The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Fifth Tractate.

On Love.

1. What is Love? A God, a Celestial Spirit, a state of mind? Or is it, perhaps, sometimes to be thought of as a God or Spirit and sometimes merely as an experience? And what is it essentially in each of these respects?

These important questions make it desirable to review prevailing opinions on the matter, the philosophical treatment it has received and, especially, the theories of the great Plato who has many passages dealing with Love, from a point of view entirely his own.

Plato does not treat of it as simply a state observed in Souls; he also makes it a Spirit-being so that we read of the birth of Eros, under definite circumstances and by a certain parentage.

Now everyone recognizes that the emotional state for which we make this “Love” responsible rises in souls aspiring to be knit in the closest union with some beautiful object, and that this aspiration takes two forms, that of the good whose devotion is for beauty itself, and that other which seeks its consummation in some vile act. But this generally admitted distinction opens a new question: we need a philosophical investigation into the origin of the two phases.

It is sound, I think, to find the primal source of Love in a tendency of the Soul towards pure beauty, in a recognition, in a kinship, in an unreasoned consciousness of friendly relation. The vile and ugly is in clash, at once, with Nature and with God: Nature produces by looking to the Good, for it looks towards Order — which has its being in the consistent total of the good, while the unordered is ugly, a member of the system of evil — and besides Nature itself, clearly, springs from the divine realm, from Good and Beauty; and when anything brings delight and the sense of kinship, its very image attracts.

Reject this explanation, and no one can tell how the mental state rises and where are its causes: it is the explanation of even copulative love which is the will to beget in beauty; Nature seeks to produce the beautiful and therefore by all reason cannot desire to procreate in the ugly.

Those that desire earthly procreation are satisfied with the beauty found on earth, the beauty of image and of body; it is because they are strangers to the Archetype, the source of even the attraction they feel towards what is lovely here. There are Souls to whom earthly beauty is a leading to the memory of that in the higher realm and these love the earthly as an image; those that have not attained to this memory do not understand what is happening within them, and take the image for the reality. Once there is perfect self-control, it is no fault to enjoy the beauty of earth; where appreciation degenerates into carnality, there is sin.

Pure Love seeks the beauty alone, whether there is Reminiscence or not; but there are those that feel, also, a desire of such immortality as lies within mortal reach; and these are seeking Beauty in their demand for perpetuity, the desire of the eternal; Nature teaches them to sow the seed and to beget in beauty, to sow towards eternity, but in beauty through their own kinship with the beautiful. And indeed the eternal is of the one stock with the beautiful, the Eternal-Nature is the first shaping of beauty and makes beautiful all that rises from it.

The less the desire for procreation, the greater is the contentment with beauty alone, yet procreation aims at the engendering of beauty; it is the expression of a lack; the subject is conscious of insufficiency and, wishing to produce beauty, feels that the way is to beget in a beautiful form. Where the procreative desire is lawless or against the purposes of nature, the first inspiration has been natural, but they have diverged from the way, they have slipped and fallen, and they grovel; they neither understand whither Love sought to lead them nor have they any instinct to production; they have not mastered the right use of the images of beauty; they do not know what the Authentic Beauty is.

Those that love beauty of person without carnal desire love for beauty’s sake; those that have — for women, of course — the copulative love, have the further purpose of self-perpetuation: as long as they are led by these motives, both are on the right path, though the first have taken the nobler way. But, even in the right, there is the difference that the one set, worshipping the beauty of earth, look no further, while the others, those of recollection, venerate also the beauty of the other world while they, still, have no contempt for this in which they recognize, as it were, a last outgrowth, an attenuation of the higher. These, in sum, are innocent frequenters of beauty, not to be confused with the class to whom it becomes an occasion of fall into the ugly — for the aspiration towards a good degenerates into an evil often.

So much for love, the state.

Now we have to consider Love, the God.

