is filled with unsung deeds of heroism, sacrifice and selfless love, demonstrating to what lengths some animals will go to protect their young.
Unknown — statue of Diotima holding the primordial Egg — marble
To give a few examples. Emperor penguins travel up to 50 miles to the ocean shore to fetch fish for their chicks, sometimes in the most hostile conditions, regurgitating their catch afterwards to serve it warm on arrival. A female deep-sea octopus can watch over her eggs for more than four years, never leaving the area where she laid them, not even to provide food for herself. Once the eggs hatch, she blows them with her siphons into the open ocean and dies. Even those industrious—if not exactly endearing—arachnids exhibit admirable motherly instincts. Some female spiders are known to hold the egg sac in their jaws until the younglings hatch, all the while foregoing food for themselves; afterwards they carry the merry pack of freshers on their back until they can successfully crawl on their own and hide under your bed (or mine). All this shows just how caring animals can be when it comes to their offspring. But what is the cause of this? Let's set aside for the moment the dry and uninspiring 'scientific' explanations about 'adaptive evolution' and so forth. While the mechanism which they describe may have evolved in an adaptive fashion, the driving force behind it is something entirely different. It is the same force which, in the first place, causes animals to passionately seek out their mates in season, and to couple; a period when some of them become, in the words of Diotima, 'sick with love', desiring nothing but to generate and breed.
What is the reason for such deep and impassioned affections among irrational creatures? The answer which Plato gives is simple: it is desire for immortality. The mortal nature seeks to be perpetuated, and the only way to achieve this is by generation. Nature, after all, is forever becoming to be, in imitation of that which always is—the Divine Mind, of which it is an ever-unfolding image. This incessant generation of new forms in which all animals participate, is the only means by which irrational beings can become immortalised and preserved: leaving behind a new being bearing their resemblance, to supplant the place of the old one which is destined to die or depart. To quote Diotima: "By this contrivance in nature, Socrates, does body, and every other thing naturally mortal, partake of immortality. Immortal after a different manner is that which naturally is immortal. Wonder not, therefore, that all beings are by nature lovingly affected towards their offspring. For this affectionate regard, this love, follows every being for the sake of immortality." Perhaps we should be grateful that a ground squirrel, or a very large spider, is not a naturally immortal creature, as that would likely cause consternation in certain parts of the world—but can we think of a being which is naturally immortal? Hold this thought, dear reader, and I shall return to it anon.
Let us now look at man, who in his vehement passions and fervent affections seems no less smitten with the desire to breed and immortalise his kind than animals. Do we also generate in order to perpetuate our own mortal form, and not just that of our species? It is true that many people desire progeny because they wish to leave something behind, taking pride (if they are lucky) and satisfaction in seeing their semblance imprinted upon the faces and characters of their children, and their children's children, etc. But men, on account of the reason (logos) inherent in them, which makes them rational (for they possess a Higher, as well as a lower mind, contrary to the animals, who are bereft of the former), exhibit the desire for immortality in other ways too: such as the love of fame and glory, or the love of virtuous deeds. The desire to live in the memory of mankind, "the zeal to become illustrious in after-ages," as Plato puts it, is a powerful driving force, capable of enduring untold dangers, sacrifices, hardships, and even death. In this way the hero, through the power of his example, generates continued copies of his virtue, which endure long after his mortal frame has perished. All in the name of immortality.
Thus we may assert with Diotima that immortality, that universal passion is the great aim and end of all. "But though immortality be thus sought by all men, yet men of different dispositions seek it by different ways," the Seeress adds, and explains: "All of human race, O Socrates, are full of the seeds of generation, both in their bodies and in their minds: and when they arrive at the maturity of age, they naturally long to generate. But generate they cannot upon the ugly or uncomely, and only upon the fair and the agreeable. For the work of generation is carried on, you know, by means of the natural commerce between the two sexes: and this is a work above human art, it is divine. For to conceive and to impregnate is to immortalize the kind: it is producing immortality out of an animal which is mortal." [My emphasis.]
