Post-Platonism: Rethinking the Relations of Art, Love and Desire, 1500‒1767


James Grantham Turner


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This lecture explores the “erotic revolution” that swept through aesthetic theory and artistic practice in the sixteenth century. Early modern “sex-positive” polemic denounced the false shame that devalues physical, sexual love, and targeted neo-Platonism, with its fierce rejection of corporeal sexuality and bodily sensation. The lecture traces the evolution of interpretations of Platonic Eros, expressed through important semantic changes in words like "lascivious" and "libido", suddenly used in a positive sense during this period. Platonic anti-corporeality was absolutely rejected; but elements of the Platonic image of a graduated ascent, rising up on a ladder by a series of “steps” to attain the highest form of Love, were retained, and even amplified.