Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V: Of Carnal Love and Familiarity, with a Summary Account of Pleasure - The Spiritual Physick
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CHAPTER V: Of Carnal Love and Familiarity, with a Summary Account of Pleasure - Rhazes, The Spiritual Physick 
The Spiritual Physic of Rhazes, trans. Arthur J. Arberry (London: John Murray, 1950).
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Of Carnal Love and Familiarity, with a Summary Account of Pleasure
The aforesaid men of lofty purpose and soul are far removed from this calamity by their very nature and temperament. For there is nothing more grievous to them than to be mean and humble and abject, to manifest want and need, and to endure injury and arrogance. Having reflected on what lovers must perforce suffer in these respects, they run away from love, holding themselves steadfast, and stopping their passion for love if they are ever afflicted by it. So too do those who are involved in pressing and extreme worldly or other-worldly occupations and cares. But men that are effeminate, flirtatious, idle, soft, and given over to appetite, who make pleasure their sole interest and seek only for worldly gratification, who take it to be a great loss and sorrow to lose it, and reckon what they cannot attain to be a real misery and misfortune—such men are hardly delivered from this affliction. Especially is this the case if they are much addicted to reading lovers’ tales, to the recitation of delicate, amorous poetry and to listening to sorrowful music and singing.
Let us now speak of how to be on one’s guard against this disposition, and to be awake to its stealthy hidy-holes and lurking-places, so much as befits the object of our present book. And first we will prefix some profitable remarks which will be of help in attaining both what has gone before and what lies ahead in this book; namely, the discussion of Pleasure.
Pleasure consists simply of the restoration of that condition which was expelled by the element of pain, while passing from one’s actual state until one returns to the state formerly experienced. An example is provided by the man who leaves a restful, shady spot to go out into the desert; there he proceeds under the summer sun until he is affected by the heat; then he returns to his former place. He continues to feel pleasure in that place, until his body returns to its original state; then he loses the sense of pleasure as his body goes back to normal. The intensity of his pleasure on coming home is in proportion to the degree of intensity of the heat, and the speed of his cooling-off in that place. Hence the philosophers have defined pleasure as a return to the state of nature.
Now since pain and the departure from the state of nature sometimes occur little by little over a long period of time, and then the return to the state of nature happens all at once, in a brief space, under such circumstances we are not aware of the element of pain, whereas the sharpness of the sense of a return to nature is multiplied. This state we call pleasure. Those who have had no training suppose this has happened without any prior pain; they imagine it as a pure and solitary phenomenon, wholly disassociated from pain. Now this is not really the case at all; there cannot in fact be any pleasure except in proportion to a prior pain, that of departing from the state of nature. One takes pleasure in eating and drinking according to the degree to which one has hungered and thirsted; when the hungry and thirsty man returns to his original state, there is no more exquisite torture than to compel him to go on partaking of food and drink, in spite of the fact that just previously he could think of nothing more pleasurable and desirable than these. It is the same with all other pleasures: the definition is universally valid and all-embracing. Nevertheless in order to make this clear we need to discuss the question in more detail, with greater delicacy, and at fuller length than hitherto. We have in fact explained the matter in our book On the Nature of Pleasure,1 and therefore what we have mentioned here will have to suffice for our present needs.
Most of those who incline after pleasure and follow it blindly do not know it for what it really is, and have never imagined it save in the second state—that is, the period extending from the beginning of the end of the painful reaction up to the complete return to the original state. They therefore love pleasure, and desire never under any circumstances to be without it; not realizing that this is impossible, seeing that it is a state which cannot exist and cannot be known except the original state precede it.
Now the pleasure imagined by lovers and others possessed and infatuated by some passion—such as those in love with authority, rulership, and all other excessive objects infatuation with which dominates some men’s souls so that they desire nothing else but to achieve that, and think life worthless without it—this pleasure, I say, seems to them very great indeed and beyond all reckoning when they imagine the realization of their desire. This is because they only imagine the achievement and attaining of their quest—which is a subject very precious to their souls—without it ever occurring to their minds that their original state is so to speak the road and pathway to the attainment of the quest. If they only thought and reflected upon the hardness, roughness and difficulty of that road, upon its dangers and perils and pitfalls, what now seems to them so sweet would appear bitter, and what they make little of would seem very great, by the side of what they have to suffer and endure.