2. The existence of such a being is no demand of the ordinary man, merely; it is supported by Theologians and, over and over again, by Plato to whom Eros is child of Aphrodite, minister of beautiful children, inciter of human souls towards the supernal beauty or quickener of an already existing impulse thither. All this requires philosophical examination. A cardinal passage is that in the Symposium where we are told Eros was not a child of Aphrodite but born on the day of Aphrodite’s birth, Penia, Poverty, being the mother, and Poros, Possession, the father.

The matter seems to demand some discussion of Aphrodite, since in any case Eros is described as being either her son or in some association with her. Who then is Aphrodite, and in what sense is Love either her child or born with her or in some way both her child and her birth-fellow?

To us Aphrodite is twofold; there is the heavenly Aphrodite, daughter of Ouranos or Heaven: and there is the other the daughter of Zeus and Dione, this is the Aphrodite who presides over earthly unions; the higher was not born of a mother and has no part in marriages for in Heaven there is no marrying.

The Heavenly Aphrodite, daughter of Kronos who is no other than the Intellectual Principle — must be the Soul at its divinest: unmingled as the immediate emanation of the unmingled; remaining ever Above, as neither desirous nor capable of descending to this sphere, never having developed the downward tendency, a divine Hypostasis essentially aloof, so unreservedly an Authentic Being as to have no part with Matter — and therefore mythically “the unmothered” justly called not Celestial Spirit but God, as knowing no admixture, gathered cleanly within itself.

Any Nature springing directly from the Intellectual Principle must be itself also a clean thing: it will derive a resistance of its own from its nearness to the Highest, for all its tendency, no less than its fixity, centres upon its author whose power is certainly sufficient to maintain it Above.

Soul then could never fall from its sphere; it is closer held to the divine Mind than the very sun could hold the light it gives forth to radiate about it, an outpouring from itself held firmly to it, still.

But following upon Kronos — or, if you will, upon Heaven, the father of Kronos — the Soul directs its Act towards him and holds closely to him and in that love brings forth the Eros through whom it continues to look towards him. This Act of the Soul has produced an Hypostasis, a Real-Being; and the mother and this Hypostasis — her offspring, noble Love gaze together upon Divine Mind. Love, thus, is ever intent upon that other loveliness, and exists to be the medium between desire and that object of desire. It is the eye of the desirer; by its power what loves is enabled to see the loved thing. But it is first; before it becomes the vehicle of vision, it is itself filled with the sight; it is first, therefore, and not even in the same order — for desire attains to vision only through the efficacy of Love, while Love, in its own Act, harvests the spectacle of beauty playing immediately above it.

3. That Love is a Hypostasis [a “Person”] a Real-Being sprung from a Real-Being — lower than the parent but authentically existent — is beyond doubt.

For the parent-Soul was a Real-Being sprung directly from the Act of the Hypostasis that ranks before it: it had life; it was a constituent in the Real-Being of all that authentically is — in the Real-Being which looks, rapt, towards the very Highest. That was the first object of its vision; it looked towards it as towards its good, and it rejoiced in the looking; and the quality of what it saw was such that the contemplation could not be void of effect; in virtue of that rapture, of its position in regard to its object, of the intensity of its gaze, the Soul conceived and brought forth an offspring worthy of itself and of the vision. Thus; there is a strenuous activity of contemplation in the Soul; there is an emanation towards it from the object contemplated; and Eros is born, the Love which is an eye filled with its vision, a seeing that bears its image with it; Eros taking its name, probably, from the fact that its essential being is due to this horasis, this seeing. Of course Love, as an emotion, will take its name from Love, the Person, since a Real-Being cannot but be prior to what lacks this reality. The mental state will be designated as Love, like the Hypostasis, though it is no more than a particular act directed towards a particular object; but it must not be confused with the Absolute Love, the Divine Being. The Eros that belongs to the supernal Soul must be of one temper with it; it must itself look aloft as being of the household of that Soul, dependent upon that Soul, its very offspring; and therefore caring for nothing but the contemplation of the Gods.

