Abravanel, Judah Leon - Dialoghi d’amori
Type of Spiritual Experience
"In his Dialoghi d'amore, Judah (Leon) Abravanel seeks to define love in ‘philosophical’ terms. He structures his three dialogues as a conversation between two abstract and mostly undeveloped “characters”:
- Sophia, representing love and
- Philo, representing wisdom,
in other words, Philo+Sophia (philosophy).
The first dialogue, titled, “Philo and Sophia on Love and Desire” is a contemplation on the distinctions between love and desire, or the types of love and the true nature of love. In Sophia’s opinion, love and desire are exclusive; however, Philo argues that love and desire mix in things we find pleasurable and that desire assumes knowledge of its object and, thus, its existence.
Philo defines desire as that which seeks to become united with its object and love as that which, in union with its object, is enjoyed. Sophia then asks Philo to give a definition of the love that he feels for her, according to their discussion. He attempts to win her affection by stating that union increases love because of the physical aspect of human love, while injury does not. The second dialogue, titled, “Philo and Sophia on the Universality of Love” postulates that love is the dominant principle of all life and describes how love operates in human beings’ lives.
The analogy is completed by the identification of the functions of the Planets with those of the seven organs.
The end of all love is pleasure, and this is the same as the desire of the lover for union with the beloved, because pleasure consists in union with the pleasurable. The end of love of the universe is union with divine beauty, the final beatitude and highest perfection of all creation".
If we now step back from this description we should be able to see it can be read at two levels. It can be viewed as a simple discourse on Love and the various forms of love, but it can also be read as a classic text on the means of achieving unity – the chemical wedding, the mystic marriage via love - the two are not in opposition they are complementary. Thus to a certain extent the text is analysing all the forms of love based activity which will bring you to the union of the male and female principle and as a consequence the higher forms of spiritual experience. In a sense it is also a discussion of the pros and cons of each. The male principle with his desires arguing for the need for desire, with the female principle arguing that desire is not needed, in fact is unproductive.
A description of the experience
The following is a small extract from Dialoghi d'amore - Judah Leon Abravanel
SO.: Do you really love me so much, Filone?
PHI.: You see, you know, I do.
SO.: Since love is wont to be mutual and twin, (as I have so often heard you say), it cannot but that either you feign to love me or I feign [not] to love you.
PHI.: I should be satisfied if your words were as false as mine are sincere. But I fear your words are as candid as mine: for love can neither be feigned nor be dissimulated for long.
SO.: If your love be true, I cannot be loveless
PHI.: You wish me to believe by implication from your arguments what you hesitate to assert because it would be false. I tell you that my love is true but barren, since it is unable to beget its like in you, and that it is strong enough to bind me though not you.
SO.: How so: is not love’s nature like that of the magnet, which unites opposites, draws the distant together, and attracts the reluctant?
PHI.: Though love has greater power of attraction than the magnet, yet whoever will not love opposes to it far more reluctance and resistance than iron.
SO.: You cannot deny that love unites lovers.
PHI.: Yes, when both are lovers. But I only love and am not loved, and you love not but are beloved only: how then do you expect love to unite us?
SO.: Who ever saw a lover unloved?
PHI.: I, and I fancy that you and I are a second Apollo and Daphne
PHI.: The end of all love is pleasure, and none is truer than my love, for its end is the enjoyment and pleasure of union with you: [...] For if love was born throughout the whole universe and in each of its parts, in you alone, it seems, it could never have come to birth.
SO.: Perhaps it was not born because it was not well sown.
PHI.: It was not well sown because the soil was unwilling to receive the perfect seed.
SO.: Is it therefore defective?
PHI.: In this respect, certainly.
SO.: Every thing defective is ugly. How, then can you love what is ugly? For if your love seems beautiful [only] to you, it is therefore neither right nor true, as you allege
SO.: [...] can you not understand that what I want from you is the theory of love, and what you want from me is the practice; and you cannot deny that knowledge of the theory should always precede application because it is reason which rules man’s actions. [...] because if, as you allege, you feel true love for me, you must love the soul more than the body. Do not, therefore, leave me on the brink of knowledge of such price [...]
SO.: Although, Filone, I used to imagine that yet another end for which love was born was sometimes to afflict and torment lovers who are enamoured of their beloved.
PHI.: Although love brings affliction, torment, distress and grief in its train, and many other troubles which it would be tedious to you, these are not its true end, but rather than sweet delight which is the very contrary of these things. [...]
SO.: Why, then, does the rule find its exception in you? And why should your love be deprived of that which is the rightful end of all love?
PHI.: This you may ask yourself, not me. It is my part to love you with all the powers of my mind; if you make this love barren and deny it its lawful end, do you wish me to make excuse for you?
SO.: I wish rather that you would search for your own. For since your love is without that true end which you have assigned to all love, either it cannot be true love, or else this is not the true end of love