Por Larry Bilello.
There is a small story of about one hundred pages in the first volume of Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha that is only tangentially related to the titular hero of the novel, Don Quixote. It is a story about two men and two women and their relationships of love and lust, gain and loss. My paper will track this story while treating it as a meditation on themes of identity and authenticity, of light and dark, of love and lust, examining as a sort of key to the narrative the meaning of the usage of masks and veils by the characters of the narrative. Worn by the characters at different times and in different ways and for different reasons, appearing to wear them in relation to each other, also in their masks and in their veils, masks and veils will be the threads on which I will tug to loosen the narrative in preparation for a more complex interpretation and understanding of the whole.
But while these are the threads that will provide with incipient understanding of the narrative, I will reach for a flashlight to make what is hidden visible and dark light. Not satisfied with a technical understanding of the narrative, or a merely superficial discussion of certain themes unsituated and isolated from their theoretical homes, I will reach for a means of sensing the finer grains of the narrative and of catching a glimpse of the inner life of this story. This flashlight I will reach for, will be the Platonic theory of love as in the Symposium and as interpreted in Renaissance Platonist Marsilio Ficino’s commentary on Symposium. I feel justified in using Ficino as a flashlight for, if Cervantes was not familiar with Ficino directly, he was certainly familiar with the way of thinking that Ficino represents. For he was a contemporary of Cervantes and part of a school that was most certainly known to Cervantes.
And so the sub-narrative to be encountered here goes something like this; there are four characters: Lucinda, Cardenio, Dorothea and Don Fernando. We are introduced to them and to their stories because they cross paths with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Don Quixote, the crazy old man who is pretending to be a knight from a chivalric novel in an age when historical knights no longer walk the earth and in a world where fictional knights certainly do not walk at all, and Sancho Panza, the peasant from Don Quixote’s town who is sucked into Quixote’s insanity, being persuaded to consider him as an actual knight who will someday provide Sancho Panza, his squire, with something like the governorship of an island or perhaps a bishopric, all in keeping with the norms of chivalry as established by wildly fantastical fictional narratives. These are the main characters of the novel as a whole, who, as they travel through their story, following a Spanish road through mountains and woods and past an inn, encounter each one of these characters of the sub-narrative that is the subject of this paper.
The sub-narrative begins with Don Fernando, a young nobleman. His father has many servants and many families who serve him and some who have served him and his family for many years. One of the old and faithful families is the family of Dorothea. Dorothea is very beautiful and very naïve in the matters of love. She is the only daughter of her parents and they both love her dearly and rely on her in matters of running the household and the farm lands they work for Don Fernando’s family. Eventually Don Fernando sees her and desires her and comes into her room and half convinces, half forces her to have relations with him, exchanging marriage vows with her in order to accomplish this.
After accomplishing this, he disappears from Dorothea’s life and next time she hears of him, it is that he is about to wed Lucinda, a member of a noble family of a nearby city who, before Don Fernando had known her, was on the verge of marrying Cardenio, a young man of lesser nobility than Lucinda and Don Fernando. Don Fernando comes to desire Lucinda through Cardenio, his close friend who, as an act of friendship, gives Don Fernando a peek at Lucinda one night by the light of a taper. Don Fernando contrives to send Cardenio away on a false pretext and uses his nobility to persuade Lucinda’s father to give her to him in marriage. At the marriage, Cardenio hears Lucinda say “I do” and is filled with anger and runs out to the hills where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza find him. These two also find Dorothea in the wilderland who ran off for similar reasons to Cardenio, and they all go to the inn that plays a big part in the novel as a whole, being a place that is several times revisited.
And so Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Dorothea and Cardenio are all at this inn when Don Fernando arrives bringing with him Lucinda by force. For Lucinda, although she said “I do” at the wedding ceremony, carried a letter in her bosom declaring that she only said “I do” out of obedience to her parents, and that in fact she could only be married to Cardenio to whom she had already promised herself. She then ran off to a convent several miles away, but Don Fernando found her and took her by force and, when they stopped at the inn, they were on their way to a distant city where Don Fernando would marry Lucinda.
So they all meet at this point in the inn. But they do not recognize each other immediately, for Don Fernando is masked, Dorothea and Lucinda are veiled, and Cardenio is hiding in a side room.
