A Little Book on Love: A Wise and Inspiring Guide to Discovering the Gift of Love


Experience the miracle called love...

What is the purpose of love? Is the storm of ecstasy that we call love simply a biological urge that eventually passes—or the first stage in something much more? Is it possible for love to last, literally, forever?

In this extraordinary book, philosopher Jacob Needleman explores the greatest works of philosophy, myth, and sacred wisdom ...

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Experience the miracle called love...

What is the purpose of love? Is the storm of ecstasy that we call love simply a biological urge that eventually passes—or the first stage in something much more? Is it possible for love to last, literally, forever?

In this extraordinary book, philosopher Jacob Needleman explores the greatest works of philosophy, myth, and sacred wisdom to offer a bold new interpretation of why two people are brought together in the first place. The radiant poetry of the great Sufi mystic Rumi, the revelations of St. Paul, the moving tale of Philemon and Baucis, and the words of the world's sages become, with Needleman's gentle guidance, an enthralling journey of discovery—one that reveals the secret to finding love...and staying together for a lifetime. Resonating with hope and wisdom, A Little Book on Love shows us how true love can transcend time and the difficulties of daily life. It is a precious resource for anyone who wants a relationship to last a lifetime—and beyond.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385334327
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/31/1999
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacob Needleman is a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University and the author of many books, including Time and the Soul, The Heart of Philosophy, Lost Christianity, and Money and the Meaning of Life. In addition to his teaching and writing, he serves as a consultant in the fields of psychology, education, medical ethics, philanthropy, and business, and has been featured on Bill Moyers's acclaimed PBS series A World of Ideas.

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Read an Excerpt


Who has not been humbled by love, by its joys and its sorrows? How many of us try again and again to lay hold of what love seems to promise, only to be thrown back in fear or confusion or pain? How many give up and sadly accept to live outside the drama of love?

Whatever the meaning of our lives may be, it has to involve love. But what kind of love? Almost all the myths and legends and stories that teach us about love deal with the force that brings us together, in passion. And then--leads us into what?

Among the world's most profound love stories, there is one that is rarely noticed alongside the blazing tales of passion that reach us from the ancient and medieval worlds. In the legend of Philemon and Baucis, we find no bewitched love potion of the kind that carries Tristan and Isolde to their consummation in death, no heart-wrenching journey to the kingdom of Hades, where Orpheus, with one impatient glance, loses his Eurydice for all eternity.

Like a faint star which we can see only with new eyes, the myth of Philemon and Baucis gives a subtle light that suggests another kind of reality, another kind of love. And who can deny that our world is starved for a new understanding of love, of what it means to live together and work at love and not give up? That is the inquiry that the myth can start in us.

Our only source of the story is the great Roman chronicler of love and transformation, Ovid.* Ovid's speaker is Lelex, "ripe in years and wisdom."

"In the hill country of Phrygia," he begins, "there is an oak, growing close beside a linden tree, and a low wall surrounds them both. I have seen the spot myself. . .."

Close by, it seems, where once there was habitable land and a thriving village, there is now only a lake of stagnant water haunted by marsh birds. Jupiter, lord of gods and men, once visited this land with his companion, Mercury. Disguised as mortals, they wandered from house to house to see who would be willing to receive them and offer them a place to rest and take nourishment.

"The two gods went to a thousand homes and found a thousand doors bolted and barred against them." The gods do not force themselves upon us; they enter only where the door is opened for them.

Only one house takes them in--"a humble dwelling roofed with thatch and reeds from the marsh." They are welcomed by a good-hearted old woman, Baucis, and her husband, Philemon. The tale says that Baucis and Philemon are of the same age, that they had been married in that cottage in their youth, and had "grown gray in it together."

Everything in the ancient stories echoes its meanings on many levels. Who pays attention now to the symbol of the married couple living together from youth to old age? What kind of love is represented here? And why is it they, and they alone, who allow the gods into their home?

Baucis and Philemon are poor, but the tale does not simply mention their poverty; it tells us how they regarded it. "They confessed their poverty." They saw their poverty for what it was, without hiding it from themselves. Through this acceptance "they eased the hardship of their lot." Certainly it is not only physical poverty that is spoken of in the ancient language of myth.

"It made no difference in that house whether you asked for master or servant--the two of them were the entire household: the same people gave the orders and carried them out." Why put it this way?

The "heaven dwellers" are welcomed in and must stoop to pass through the low doorway. Simple wooden chairs are offered them and a fire is fed with leaves and dried bark to warm them. After much bustling activity and hospitable talk, a meal of vegetables, cheese, berries, and carefully roasted eggs is set out in rude clay dishes, and wine "of no great age" is passed around.

"As the dinner went on, the old man and woman saw that the flagon, as often as it was emptied, refilled itself of its own accord." Seeing this, Baucis and Philemon recognize the true nature of their guests and are filled with awe and fear. Timidly stretching out their hands in prayer, they beg the gods' indulgence for a poor meal. They have a single goose which they have kept as a kind of guardian of their small plot of land, but seeing now who their visitors are, they make ready to kill the bird. The goose runs from them and takes refuge with the gods, who declare that it should not be killed. It is not the goose who must be destroyed, say the gods, but the people of this place who refused to receive them. Only Baucis and Philemon are to be spared. They are asked to leave their poor house and ascend a steep mountain with the gods as their guides and companions. "The two old people both did as they were told and, leaning on their sticks, struggled up the long slope."

Baucis and Philemon are led to a "higher level" and now see nothing but water where once there was a land full of living people. What kind of gods are these? Are we being given a picture of divine spite and vengeance--or is something deeper at issue here, involving the purpose of human life itself and the fateful consequences of man's unwillingness to accept this purpose--as in the Old Testament legend of Noah and the Flood?

* The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. by Mary M. Innes, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1955, 1973, Book III, 615-725, pp. 195-98.
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Table of Contents

Part 1 The Work of Love 1
Chapter 1 Love and Wisdom 3
Chapter 2 The Two Loves 20
Chapter 3 Communication 39
Chapter 4 Why Do We Quarrel? 51
Chapter 5 Trust 62
Chapter 6 Time 74
Chapter 7 Money, Work, Sex, Power, Beauty ... Life Itself 83
Part 2 The Wisdom of Love 97
Chapter 8 Intentional Love 99
Chapter 9 Ethics as Love 108
Chapter 10 Two Poets: Rumi and Rilke 121
Chapter 11 Impersonal Love 131
Chapter 12 The Practice of Love 142
Conclusion in the Form of a Question 150
For Further Reading 161
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