Once that Soul which is the primal source of light to the heavens is recognized as an Hypostasis standing distinct and aloof it must be admitted that Love too is distinct and aloof though not, perhaps, so loftily celestial a being as the Soul. Our own best we conceive as inside ourselves and yet something apart; so, we must think of this Love — as essentially resident where the unmingling Soul inhabits.

But besides this purest Soul, there must be also a Soul of the All: at once there is another Love — the eye with which this second Soul looks upwards — like the supernal Eros engendered by force of desire. This Aphrodite, the secondary Soul, is of this Universe — not Soul unmingled alone, not Soul, the Absolute, giving birth, therefore, to the Love concerned with the universal life; no, this is the Love presiding over marriages; but it, also, has its touch of the upward desire; and, in the degree of that striving, it stirs and leads upwards the Souls of the young and every Soul with which it is incorporated in so far as there is a natural tendency to remembrance of the divine. For every Soul is striving towards The Good, even the mingling Soul and that of particular beings, for each holds directly from the divine Soul, and is its offspring.

4. Does each individual Soul, then, contain within itself such a Love in essence and substantial reality?

Since not only the pure All-Soul but also that of the Universe contain such a Love, it would be difficult to explain why our personal Soul should not. It must be so, even, with all that has life.

This indwelling love is no other than the Spirit which, as we are told, walks with every being, the affection dominant in each several nature. It implants the characteristic desire; the particular Soul, strained towards its own natural objects, brings forth its own Eros, the guiding spirit realizing its worth and the quality of its Being.

As the All-Soul contains the Universal Love, so must the single Soul be allowed its own single Love: and as closely as the single Soul holds to the All-Soul, never cut off but embraced within it, the two together constituting one principle of life, so the single separate Love holds to the All-Love. Similarly, the individual love keeps with the individual Soul as that other, the great Love, goes with the All-Soul; and the Love within the All permeates it throughout so that the one Love becomes many, showing itself where it chooses at any moment of the Universe, taking definite shape in these its partial phases and revealing itself at its will.

In the same way we must conceive many Aphrodites in the All, Spirits entering it together with Love, all emanating from an Aphrodite of the All, a train of particular Aphrodites dependent upon the first, and each with the particular Love in attendance: this multiplicity cannot be denied, if Soul be the mother of Love, and Aphrodite mean Soul, and Love be an act of a Soul seeking good.

This Love, then, leader of particular Souls to The Good, is twofold: the Love in the loftier Soul would be a god ever linking the Soul to the divine; the Love in the mingling Soul will be a celestial spirit.

5. But what is the Nature of this Spirit — of the Supernals in general?

The Spirit-Kind is treated in the Symposium where, with much about the others, we learn of Eros — Love — born to Penia — Poverty — and Poros — Possession — who is son of Metis — Resource — at Aphrodite’s birth feast.

But to take Plato as meaning, by Eros, this Universe — and not simply the Love native within it — involves much that is self-contradictory.

For one thing, the universe is described as a blissful god and as self-sufficing, while this “Love” is confessedly neither divine nor self-sufficing but in ceaseless need.

Again, this Kosmos is a compound of body and soul; but Aphrodite to Plato is the Soul itself, therefore Aphrodite would necessarily — he a constituent part of Eros, dominant member! A man is the man’s Soul, if the world is, similarly, the world’s Soul, then Aphrodite, the Soul, is identical with Love, the Kosmos! And why should this one spirit, Love, be the Universe to the exclusion of all the others, which certainly are sprung from the same Essential-Being? Our only escape would be to make the Kosmos a complex of Supernals.

Love, again, is called the Dispenser of beautiful children: does this apply to the Universe? Love is represented as homeless, bedless and barefooted: would not that be a shabby description of the Kosmos and quite out of the truth?

