Codex Manesse, 71v, Kristan of Hamle (medieval Lovers, pulled in a basket). Date: between 1305 and 1315
Codex Manesse, 71v, Kristan of Hamle (medieval Lovers, pulled in a basket). Date: between 1305 and 1315

Love! Is it objective, subjective, or even dangerous? With its sea of connotations one would ever wonder, ‘what is love?’

The month of February reminds everyone to once again ponder upon the topic of love. But, it is such that culture, time, and situation changes the understanding of the love as we know it to be true. So to truly figure out ‘love’ it needs exploration from various points, which one single individual knows not of.

However, to shed an element of knowledge on the topic that is as high as sky, some faculty members of Trent University explored ‘love’ from the stance of pre-modern studies, and with an academic tinge.

Professor of Ancient History and Classics, Dr. George Kovacs, presented the disparate versions of Greek myth that chronicles the origin of Eros, personification of love. He pointed out how for one, he is a primeval deity who embodies love and order. While on the other hand Eros is the  primordial force of the universe, playful and frequently causing trouble. Professor Kovacs questioned on how Greek mythology was not up to the task of creating a single definition of love, and opened the discussion as to if it can be reconciled.

‘Platonic love’ was the subject explored by the Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Byron Stoyles. He suggested that the use of the label ‘platonic’ in the modern world is not according to what Plato meant when referring to love. Today, the term is attached to intimate relationships that lack sexual intimacy.

But for Plato, love was that in which one man loved another for his spiritual beauty more than for physical attractions. And it is achieved by refining the physical desires and directing one’s mind to love for wisdom, although without necessarily suppressing one’s sexual emotion. Thus,  Plato’s conception for the best kind of love is thoroughly erotic, says Professor Stoyles.

Switching the tone of love, English Professor, Joanne Findon ventures Criseyde’s love through Geoffrey Chaucer’s Triolus and Criseyde. Dr. Findon presents on a love that is complex and nuanced. Through the poem, she brings forth the complexities of Chaucer’s ideas about love – that it is complicated and becomes more human when freed from the ideals of ‘courtly love’.

Love is an object of importance between husband and wife, and that was the idea presented by the Professor of History Ivana Elbl.

By going back in time to 1434 to 1436, when arranged marriages were the norm in the European elites, she presents the episode when Prince Pedro of Portugal, Duke of Coimbra and his consort, Isabel of Urgel campaigned against marriages without love. Dr. Elbl brings forth the importance of the authenticity of the emotions expressed and the non-literary description of marital love as a lived experience.

“Are humans capable of pure love?” Love which is entirely devoid of self interest, a love that seeks, expects, and hopes for absolutely nothing in return, and characterized by total abandonment of oneself to the beloved, was the topic explored by the Professor for Philosophy, Dr. Michael Hickson. He finds the concept of pure love to be intriguing, but also disturbing at the same time.

It is not humanly, but a love one would show only for god, he said. And, even if humans are capable of pure love, he questioned if it should be considered healthy. He supported this by presenting the argument of France’s two top-ranking Catholic Bishops over the topic. And how the debate was won by the concept that “human love is and must be partly self-interested!”

Taking an entirely different turn, dangers of loving making in eighteenth-century Britain was the presentation made by History Professor, Kevin Siena. He outlined his collaborative research project to explain the many methodological obstacles that medical historians face when trying to assess epidemiological data from periods long ago.

After working through the challenges, they arrived at a relatively reliable conclusion that, “love making in eighteenth-century Britain was ‘very’ dangerous,” stated Dr. Siena, though it depended on where one lived.

The eventual exploration on love was made by History Professor, Jennine Hurl-Eamon, who tried to find traces of romantic love among the illiterate poor in eighteenth-century England. She made aware of the methodological challenges to find evidence of conjugal love among them because of this groups lack of education or resources to write letters. Further, army wives were notorious figures of abandonment after the husbands had left for war, she added.

However, Dr. Eamon’s research into the married lives of soldiers shows the possibilities for romance among the lowest classes, and that separation cannot necessarily be taken as a sign of lack of love among the poor. But the bigger question, according to her research, is whether love is something that transcends any historical, cultural, or socioeconomic context.

Even after understanding the concept of ‘love’ through the aforementioned different windows, one still wonders, ‘what is love?’

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900: a late Victorian view of a lady giving a favor to a knight about to do battle.
God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900: a late Victorian view of a lady giving a favor to a knight about to do battle.