Friday, January 25, 2008

Love Conquers All or Subjugated by Love

Yesterday Jennifer Lynn Jordan wrote a blog post regarding the director Terry Gilliam and his incredibly bad luck. There was one passage that was especially thought provoking for me. It was:

Take Brazil. Production for this film (one of my very, very favorites) sent the project into never-before-seen levels of debt, and the studio battle for the final cut was epic, spawning several documentaries and a book. Gilliam lost the Battle of Brazil. The first theatrical release had a saccharine-sweet, happy ending Gilliam never intended, as did the TV edit (now known derisively as the "Love Conquers All" version). In the end, though, he got his way with one of the best-selling releases from the Criterion Collection, which included three different cuts of the film, amongst which is the Gilliam-approved version. Unfortunately, the Criterion Collection consistently costs above $50, and the cheaper, more accessible DVD releases rarely include the Director's Cut. The result is that Brazil remains one of the most highly-esteemed, least seen films of our time.

The phrase that intrigued me was "Love Conquers All" and how it has come to be used in a pejorative manner.

I posted a reply to her there, but have since then had more thoughts on the subject and decided it would be best to expand upon them here rather than clog her comment trail with a long winded reply.

The phrase in question is first attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil in his Eclogues (Eclogue X to be exact.) The online Massachusetts Institute for Technology site has the entire works of Virgil's Eclogues and the following translation:

Love conquers all things; yield we too to love!
I would have liked to give a longer passage to help give an idea as to its proper context, but I did not see any real easy place to cut it. Therefore if you are interested, please follow the link if you desire to see how that phrase is the culmination of a speech.

Back to how the phrase is being used today. Commonly the phrase "love conquers all" (LCA) when used in discussing popular culture connotes that Love will somehow solve all problems and create the desired Happily Ever After (HEA) ending. Cue the violins and pass a tray of baklava.

It is not that I dislike happy endings, but I prefer endings that are satisfying dramatically. Sometimes that means that you leave the theater on a happy note, and other times it is more appropriate for a cathartic cry. I dislike endings that are like cotton candy that are light, frothy, and rot your teeth. I would rather have some vinegar to go with my honey to provide some contrast and depth in the emotions being evoked.

There is a different reading of the phrase "love conquers all" by a different poet yielding a much different meaning from the syrupy sweet ending with which it has been associated.

The Italian Renaissance poet Matteo Maria Boiardo in his epic poem Orlando Innamorato meant that the power of love surpassed all else and no one, not even the powerful knight Orlando was immune to its effects.

Here's the second stanza in the first canto in Book 1 (translation by Charles Stanley Ross):

"Don't think it strange, my lords, to hear
Orlando Innamorato sung.
It always is the proudest man
whom Love defeats and subjugates.
No strong arm, no audacity,
no blade well-honed, no shield or mail,
no other power can avail,
for in the end Love conquers all."

In other words, everyone can be struck down by the power of love or "Subjugated by Love. " That phrase has a different ring to it than "Love conquers all" and it implies that people will do anything when they are conquered by the power of Love.

Instead of scheduling a dental appointment to check for tooth rot, it conjures up an image of Aphrodite as a dominatrix or Eros decked out in leather chaps.

I do not mean the cute winged cherub that Cupid calls to mind. I mean a young virile man with six pack abs who just happens to have wings and a quiver of arrows tipped with magic. Check out your local store for some trashy romance novel covers if you need any help with that imagery, it should not take long to find a hawt male. Or you can look at the cover and review of Virgin Slave, Barbarian King to get an idea.

Imagine if the upcoming holiday of Valentine's Day which provides billions of dollars for Hallmark cards and florists were to feature powerful images of Love instead of lacy red hearts and tacky stuffed animals.

Of course that will never happen. Instead we are stuck with doilies, cherubs, and heart shaped confetti. How utterly romantic.

I shall dedicate more to my visit to Chantilly in another post, but here is a preview. There was an entire room decorated with stained glass retelling the legend of Cupido (Cupid or Eros) and Psiche (Psyche).

Here are the lovers. Cupido looks more like an adolescent child than a God of Lurve.

I shall leave you with another version of this phrase. This time I wish for you to consider the immortal words from the famous philosopher Huey Lewis:

"It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life
That's the power of love."


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