Lucinda throws herself weeping into the chair as Don Fernando stands over her in a threatening posture. Look at their masks. Each one’s identity is concealed. But their coverings are not all the same. See Lucinda’s, it is a veil, thin and almost revealing material. I think of an old lady with a lace veil. The veil can be colored, a light blue, a yellow, or perhaps uncolored. It’s a cloth that covers yet does not conceal. A delicate covering. Concealing identity while revealing the basic contours of the face as she looks on.
Don Fernando all in black stands over her, but come around and see his face, that it is concealed by a black mask. Black objects absorb all colors of light for black is an absence of color. Or to look again a black object consumes all. It has infinite depth. It is an abyss. It is a hole. In space a black hole consumes every stellar object—stars, nebulae, planets. If there is a war of light and dark, as the Manichees taught, the black holes must be altars to powerful demons of darkness, for in this instance, as in a completely lightless room, the dark seems more real than the light that is absent. Don Fernando’s black mask similarly seems more real than the face it conceals. It is not transparent, nor light and delicate, it is not festive or even shocking like a mask worn at a masked ball. It merely hides the authentic self, thereby creating a new dark shadowy self which seems to so perfectly hide the identity of the person wearing it, that the mask, in a stark and powerful way, seems to create a new identity that is a lack of identity. It is almost an absence of self, or a self without a self. An anti-self. This is the emptiness and falseness of the masked man’s mask. This is the pure fictionality of the identity that is created. This is the masked man’s mask.
The fictional identity the mask creates for Don Fernando is empty of truth, an absence of light. It is black, a shadow of his true self to others and he himself is filled with darkness within, for he lives in a sort of blindness. Dorothea accuses him of a blackened and shadowed eye darting out in “blind affection” (291). Not only is his identity black and empty fiction, but his eye is black and capable only of “blind affection”. Yet, at the same time, Dorothea also attributes to him a penetrating gaze that pierces through her veil; at least, this is what she says when she is found by Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, the curate, the barber and Cardenio to be disguised as a boy with a man’s hat and pants and shirt and hiding in the woods (287, 291).
Once her true identity is uncovered she is persuaded to give an account of herself and for what reason such a fair lady is found clothed in such garb in the woods all alone. She launches into the story of how she lived an ordinary peasant life, the favored and cherished daughter of a wealthy farmer. All his wealth and lands and business passed through her hands, and she executed them with prudence and “oeconomy” (287). Even in her recreation, she lived a life of quiet seclusion, seeing and being seen by no one…so she thought! And the only time she would ever leave the house would be to go to Mass with her mother and maids, veiled and with her eyes trailing the ground. Yet one fateful day, Don Fernando catches sight of her and love “possesses his faculties”. From that moment on, as Dorothea describes it, the noise of serenading rose up to her window every hour of the night, and there was gaiety and rejoicing all day long, with numberless love letters gushing with declarations of adoration and affection, and there were even gifts and offers of service to her relations.
But none of these things themselves furnish the source of Dorothea’s indictment of Don Fernando’s character. In fact, her anger arose from the falseness of them, their fictional emptiness, manipulated with cunning just as the fictional emptiness of the masked identity of Don Fernando was manipulated. For as Dorothea says, she sort of liked these things, since “all women, let them never be so homely, are pleased to hear themselves celebrated for their beauty” (288). The crushing realization of the fictionality of these praises and the perfidy and dishonesty of their creator was soon in coming. For her parents attempted to cool the flames of Don Fernando’s desire by giving Dorothea in marriage.
Yet this had the opposite effect on the affections of Don Fernando, his “libidinous appetite” only whetted by this attempt to thwart it. So he slips into her room at night and seizes her in his arms. Giving her no chance to shout for help, Don Fernando pours forth a mighty torrent of love protestations as he clutches her in his arms. He speaks and sighs and speaks and sighs and pours forth tears all the while, so much so of all three that Dorothea recalls in bitter disbelief how “falsehood is able to ape truth so exactly” (289). She begins to believe his false professions and, collecting her spirits for a moment, demands that he only promise fidelity to her and become her lawful spouse, and in return she will freely give him the enjoyment of her body. “The perfidious cavalier” promptly exchanges vows with her in the sight of an image of the Blessed Virgin and Dorothea’s maid (290). And she gives him what he wants. The next morning, disturbed and anxious, Don Fernando left before it was light out and, excepting the next night, never returned.