But why is it, you may ask, that all beings, rational or irrational, desire immortality? This is a question which warrants further investigation, and I shall return to it in due time. Diotima continues: "Now deformity and ugliness but ill suit with aught which is divine. Beauty alone agrees with it and corresponds. For Beauty is that celestial influence which favours, and the goddess who patronizes, the work of generation...Hence it is that they who are full of this, and long to generate, employ much of their creative power upon that which is beautiful: it is because the beautiful frees them from those generative throes with which they labour."
The seeds of generation are to be found both in the bodies and in the minds of all men. Some exhibit this generative power chiefly in their bodies, and seek out the beautiful and the fair among the opposite sex for this purpose. Thus parents procure a remembrance of themselves, which is a form of immortality, by begetting children. This drive to perpetuate the species and the physical passion which it inspires is natural and holy, and neither Plato nor any truly wise man would despise it, as I have explained in my previous discourse. But the desire to beget corporeally, if not exercised judiciously, can also lead to the vulgar way of love mentioned earlier, so aptly described by Shakespeare in Sonnet 129, quoted in the article on The mystery of Love. It is all a question of self-control. Not all men, however, desire to generate in bodies; some are more eminently provided to generate with their minds. And the offspring of such generation, if beautiful, will of necessity be wisdom and virtue, since the generation of this kind pertains to our Higher Mind, and not to our irrational part. But if it be ugly I may add, it will probably win a Turner Prize!
Hence, musicians, poets, artists, inventors, philosophers and other eminent men, are the parents of numerous progeny, whose empire is the mind, and whose offspring are immortal, because they are mental; for seeds which ripen in the Higher Mind, when their season arrives, must needs be sowed in other minds, prepared for their reception, and thus propagate and perpetuate beauty, virtue and goodness. This brings us back to my previous discourse on The Ascent to the Beautiful, because to generate in the most beautiful medium is the desire of all those who are teeming with the seeds of creation. Once we enkindle the love for beauty in our minds, having first embraced it in its outward form, we soon discover that true beauty lies not in corporeal forms, but in the well-natured minds and souls of other men. With such we fall in love, and beget most beautiful ideas, in discourses, inventions, inspired art, and virtuous actions, producing an issue which is more immortal, and which binds and unites us in friendship more enduring, than the mere offspring of our bodies. And this is the noble way of Love.
Having said this, let us not forget that the greatest fame is that which makes us famous in Heaven, for this endures for all eternity, while the fame of even the most illustrious of men will only last on earth as long as the short memory of man can entertain it. Virtue is most potent when it seeks no recognition, for the less noise it makes here, the more glorious the song which is heard in Heaven, making the composer a true immortal among mortals. Which brings us back to the question posed earlier: what is that being which is said to be naturally immortal—if indeed there is such a being at all?
What is a Philosopher?
So far, I have shown that all beings desire immortality as their goal and that in order to achieve it, men and animals alike generate and breed, having found an agreeable medium in the form of a becoming mate. However, men are also capable of generating in a beautiful medium of a more subtle kind, thanks to the powers inherent in their minds. If those minds are pure and the seeds which germinate in them are ripe, the product of such generation will be wise and virtuous, and the love of such progeny will bring them closer to true immortality, which does not attempt to perpetuate itself across the endless array of impermanent forms, forever becoming to be, but which anchors itself firmly in the eternal.
Now that which is truly immortal, must in the first place possess an immortal essence. That is to say something which is most stable and therefore most definitive in any being. Can you think of such a being now? How about your true self, the Higher Mind, that immortal entity which expresses itself in time, proceeding from, and ever returning to, its divine source? We are all naturally immortal beings, when we consider ourselves as our Higher Minds, reflected into countless incarnations from the ever watchful Soul, which abides in its exempt retreat, beyond the gates of Time. We unite with our Soul when we remember, and convert earthly experience to Heavenly wisdom. We separate ourselves from our Soul when we forget and fall into ignorance. But no matter how far we stray from our paternal essence, although our body and our worldly personality may perish, our Higher Self can never die.