6. What then, in sum, is to be thought of Love and of his “birth” as we are told of it?

Clearly we have to establish the significance, here, of Poverty and Possession, and show in what way the parentage is appropriate: we have also to bring these two into line with the other Supernals since one spirit nature, one spirit essence, must characterize all unless they are to have merely a name in common.

We must, therefore, lay down the grounds on which we distinguish the Gods from the Celestials — that is, when we emphasize the separate nature of the two orders and are not, as often in practice, including these Spirits under the common name of Gods.

It is our teaching and conviction that the Gods are immune to all passion while we attribute experience and emotion to the Celestials which, though eternal Beings and directly next to the Gods, are already a step towards ourselves and stand between the divine and the human.

But by what process was the immunity lost? What in their nature led them downwards to the inferior?

And other questions present themselves.

Does the Intellectual Realm include no member of this spirit order, not even one? And does the Kosmos contain only these spirits, God being confined to the Intellectual? Or are there Gods in the sub-celestial too, the Kosmos itself being a God, the third, as is commonly said, and the Powers down to the Moon being all Gods as well?

It is best not to use the word “Celestial” of any Being of that Realm; the word “God” may be applied to the Essential-Celestial — the autodaimon — and even to the Visible Powers of the Universe of Sense down to the Moon; Gods, these too, visible, secondary, sequent upon the Gods of the Intellectual Realm, consonant with Them, held about Them, as the radiance about the star.

What, then, are these spirits?

A Celestial is the representative generated by each Soul when it enters the Kosmos.

And why, by a Soul entering the Kosmos?

Because Soul pure of the Kosmos generates not a Celestial Spirit but a God; hence it is that we have spoken of Love, offspring of Aphrodite the Pure Soul, as a God.

But, first what prevents every one of the Celestials from being an Eros, a Love? And why are they not untouched by Matter like the Gods?

On the first question: Every Celestial born in the striving of the Soul towards the good and beautiful is an Eros; and all the Souls within the Kosmos do engender this Celestial; but other Spirit-Beings, equally born from the Soul of the All, but by other faculties of that Soul, have other functions: they are for the direct service of the All, and administer particular things to the purpose of the Universe entire. The Soul of the All must be adequate to all that is and therefore must bring into being spirit powers serviceable not merely in one function but to its entire charge.

But what participation can the Celestials have in Matter, and in what Matter?

Certainly none in bodily Matter; that would make them simply living things of the order of sense. And if, even, they are to invest themselves in bodies of air or of fire, the nature must have already been altered before they could have any contact with the corporeal. The Pure does not mix, unmediated, with body — though many think that the Celestial-Kind, of its very essence, comports a body aerial or of fire.

But why should one order of Celestial descend to body and another not? The difference implies the existence of some cause or medium working upon such as thus descend. What would constitute such a medium?

We are forced to assume that there is a Matter of the Intellectual Order, and that Beings partaking of it are thereby enabled to enter into the lower Matter, the corporeal.

7. This is the significance of Plato’s account of the birth of Love.

The drunkenness of the father Poros or Possession is caused by Nectar, “wine yet not existing”; Love is born before the realm of sense has come into being: Penia had participation in the Intellectual before the lower image of that divine Realm had appeared; she dwelt in that Sphere, but as a mingled being consisting partly of Form but partly also of that indetermination which belongs to the Soul before she attains the Good and when all her knowledge of Reality is a fore-intimation veiled by the indeterminate and unordered: in this state Poverty brings forth the Hypostasis, Love.

This, then, is a union of Reason with something that is not Reason but a mere indeterminate striving in a being not yet illuminated: the offspring Love, therefore, is not perfect, not self-sufficient, but unfinished, bearing the signs of its parentage, the undirected striving and the self-sufficient Reason. This offspring is a Reason-Principle but not purely so; for it includes within itself an aspiration ill-defined, unreasoned, unlimited — it can never be sated as long as it contains within itself that element of the Indeterminate. Love, then, clings to the Soul, from which it sprung as from the principle of its Being, but it is lessened by including an element of the Reason-Principle which did not remain self-concentrated but blended with the indeterminate, not, it is true, by immediate contact but through its emanation. Love, therefore, is like a goad; it is without resource in itself; even winning its end, it is poor again.