When Dorothea attains proof of Don Fernando’s perfidy on hearing that he was seeking to marry another woman, Lucinda, she does what so many characters in Don Quixote do: she takes to the hills in grief and anger. And it is in the hills where Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, the barber, the curate, and Cardenio find her. She with her soul in disarray at the experience of being deceived by Don Fernando who promised true love to her and fidelity, but was revealed to be both a perfidious and false manipulator of fictional signs of love. Love was ever a sophist, so says Diotima (Ficino 199, Symposium 203d).
After the fact, Dorothea’s inner eyes can penetrate Don Fernando’s mask of falsehood, but due to inexperience she is unable at the time to recognize the fakery. And now she experiences a feeling of disgust at the end of an episode of deceit and use. Don Fernando offered her vain, fictional love offerings and a vain and fictional self-offering. Neither gifts nor self-identity were authentic, but she believed them to be so, allowing Don Fernando to take the pleasure wanted from her with her willing consent. But in the end, through experience of a fictional lover, she gains knowledge of true versus fictional love, in this case at least. His fictional persona and fictional love protestations her eyes unmask.
For her eyes see through his mask now. She knows that “the oaths of Don Fernando, the powers he called to witness, the tears he shed, and, in short, by his genteel carriage and agreeable disposition, accompanied by such marks of real passion, as might have melted any other heart as soft and unexperienced as mine” and all those sighs and tears and sighs and tears, do not in fact signify true love, but instead “blind affection”, lust (292). All these things which Don Fernando had wrapped as a mask around his true purpose and intention were revealed to Dorothea to be empty fiction.
But what is the “blind affection” that Dorothea accuses him of, and how is it that he sees yet he doesn’t see? All-seeing and unseeing is his eye, says Dorothea. How is this? For though he has “blind affection”, Dorothea describes him as a lynx, a predatory animal, whose eyes are proficient in penetration, just as the eyes of lust are. First, I will describe “blind affection.”
For we have already discussed how Don Fernando masks his true intentions to Dorothea, and we can see that in the passage the paper began with, Don Fernando uses his physical mask to hide his identity so that he can get away with enjoying Lucinda’s body. He creates an anti-self, a shadowy self. His intentions are hidden. People do not know who he is or what he is doing. He does not seem to love Lucinda or be doing anything contrary to her will. In fact, his servants guess that she is going to “take the veil, and is not much inclined” (385). His true intentions and identity have receded so perfectly into the shadows.
To fix on the shadows, we could say that truly, this is a fitting image for the world he inhabits. He is a lustful man, and his lust is for shadows and makes him like unto a shadow, insofar as a person becomes like the thing he or she loves. Dorothea accuses him of having “blind affection” for her, as opposed to true love for her beauty. For Don Fernando is a blind man who only sees the shadows of the things he loves. He loves bodily beauty. He adores the sight of Dorothea’s body, and he adores the sight of Lucinda’s body. Ficino would say that in doing so he is desiring, through his eyes, to enjoy the beauty in that body that constitutes God’s light in that body, through contemplation of the sight and through propagating that same beauty. Here is the desire to engender in the beautiful in order to spread the sparks of this beauty. A noble thing for Ficino, insofar as this desire is to enjoy the divine beauty in this person, through one’s eyes—intellectual or physical—alone. However, Don Fernando, as evidenced by his leaving Dorothea once he had sex with her, and by his physical gesture of grasping Lucinda, evidently does not primarily love the sight of each woman’s beauty, but in fact lusts after the selfish pleasure to be had by touching their bodies. Thus his desire seems primarily aimed towards enjoying carnal pleasure, and so it makes sense that he would so easily forget about a former loved one, so quickly losing desire for that person. His desire is too much of the flesh, and thus is ended once filled, and almost blind to the divine beauty that radiates from that person, sits on their brow like a wreath of laurels.
