A friend who had grown up in a Far Eastern country told me the other day “I have never been in love. I do not know what love is.” She asked me if I knew it, had I experienced it. As I thought about how to describe it, I was hampered by some pity for her; many people I knew and dear friends and family knew of love, consuming love. But no one or my friend should ever go through life without loving and being loved passionately. Never! Why, why, WHY our obsession with either or!?
I was reminded by this classic story about love and its complications. You might remember the ancient story by a famous poet in a time long ago. For my allegorical blog-post here I begin in its third book toward the end, and continue, hopping forward, into the fourth:
A Laborious Stormy Life
“Here, after endless labours, often toss’d
By raging storms, and driv’n on ev’ry coast,
My dear, dear father, spent with age, I lost:
Ease of my cares, and solace of my pain,
Sav’d thro’ a thousand toils, but sav’d in vain
The prophet, who my future woes reveal’d,
Yet this, the greatest and the worst, conceal’d;
And dire Celaeno, whose foreboding skill
Denounc’d all else, was silent of the ill.
This my last labour was. Some friendly god
From thence convey’d us to your blest abode.”
But anxious cares already seiz’d the queen:
She fed within her veins a flame unseen;
The hero’s valour, acts, and birth inspire
Her soul with love, and fan the secret fire.
His words, his looks, imprinted in her heart,
Improve the passion, and increase the smart.
Though the wayward, seafaring Prince of refuge had encountered many storms and had been thrown off course in his noble journey, he assured the beautiful Tyrian Queen his misfortune and delay was apparently quite fortuitous, nigh… serendipitous? The Queen was taken by this Trojan’s story, seized and smitten, swept by winds unknown, yet dripped with sweet intoxication.
Traps, Temptations and Diversions – Or Fate?
When next the Sun his rising light displays,
And gilds the world below with purple rays,
The queen, Aeneas, and the Tyrian court
Shall to the shady woods, for sylvan game, resort.
There, while the huntsmen pitch their toils around,
And cheerful horns from side to side resound,
A pitchy cloud shall cover all the plain
With hail, and thunder, and tempestuous rain;
The fearful train shall take their speedy flight,
Dispers’d, and all involv’d in gloomy night;
One cave a grateful shelter shall afford
To the fair princess and the Trojan lord.
Fault Not the Forces of Storms, Satyr and Nymph
Meantime, the gath’ring clouds obscure the skies:
From pole to pole the forky lightning flies;
The rattling thunders roll; and Juno pours
A wintry deluge down, and sounding show’rs.
The company, dispers’d, to converts ride,
And seek the homely cots, or mountain’s hollow side.
The rapid rains, descending from the hills,
To rolling torrents raise the creeping rills.
The queen and prince, as love or fortune guides,
One common cavern in her bosom hides.
Then first the trembling earth the signal gave,
And flashing fires enlighten all the cave;
Hell from below, and Juno from above,
And howling nymphs, were conscious of their love.
While her accidental guest from the sea leaves her arms to return to his men and army, Queen Dido cannot help but long for him and his return. For her, the official public vows of eternal love and marriage could not happen soon enough. She had fallen, hard, and floats head-over-heels. From that night forward there was no return to her previous life. In a near hypnotic trance she recalls their fiery night in the cave while storms raged. Fate had delivered a succulent honey-coated future together, forever squirming in gooey sloppy love. Everything she had ever hoped or dreamt awaited her and the Master of her heart Poseidon miraculously tossed onto her shores. Dido’s yearning is not unlike this modern song that ominously tells of nonstop, irrepressible passion and love:
But as the adage goes, all good things either change or come to an end.
As Pietas, Minerva and Athena before Her
The Gods and Goddesses are angry at Aeneas! They must remind the Trojan Prince he has a much bigger date with destiny and with glory of an empire. Duty, honor, and unwavering loyalty was most prized and sought by Greco-Roman culture, sometimes at the expense of beautifully simple things.
Thou woman’s property, what mak’st thou here,
These foreign walls and Tyrian tow’rs to rear,
Forgetful of thy own? All-pow’rful Jove,
Who sways the world below and heav’n above,
Has sent me down with this severe command:
What means thy ling’ring in the Libyan land?
