A Virus called ‘Love’: Rizal, Luna, Napoleon, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra…
“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.”
— George Sands
Love is a virus, a possible source of mutation. It can enter your system unexpectedly and take over your life, improve your genes, pass silently, or kill entire cities and nations.
Romantic love is also a defining characteristic of the Filipino, differentiating us to some extent from our Confucian neighbors, whose notions of love are demonstrated more by discipline and sacrifice. This is demonstrated in our history, as well, with our heroes’ personal passions and their battles for love being just as colorful as stories of their battles for our nation.
Filipinos speak half admiringly of the nine or more loves (or lovers?) of Jose Rizal in his short 35 years of life. This is probably what some consider a “plus point” for him in the votes for who should be the national hero. Starting from his teen years with notes to Segunda Katigbak, who was engaged to be married to someone else; to the letters in invisible ink he wrote to Leonor Rivera, whom he was two timing with Leonor Valenzuela; to adapting their characters in his novels — he eventually had British, Japanese, Belgian, daughters of landlords, daughters of patients and mayors, cousins and other lovers. He sculpted their likeness, fought friends and family for them, wrote poems to them. Rizal has clear rights to sing Julio Iglesias’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”
Our heroes had more — or just more public(?) — dramatic personal passions than the rest of the East Asian statesmen. Where else would you have heroes quarreling over a girl to the extent of Antonio Luna challenging Rizal to a duel over Nellie Boustead? But, true to Filipino brotherly love among men, Antonio was a sport and conceded defeat in the game of love to our national hero “Pepe”: “I believe that she will bring happiness not only to you but to any other man who is worthy of her. I congratulate you as one congratulates a friend.”
Antonio’s brother Juan Luna, our famed painter of the “Spolarium” on the other hand, madly in love with, and jealous of the suspected infidelity of, shot and killed his wife Paz along with his mother-in-law — two in one! His song could’ve been Tom Jones’ “Delilah!” Luna was acquitted of murder charges on the grounds of temporary insanity; the “unwritten law” at the time forgave men for killing unfaithful wives. Gregorio del Pilar, who gave his life to the revolution, was a playboy general as so well portrayed in the movie “Goyong.”
Of course, love in history is not a Filipino monopoly, but has universal outbreaks of infection, inspiration, always mutating and evolving, touching almost all humans, not possible to “lock down” into some cities.
Julius Caesar was supposed to take Cleopatra as prisoner, but instead fell in love with her and introduced her to Rome as their new queen. This helped lead Rome, the world’s greatest empire then, into disputes and war over Caesar’s fitness to lead, where he was assassinated and hundreds of thousands died.
This love virus Cleopatra had a second spectacular outbreak. Rome’s next greatest general, Mark Anthony, also fell for Cleopatra and thousands again died in famous land and naval battles till they were defeated and both committed suicide when each thought the other had died.
Helen of Troy, the famed “face that launched a thousand ships,” had run away from her husband King Menelaus to go with Paris. This started the 10-year Trojan War. Because of this famous elopement, Troy, preeminent economic power in the Mediterranean for centuries, had its royal family decapitated, raped, enslaved, into legend by avenging Greek King Agamemnon, who returned home victorious only to be murdered by his wife.
She resented Agamemnon’s sacrificing their daughter to the gods to win the war. Helen, after creating chaos with hundreds of thousands dying, came home to her old husband Menelaus and lived happily ever after. That beautiful face must have some really thick skin!
The two above stories also demonstrate the saying “Be careful what you wish for…” You don’t know the cost of attaining your wish or what comes with it, even if the wish is for love.
There are also inspiring stories. Theodora was an acrobat, prostitute of exceptional intelligence (and supposed skill as a lover), which led to the emperor choosing her as his empress. In a revolt that was on the verge of succeeding, when the Emperor Justinian planned to escape, she famously stood her ground, saying it was better to die in the purple (as emperor) than as a fugitive in comfort! This inspired Justinian to stay and turn the tide of battle.
Napoleon and Joséphine de Beauharnais, of poor origin, though they divorced due to politics, loved each other to the end. On the other hand, Marie Louise of Austrian nobility, whom he last married, left him to ally with his enemies. One all: Love triumphs politics, politics also triumphed love.
Is it a coincidence that Rizal’s last love was also a Josephine, a Bracken, also of poor origin? This was despite the objections of her adoptive father who considered her ungrateful and a big spender, and Rizal’s own family’s objections. We can consider that Pepe was clearly loved by Josephine as she continued to risk herself in aiding the revolution, including in the fighting itself after his execution. Ambeth Ocampo relates an instance when facing the governor general, she “told him if he was offended with her he could take her out and shoot her as her husband had been shot.” (Compare that with Empress Marie Louise waiting to have Napoleon exiled til death!) Though Rizal could not give his Josephine much in life, being small of stature, having no children, no wealth to give her, and exposing her to family censure and revolutionary risks, it seems he might have married her just before execution. He immortalized her in his last great poem, the “Mi Ultimo Adios”: “Adios, dulce extranjera, mi amiga, mi alegria… (Goodbye, my sweet foreigner, my love, my happiness).” There is a saying: “A frustrated lover becomes a poet, a frustrated spouse becomes a philosopher.”
Why study love? Love is an outsized political and economic force in the Philippines. It constantly determines the direction of, and the rise and fall of our countrymen and leaders. Whether it is a source of weakness or inspiration, nation is an eternal question argued over in our gossip columns, coffee shops, karaoke bars and even halls of governments.
Happy Heart’s Day!
George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of IDSI. He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the ASEAN Nations, Japan and the United States.
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Also published in: https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/02/16/opinion/columnists/a-virus-called-love-rizal-luna-napoleon-helen-of-troy-cleopatra/686346/
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