Print version ISSN 0185-3325
DORR ZEGERS, Otto. Eros and thanatos. Salud Ment [online]. 2009, vol.32, n.3, pp. 189-197. ISSN 0185-3325.
Eros and Thanatos, respectively, love and death, are universal subjects in which human beings have been interested since the beginning of history and also probably, their access to language. The greatest philosophers, poets and novelists have focused on these subjects in their reflections and/or their own development. Fully conscious of the lack of moderation of the task proposed, the author intends to make a modest contribution to these two concepts and what they represent, inspired by two sources: classical myths, on the one hand, and the work of some poets and thinkers, mainly Plato, Goethe and Rilke, on the other hand. Eros or love In most ancient Greek myths, eros is considered as one of the great constitutive and constituent principles of the universe, as the irresistible force allowing the continuity of life in human beings and animals, in the earth and in the waters. But eros is also a god and his legend shows us some essential features of love: 1. Love is involuntary, it occurs, it happens, like a disease. Eros had the mission of punishing Psyche for her beauty, thus avenging the jealous Aphrodite, his mother. And however, it was enough for him to look upon her only once to become impassioned by her. But this passion goes together with its opposite, liberty, because love always carries implicit a choice. 2. Love, unlike friendship, which is slowly shaped, appears in a sudden way, represented by the arrows used by Eros (Cupid) to inflame lovers' hearts. Safo described this phenomenon of suddenness superbly. 3. The myth also teaches us the exclusive character of love. This feature separates love from erotism. Some verses by the poet Gonzalo Rojas are quoted to illustrate what he calls <<condemnation>> to exclusiveness. 4. Another characteristic of love inferred from the myth is transgression, which almost always accompanies it. Eros did not have the right to fall in love with a mortal woman and, however, he is not able to withdraw from the feeling invading him. Great loves in the history of literature, such as Romeo and Juliet, Werther or Anna Karenina, are essentially presented in a background of transgression. 5. In mythical narrative there are two other elements, though not essential, which are worthy of interest in this context: that Psyche, the beautiful woman in love, be the representative of the human soul, and that one of her attributes be curiosity. The subject of eros cannot be approached without mentioning <<The Banquet>> by Plato. From this memorable text the author underlines part of the content of two of the speeches, the one by Aristophanes and the one by Socrates. From the myth of the androgyne, narrated by the former, at least three teachings are deduced: first, that the strength of eros would derive from the nostalgia felt by the lover for the loved one, or vice versa, since in a remote past their bodies would have been merged, to be violently separated by Zeus in some moment; second, love would consist of a search and eventual recognition of that <<other half>>; and third, this recognition would occur through a symbolon, a sort of countersign that humans gave each other on the moment of being separated. Thanatos or death The etymological root of the word thanatos is tha and it is curious that the only other Greek word with the same root is thalamon, the nuptial chamber. The thalamon is the place of the house where the wife lives, and it is the most central room but also the darkest. Thanatos or death appears, then, related on the one hand to darkness and confinement, and on the other hand, to woman and love. The love and death context is illustrated by a beautiful poem by Gonzalo Rojas, simply named <<Love>>. In the realm of psychology and psychiatry, Sabine Spiel rein, but particularly Sigmund Freud, counterposed the death impulse or instinct (Todestrieb) to a life instinct. However, philosophers like Hegel and Heidegger have conceived death as an essential part of life. Heidegger even states that it is the most proper possibility of human existence. In order to deepen the context of love (or life) and death, this author proceeds to analyze the famous poem by Goethe <<Selige Sehnsucht>> (Blessed longing), inspired by the love of the butterfly for the flame, which will mean its death. It is here where Goethe postulates his famous principle of Stirb-werde (dying and becoming). But who has taught us the most about the harmony between life and death is the Prague-born German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, particularly in his famous Duino Elegies and in his requiems. Before analyzing some of these poems, the author quotes a letter written by Rilke to his editor in Polish, where he affirms, among other things, the following: <<Death is the withdrawn side of life, which has not been illuminated by us. We have to make the attempt to reach the maximum awareness of our existence, which is domiciled in both unlimited regions and is inexhaustibly nourished from both [...]>>. In the elegies the poet teaches us regarding our subject: first, that the human being is the only being in the universe aware of death, because neither animals nor gods know it; second, that awareness of death is the origin of anxiety, but at the same time, what gives meaning to life; third, that the mission of the human being in life is twofold: <<to give a name>> to things, that is to say, to make them be born from nothingness, and then <<to save>> them from their mortality, from death, to make them <<invisible>>, that is to say, making them eternal. Now, if the mission of human being in relation to the things is to name and to save them, with respect to him/herself, his/her task will be <<to prepare with time the master piece of a noble and supreme death, of a death in which hazard does not take part, a consummated, happy and enthusiastic death, as only the saints could imagine [...]>>. In sum, thanatos does not mean destruction nor is the source of all our misfortunes, but an essential part of life itself. As ethimology taught us, thanatos has a common origin with thalamon, that place in the house where the mother and wife lives. It is perhaps the darkest, but at the same time the most central part of the house. Human life can be conceived as the way from this center and back to it.
Keywords : Erotic; thanatic; mythology; poetry by Rilke.