If glory cannot move a mind so mean,
Nor future praise from flitting pleasure wean,
Regard the fortunes of thy rising heir:
The promis’d crown let young Ascanius wear,
To whom th’ Ausonian scepter, and the state
Of Rome’s imperial name is ow’d by fate.”
Insatiable love, desire… or duty, honor, glory? One must choose principles or passion. You cannot have both. Surrender to irrationality or stay the course, stern and cold. Much of human history has taught us through myth, legend, and prose that we must always choose one or the other. In my life I have gone through this battle more times than I care to count. Now, well into the last half of my expected lifetime, I have only just learned and confirmed the last fifteen years… it is not either/or, one or the other. I ask when, in the history of humanity have we always been giddy and content with restraints, limits, injustice, enslavement or being told “No. Impossible. It cannot be done!”?
Honor and Loyalty. My Dad taught me a lot about honor and loyalty, the kind that ignores death, ignores irrational emotions and passion or fear for the sake of the mission. “Semper Fi”! He believed those two virtues were the highest qualities to aspire and live out. They are invincible, impenetrable, and unmoving for a U.S. Marine and man of principle. I believed him, to the marrow of my bones and to the deepest corner of my heart I believed him. I’m sure too he unflinchingly believed the Trojans and Spartans. Then April 25th, 1981 happened.
Like Aeneas to Dido, in my senior year of high school on Halloween night I was consensually seized, taken and swept downstream by the voluptuous beauty, spunk, vivacious lure and charm of my Roxanne. I lost my virginity that night, but it didn’t matter. I was lost on another planet and I did not care. I thought, this is what Dad has been talking about and trying to teach its profound meaning, its euphoric highs and explosions. Oh yeah… and with possible life-altering, lifetime consequences. My 17-year old
brain libido kept repeating one thing in my head: Woah! I want/need more euphoric explosions! Every night or second night if possible!
But as it turned out I was very young and naive in the arena of love. Nothing I had hoped, dreamt, or expected for Roxanne and I played out. Five months later I caught my Roxanne inside another man’s kiss and heated embrace. I was so devastated the next 6-8 weeks, not only had I gotten fired from my great-paying summer job—a graveyard shift I had lost too much sleep from my Love’s betrayal—but I also sank into utter apathy over school grades combined with as many opportunities to drown myself in bottles of Bacardi Rum or in search of Jose Cuervo’s worm at the bottom. Those were some of my worst, last three-months of my high school senior year. They were also leading up to university where I had a near-full soccer/football scholarship—based on my athletic ability yes, but also high marks of course—waiting for me and my very promising collegiate then, as it turned out, pro soccer career. Did my foolish heart and Roxanne ruin my destiny?
Hindsight had taught me then and now that unleashed, reckless, teenage libidos are exactly what the Greeks and Romans feared most; like eruptions of Thera and Mount Vesuvius fear and terror… they cowered and ran from Earth-trembling, roaring, explosive, consuming eroticism. And I have learned
by firstloins firsthand, many times (over 70 times to be precise) why they feared it so and were paralyzed by its voracity as had overwhelmed the aimless, smitten, refugee-Prince from Troy, Aeneas.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Queen Betrayed and Abandoned
Once the intentions of Aeneas had been discovered Dido was hurt and angered by the Prince’s unscrupulous plan of secret escape. Rightly furious she hunts Aeneas and gives him a piece of her mind:
But soon the queen perceives the thin disguise:
(What arts can blind a jealous woman’s eyes!)
She was the first to find the secret fraud,
Before the fatal news was blaz’d abroad.
At length she finds the dear perfidious man;
Prevents his form’d excuse, and thus began:
“Base and ungrateful! could you hope to fly,
And undiscover’d scape a lover’s eye?
Nor could my kindness your compassion move.
Nor plighted vows, nor dearer bands of love?
Or is the death of a despairing queen
Not worth preventing, tho’ too well foreseen?
Ev’n when the wintry winds command your stay,
You dare the tempests, and defy the sea.
False as you are, suppose you were not bound
To lands unknown, and foreign coasts to sound;
Were Troy restor’d, and Priam’s happy reign,
Now durst you tempt, for Troy, the raging main?