It cannot be satisfied because a thing of mixture never can be so: true satisfaction is only for what has its plenitude in its own being; where craving is due to an inborn deficiency, there may be satisfaction at some given moment but it does not last. Love, then, has on the one side the powerlessness of its native inadequacy, on the other the resource inherited from the Reason-Kind.

Such must be the nature and such the origin of the entire Spirit Order, each — like its fellow, Love — has its appointed sphere, is powerful there, and wholly devoted to it, and, like Love, none is ever complete of itself but always straining towards some good which it sees in things of the partial sphere.

We understand, now, why good men have no other Love other Eros of life — than that for the Absolute and Authentic Good, and never follow the random attractions known to those ranged under the lower Spirit Kind.

Each human being is set under his own Spirit-Guides, but this is mere blank possession when they ignore their own and live by some other spirit adopted by them as more closely attuned to the operative part of the Soul in them. Those that go after evil are natures that have merged all the Love-Principles within them in the evil desires springing in their hearts and allowed the right reason, which belongs to our kind, to fall under the spell of false ideas from another source.

All the natural Loves, all that serve the ends of Nature, are good; in a lesser Soul, inferior in rank and in scope; in the greater Soul, superior; but all belong to the order of Being. Those forms of Love that do not serve the purposes of Nature are merely accidents attending on perversion: in no sense are they Real-Beings or even manifestations of any Reality; for they are no true issue of Soul; they are merely accompaniments of a spiritual flaw which the Soul automatically exhibits in the total of disposition and conduct.

In a word; all that is truly good in a Soul acting to the purposes of nature and within its appointed order, all this is Real-Being: anything else is alien, no act of the Soul, but merely something that happens to it: a parallel may be found in false mentation, notions behind which there is no reality as there is in the case of authentic ideas, the eternal, the strictly defined, in which there is at once an act of true knowing, a truly knowable object and authentic existence — and this not merely in the Absolute, but also in the particular being that is occupied by the authentically knowable and by the Intellectual-Principle manifest in every several form.

In each particular human being we must admit the existence of the authentic Intellective Act and of the authentically knowable object — though not as wholly merged into our being, since we are not these in the absolute and not exclusively these — and hence our longing for absolute things: it is the expression of our intellective activities: if we sometimes care for the partial, that affection is not direct but accidental, like our knowledge that a given triangular figure is made up of two right angles because the absolute triangle is so.

8. But what are we to understand by this Zeus with the garden into which, we are told, Poros or Wealth entered? And what is the garden?

We have seen that the Aphrodite of the Myth is the Soul and that Poros, Wealth, is the Reason-Principle of the Universe: we have still to explain Zeus and his garden.

We cannot take Zeus to be the Soul, which we have agreed is represented by Aphrodite.

Plato, who must be our guide in this question, speaks in the Phaedrus of this God, Zeus, as the Great Leader — though elsewhere he seems to rank him as one of three — but in the Philebus he speaks more plainly when he says that there is in Zeus not only a royal Soul, but also a royal Intellect.

As a mighty Intellect and Soul, he must be a principle of Cause; he must be the highest for several reasons but especially because to be King and Leader is to be the chief cause: Zeus then is the Intellectual Principle. Aphrodite, his daughter, issue of him, dwelling with him, will be Soul, her very name Aphrodite [= the habra, delicate] indicating the beauty and gleam and innocence and delicate grace of the Soul.

And if we take the male gods to represent the Intellectual Powers and the female gods to be their souls — to every Intellectual Principle its companion Soul — we are forced, thus also, to make Aphrodite the Soul of Zeus; and the identification is confirmed by Priests and Theologians who consider Aphrodite and Hera one and the same and call Aphrodite’s star the star of Hera.