Having given the gist of the Nature of Pleasure and made clear wherein lie the errors of those who imagine it to be pure and free of suffering and pain, we will now return to our discussion and call attention to the evil qualities of this disposition—love—and its essential baseness.
Lovers transgress the bounds of the animals in their lack of self-control, their failure to rein their passion, and their subservience to their lusts. For they are not content merely with gratifying this lust—that is, sexual enjoyment—in spite of the fact that of all the appetites it is the foulest and the most disreputable in the view of the rational soul that is the true man. They are not content with gratifying it with any means at their disposal, but must needs enjoy it in a particular and precise situation, so that they join and pile up one lust upon another; they serve and submit to their passion over and over again, and add one slavery to another. No wild animal goes any way near to this extent in regard to this especial matter; on the contrary, the beasts gratify their urge to the amount required by nature to get rid of that sensation of suffering and pain which urges them in that direction—so much and no more; then they recover complete repose from it. Now since such men do not confine themselves to the animal degree of subservience to instinct, but even invoke the aid of the intellect—which God gave them to mark their superiority over the beasts, and in order that they might see the evil qualities of passion and therefore rein and rule it—so as to scale the most subtle and secret lusts and enjoy them to the last degree of refinement; it is therefore right and proper that they should never reach any goal or achieve any repose, but forever continue to have the discomfort of a multitude of urges, and to regret the vast amount they miss. They are never joyous and satisfied by what they have in fact attained and been able to get, because they are always turning away from these lusts and attaching their ambitions to an infinite succession of yet higher pleasures.
Furthermore lovers, because of their obedience to passion and their preference and worship of pleasure, experience sorrow where they precisely suppose that they will rejoice, and pain where they think they will have pleasure. This is because they never reach or attain any single pleasure without being affected and controlled by a sense of anxiety and effort. It may well happen that they will continue in a state of constant anguish and unremitting agony without accomplishing any desire whatsoever. Many of them are reduced by prolonged insomnia, worry and undernourishment to a state of madness and delusion, of consumption and wasting away. Behold them then in the trap and toils of pleasure, dragged down to the most dreadful and horrid fate! See how the consequences of such “pleasure” have brought them to the extremes of misery and ruin! As for those who think they will achieve the pleasure of love completely by possessing and having power over it, they have made a palpable mistake and error. For pleasure, when it is attained, is in strict proportion to the degree of suffering and pain that stimulate and incite to such pleasure; and when a man possesses and has power over anything, the stimulus within him weakens and quietens down and comes to rest rapidly. It is a very true saying that that which is attained is soon wearied of, while that which is denied is mightily desired.
Moreover to part from the beloved is an inescapable necessity, that is to say at death, even if one be secure from all the other mundane accidents and incidents that scatter friends and divide lovers. Since therefore there is no escape from swallowing this anguish and tasting this bitterness, to put it forward and so have rest from it is more expedient than to postpone it and wait for it to happen. For when the inevitable is put forward, one is relieved of the burden of dreading it during the period of its postponement. Besides this, it is obviously simpler and easier to deny the soul its beloved, before love becomes firmly established and dominant over the soul. Once familiarity is added to affection, it is much more difficult to break away and get free of it. For the bane of familiarity is no whit less than the bane of love; indeed, it would not be wrong to say that it is even stronger and further-reaching.
