In all the great traditional representations of love as compassion, charity, or agape, the operation of the virtue is described as general and impersonal, transcending differences and even loyalties. And against this higher, spiritual order of love there is set generally in opposition the lower, of lust, or, as it is so often called, “animal passion,” which is equally general and impersonal, transcending differences and even loyalties. Indeed, one could describe the latter most accurately, perhaps, simply as the zeal of the organs, male and female, for each other, and designate the writings of Sigmund Freud as the definitive modern text on the subject of such love. However, in the European twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, in the poetry first of the troubadours of Provence, and then, with a new accent, of the Minnesingers, a way of experiencing love came to expression that was altogether different from either of those two as traditionally opposed. And since I regard this typical and exclusively European chapter of our subject as one of the most important mutations not only of human feeling, but also of the spiritual consciousness of our human race, I am going to dwell on it a little.
From Myths to Live By