Chapter 4 of Death in Venice by Thomas Mann contains references and cross-references to Ancient Greece. The main concept articulated in this chapter is Platonic love and related issues. I have read somewhere that love is a bird with colorful wings that remains caged in one’s heart. It moves there with tantalising speed and makes one a bard. This is true of the relationship between Von Aschenbach and Tadzio. With the first strike of love, Aschenbach’s heart is never the same forever, though he intelligently tries to sweep his true feelings for Tadzio under the carpet. He tries to equate his love for him with the divine angle, Platonic love as per Greek philosophy, but lacks the support of the prerequisite of that ideal relationship as he not the boy’s mentor.
Considering from the point of view of the boy also the love relationship does not pass the test. His attitude negates the practice of Platonic love. His meaningful smile is not the smile of Narcissus. Narcissus of the Greek mythology falls in love with his own image, intently stares his reflection, dies in the process and is reborn as a flower. Aschenbach’s wants to defend his position from the philosophical angle, but in the process reveals the struggle of his inner world. He tries his best to suppress his true feeling of love for Tadzio but his final submission indicates the victory of the Dionysian forces (debauchery, joy and abandon) in his mind. He is vocal about his love for Tadzio and pronounces the words “I love you” by himself, and not in the presence of Tadzio. Evil can overpower an individual at the most unsuspected moment and one’s spiritual pursuit needs to be ever vigilant. What is to be noted in this chapter is the ironic tone of narration. With the mention of the mythical characters, an atmosphere is created pointing towards universality of characters. Finally, Thomas Mann hints at the ill-fated love of Aschenbach.
Mann, Thomas (Author). Death in Venice. Michael Henry Heim (Trans): Ecco, June 1, 2004.