Leone Ebreo's Dialoghi d'amore:
[ Leone Ebreo's aesthetics is] the most notable monument of Platonic philosophy in the 16th century and, indeed, the most beautiful that this philosophy has produced since Plotinus.
MARCELINO MENÉNDEZ Y PELAYO1
Under the guise of a polite courtship between a lover and his beloved (Filone and Sofia), the Dialoghi d'amore is a loosely structured series of discourses on an encyclopedic variety of questions unified by the idea of love. 2 There are three parts or dialoghi. The first is ontological, attempting to define the essence of love and desire by examining the various kinds of good or lovable objects available to man. The second dialogue expands the scope of the discussion by considering the "broad community" of love, which is seen no longer solely in its human and psychological dimension but also as a cosmological fact. The third dialogue--by far the most lengthy and important-- is an essentially theological discourse on the origins of love in the universe, wherein love is viewed as the principle that defines the relationship between God and His creation. At the end of this third part Leone announces a dialogue on the effects of love, but this section is either lost or unwritten.
The opening statement places the entire work under the sign of a Platonic and rationalistic theory of love: "My knowledge of you, Sofia, engenders in me love and desire." Love (and desire) is always based on knowledge. There is, to be sure, an inferior kind of loving in which passion precedes knowledge of the beloved, as Filone later recognizes. But in its true sense love can arise only from a knowledge of the beloved, of what Corneille calls her mérite. Thus, one cannot simply "love," for love always expresses a relationship between lover and beloved, subject and desirable object. In view of this, for example, it would be improper to describe one's affection toward his yet unborn child as love. For if love is based on knowledge, the latter in turn can only be of what is, the beloved object must have real existence; at most one can desire the child's existence but can love him only after knowing him as a real being. Further, since evil and ugliness cannot be loved in any meaningful sense of the term, the knowledge that produces love is always of an object judged to be good or beautiful.