When the duration of love is short, and the meetings with the beloved are few, it is more likely that love will not be confounded and fortified with familiarity. The judgment of reason therefore decrees on this consideration too that one should act betimes in denying the soul and reining it from love before it ever falls into love, or to wean it from love if it should succumb to it before its love becomes firmly established. This is the argument which Plato used in the case of a pupil who was afflicted by an attachment for a girl and therefore failed to be in his place in Plato’s classes. He ordered that the student should be sought and brought before him. When he appeared, he said, “Tell me, friend—do you doubt that some day you will have to part from this girl friend of yours?” “I do not doubt that,” the young man answered. “Well then,” said Plato, “let yourself taste to-day the bitterness which you must certainly swallow on that day, and make yourself rid of the intervening constant dread of anticipation—the anticipation of what must inevitably come to pass—and the difficulty of dealing with that emotion after it has taken firm hold of you and has been further reinforced by familiarity.” It is said that the pupil replied to Plato, “Wise Master, what you say is true. But I feel that my anticipation of that event will become a consolation with the passage of time, and will become lighter for me to bear.” Plato retorted, “How can you have confidence in the consolation of time, and not fear the familiarity it brings? Why are you so sure that the circumstances of parting will not come upon you before you are consoled, and yet after your love is firmly established? In that case your anguish would be heightened and your bitterness redoubled.” It is related that the youth prostrated himself before Plato in that same hour, expressing his gratitude to him with praise and blessings; he neither returned to his former state, nor exhibited any sorrow or longing, and from that time forward he continued in attendance at Plato’s classes without ever failing. It is added that after this discourse Plato turned to his other pupils and upbraided them for leaving the youth to his own devices and allowing him to devote his energies to the other branches of philosophy before he had reformed and suppressed his appetitive soul and subjected it to his rational soul.
Now because certain silly people contend and wage war with the philosophers about this conception, using language as weak and flaccid as themselves—and they forsooth called wits and literary gentlemen—we propose to set down what they have to say on the subject and then give our own version of it.
They say that love is a habit only of refined natures and subtle brains, and that it encourages cleanliness, elegance, spruceness and a handsome turn-out. They accompany such statements by quoting eloquent lyrics to the same effect, and fortify their argument with references to men of letters, poets, chiefs and leaders who indulged in love, even going so far as to include prophets. To this we answer that refinement of nature and mental subtlety and clarity are recognized and proven by the capacity of those so endowed to comprehend obscure, remote matters and fine, subtle sciences, to express clearly difficult and complicated ideas, and to invent useful and profitable arts. Now these things we find only in the philosophers; whereas we observe that love-making is not their habit, but the frequent and constant use of Bedouins, Kurds, Nabateans1 and such-like clodhoppers. We also discover it to be a general and universal fact that there is no nation on earth of finer intellect and more evident wisdom than the Greeks, who on the whole are less preoccupied by love than any other people.
This proves the very opposite of what the others claim; that is to say, it proves that love is in fact the habit of gross natures and stupid minds; for those who are little given to thought, reflection and deliberation run headlong after the call of their natures and the inclination of their appetites. As for their argument about the great number of literary men, poets, chiefs and leaders who have indulged in love, to this we answer that headship and leadership, poetry and purity of speech are not the invariable and indisputable signs of perfect intelligence and wisdom. This being so, it is entirely possible that men of the kind described who have been great lovers were in reality quite deficient in intelligence and wisdom. But those who argue against us are so ignorant and silly that they suppose knowledge and wisdom to consist solely of grammar, poetry, correctness of speech and eloquence; they are quite unaware that philosophers do not count a single one of these subjects as wisdom, or those skilled in them as wise. On the contrary, their idea of a wise man is he who knows the conventions and rules of logical demonstration, and succeeds to acquire and achieve the highest degree of mathematical, physical and metaphysical knowledge that lies within human capacity.