Thus his blindness is in a sort of love or affection that is not rationally discerning, but is instead subject to the turbulent and changing passions of the body. The eyes that govern his affection are darkened and the self is led by the irrational and capricious lusts of the body. There is no significant difference between the bodily beauty of Dorothea and Lucinda. The characters in the scene at the inn note that Dorothea is not only un-excelled in beauty, but in fact, equaled by few or none. If a man sought the most beautiful woman to be had, he could not, with a clear mind, easily place Dorothea second to Lucinda. However, his blind affection does not distinguish between them on the basis of their character, relation to him, or even their actual physical beauty, but instead it distinguishes between objects of desire on the criterion of whether or not the lover has taken pleasure in that object already.
But the eyes of true love distinguish between bodies and personalities and among relationships to the lover et al. The eyes of true love perceive true beauty. Or, even more fundamentally, the eyes of the true lover see. What do they see? They see light. And the light, for Ficino, is God. In Ficino’s thought, drawing on Plato and Platonists as he did, God and light were identified. And so for Ficino, light is God’s own self poured out into things. It is the divine Goodness radiated through all things taking the name “Beauty” when it is seen and desired by someone other than God. This “light forms in [Mind, the World-Soul, Nature and Matter] all the images of every thing. Those images we call, in the Mind, Ideas; in the Soul, Concepts; in Nature, Seeds; and in Matter, Shapes” (Ficino 137), which images are the objects of cognition, and insofar as God’s light within them causes them to charm the “three cognitive powers of the soul”, this light is called Beauty. But this is not the only name for God. He is called the Good insofar as he as the divine sun creates, rules and completes, he is called the beautiful insofar as he soothes and arouses everything, and he is called Truth insofar as his light is “in the power of learning, and applies this to an object of cognition,” and there are other names for other functions of God, the divine sun (135).
But as we have said, God creates all things and makes them visible. And so sight, then, is the organ of love. For the lover sees. And what the lover sees is beauty, for enjoying beauty is the object of love. “To beauty, Love, as soon as it was born, drew the Mind…and so we may say that the nature of Love is this, that it attracts to beauty…” (128) And true beauty pertains to the attractiveness that can only be felt through sight. Thus the beauty of bodies is not in the feel of them, but instead is in their harmony of colors and lines, and the beauty of souls then is in their harmony of knowledge and virtues. And both beauties are instances of “a kind of force or light, shining from [God] through everything…” and are only perceived through the mind or the eye (140). Desire for these two sorts of beauty then are the limit of love concerning human beings, and desires arising from all others senses do not pertain to love, but instead are called lust or madness. For God’s light and the shapes of things and their power to exist that God’s light imparts flow primarily into the shapes of things which are most fully present in the Ideas, present in the Angelic Mind. God’s imparting to them the greater share of existence means that the material body not only exists much less fully than the soul of the same person, but it is also much less the person than the soul is. “The Forms of bodies seem to be the shadows of things rather than the true things themselves…” One can almost say that, for Ficino, one’s body isn’t them, because “the bodies themselves do not represent the true nature of the divine” (140).
Thus the lover of bodies, the vulgar lover in the speech of Pausanias in Symposium, loves the shadows of things and not the things themselves. His eyes are blinded to the sight of the true object in his too great love for the carnal pleasure of procreation, depriving his eyes of the sight of his beloved’s beauty. True love for people is love for souls. For, as Ficino says, it is primarily soul the lover loves, such that if he finds a beautiful soul in an ugly body, he will love that soul. Body is almost a nothing. It is merely passive, while the soul is active and responsible for all the body’s activities. The body is merely used as an instrument. Thus if the person stands, walks or procreates, it is the soul itself that is standing walking or procreating. So not only is the person primarily the soul, but beauty is primarily located in the soul. Thus the true lover primarily loves souls, and one can see that lust truly is a sort of madness, because it is a desire to take a type of pleasure in a person that tries to blind itself to the most lovely part of the person’s composition. Lust is a cheap fiction of love.