If we can fully grasp the meaning of this Law, we shall have full control over our desire to generate, guiding it and directing it to that which is most worthy of our admiration. In this way, we shall also transmute our love of earthly things, to the love of divinity, and to the love of wisdom, which is one of the most beautiful things. Such is the work of a Philosopher, the lover of supreme Beauty, who ever strives to unite himself with the object of his love. Embracing it, he generates true virtue, and virtue, in the words of Iamblichus "is the perfection of the nature of man." But how can we achieve this wonderful condition? We must first desire it, and then we will it into being with all our might. H. P. Blavatsky had this to say about Will and Desire: "Eros in man is the will of the genius to create great pictures, great music, things that will live and serve the race. It has nothing in common with the animal desire to create. Will is the Higher Manas [Higher Mind in our terminology]. It is the universal harmonious tendency acting by the Higher Manas. Desire is the outcome of separateness, aiming at the satisfaction of Self in Matter. The path opened between the Higher Ego and the Lower enables the Ego to act on the personal self. Intuitive perception seizes on the positive truth that satisfaction is attainable only in the infinite; the will makes that conviction an actual fact of consciousness, till at last all desire is centred on the Eternal." What Madame Blavatsky describes is the dynamic interplay between Will and Desire, and she identifies the former with the power belonging to our Higher Mind and the latter with the passion of the lower mind. In itself, Will is a spiritual force, which is neither good nor bad per se. We can use it to conquer our lower desires or become slaves to them. If we strive for the former, then we must make a conscious effort to continually direct our Will towards a desire for higher things; the highest of which are Wisdom and Goodness. This is a form of purification. Wisdom, according to Plato, is indeed the final virtue, and in Wisdom lies the perfection of our Higher Mind. Purifying our desires, and then directing our Will to their realization, is the first step towards that boon.
Plato taught that to live a philosophic life is to always endeavour to understand and to embody truth, because Wisdom is full of truth. As such, it brings us into active contact with our cause. "I and my Father are One," says Jesus in the New Testament. "I have made True the Word of Ra, my Father," proclaims Horus in the Egyptian Ritual. "Under the patient guidance of the Soul, the Higher Mind slowly awakens during its millions of years of earthly incarnations, until at last it becomes one with the Soul. From Shadow to luminous Angel they evolve, each according to his own colour and kind," as we may read in J. Michaud's The Golden Star, where we also find the following statement: "All is contained within the Consciousness of God, and therefore in the Soul of Man. If his Mind knows how to raise the Veil, or is helped to do so, he can attune with that Consciousness of God and Man. Once he has raised the Veil and beheld the interior of the Temple Within, he has established an everlasting connection between his outer and his inner Consciousness. At that divine moment he has contacted Truth, and he can never forget it nor deny its existence, nor obliterate it from his outer or inner memory."
Once we have made contact with truth, we must strive to embody it in our lives. In this way, we learn to exercise virtue, and virtue is nothing else but wisdom in action, just as wisdom can be said to be virtue in essence. As I mentioned before, we already possess wisdom in our essence, for our Soul is wise and all-knowing; but in order to unfold its potential and bring into full activity in our lives, we must learn to exercise the power of our Will rationally. I mean 'rationally' here in the sense of the Higher Reason, or Logos, which is the gnostic power of our Higher Mind, in contradistinction to the lower or purely cerebral reasoning of our lower mind, which is cold logic at best, and a species of animal cunning at worst. This is the great trial, which leads to the restoration of our spiritual Vision, and a conscious union with our divinity. And such is the object of Philosophy, for which reason Plato calls it the greatest benefit of the eyes, and asserts that it is the greatest good bestowed by the Gods on the mortal race. From the foregoing it follows that we seek wisdom, because in our present state of being we are deficient in it. This creates the need to philosophise, and that need is effected by the convertive and binding power of Love, or Eros. Plotinus, explains: "This is Love born from the attention with which the soul [meaning Higher Mind in this instance] applies herself to the contemplation of its object, and from the very emanation of this object; and so Love is an eye full of the object it contemplates, a vision united to the image which it forms. Thus Love (Eros) seems to owe its name to its deriving its existence from vision. [From 'orasis', meaning 'vision']." Here we have a further confirmation of a very ancient connection between Eros, and Horus, whose common symbol was the Udjat Eye, or Eye of Horus. I hope you can see the beautiful pattern which is gradually unfolding in this investigation. But how exactly can Love unite us to wisdom? And why is it said that everything beautiful and desirable is the object of Love? Is Love full of what it desires, or is it also lacking something? Finally, if the love of wisdom can unite us with wisdom, is Love itself filled with that wisdom, or does it require it for its own perfection?
