On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
~1 Corinthians 13:13
You know Cupid, but how about Cupidity? Chapter Seven of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych. Today we examine lust and love.
As Karen wrote
This supernatural, theological love is a powerful theme in Leo Tolstoy’s short novel The Death of Ivan Ilych. In the story, charity sharply contrasts with the empty, self-centered lives that populate the story. Ivan’s life in particular is characterized not by the virtue of charity but by another kind of love: the vice of cupidity.
Most of us connect the word cupidity with its source, Cupid, the god of desire and erotic love in classical mythology. We associate Cupid with romance and Valentine’s Day, but this sort of desire is not all that cupidity entails. Within ancient Christian tradition, cupidity was associated with lust and ambition, the counterpart of the virtue of charity or godly love. Augustine explains that love is the “impulse” to “enjoy God on his own account and one’s neighbor on account of God.” In contrast, cupidity (or lust) is “the impulse of one’s mind to enjoy oneself and one’s neighbor and any corporeal thing not on account of God.” While charity is desire that moves us toward God, cupidity is desire that moves us away from God. Thus, while there are many kinds of loves that are proper and many things that are proper to love, to love well requires the proper ordering of these loves, Augustine says.
Does romantic love include lust?