This is not to say that procreation in Symposium or Ficino is inimical to love. Procreation is not said by Pausanias to be foreign to love, but on the contrary he says that when procreation is from Love, it follows from the first type of love, the type that contemplates human beauty as an image of divine beauty. This leads to the division of love into two kinds by Pausanias and Ficino. Pausanias and Ficino describe the two types of love (two Cupids) as desiring two Venuses that are situated in two places: one pair of them within the metaphysical structure of the world and one pair within each one of us, one which is from heaven (Angelic Mind) and the other from earth (World-Soul). Neither of the pair stands alone. But instead, one leads to the other. “The first Venus, which is in the Angelic Mind, is said to have been born of Uranus ‘of no mother,’ because for the natural philosophers, mother means matter, and the Angelic Mind is completely foreign to any relationship with corporeal matter.” And “the second Venus, which is in the World-Soul, was born of Jupiter and Dione: born of Jupiter, that is, of that faculty of the World-Soul which moves the heavens. She it was who created the power which generates these lower forms. The philosophers attribute a mother as well as a father to this Venus because she is thought to be related to matter…” (142)
In short, Venus is “two-fold”: one is the Angelic Mind’s intelligence; the other is the World-Soul’s generative power. Each is accompanied by a like Love. The first is roused to know God’s beauty, and the second is stimulated to procreate this beauty in bodies. The first Venus embraces God’s Glory while the second spreads sparks of that glory into earthly bodies. These sparks make bodies beautiful to us and we perceive them through sight. In our souls as well there are two powers: generation and understanding—the two Venuses with their two Loves. When we meet the beauty of a human body the mind, which Ficino calls “the first Venus in us”, “worships and adores the human beauty as an image of the divine beauty” and “through the first it is frequently aroused to the second” (143). The power of generation within us, called “the second Venus” by Ficino, “desires to create another form like this” (143). And so we see the Love in both cases. In the first it is the desire to contemplate Beauty and in the second it is the desire to propagate it. Ficino calls both loves “honorable and praiseworthy, for each is concerned with the divine image” (143).
The trouble, as Pausanias might say, with men like Don Fernando is that they love the carnal pleasure of sex so much that their ability to love suffers. Maybe they give up contemplation too easily and just want to procreate, or maybe, like Don Fernando, they immoderately desire to copulate with women. In short, they prefer the body to the soul and thus “abuse the dignity of love” (143). Thus the true lover will indeed praise the beauty of the body, but through it he will indeed contemplate the more excellent beauty of “the soul, the mind, and God,” and he will admire and love these more fervently than the body. And he will generate and copulate within the bounds of natural and civil law, about which Pausanias goes on at great length.
Don Fernando’s “blind affection,” then, is in his excessive love for bodies and for copulation. This means in the end that his desire is indiscriminate, overflowing the bounds set by natural law, civil law, his rational vow of fidelity to Dorothea. Also as a fictional sort of love it doesn’t seek beauty, because it is largely blind to beauty. However, as we said, the generative and contemplative loves follow one from the other, where one is there is the other, one may triumph now, but the other was there before or will be there after. In Don Fernando this is the case as well. His love for Dorothea and Lucinda is not merely generative, nor just for the pleasure of copulating. But we will return to this.
So this is “blind affection”, but what is the lynx-like eye all about? How does blindness unveil and grey and chaotic impulse circumvent and shuffle and strike in the heart? It’s got something to do with the embodiment of Dorothea. It’s got something to do with prized being stolen, hidden detected, darkened light darkened. She hides something behind a veil and he spots it. To even have the words to talk about this with, I think we need to talk a bit about Dorothea’s veil of modesty.
Now we started the paper with the scene in the inn where all the characters were veiled or masked, drawing our attention to their veils and masks, and making us ask what the significance of these veils and masks is. The first veil-mask dynamic we considered was Don Fernando and Lucinda, but we were led into considering the metaphorical veil-mask dynamic of Don Fernando and Dorothea in their first encounter. And now that we have thought at length about Don Fernando’s fictional mask made of fictional sweet words and vows, a false identity of a true lover, and now that we have begun to think about who he truly is, as Dorothea eventually discerns, a lustful man whose eye reaches out in blind affection with lynx-like penetration, let us consider what is penetrated, and perhaps how it is done so blindly. We will use what has already been said about the nature of love to angle towards the answer. We will consider Dorothea’s veil of modesty. We will describe how her veil fosters love.