9. This Poros, Possession, then, is the Reason-Principle of all that exists in the Intellectual Realm and in the supreme Intellect; but being more diffused, kneaded out as it were, it must touch Soul, be in Soul, [as the next lower principle].

For, all that lies gathered in the Intellect is native to it: nothing enters from without; but “Poros intoxicated” is some Power deriving satisfaction outside itself: what, then, can we understand by this member of the Supreme filled with Nectar but a Reason-Principle falling from a loftier essence to a lower? This means that the Reason-Principle upon “the birth of Aphrodite” left the Intellectual for the Soul, breaking into the garden of Zeus.

A garden is a place of beauty and a glory of wealth: all the loveliness that Zeus maintains takes its splendour from the Reason-Principle within him; for all this beauty is the radiation of the Divine Intellect upon the Divine Soul, which it has penetrated. What could the Garden of Zeus indicate but the images of his Being and the splendours of his glory? And what could these divine splendours and beauties be but the Ideas streaming from him?

These Reason-Principles — this Poros who is the lavishness, the abundance of Beauty — are at one and are made manifest; this is the Nectar-drunkenness. For the Nectar of the gods can be no other than what the god-nature essentially demands; and this is the Reason pouring down from the divine Mind.

The Intellectual Principle possesses Itself to satiety, but there is no “drunken” abandonment in this possession which brings nothing alien to it. But the Reason-Principle — as its offspring, a later hypostasis — is already a separate Being and established in another Realm, and so is said to lie in the garden of this Zeus who is divine Mind; and this lying in the garden takes place at the moment when, in our way of speaking, Aphrodite enters the realm of Being.

10. “Our way of speaking”— for myths, if they are to serve their purpose, must necessarily import time-distinctions into their subject and will often present as separate, Powers which exist in unity but differ in rank and faculty; they will relate the births of the unbegotten and discriminate where all is one substance; the truth is conveyed in the only manner possible, it is left to our good sense to bring all together again.

On this principle we have, here, Soul dwelling with the divine Intelligence, breaking away from it, and yet again being filled to satiety with the divine Ideas — the beautiful abounding in all plenty, so that every splendour become manifest in it with the images of whatever is lovely — Soul which, taken as one all, is Aphrodite, while in it may be distinguished the Reason-Principles summed under the names of Plenty and Possession, produced by the downflow of the Nectar of the over realm. The splendours contained in Soul are thought of as the garden of Zeus with reference to their existing within Life; and Poros sleeps in this garden in the sense of being sated and heavy with its produce. Life is eternally manifest, an eternal existent among the existences, and the banqueting of the gods means no more than that they have their Being in that vital blessedness. And Love —“born at the banquet of the gods”— has of necessity been eternally in existence, for it springs from the intention of the Soul towards its Best, towards the Good; as long as Soul has been, Love has been.

Still this Love is of mixed quality. On the one hand there is in it the lack which keeps it craving: on the other, it is not entirely destitute; the deficient seeks more of what it has, and certainly nothing absolutely void of good would ever go seeking the good.

It is said then to spring from Poverty and Possession in the sense that Lack and Aspiration and the Memory of the Ideal Principles, all present together in the Soul, produce that Act towards The Good which is Love. Its Mother is Poverty, since striving is for the needy; and this Poverty is Matter, for Matter is the wholly poor: the very ambition towards the good is a sign of existing indetermination; there is a lack of shape and of Reason in that which must aspire towards the Good, and the greater degree of effort implies the lower depth of materiality. A thing aspiring towards the Good is an Ideal-principle only when the striving [with attainment] will leave it still unchanged in Kind: when it must take in something other than itself, its aspiration is the presentment of Matter to the incoming power.

Thus Love is at once, in some degree a thing of Matter and at the same time a Celestial, sprung of the Soul; for Love lacks its Good but, from its very birth, strives towards It.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24