Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros

The combination of life starting, being rejuvenated, and beginning to flourish again gives off a sense of hope and renewal.  It is subtle for most but as the daylight lingers later into the evening in the Northern Hemisphere, as the tree blossoms make their annual appearance, as the peppered chatter of young birds fills the air, so too does love begin to come out of Winter hibernation.  Individuals begin to feel drawn to one another and new relationships are forged fueled by the innate sense of optimism and desirous inclinations to find companionship.

Traditionally, this change in season has been marked by Saint Valentine's Day during which affection is expressed from one person to another.  The actual day of commemoration was created in AD 496 by Pope Gelasius and designed to be a period in which two martyred men both named Valentine were to be honored.  Over time, the day has evolved to become one in which hopefuls express their interest, couples express their passion, and the generic sense of affection for one another is celebrated.  Mythically, it is said that love originates from Eros.  The primordial god of sensual love and beauty, Eros (whose legend is often combined with that of Cupid) mischievously bounds from person to person skewering their hearts with his magical arrow thereby initiating the inclination to fall in love.

Regardless of your beliefs, I think it is safe to say most humans enjoy courtship and the rush of emotions, pheromones, and anxiety that comes with attraction and the potential of love.  Oh, some may not desire it just yet while even fewer may claim they have no interest at all, but there are still so many more who are true to the thrills and goosebumps associated with Springtime, hope, and love.

A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) depicts a young female playfully fending off the advances of Eros.  Eros, with determined eyes and arrow perched for delivery in his fingers, is clad of nothing other than his curly locks and feathered wings while he advances on a delicate and seemingly love-ready woman who was otherwise enjoying the countryside alone.  Striking is the playful grin the female subject exhibits as she holds the scampish giver of romantic emotion at arms length.  The frolicksome struggle, meanwhile, takes place in the Arcadian hills rich with warmth, color, panoramic views, and most importantly, life.

Though our female subject wears little, she is obviously of the age where she is most fertile and most are ready for courtship.  Putting modern notions aside, not long ago, the norms of love and romance were handled much more traditionally as is implied by this painting.  Men and women didn't play the games of being coy or aloof as they do today.  No, not long ago, humans in many regions felt that for life to be sustained and to continue to flourish, males and females should pursue one another so that legacies could carry on, family names would survive, and cultures could celebrate their existence through proper procreation.  But these relationships could not begin without the onset of attraction and Bouguereau gently and masterfully depicts this with soft strokes, warm colors, and a bit of humor.

In 1734, Alexander Pope wrote a poem entitled An Essay on Man.  In it, Pope acknowledges mankind's general respect to God and for life by attempting to philosophically rationalize man's rights and freedoms to the ways of God.  His work was an attempt to provide optimism; helping persuade others that they weren't to feel burdened by living a proper, Godly life, but encouraged to do so because of the freedom to do so.  And from his prose come the lasting words which I think embody the hope of love, the excitement of being loved, and the lasting qualities of having love:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

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