The veil is best seen in context of Diotima’s ladder of love, which goes like this. First, the lover must begin as a youth to devote himself to beautiful bodies. If he is following Love, then he will beget beautiful speeches in a single body. Then, if he what he seeks in the end is the immaterial beauty that is most akin to his own nature, then he will realize that gaping after and grasping for one body is a small thing to be despised. And he will love all beautiful bodies. And then, he will realize that the beauty of people’s souls is more precious than the beauty of their bodies, and so he will love a person whose soul is beautiful even if their body is not or is not even “in bloom” yet. He will give birth to the ideas that will make this person better, forcing him to look at the beauty of customs, realizing that all these are akin to himself, further strengthening the lover’s conviction that bodily beauty is relatively unimportant. After customs he must move on to different sorts of knowledge, thus seeing knowledge’s beauty and contemplating “the great sea of beauty” that is not confined to any particular example of it. He will give birth to many beautiful speeches in his strong desire for wisdom, until eventually he will gain knowledge of something that simply is beautiful, having immaterial, unchanging, unimaginable beauty as part of its nature; this beauty all beautiful things partake in; but although they come and go, this beauty does not. Contemplating this “divine Beauty” one will be moved to beget true virtue, not images of virtue. To this lover, more than to anyone else, belongs “the love of the gods” and immortality. (all this 210b-211e)
Now I will describe Ficino’s commentary on this passage, passing through Ficino back into the discussion of Dorothea’s veil.
Ficino describes the ladder of love as the ascension of the person “from the Body to the Soul, from this to the Angelic Mind, and from this to God” (210). The lover rises from love for Body whose beauty “consists in the composition of its many parts; it is bound by space, and moves along in time” to love for Soul (identified both with the World-Soul as well as individual peoples’ souls; meaning for Diotima, both custom as well as peoples’ souls) which “suffers the changes of time, of course, and contains a multitude of parts, but is free from the limits of space.” Then, it loves the Angelic Mind which rests in the forms of things that God has put into the Mind. The Angelic Mind is “immune to the other two [space and time]. But the beauty of God suffers none of these limitations” (211). While the Angelic Mind’s beauty rests in a “multiple composition” of forms, the beauty of God rests in “the simple form”—simple Beauty, for example, as opposed to a beautiful sunset formed of many colors and lines. The image of light explains the continuum of beauty expressed in these lovely things, making possible the ladder of love. As he says it, “And so the source of all beauty and love is God and the light of the sun in the water is as a shadow compared with its brighter light in the air. The glow in the air, likewise is as a shadow compared with its glow in fire. The glow in fire is as a shadow compared with the light of the sun, glowing in the very sun itself” (212). The beauty of Body is but a shadow of the beauty of Soul, which is but a shadow of the beauty of Mind which is but a shadow of the beauty of God whose beauty is the shadow of none other for he is like the Sun itself and the source of all Light, all Beauty. Neither God, nor Mind are deceived into loving shadows of their own beauty, but our soul alone “is so carried away by the charms of bodily beauty that it puts aside its own beauty and worships the beauty of the body” (212). This results in death and destruction because the soul really seeks its own beauty, “and is never satisfied by the enjoyment of the body [or its beauty] which is the image of its own beauty” (212). “So that Socrates might avoid this death, Diotima led him from Body to Soul, from that to the Angelic Mind, and from that back to God” (212). And for the same reason did Dorothea wear her veil.
The veil is an attempt to act in some sense as a Socratic guide in the ways of Love. It’s messing with the sight of the lover, controlling one’s own image, measuring the reaction of the lover to the image, measured more toward love of soul than body, by concealing the face, the identity, depriving strange eyes the sight at all by never going out, never talking with strangers, not dealing with undesired lovers in a friendly way, all this shows an approach to her self and her own beauty as being limited, imperfect, and almost undesirable. The veil militates against a lover first having the opportunity to even see and then be aroused into lustful desire for the body of the beloved, and second it blurs the sight of the beloved in order to nip this same lustful desire in the bud. The veil is intended to raise the soul from bodily beauty to the beauty of soul, the first step on the ladder to the beauty of God. The veil will help the lover see true beauty, true light, God’s beauty, the beauty of immaterial form instead of being overwhelmed with desire to grasp and feel. The veil hides part of the person, presenting a fictionalized picture to the lover in order to incline the lover’s eye to greater light than their carnal urges might otherwise permit them. Thus the penetrating “lynx-like gaze” of the libidinous Don Fernando is merely penetrating the veil and seeing the hidden flesh and bodily beauty which is but an “insignificant shadow” of the beauty of souls. It is not, as the veil seeks to incline him, penetrating the veil of flesh itself, which is, according to Ficino, a veil for the beauty of soul within.
