Is Venus Dead?
Lucretius?a 1st century B.C. Roman poet and philosopher?begins his poem ?On the Nature of Things? with an overture to Venus, a goddess who is nearly synonymous with love.? This is strange, since the bulk of the poem is dedicated to a disavowal of gods.? In a world without gods, can there even be love?? Love seems to require idolatry, even of a mystically secular sort.? If human beings are equal, how can they worship each other?
Perhaps they will worship themselves?? But self-worship seems to likewise require that we submit ourselves to something other than ourselves.? Where there are no gods, lovers, or patriots, self-worship must become self-alienation?the perpetual discovery that one worships nothing.
Ludovisi Gaul, Palazzo Altemps.
Yet it is odd: having nothing to live for is like having everything to die for.? The blas? alienation of the modern age is fanatically patriotic to its own apathy.? Its mortification is not for Venus, Romeo or Athens, but to justify the castration of its own attraction to anything in particular. ?But, attraction resists.? It has a type: it sinks its teeth into an all-too-willingly unwilling victim.
Here, love looks desperate.? In Lucretius? poem, Venus also appears in the homonym venenum, ?venom.? ?Love?s venom involves being struck by arrows, wounded by gratification and trapped in a net of one?s own design. ?Even without another, love of one?s self will chronically ?gnaw? at its own interest in order to perpetuate its interest. ?For Lucretius, this extends to the very atoms of the universe, which stand in a balanced war with one another, where ?funeral cries are intermingled with the cries of babies.?
The birth cries of falling in love are also the death cries of anticipating the loss of love. ?The anxious excitement of hunting a beloved is already wrapped up in the romantic grief of rejection.? Indeed, they are inseparable, since to have an object of love is not to have it.? If it were possible to completely have a beloved, this would pulverize the longing that led you to pursue the beloved in the first place.? We may later come to resent the ones we love for the very remove that left us so transfixed. ?Love is the sweet attraction of bitter repulsion.? Love is heartache.
Thus, Venus escorts in predators, illicit seduction, and unjustified pain. Civilization finds these politically and morally reprehensible, even while the appetite for hearing about such scandals is inexhaustible.
It is not just love at stake.? To think requires that you be unreasonably attracted to something, too.? Thinking must be seduced into action?not by a love of everything, but by singling out one thing (unfairly) from the rest.? Yet, once seduced, thinking cannot commit, since to be wedded to a singular engagement would destroy its own activity.? Philosophers, then, will seem like perpetual prostitutes, delighting in repeated affairs with the unknown.
Socrates was tried and convicted to death for this very thing?hunting young boys and seducing them to seek truth. ?Of course, you must long for the truth to pursue it, and so, your longing will necessarily be stymied by any truth you find.? Socrates is like a soothsayer of modern disenchantment.
And, is it so strange that the words spoken by a lover should seem at some time preternaturally true??? This is not love in the modern age but love in any age.? If one submits love to a trial, the pleasure of conviction will unwittingly reproduce its venom.? It is especially when love has no ground that it thrives.
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