Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Seven Deadly Sins - Lust

I will far rather see the race of man extinct than that we should become less than beasts by making the noblest of God's creation, woman, the object of our lust. ~ Mohandas Gandhi


Lust. I really like that word. It's one of those words that really sounds like what it is.

Lust is one of the Seven Deadly Sins which seems a sin only in light of how you define it. Dante defines lust as "excessive love of others", which therefore took precedence over the love of God. I think his definition was surely a sign of his times, and imbued with the guilt flowing from the Catholic Church. He also stated that Love and Lust were two very different things, and that Lust viewed the object of desire only as a means to an end, which I must say I agree with.

I don't consider myself to be lustful. Lusty, yes. But not quite lustful, especially since lustful to me implies the wronging of another in satisfying your own appetites. And yet Lust is one of the deadly sins that lives all around us. There is nothing so sad to me as driving along the stretch of highway on the outskirts of a city and seeing the prostitutes lined up on the roadsides. When I was younger, I used to feel a sort of fear and curiosity looking at these women. Now that I am older I only feel despair. This is the true sin of Lust, I think.

Prostitutes have long been some of the favorite subject matter for (male) artists. The painting below by Édouard Manet is entitled Olympia. Olympia was a Parisian prostitute, and when he painted this painting in 1863, it caused quite a stir. This painting is what is known as a Venus, a genre first made popular during the Renaissance. Olympia was a scandal. She not only was looking at you, she was doing so with a straightforward, almost defiant gaze. She was wearing a flower in her hair, jewelry, and even slippers. Olympia has a servant, and cares not for the flowers being offered to her, probably by one of her suitors. Her clothed servant and slippers make her seem all the more nude, and her defiant stare makes you embarrassed.




A more traditional example of a Venus painting is Titian's Venus of Urbino.

How about that for Come hither?



The Venus of Urbino is certainly beautiful, and I have lingered in front of this painting and been swept away by it in Florence. I also spent a long while gazing on Olympia in Paris, whose eyes made me think that she and I could have been friends.



According to Dante's definition of Lust, I believe Maestro Titian was certainly doomed to hell, while Manet may have landed a few notches higher.




Endnote: I felt like meandering into the fascinating world of art history today...

10 comments:

Jennifer said...

Your blog is amazing. There is always something completely new, unexpected and thought-provoking. I love the mini-lessons on art history and literature and also the deadly sin series.

Jenn in Holland said...

I remember my dad trying to define the difference between love and lust for me when I was a teenager and diving headfirst into the kissing boys world. Of course, his explanation, like Dante's came from a religious stand, and keeping passions bridled and all that fiddle-faddle. :)
I am intrigued by the idea of lust without a connotation toward women. Are we lustful for "things" or "status"? I wonder sometimes.

This was again, a wonderful post and is exceptionally inspiring.
Now, I want to get to Paris to stare into Olympia's eyes...

Rebecca said...

I too rememer feeling that odd mix of curiosity and fear about prostitutes when I was younger.

now... the curiosity has definitely gone

Love those paintings, Jennifer, but could you please stop provoking my LUST to travel!

anno said...

I'm intrigued by the idea that these gorgeous paintings of prostitues are called Venuses, after the goddess of love--a curious conflation of ideas, at least!

I've always thought of lust as being the (momentary) desire to possess someone or something. All the participants are subjects or objects... even when the lust is shared. Seems like it would be related to gluttony...

Love is desire, too, but instead the desire to know or understand; thus that wonderful biblical metaphor for sex, to know someone. Also that amazing shock of recognition, the feeling of being known that I think is what people mean by "love at first sight."

Love is reciprocal, reflexive: we become permeable to those people (and in some cases, things) we love, and allow them to transform us. Where lust is momentary, love carries us over time. Love is a journey.

This is an amazing series of posts. Now I'm off to read what you said about gluttony...

cathouse teri said...

I just think it's a drag that women with bodies like that aren't generally accepted as beautiful. I think perhaps they are more so in Europe, but certainly not in the US!

It's no mistake that my nickname is Cathouse Teri. Although I have never literally been a prostitute, I think I would have been a good one. I don't find it a despairing thought, but that's because I believe there is such a thing as it being a CHOSEN profession, rather than one you have to do in order to get your next fix. Or something you were forced into. I see nothing wrong with getting men to pay for something they could have gotten for free anyway! :)

jennifer said...

I haven't thought about gluttony yet, anno. These posts usually happen when I see something that inspires me. Yesterday we drove to Milan to drop off our air freight packages, and the one of the roads on the edges of town was lined with prostitutes.
I agree with the concept, Teri, that a woman may choose her profession. But the young girls lined up along the roads in Italy are almost all what are referred to her as "sex slaves"- young girls from eastern Europe or Africa who were lured here to find a better life, maybe promised a job as a nanny or nurse, and then forced into the prostitution racket through violence and blackmail.

cathouse teri said...

Yeah, I know hun. I'm far too flippant about desperation.

Diesel said...

I can't help but think of the SNL skit where Dan Akroyd is showing that painting by Titian. "It's by a guy named Tit-ian. T-i-t-i-a-n. Tit-ian. Honest to god. And I don't think anybody can deny that's a real nice painting of a broad on a couch."

jennifer said...

Not flippant at all Teri! I've been away so long that I really don't know about much in the US anymore... I was referring to the scene here in Europe, which is sad, sad, sad.
Hi Diesel- thanks for visiting, and that's totally hilarious!

Brillig said...

You've captured something so powerful here. I love the way you've delved into the sins, and I agree with the others on the way you've shed new light on this particular one. (And the art history is very exciting! Love it!)