As Ficino puts in Diotima’s mouth, “If nature had given you the eyes of a lynx, dear Socrates, so that you might penetrate with your sight to the inside of anything which came in your way, that outwardly most handsome body of your Alcibiades would seem most ugly. How much of him do you love, my friend? His surface appearance only; nay, rather his color wins you; nay, a certain reflection of lights, and a most insignificant shadow. Or else vain imagination deceives you; you love what you dream rather than what you see” (213)
So Don Fernando goes from one woman to the next, deceiving himself that in each body is possessed all beauty. “At sight of her he absolutely forgot all the beauties he had formerly seen; he was struck dumb with wonder” (237). Yet at the end of the story, Dorothea is rejoined with Don Fernando, and Lucinda with Cardenio. We will see, that as Ficino says, Love beautifies the un-beautiful as it brings the un-beautiful to the beautiful. Don Fernando is beautified through his love for Dorothea.
To pick up where we left off with the scene at the inn, Lucinda all in white is seated and Don Fernando all in black stands over her. They say a few words, and then Cardenio yells. Lucinda leaps in alarm and rushes toward him losing her veil as she goes. Don Fernando clutches at her. He cannot help, but loses his mask. Dorothea swoons. Her groan alarms Cardenio who rushes out of the side room, beholding Lucinda in Don Fernando’s arms. All were struck dumb and gazed at each other in silence. We are about to follow this scene to its resolution, paying attention to what happens to Don Fernando. I argue that he is beautified, for Love cannot help but beautify.
“In the beginning, God created the substance of the Angelic Mind, which we also call Essence. This in the very first moment of its creation was formless and dark, but since it was born from God, it turned toward God, its own source, with a certain innate desire.” “Before the approach came the kindling of passion, before that the illumination by the divine light, before that the first inclination of desire, and before that the substance of the disorderly Mind.” “It is that still formless substance which we mean by Chaos; that first turning toward God we call the birth of Love; the infusion of the divine light, the nourishing of love; the ensuing conflagration, the increment of love; the approach to God, the impact of love; and the giving of the forms, the completion of love.” “This composite of all the Forms and Ideas we call in Latin a mundus and in Greek a cosmos, that is, Orderliness. The attractiveness of this Orderliness is Beauty.” “To beauty, Love, as soon as it was born, drew the Mind, and led the Mind formerly un-beautiful to the same Mind made beautiful. And so we may say that the nature of Love is this, that it attracts to beauty and links the un-beautiful with the beautiful.” It shows that the lovepassion of a thing precedes “its own acquisition of form”, just as Angelic Mind was not informed till Love had linked it with the beautiful. (A thing is not fully what it is until it falls in love.) For men, it is the dark chaos of their imagination that is pierced with the beams of the divine light flowing through a beautiful body and its image in the imagination that rouses the soul to love for Beauty itself, to love for God (all this from Cavalcanti at the end, 216-217), resulting in the begetting of the virtues necessary for a blessed life.
Don Fernando is thus, earlier in the story, aroused by Love through the beautiful body of Dorothea. Though his desire for her was primarily the lusty earthly Venus, although he remained lying on the open road of Love, eyes still dark, the opportunity to pursue the path to its final destination was not deprived from him.
Dorothea pleads with him, falling on her knees, enticing him back into love for her, complaining that though he, by seemingly truthful addresses, completely turned her heart into love for him, he no longer loves her. She entices him: “Consider, my lord, my unparalleled affection may counterbalance the beauty and birth of her…you cannot be the fair Lucinda’s husband…it will be a much easier task…to recal your love for [me]…than to gain the affection of one by whom you are abhorred” showing where she is more beautiful and desirable than Lucinda, employing these and many more arguments, inducing him to shame (“your conscience will never cease whispering to you”), exhorting him to sober thought (“I am your lawful wife”), abasing herself before him (“admit me into the number of your slaves”), calling other injured parties with claims on Don Fernando to witness (“make not my parents miserable in their old age”), dismissing potential objections (“if you think your blood will be debased…consider that almost all the great families on earth have undergone the same intercourse”) (387-89).