See whom you fly! am I the foe you shun?
Justice is fled, and Truth is now no more!
I sav’d the shipwreck’d exile on my shore;
With needful food his hungry Trojans fed;
I took the traitor to my throne and bed:
Fool that I was—— ’tis little to repeat
The rest, I stor’d and rigg’d his ruin’d fleet.
I rave, I rave! A god’s command he pleads,
And makes Heav’n accessary to his deeds.
Now Lycian lots, and now the Delian god,
Now Hermes is employ’d from Jove’s abode,
To warn him hence; as if the peaceful state
Of heav’nly pow’rs were touch’d with human fate!
But go! thy flight no longer I detain;
Go seek thy promis’d kingdom thro’ the main!
Yet, if the heav’ns will hear my pious vow,
The faithless waves, not half so false as thou,
Or secret sands, shall sepulchers afford
To thy proud vessels, and their perjur’d lord.
Despite Dido’s outrage, tears, and pleas he would remain, to alter Aeneas’ heart back to her’s, the redirected Prince on the other hand feared more the reprisals of the gods if he failed to attend his greater destiny and glory. The modern rendering might be described as ‘service to social customs’ first and always—abiding to all at the expense of a beloved few.
Which is greater? It is a classic dilemma, an enigma that Virgil, at least, and certainly divine beings rip at our human nature and egos, whether insidious or not. It could be argued today that not too much has changed since 19 BCE, hence this blog-post’s title, Love: The Enigma. No, not Love the Enigma. However, many would enjoy the misread, macabre, but false title. Thanks to the Greeks we are darkly fond of a tragedy aren’t we? Ah, I mustn’t digress so much.
Dance of the Swords, Chronic Gods and Burning Hearts
Since Aeneas could not be dissuaded, that night in her chambers Dido flounders back in forth between bitter anger and fierce love. Her memories of passion now become unbearable torture with only one end in sight: waiting for Aeneas with no assurances. Her impending emptiness could be told by a song, this (2017) song, which conveys just one or another effect Dido could’ve lived with and longed for it’s return:
Eventually, unable to sleep and in emotional exhaustion, she hatches a rather impulsive scheme to escape her cruel fate and glory-smacked Lover.
The wretched queen, pursued by cruel fate,
Begins at length the light of heav’n to hate,
And loathes to live. Then dire portents she sees,
To hasten on the death her soul decrees:
Strange to relate! for when, before the shrine,
She pours in sacrifice the purple wine,
The purple wine is turn’d to putrid blood,
And the white offer’d milk converts to mud.
This dire presage, to her alone reveal’d,
From all, and ev’n her sister, she conceal’d.
Tragically, Queen Dido could never compete with a man’s fame and destiny, much less the Gods of Mercury, Jupiter, and Zeus. The latter made sure of it by going again to Aeneas that night, disturbing him so deeply that he chose to sail to Italy with his fleet before sunrise. Atop her city walls and taller palace Dido watched Aeneas and his Trojan fleet take to the sea. It was a sharp spear pushed deeper into her broken heart and dreams. In tears, she turned toward the large pile of all Aeneas’ items he left for her, but was now among stacked wood, sticks, and kindling. A platform was on top with Aeneas’ dagger.
Then swiftly to the fatal place she pass’d,
And mounts the fun’ral pile with furious haste;
Unsheathes the sword the Trojan left behind
(Not for so dire an enterprise design’d).
But when she view’d the garments loosely spread,
Which once he wore, and saw the conscious bed,
She paus’d, and with a sigh the robes embrac’d;
Then on the couch her trembling body cast,
Repress’d the ready tears, and spoke her last:
“Dear pledges of my love, while Heav’n so pleas’d,
Receive a soul, of mortal anguish eas’d:
My fatal course is finish’d; and I go,
A glorious name, among the ghosts below.
A lofty city by my hands is rais’d,
Pygmalion punish’d, and my lord appeas’d.
What could my fortune have afforded more,
Had the false Trojan never touch’d my shore!”
Then kiss’d the couch; and, “Must I die,” she said,
“And unreveng’d? ‘Tis doubly to be dead!
Yet ev’n this death with pleasure I receive:
On any terms, ’tis better than to live.
