Accessibility statement

Eros: the Literature & Philosophy of Love - ENG00125I

« Back to module search

  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Brian Cummings
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

Love has been the inspiration of poets since earliest times, and has also been the often surprising occasion of speculative thinking about the boundaries and purposes of philosophy. From Plato to Freud, indeed, the creative and yet dangerous possibilities of love have been the spur for understanding the human sciences. This module will explore a wide range of literary texts (classical, medieval and Renaissance, and modern), reading mostly in translation but also learning some concepts in philosophy.

Love may be the oldest subject of poetry. From the ancient east to contemporary songs, it is the permanent impulse towards making art. In this module we will study some of the treasures of world literature. We will investigate short intimate lyrics (from Sappho to W.H. Auden); and longer genres of sexual fantasy (Ovid) or divine love (Dante). If time allows, we will also look at some non-western sources such as Indian Vedic poetry, or Kalidasa. The poetry of love is often disturbing as well as exultant, destructive as well as creative.

We will also investigate the relationship between literature and philosophy. “The only thing I say I know”, Socrates tells us in the Symposium, “is the art of love (ta erôtika) (177d8–9). This is an incredible claim. What does emotion, still less sexual experience, have to tell us about knowledge? For some, such matters are the opposite of rational thinking; while for others, reason is the antidote to love. Plato’s reply (in the speeches of Socrates) is two-fold: first, erôs (“love”) tests the basis and limits of thinking processes in complex ways; and second, to philosophize (philosophein), taken literally is to “love” wisdom. Thinking well, that is, involves not only the urgent examination of feelings, but also the arousal of feeling through thinking. Alongside the poetry of ancient Greece and Rome, of medieval and Renaissance Italy and England, and of twentieth-century England and Germany, we will consider three examples of a “philosophy of love”: Plato’s theory of homosexual and heterosexual erôs;  a Christian theory of love and subjectivity in Augustine’s Confessions; and Freud’s rewriting of classical myth and Christian repression in his theories of psychoanalysis and sexuality.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21 to Summer Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aim of this module is to introduce students to some of the richness and variety of European love literature, especially poetry; and to develop a sense of literary language and its theoretical basis.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with a range of major European writing on love.
  2. Demonstrate an informed understanding of and engagement with some of the philosophical and cultural contexts of classical, medieval and Renaissance, and modern literature.
  3. Examine key debates and critical approaches, including theories and practices of love, and the study of the past in relation to the present, and vice versa.
  4. Develop arguments and ideas which demonstrate a proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.
  5. Demonstrate an understanding of some of the key issues at stake in the act of translation and in the study of literature in translation.


Task Length % of module mark
2500 word Essay
N/A 70
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Eros: the Literature & Philosophy of Love
N/A 30

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in week 1 of the summer term. Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work.

This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 3 seminar). Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account.


Task Length % of module mark
2500 word Essay
N/A 70
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Eros: the Literature & Philosophy of Love
N/A 30

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours  
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

Reading will be made available on the VLE towards the start of the module.  Texts may include:

  • Sappho and Catullus, Carmina;
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses;
  • Dante, Divine Comedy;
  • Petrarch and Shakespeare, Sonnets;
  • W.H. Auden, selected poems;
  • Plato, Symposium;
  • Augustine, Confessions;
  • Freud, selected writings.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.