Edward Burne Jones — Cupid Delivering Psyche — gouache on paper, 1867
The Birth of Love
In his Symposium, Plato unfolds the nativity of Love, and explains to which parents, and in what circumstances, Eros was born. Let us hear it first in the voice of Diotima: "At the birth of Aphrodite, the Gods, to celebrate the event, made a feast; at which was present, amongst the rest, Plenty, the son of Counsel. After they had supped, Poverty came a-begging, an abundance of dainties being there, and loitered about the door. Just then Plenty, intoxicated with nectar, (for as yet wine was not) went out into the gardens of Zeus; and oppressed with the load of liquor that he had drunk, fell asleep. Poverty, therefore, designing through her indigence to have a child from Plenty, artfully lay down by him, and became with child of Love. Hence it is that Love is the constant follower and attendant of Aphrodite, as having been begotten on the birthday of the Goddess: being also by his natural disposition, fond of all beauty, he is the more attached to Aphrodite herself on account of her being beautiful."
What do you make of this fable, dear reader? Let us examine it. First of all, the parents of Love are said to be Plenty and Poverty, so it follows that Love as a natural offspring of such parents must be allotted a middle position between them, inheriting an abject want of all things (from his mother), and the full possession of them (from his father). If you wish to see Plenty as Spirit, and Poverty as Matter, which correspond to the Orphic principles of Aether and Chaos, discussed earlier, you would not be wrong. Hence it is also said that though Love must live in perpetual poverty, and is himself neither beautiful nor ugly, he is constantly full of designs upon the good and the fair, a mighty sportsman, full of vigour, powerful in magic and enchantment, and all his life philosophising. What a prodigy! "His nature is not mortal, in the common way of mortality, nor yet is it immortal, after the manner of the immortal Gods," explains Diotima. He is seated between affluence and indigence; between Wisdom and Ignorance. Seen as such, he is not considered to be a God, for Gods are wise by their very nature. But neither can he be considered entirely ignorant, because the condition of ignorance implies that it has no need for any improvement, and thus the truly ignorant do not desire that which they think they want not. But it is not so with Love, who occupies the middle rank of being. He was conceived at the birth of Aphrodite, the goddess of Beauty, and that incident of birth made him her constant follower and attendant. This signifies that Love is entirely attached to Beauty, and connate with it; and if you consider what I have already said about wisdom and beauty thus far, we will come to a most astonishing conclusion: "For wisdom is among the things of highest beauty; and all beauty is the object of love. It follows therefore of necessity, that Love is a philosopher, or a lover of wisdom; and that, as such, he stands between the adept in wisdom and the wholly ignorant" (Plato, Symposium). Such is the hidden meaning of this artful fable as I understand it, which inspired the title and theme of this article. Love, considered as a middle being, is a mighty Philosopher indeed, filled with the vision of wisdom's supernal beauty, and always striving to unite himself to it. Does this explanation sound more appealing than the mere passion of bodies which is the cliché we are so used to hearing when Eros is mentioned? It certainly does to me.
But there is still much to discover concerning Love's true nature. For instance: what are those delightful 'gardens of Zeus', where Love was conceived, after Plenty lied down to sleep, intoxicated with nectar? In the opinion of Thomas Taylor, whose translation of the Symposium I have relied upon for this investigation, the gardens signify nothing less than "the splendour, grace, and empyrean beauty of the demiurgic illuminations of the maker of the universe." In other words: the Mind of the Creator. In such wonderful ways are Myth and Philosophy woven together, indicating through symbol and mystic allegory those verities which lie at the heart of Creation, and facilitating our understanding of the hidden laws of the Cosmos. This confirms, if any confirmation was needed, the statement found in The Quest of Ruru, namely that "Love depends on the memory of first creation." And so we may say that Love is a recognition of that hidden affinity between all living beings, and their Creator, who is the cause of their beauty, and the source of their good.
