Love Is Not All There Is

Love Is Not All There Is


There is a curious tradition in ancient Greek art which shows Eros, the God of love and Pan, the God of nature and sexuality, engaged in a wrestling match. What possible reason would the Greeks have for portraying these two gods battling against each other in this manner? One reason could be that the rise of Christianity, a religion of love, wanted to permanently stamp out Pan, the passionately sexual god of nature. James Hillman comments:

The contrast between the clean stripling Eros and the hirsute awkwardness of rustic paunchy Pan, with victory to Eros, was moralized to show the betterment of love to sex, renement to rape, feeling to passion. Moreover, the victory of Eros over Pan could be philosophically allegorized to mean Love conquers All (Hillman lv).

What other characteristics does Pan possess? He brings panic. So, we see love and fear in opposition. Christianity loves to moralize about most everything, but this is not, according to Hillman, simply “love overcoming fear.” Whomever is victorious in this match does not matter in the least. The Greeks were not attempting to show the superiority of love over sex (and everything that Pan represents). This is not a match of morals, but a myth concerning how Eros and Pan are in contention.

Pan’s wild and raunchy ways are not a display of love. Love is not present in his raping and chasing nymphs. Love is not present when he brings panic to all creatures, as his deafening shout is reverberating through the countryside. Referring to the characteristics of Pan, Hillman says, “When judged from love’s perspective, they become pathological” (Hillman lv). This is why Christianity has such a problem with sex. It cannot reconcile it with love.

In the view of archetypal psychology, love is only one god among many. It is not, as John Lennon sang, “all there is.” There are many gods that make up the soul. There are many instinctual factors within us that Eros does not cover. Eros certainly does not rule over those natural instincts that fall under the rubric of Pan. Again, Hillman comments:

To go on judging our Pan-behavior in the light of love continues a suppression of instinctual qualities and an enmity toward nature that cannot but have psychopathological results. The struggle between Eros and Pan, and Eros’ victory, continue to put Pan down each time we say that rape is lower than relatedness, masturbation inferior to intercourse, love better than fear, the goat uglier than the hare (Hillman lv).

Now, remember, we are thinking and speaking imaginally here. We are in the Land of Soul. Literalism plays no part.

Hillman goes on to argue very convincingly that, since Pan and the nymphs are really of one nature, this corrects the erroneous Christian view that Pan is strictly about “unbridled pagan sexuality.” He claims, “if the nymphs and Pan are one, no prohibition is necessary. An inhibition is already present in the compulsion itself. Thus, sexual passion is both holy and one aspect of reflection” (Hillman lvi).

Works Cited

Hillman, James. An Essay On Pan. Pan and the Nightmare. By Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher. Trans. A.V. O’Brien, M.D.  New York: Spring, 1972. i-lix.

This post has been read 3377 times!

2 thoughts on “Love Is Not All There Is

  1. Hillman's theory regarding this image does not take into account the Greek understanding of love as being comprised of more than just erotic love. If I recall correctly, the Greeks posited that there were three kinds of love: Eros (erotic love), Philios (brotherly love), and Agape (spiritual love). Thus, Eros does not represent a “higher” Christianized notion of non-sexual love – that is represented by Agape. Indeed, the Eros and Psyche myth suggests that Eros involves a much darker process than he is being credited with by Hillman – Psyche can only know her husband in the dark, stepping into the realm of the unconscious in order to interact with erotic love that will ultimately force her to face her fears and suffer loss, tribulation, and personal growth to be reunited with her (still erotic) love. Psyche thus represents the soul's process of coming to know itself through love, not a clean, sanitized, or easy process. Marriage with Eros is thus “both holy and one aspect of reflection.” The vision of Eros that Hillman offers strikes me as being somewhat neutered as a result of confusion with the Roman Cupid, who represents a far more obvious denial of the depths of human sexuality than Eros. If I may suggest, I think perhaps the Greek image of Eros triumphing is not one of love per se conquering all, but rather a progression from the fulfillment of pure animal instinct in Pan (and inhibition as manifested in the nymphs) to a more complex and in-depth process of the soul's growth through erotic love, an entirely different message from that offered in Hillman's theory.

  2. Very cool, Ximon. When I was reading Hillman's essay, I wondered why he didn't discuss the four kinds of love the ancient Greeks were conversant with. You may be on to something! 🙂

    Thank you very much for stopping by and commenting.

Leave a Reply