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Esteem Enlivened by Desire: Couple from Homer to Shakespeare Hardcover – 1 Sep 1992


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From the Back Cover

A magisterial book by one of our most distinguished literary historians, Esteem Enlivened by Desire illuminates (and celebrates) the ideal of lasting love from antiquity to the high Renaissance. Love that leads to marriage is a relatively recent "invention", or so critics and historians often say. But in this remarkable survey, Jean H. Hagstrum argues that long-term commitment formed of friendship and passion is one of Western culture's oldest and richest concepts. While he considers relevant social history, theological and philosophical formulations, mythology, and holy writ, Hagstrum's emphasis on works of the imagination allows him to focus on this concept as it was developed over time, often in opposition to restrictive social realities. Literature and art thus help us imagine new worlds and open up possibilities for human nature. As an enduring imaginative achievement, the association of esteem with sexual desire offers a complex and changing pattern that Hagstrum explores through many texts, some of which prompt intensive new reading: the Homeric epics, the Oresteia, Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Greek romances, Augustine's Confessions, the Decameron, the Marriage Group of the Canterbury Tales, the comedies of Shakespeare. The artistic union of esteem and eros creates a penumbra touching on numerous related areas, which also come under scrutiny here. Various forms of relationship, such as friendship or lust alone; marriage for political ends; liaisons with the same sex; the presence of passion in religious commitment; even conflict followed by pacification to achieve "peace in the affections" (Bacon): these are among the many themes Hagstrum illuminates in their juxtaposition to hissubject. Recovering the ideal of loving commitment from its obscurity in early time, this book offers generous insight into the amorous heritage of the West - where it began, how it was conceived, and why it has changed. What, Hagstrum asks, does this heritage say to us today, during one of the greatest changes in love and marriage that Western history has ever known? While supplying no hard answers, Hagstrum forcefully demonstrates that to dismiss the ideal of long-term love as beyond human nature is to betray the dreams of more centuries and cultures than we have hitherto realized. The culmination of Hagstrum's long career, Esteem Enlivened by Desire celebrates this ideal as one of the most interesting, enduring, and hard-won achievements of Western culture.

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