Eros and Thanatos  

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Salome (c. 1530) by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Salome (c. 1530) by Lucas Cranach the Elder
El amor y la muerte (English: Love and Death) is plate 10 from the Caprichos by Francisco Goya.
El amor y la muerte (English: Love and Death) is plate 10 from the Caprichos by Francisco Goya.

"Human sexuality is, quite apart from Christian repressions, a highly questionable phenomenon, and belongs, at least potentially, among the extreme rather than the ordinary experiences of humanity. Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness - pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one's consciousness, for death itself." --"The Pornographic Imagination" (1967) by Susan Sontag

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Sex and death have gone hand in hand since the earliest times, but were first explicitly linked as two complementary and contradictory drives or instincts in Freudian psychology. For Sigmund Freud Eros also called libido, libidinal energy or love, is the life instinct innate in all humans. It is the desire to create life and favours productivity and construction. But starting with Freud's essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Eros is opposed by the destructive death instinct of Thanatos (death instinct or death drive). In going "beyond" the simple pleasure principle, Freud developed his theory of drives, by adding the death instinct, often referred to as "Thanatos," although Freud himself never used this term.

Philosophically, the theme has been explored by in the oeuvre of French philosopher Georges Bataille, most notably in Erotism: Death and Sensuality and The Tears of Eros.


In the arts

Visual art

Death and the maiden

Death and the maiden

Death and the Maiden was a common theme in Renaissance art, especially in painting. It was developed from the Dance of Death theme and the myth of Persephone and Hades. The theme consists of a personified death figure and a "maiden". The new element was an erotic subtext. A prominent representative is Hans Baldung Grien.

In cinema

Eros and Thanatos in cinema -- or as it is also called -- the erotic horror genre, can best be approached through the work of Alfred Hitchcock in films such as Psycho and Frenzy, as well as the oeuvre of Jess Franco. The most relevant movie in the genre is Peeping Tom by (1960) Michael Powell .

Various exploitation films have explored related themes such as lesbian vampires, snuff films and scream queens and final girls.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Eros and Thanatos" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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