Let us begin to consider Dorothea as a true lover, who is as Diotima says, a sophist and a magician. The sophist for Plato, according to Ficino, is “a pretentious and crafty debater who proves for us by crafty quibblings the false instead of the true, and who forces those who argue with him to contradict themselves in their arguments” (199) She certainly offers many and compelling arguments for why Don Fernando should return his affection to her, yet they are all true and reasonable. “Don’t offend my parents by dumping me. Giving up the girl who hates you and recalling love for the one who adores you is easier than taking the girl who hates you by force. All noble blood has been mixed” (388). She is more a philosopher of Love then, than a sophist, and more clearly a foil to Don Fernando whose arguments to win Dorothea’s affections were vapid and sophistical.
She is a magician in the effect of her enchantment, which Ficino calls “the attraction of one thing by another because of a certain similarity of their nature” (199). It exists, then, by nature, between sun and moon, and fire and air. But it also exists by art, where humans compensate for incongruity between two things. Between herself and Don Fernando, then, the effect of her arguments and tears and self-abasement and ravishing bodily beauty is to recreate his attraction to her beauty. “You have conquered, beauteous Dorothea—The victory is yours; for, so many truths conjoined are surely irresistible” (389).
Don Fernando has come to her twice, now, but for different reasons. He first approached her out of “blind affection” which she attempted to divert and with a view to satisfying the carnal urges of the earthly Venus. He then re-approaches her with eyes opened to truths by her arguments and pleading. Love of the heavenly Venus has grown stronger in him, for he no longer considers his beloved as desirable primarily for her bodily beauty, and so the deception of that shadowy stuff has been further driven out of his soul. He has progressed on the road of Love, for love, in piercing his soul at the first sight of Dorothea has roused his heart into love and led it on into a loftier more heavenly love for souls. He now considers Dorothea “beauteous” once she has displayed the truthfulness of her love, the “sincerity of her love”, in exhorting him to behave rationally and virtuously and exit the labyrinthine web of perplexity his lust has led him in (389). Yet he would not have exited the web, nor grown to love her beauty of soul if he had not at first loved her beauty of body, for in his lust was the seed of love. The earthly Venus is never unaccompanied by the heavenly Venus. So in his elevation in Love to a greater strength in the heavenly Venus for Dorothea’s soul and virtue, Don Fernando has approached nearer to God himself, climbing the ladder of love, and has thus become more conformed to Him. Love has beautified. Dorothea is beautiful and Don Fernando is un-beautiful. Love has drawn Don Fernando to Dorothea’s beauty, and brought him further to enjoy more fully her beauty, thus beautifying Don Fernando.
Thus while Dorothea and Don Fernando project fictional versions of themselves, their fiction-making differs. Dorothea’s fictional self points to and guards a truth within her while Don Fernando’s shrouds who he truly is. The truth within Dorothea is the truth of beauty that is not her yet is in her and is attractive, calling other beings into love for it. The truth of Don Fernando is a being who desires beauty, yet he shrouds and limits this in a mask that aids him in seeking carnal beauty alone. Yet the truth of Love remains. It draws the unbeautiful to the beautiful. It makes the unbeautiful beautiful. Just so, Love draws Don Fernando to Dorothea. It makes Don Fernando beautiful.
Larry Bilello (21)
De, Cervantes Saavedra Miguel, and Tobias George Smollett. The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote. New York: Modern Library, 2004. Print.
Ficino, Marsilio, and Sears Reynolds Jayne. Marsilio Ficino’s Commentary on Plato’s Symposium: The Text and a Translation, with an Introduction. Columbia: University of Missouri, 1944. Print.
Plato, and C. D. C. Reeve. Plato on Love: Lysis, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades, with Selections from Republic, Laws. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2006. Print.