These flames, from far, may the false Trojan view;
These boding omens his base flight pursue!”
Quickly after lighting the pyre, the flames surrounded Dido and soon would engulf her. She picks up Aeneas’ dagger. Stricken by unbearable circumstances, betrayal, humiliation of her throne and dishonored love—and one must presume her virginity too—Dido thrust the dagger into her chest and soon falls breathless with no more tears of pain. She had freed herself from the heartless cruelties of patriarchal gods and glorified princes:
Meantime the Trojan cuts his wat’ry way,
Fix’d on his voyage, thro’ the curling sea;
Then, casting back his eyes, with dire amaze,
Sees on the Punic shore the mounting blaze.
The cause unknown; yet his presaging mind
The fate of Dido from the fire divin’d;
He knew the stormy souls of womankind…
Once again these damned obsessions with either or… by men, women and their kingdoms—customs or ancient traditions too—and the God(s) that supposedly made them and chronically intervene when their created go awry or follow their hearts and natural passions! Why? What a madhouse of celestial rulers (or Ruler) we’re under and terrestrial, accidental(?) circus we mortals reside and travail!
Glorious Duty or Hastened Death?
An odd question? Maybe not. If there are some lessons we can learn from Virgil’s culture, and his ancient Greeks, they did indeed know a few things about passionate, perhaps reckless irresponsible love believe it or not. For them love had at least six forms, in no order or hierarchy:
- Eros, or sexual passion, including steamy gooey eroticism
- Philia, or deep unbreakable friendship
- Ludus, or playful love and lust, but not hidden or deceiving
- Agape, or love for everyone without discrimination
- Pragma, or longstanding, reliable love
- Philautia, or love of self or a very healthy self-esteem
These six different forms of love indeed exist around the world and are practiced quite well. Furthermore, this concept is applied and functions in expanded forms beyond six. In some parts of the world they are not bound by two people or a couple, let alone marriage. I dare say proudly (with full confidence), in various regions they are not limited by gender or sexual orientation either. Not in the least, thank all the stars and galaxies for that! Rhetorically speaking, do the customs and norms of Virgil’s day or any days in early to late Antiquity still govern and apply today?
If the art of coffee deserves its own sophisticated vocabulary, then why not the art of love?
— Roman Krznaric — “How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life,” BlueBridge Publishers, 2013
The answer is no, they do not govern or apply today. For me, this begs another question, Why couldn’t Aeneas and Dido gain every single component of complete love, more whole love? History has shown many times that individuals and humanity have the ingenuity and courage to recognize, adapt and make it work… often with sheer brilliance!
This brings me full circle, back to my friend’s question to me: Do I know what it is like to be head-over-heels in love with someone? Yes I do, unequivocally. Not only that, but I have grown past my fears of being horribly hurt or betrayed like Virgil’s Dido, that ironically liberated me allowing my natural, fiery passion to love and live more fully! This far and away includes my two painful divorces! Sadly, like many things in life and lifestyles, it disturbs others, even loved ones and endeared family members, unfortunately and unnecessary my own two children included. 😞
Loving so intensely, so passionately it will seem time stands still and all “normal reality” disappears or gets suspended. Today several, maybe most, social conventions receive less of my valuable time and energy. They fall by the wayside as more organic, meaningful, helpful, and impactful relations replace anxiety, confinement and a spoken or unspoken stress to look good for the Joneses as well as keeping up with them. This isn’t just with me either. Around the world this is the case. And living without shame or being shamed or wrongly and naively judged has remarkable health-life benefits! No comparison. I want to share two more quotes for you to think about that I often remind myself with:
Fear stifles, courage fulfills.
— My version
‘Tis better to have loved [with all you have] and lost than never to have loved [so passionately] or be loved [so passionately] at all [liberally in return].
— Alfred Lord Tennyson, with my slight tweaks
This brings me to my question for you, my readers and followers:
Why must we magnificently imperfect, intelligent, and passionate human beings so limit ourselves during this short life with each other, unable to rewrite what’s past, and yet write what’s next? Why cheat ourselves from more?
By the way, Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! 😍🤭
Live Well — LOVE MUCH — Laugh Often — Learn to Fail Better
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