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ON THE LOVE
FU FORSE UN TEMPO DOLCE COSA AMORE,
P. II. SON. LXXIII.
I. ALTHOUGH Petrarch has contrived to throw a beautiful veil over the figure of Love, which the Grecian and Roman Poets delighted in representing naked-it is so transparent that we can still recognize the same forms. The ideal distinction between two Loves sprang at first from the different ceremonies with which the ancients worshipped the CELESTIAL VENUS, who presided over the chaste loves of girls and wives; and the TERRESTRIAL VENUS, the avowed tutelar deity of the gallantries of ladies, who played a distinguished part in those times. In spite of the mystical and po
litical allegories which ancient metaphysics and modern erudition have built on these two names, the popular distinction is constantly supported by the poets when they describe the manners of their age, and the worship of the two goddesses*. Whilst virtuous women lived in such close retirement, that they never appeared at banquets, and occupied apartments separate from those of the men,-artists, poets, philosophers, magistrates, priests, and all the fashionable world, held their circles in the houses of ladies who made an avowed traffic of their charms, and lent their persons to be the models of the statues with which the Grecian temples were adorned. Every body knows that Aspasia, who governed Pericles and educated Alcibiades, was a priestess of the Terrestrial Venus. These ladies have had influence enough to place themselves under the protection of the Celestial Venus also, by propagating the belief that they had only one lover, and that the sentiments with which they inspired all others were virtuous; and it was the political interest of their admirers themselves to spread this opinion amongst the people. Plato puts into the mouth of Socrates
*THEOCRITI Epigr. CALLIMACHUS et CATULLUS de Coma Berenices, sub fine. PROCLUS, in Ven. Hymn. 1. v. 7. 19.
every refinement of reasoning, to prove that it is possible to be devoted to a gallant woman without desiring her favours *.
II. WE may, however, probably consider all that Plato makes his master say as apocryphal, except when the same things are repeated by Xenophon. These two great writers, whose rivality amounts almost to enmity, have each of them composed a treatise, under the title of THE BANQUET, in which they make Socrates discourse on Love. It is certain, therefore, that the new application to the ancient distinction between the two goddesses was originally of Socrates. But, in the Banquet of Xenophon, the object is not to deceive the Athenians, regarding the nature of those conversations which their great men held with the Aspasias of their time. Socrates' discourse aims at calling back to a sense of shame those of his fellow-citizens who were too passionate admirers of beauty in both sexes. Beauty," he says, "is illuminated by a light which directs and invites me to contemplate the soul which inhabits such a form; and, if the soul be as beautiful as the body, it is impossible not to love it. But there can be no beauty of soul without purity; and the purity of those, * PLATO, EVμToσiv passim.