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Religions 2016, 7(9), 118;

Shelley’s Unknown Eros: Post-Secular Love in Epipsychidion

Department of Humanities, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 19085, USA
Academic Editor: Kevin Hart
Received: 3 June 2016 / Revised: 7 August 2016 / Accepted: 5 September 2016 / Published: 14 September 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Full-Text   |   PDF [248 KB, uploaded 14 September 2016]


Whether Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion—a Platonic poem on love addressed to the patriarchally imprisoned Theresa Viviani or “Emily”—receives praise or blame has generally been determined by two focal passages: a secular sermon on free love and a planetary allegorical thinly veiling his own imbroglio. This essay re-reads Shelley’s 1821 work drawing on two recent arguments: Stuart Curran’s Dantean call to take the poem’s Florentine narrator seriously as a character, not just as an autobiographical cypher, and Colin Jager’s outline of Shelley’s move beyond the assumptions of his professed atheism after 1816. Based on the poem’s structure and imagery, the paper argues that Epipsychidion critiques the false sense of revolutionary ascent and dualistic escape offered to Emily, who is commodified and erased by the narrator’s egocentric, “counterfeit divinization of eros” (Benedict XVI). Turning from this Radical Enlightenment Platonism, the poem momentarily realizes an embodied, hylomorphic romantic union akin to the Christian nuptial mystery of two becoming “one flesh” (Mark 10:8). This ideal, however, collapses back into solipsism when the narrator cannot understand or accept love as a “unity in duality” (Benedict XVI). This paper thus claims Epipsychidion as a post-secular inquiry into the problem of love whose philosophic limits and theological horizons are both surprising and instructive. It also reclaims Shelley as a phenomenological poet who can open up the world to Christian and non-Christian readers, one whose Platonic and Dantean formation lend him an openness to transcendence and one whose countercultural path through life makes him wary of inhumane appropriations of religion. View Full-Text
Keywords: Shelley; Percy Bysshe; Epipsychidion; British Romanticism; Christianity; love; Dante; Vita Nuova; Plato; postsecular theory Shelley; Percy Bysshe; Epipsychidion; British Romanticism; Christianity; love; Dante; Vita Nuova; Plato; postsecular theory
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Tomko, M. Shelley’s Unknown Eros: Post-Secular Love in Epipsychidion. Religions 2016, 7, 118.

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