Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson is a discussion of ancient texts, beginning with a fragment from Sappho’s writings in which she equates eros with bittersweetness, although the neologism used by Sappho is actually sweetbitter. And from the very start of this highly intellectual book we know that Carson is not merely looking at love, at eros, but at how language is used to describe and define love.
Although not a very long book, the text is quite dense and demands the readers attention. Carson never comes off as a purely dry academic but more as an insatiably curious scholar. Eros informed and even defined by yearning, the idea of triangulation–of the lover, the beloved, and the distance–are all implied in “I love you” and from this Carson continues to discuss how words do not create intimacy so much as reinforce the distance for when one writes to another, the words themselves are written in a moment which no longer exists.
It is this lexo-philosophic approach to the classic poets that makes this book a pleasure to read for anyone who loves words and language. Reading Carson’s exploration is stimulating and fascinating and my only complaint is that the book ends so abruptly. I wanted to read more, to learn more, to just revel in the way Carson weaves a spell with her ideas and how she connects the poetry and philosophy and mythology of ancient Greece and Rome. I enjoyed this book very much the first time I read it but I adored it the second time. A book well worth reading. And reading again.