The mighty Daemon
From all this we may infer that Love or Eros also possesses an intermediate nature, between the divine and the human, and for that reason Diotima calls him a great Daemon. Daemons in the Platonic philosophy are an order of beings allotted a middle situation between men and Gods, transmitting and interpreting what comes from the former to the latter, and revealing the will of the latter to the former through oracles, inspiration and guidance. Thus they are said to link together all intelligent nature, and it is through their mediation that communication between Gods and mortals is facilitated. I explore this theme in more detail in my Afterword. "These daemons are many and various. One of them is Love," declares Diotima. And this is that Spirit of Love which I have mentioned earlier when quoting Dr. Kenealy. For as Love is a medium between the object of love and the lover, so a daemon is a medium between man (the lover) and divinity (the beloved).
In connection with this Proclus says: "In like manner every amatory order is the cause to all things of conversion to divine beauty, leading back, conjoining, and establishing all secondary natures in the beautiful, replenishing them from thence, and irradiating all things with the gifts of its light." And when the illumination of Love meets with a depraved recipient, as Proclus explains further, it produces a tyrannic and intemperate life; and such is lust, which I have referred to already under other names. But lust is a perversion of the gifts of Love, just as craft is the perversion of intellect, and sophistry the perversion of wisdom. Does this sound familiar? It leaves little doubt as to the nature of times we are living in now, seeing that sophistry, craft and lust have eclipsed their superiors, and usurped their positions. But I digress.
Having established what kind of being Love is, and that his object is beauty, let us now consider the question which Diotima poses next: "What is it which the lover of beauty longs for?" We already know the answer: to be united to it. And if, as philosophers, we long to unite with that supernal beauty which is the Mind of God, and if inherent in our essence is the memory of that first communion with our maker, before we had emerged into conscious existence, then we must assert that what the lover of beauty really longs for, is a reunion with his cause. I have touched upon that already, but it is worth repeating, because if that is the case, what follows is that this primordial state of unity, being the most desirable, and the most beautiful of all things, must of necessity be something good. Thus a lover of beauty is also a lover of good. This being so, Diotima asks further, what is it which the lover of good longs for? There can be no other answer than this: to possess it. For the possession of good must be tantamount to true and enduring happiness. And who doesn't wish to obtain such a state?
All men long for good, but not all men are capable of discerning the real from the apparent good. Nevertheless, all men can be said to be lovers of good, for it is impossible for anyone to desire that which he knows to be evil. If he desires something evil, it is only because it appears to him to be good, otherwise it would be utterly undesirable. "Universally all desire of things good, and all that longing after happiness, which is in every individual of human kind, is the mighty Deity of Love, who by secret ways and stratagems subdues and governs the hearts of all", explains Diotima, adding "So true is it, that there is no other object of love to man than good alone." But this is not sufficient for our prophetess, for she forces Socrates to admit that all men not only long to have possession of their beloved good, but that they desire to possess it perpetually. This brings us back full circle to that universal desire for immortality, which I have discussed in the earlier part of my investigation: for what else is this if not a desire to possess good perpetually?
Now that we seem to have learned something about Love, and how it governs the hearts of all, and to what end, we must ask: where does Love first subsist? And how does it diffuse itself throughout the universe? Here we come to one of the most profound and most beautiful conceptions of the Platonic philosophers, which I briefly touched upon in the Afterword to my previous discourse: the intelligible triad, or the three divine hypostases consisting of the good, the wise, and the beautiful. Plato taught that from these divine causes, three further monads are suspended: faith, truth and love. Proclus explains their relationship thus: "And faith indeed established all things in good; but truth unfolds all the knowledge in beings; and lastly, love converts all things, and congregates them into the nature of the beautiful." This triad, he adds, imparts by its light a union with the divine principle of the universe, because that which is divine is of necessity beautiful, wise and good.