I remember once being present when one of these smart fellows was engaged with a shaikh of ours at Baghdad; the aforesaid shaikh, besides being a philosopher, had considerable competence in grammar, lexicography and poetry. The fellow argued with him and bandied quotations against him, jeering and sneering all the while he spoke, going to great lengths of exaggerated encomium in praise of those who practised his particular art, while he vilified all other men. The whole time the shaikh bore with him, well knowing his ignorance and conceit, the while he smiled at me. Finally the fellow exclaimed, “This is in fact what science really is; all the rest is mere wind.” Then the shaikh said, “My son, that is the science of the man who has no real knowledge; it rejoices those who are without intellect.” Turning to me, he prompted me, “Ask this lad here some questions relating to the elements of the ‘necessary’ sciences. He is one of those who think that they who are skilled in lexicography can answer any enquiry that is put to them.” I said, “Tell me about the sciences—are they necessary or conventional?” I did not complete the division on purpose; but he at once blurted out, “All the sciences are conventional.” This was because he had heard one of our companions reproaching this group on the grounds that their science was conventional, and so he wanted to criticize them in the same terms, not being aware of what they had further on this subject. Then I asked him, “Take the case of the man who knows that the moon will be eclipsed on such-and-such a night, and that scammony1 liberates the stomach when it is seized, or that litharge neutralizes the acidity of vinegar when it is pounded and thrown into it—is his knowledge of this correct only because people conventionally adopt these opinions?” “No,” he answered. “Then whence did he derive his knowledge?” I went on. Now he lacked the discrimination to see whither I was leading him; and so he said, “I say that all sciences are necessary, supposing that it was permissible to include in this category grammar.” “Very well then,” I proceeded. “Tell me about the man who knows that the simple vocative is put in the nominative whereas the compound vocative is put in the accusative1 —is his knowledge of something necessary and natural, or is it of something conventional according to the general consensus of opinion?” He stammered out something he had heard from his professors, trying to prove that this was a necessary matter; while I proceeded to show him how he had contradicted himself and how his argument fell to pieces, which reduced him to a state of shame and great confusion and dismay. Then the shaikh began to laugh at him, saying, “My son, try the taste of a science that really is a science!”
We have only recounted this story in order that it may serve as an additional encouragement and incentive to the nobler part; for that is the sole object we have before us in this book. It is far from our intention, where we have sought to demonstrate ignorance and deficiency in the course of our present discussion, to condemn all who have concerned themselves with grammar and linguistics or have made these their occupation and study; for some of these scholars have been additionally blessed by God with an ample portion of the true sciences. Our purpose is merely to expose those ignoramuses who think that no other science exists but these two, and that these alone qualify a man to be called learned.
It remains for us to deal with an argument about which we have not yet said anything, namely their attempt to exonerate carnal love on the grounds that even the prophets were afflicted by it. Now there is surely nobody who is prepared to allow that love-making should be accounted one of the merits or virtues of the prophets, or that it is something they particularly chose and approved; on the contrary, it is to be reckoned among their slips and peccadilloes. This being so, there are no grounds whatsoever for exonerating or embellishing or applauding or propagating love on account of the prophets. For it behoves us to incite and urge ourselves to emulate those actions of virtuous men which they found pleasing and approved in themselves and desired that others should imitate, not those slips and peccadilloes which they regretted and of which they repented, wishing they had never happened to them or been committed by them.
As for their assertion that love encourages cleanliness, elegance, a handsome turn-out and spruceness: what is the use of a beautiful physique, when the soul is ugly? Who wants physical beauty anyway, or labours to attain it, except women and effeminates? It is recorded that a certain man invited a philosopher to his house; all its appointments were extremely fine and splendid, but the man himself was excessively ignorant and stupid and idiotic. The philosopher examined attentively everything in the house, and then spat at the man himself. When the fellow burst into a fit of anger, the philosopher said, “Do not be angry. I looked at everything in your house with the greatest care, but I saw nothing fouler or filthier than yourself; so as I thought you were very suitable for the purpose, I made you my spittoon.” It is said that thereafter the man took a humble opinion of his situation and became eager for learning and speculation.
Since we have already mentioned before the subject of familiarity, we will now discourse a little on its nature, and how to be on one’s guard against it. Familiarity is an accident that befalls the soul as a result of long companionship, coupled with a reluctance to be parted from the person so accompanied; it too is a vast affliction that increases and augments with the passage of time, and yet is not sensed until the actual moment of parting, when it suddenly bursts forth all at once in a most painful form, exceedingly distressing to the soul. This disposition affects the beasts as well, though in some it is more marked than in others. The method of guarding against it is constantly to dispose oneself to parting from one’s companion, never forgetting this and never losing heed of it, but to train oneself gradually to practise it.
We have now set out what is sufficient for this chapter; we will therefore proceed to speak of conceit.
[1 ]Only fragments in quotation of this work have survived, see P. Kraus, op. cit., pp. 139–64.
[1 ]A term applied contemptuously to certain peasants.
[1 ]“A cathartic gum-resin obtained from a species of convolvulus in Asia Minor” (Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary).
[1 ]Rhazes refers to a rule of Arabic grammar.