By Mark Vernon
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Additional resources for 42 : deep thought on life, the universe and everything
The rhyme should be between ‘love’ and ‘above’, such are the heights the two can now reach. Some lovers are false to one another: they are spiteful, hostile or make a pretence of passion. But for true lovers, the mutuality of their aspirations and character works magic: it fosters a sense of awe. They are amazed to be alive. Their full-blooded love opens up a passion, not just for each other but for life itself, for philosophy. True lovers want to know what love is; it discloses new insights; it lives with greater intensity; it precipitates big questions.
Under Christianity, the fundamental assumptions changed. Not everything was possible, because the goodness of sex had become problematic. Many sexual activities were simply prohibited. At the time of Pericles, the ithyphallic member would have been seen on every street corner – on statues of Hermes, in images of Bacchus, on murals and doorbells. But after the first century CE, an erection became ‘the image of man in revolt against God,’ as Michel Foucault put it. Consider the great sex scene in Plato’s dialogue, the Symposium.
Her incomprehension is his breakthrough. He realises that he does not desire the happiness of a ‘contented automaton’. Connection, which the old woman has, is the key to his happiness. He had not been mistaken to love big questions. His mistake had been to prefer prosaic answers to passionate ones. Voltaire wrote in an age in which philosophy sought the more and more abstract. In the attempt to arrive at arguments that were universal and true, its utterances were becoming detached, its gaze imperious.