Can you see the reference to the occult trinity of Father, Mother and Son? We may also view it as Light, Life and Love; for faith is that kindly light which leads us to the good, the Father of all, dispelling the gloom of doubt, and bequeathing Inner Peace. If we have faith, we will desire good with all our being, and the desire of good preserves those by whom it is desired, while evil and doubt corrupt. Truth, if we always adhere to it, will elevate us to a life of wisdom and virtue; a life full of power, and the only true existence there is, for life of error is death; and thus truth shall set us free. And finally, the love of real beauty will be the means of our ascent to that which is wise and good; because our essence is spiritual, and all things that participate of the Spirit are beautiful, and every thing beautiful is also good. Moreover, beauty, as we can read in Plato's Phaedrus, is "the most apparent, and the most lovely of all things." As such it calls those who behold it to itself, and charms them; and this it does through the agency of Love. Love abides where there is union and separation of beings; and love binds and perfects all natures, leading them back into the fold of that ineffable unity, or oneness, for which all things yearn. This is the memory of first creation, that longing for perpetual possession of the good, expressed in the universal desire for immortality; and all of this is the work of the mighty Deity of Love.
The Wisdom of Love
So what is love, or Eros? A God? A daemon? A Philosopher? An abstract desire of Nature? If you have followed the course of this investigation closely, you may have already parted the veil of that mystery, and glimpsed something of its truth. For indeed, Love is all of these things. One unified principle, a two-fold power, and a triple nature, which corresponds to the principles of Soul, Higher Mind, and lower mind, both of man, and of the entire Universe. As the Italian Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino observes in his Commentary on Plato's Symposium, Love is a magician as well as a Philosopher, "because the whole power of magic consists in love. The work of magic is the attraction of one thing by another because of a certain affinity of Nature." This affinity is present everywhere: in the attraction and repulsion of chemical elements, from electrons to atoms, molecules and compounds; in the magnetic fields of planets and stars; in the formation of metals and minerals in the earth; in the pollination of flowers and the propagation of plants; in the mating of animals and their instinctive care for their offspring; in the love of mankind for each other; in the love of man for divinity; and finally, in the unconditional love of God for His Creation. This latter love, which we may justly call divine, takes the form of a Messianic Saviour, or Man-Eros. Indeed we may say that God's Eros, is Agápe, modelled by Christ in Christianity, by Krishna in Hinduism, Horus in the Egyptian Eschatology, and countless other Erotes who follow in their train, ever descending on their golden wings from on high, to bring us a message of Light and Love, and to inspire us to unfold our own wings, by which we may also ascend to our rightful Home. In the words of an ancient Homeric poet, lost to obscurity: "Men call him Eros—ever on the wing: Gods call him Pteros—causing wings to spring."
I cannot do better than end this article with another quotation from Madame Blavatsky, on the mystic relationship betwixt Eros and Philosophy. "The philosophers were scientists, and philosophy was a real science—not simply verbiage, as it is in our day. The term is composed of two Greek words whose meaning is intended to convey its secret sense, and ought to be interpreted as 'wisdom of love'. Now it is in the last word, 'love', that lies hidden the esoteric significance: for 'love' does not stand here as a noun, nor does it mean 'affection' or 'fondness', but is the term used for Eros, that primordial principle in divine creation, synonymous with the abstract desire in Nature for procreation, resulting in an everlasting series of phenomena. It means 'divine love', that universal element of divine omnipresence spread throughout Nature and which is at once the chief cause and effect. The 'wisdom of love' (or 'philosophia'), meant attraction to and love of everything hidden beneath objective phenomena and the knowledge thereof. Philosophy meant the highest Adeptship—love of and assimilation with Deity. In his modesty Pythagoras even refused to be called a Philosopher (or one who knows every hidden thing in things visible: cause and effect, or absolute truth), and called himself simply a Sage, an aspirant to philosophy, or to Wisdom of Love." And this is the right way of Love, and the path to true immortality.
Given everything I have discussed and considered in this investigation, the reader should now posses the keys to unlock the true meaning of Eros, and behold His resplendent wings spread about the entire plenum of God's wonderful Creation. Being thus new-armoured with this ancient name of power, which—it is my hope—has now acquired an entirely new significance in your mind and heart, dear reader, we can aspire to become better Philosophers, and true Erotes of the most noble sort. And that is all I could wish for.
© Copyright Paul G. Vaughan. Article published 11 September 2022. Updated 12 February 2023.