Pausanias’s Paradoxes of Love

“The lover and the beloved”

“Love looks after the good and overlooks the bad”- Agathon, The Symposium

In the symposium, while everyone is arguing about the totality and relativity in the concept of love, Pausanias (an erastês) brings out the paradoxes involved in the concept of love. There are considerable amount of paradoxes which are proposed by Pausanias that makes the definition of love quite complex to comprehend. To some people, love brings out the best in us and to others it’s just a way to bring out the worst in an individual. Though this statement itself constitute a paradox but there are other paradoxes pointed out by Pausanias.

He emphasised upon the paradoxes of love in a romantic as well as an erotic sexual relationship. For this purpose, Pausanias takes into consideration of one of the most complex and balanced cities in the Greek society; Athens. According to him, other cities lacked the balance and the complexity to assess the paradoxes effectively. One of the major reasons for considering the Athenian Society in Ancient Greece was the interpretation of homosexuality and its functionality. The sexual acts between an younger and an older homosexual was not only considered an act of recreation but an act with educational purpose. This liberal attitude of the Athenian Society in Archaic Greece intrigued Pausanias to consider it for the evaluation of his paradoxes.

Firstly he points out certain maxims, one of which stated that it is better to love openly than secretly. The homosexuality in archaic Greece had two components- (1) Passive role (Younger counterpart) and (2) Active role (Older counterpart). However, the determination of the roles were based upon the social and political position of the actors. So, one may say that they fell in love with the intellect of an influential person but the other may perceive it as an act to achieve power and influence but not love. This constitutes the first of the paradoxes of love mentioned by Pausanias. In this case the lover might be applauded for falling in love with the intellect of someone, while cynics might criticise the act as a way to gain power and influence in the society.
Secondly, the lover is applauded or encouraged for conduct that would in other circumstances be considered exploitative. A lover is applauded when he provides everything for getting the attention of the beloved he desires which includes influence, power, money and so on, but the same circumstance of providing everything just with the desire for sexual intimacy or a way to achieve success could be considered exploitative and sign of a bad character. The lover is applauded for begging to the beloved (vowing vows or sleeping on doorsteps) for acquiring the reciprocation he craves, but in other circumstances begging for your self satisfaction and need makes you a beggar, the society perceives you from a different dimension when you’re not in love. Just like beggary, slavery could also be considered a part of the paradox proposed by Pausanias.

‘Lovers get to break promises’, this constitute another paradoxical dimension to love. In love, promises are made just to be broken and a lover essentially cannot keep all the promises he makes while trying the acquire the love of his beloved. The society justifies it, not only society but his beloved also justifies it in his/hers own circle of acquaintance. If we apply the same concept of not keeping promises other than in love, the society condemns it and it pressurises the individual to keep the promise or the agreement he made. Hence, this poses another paradox in love.

Another question is aroused by Pausanias, “If love is considered so precious, why parents deny access of the lover to the beloved?” Love is considered the most beautiful and precious thing in the society. Instead of being the most beautiful feeling in the world, the parents of the beloved restrict the individual to get indulged in love. Even in Archaic Greece, especially in Athenian Society, the union between the lover and beloved were faced with serious hurdles or barriers which contradict the statement portraying love to be a sacred entity. So another paradox is institutionalised. Yet another question arises here, if love is so great, why do fun is being made to the beloved by his/her peers? We’re all aware of the taunts we have to endure when in love, as if it’s certain kind of profanity which the society perceives while accepting love as the greatest of all things. So is it important to love in secrecy rather than openly? Isn’t this poses another paradox?

Pausanias finally proposes a final paradox. He asks if it’s okay to submit to a noble lover. The noble lover is the one who only has the genuine desire to have your company. The lover who has no intentions or desires of sexual intimacy and genuinely wants and craves for the beloved’s attention. According to the lover, affection and compassion prevails over sexual desires. Is it ok to submit completely in that case only to be broken apart in due course of time. It might be the fact that the beloved failed to assess the intention of the lover in the preliminary phases of the relationship. It might be the case that the beloved assessed the lover to be a genuine one just for the sake of finding out the misinterpretation later on in the future. Even if the case is so, Pausanias seems optimistic. He suggests that the beloved’s intentions were pure. It shows beloved’s nobility in character and he/she had good reasons. He considers it to be a good act but an unfortunate one. So, Pausanias critically poses certain paradoxes that he called “Paradoxes of Love” but suggests optimism at the end. This concept yet again denied the totality in love proposed by Plato and portrayed a critical approach with an optimistic end.

Published by Arpan Roy

Just a Bibliophile!

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