What is the main idea of the essay "Of Love"?    

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Characteristically, Sir Francis Bacon has many things to say about his subject. Although his essays are short, he usually seems to try to cram in everything he knows. This makes them hard to read--and they are already hard enough to read because of his archaic English. However, he was a very wise man--as well as a very worldly wise man. He always sounds practical, materialistic, realistic, intellectual, cynical, and cold. He has a great deal to say about love. Most of it is negative. This would seem to be the attitude one should expect from Bacon.

One of his main points is that "great and worthy persons" throughout history have usually suppressed what he calls the "weak passion" of love. When he uses Helena, Juno and Pallas as an example of the destructive nature of love, he is referring to the story of the Judgment of Paris, who chose Venus, goddess of love, over the goddess of riches and the goddess of wisdom, because Venus promised him the bribe of the most beautiful woman in the world, who turned out to be Helen, the wife of the Greek king Menelaus, and the woman traditionally blamed for causing the Trojan War. Paris, in Bacon's opinion, made a foolish choice. He himself would have chosen Juno, who offered the bride of limitless riches.

For whoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection, quitteth both riches and wisdom.

Bacon's whole essay emphasizes that love is foolish and usually harmful. The line that best sums up Bacon's main point is:

...and therefore it was well said, That it is impossible to love, and to be wise.

To be wise, in Bacon's view, is to be selfish and ambitious. His essay on love is a revelation of his own character.




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