From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" --Jesus, Matthew 5:27–28

Allegory of Chastity (1475) by Hans Memling
Allegory of Chastity (1475) by Hans Memling

Related e



Lust (or lechery) is an inordinate craving for sexual intercourse often to the point of assuming a self-indulgent, and sometimes violent character. Lust, or an immoderate desire for the flesh of another (outside of matrimony), is considered a sin, or impure act, in the three major Abrahamic religions.



In Old English (and several related Germanic languages), "lust" referred generally to desire, appetite, or pleasure. The sense of "to have a strong sexual desire (for or after)" is first seen in biblical use in the 1520s.

Old English lust (“lust, pleasure, longing”), from Proto-Germanic *lustuz. Akin to Old Saxon, Dutch lust, Old Frisian, Old High German, German Lust, & Swedish lust, Danish lyst & Icelandic lyst, Old Norse losti, Gothic lustus, and perhaps to Sanskrit lush "to desire" and Albanian lushë (“bitch, savage dog, promiscuous woman”), or to English loose. Confer list (“to please”), listless.

Today, the meaning of the word still has differing meanings as shown in the Merriam-Webster definition. Lust: 1. a: pleasure, delight b: personal inclination: wish 2. intense or unbridled sexual desire: lasciviousness 3. a: intense longing: craving <a lust to succeed> b: enthusiasm, eagerness <admired his lust for life>.

In religion


In Judaism, all evil inclinations and lusts of the flesh are characterised by yetzer hara (Hebrew, יצר הרע). Yetzer hara is not a demonic force, but rather man's mis-use of the things which the physical body needs to survive, and is often contrasted with yetzer hatov. This idea was derived from Genesis 8:21, which states that "the imagination of the heart of man is evil from his youth".

Yetzer hara is often identified with Satan and the angel of death, and there is sometimes a tendency to give a personality and separate activity to the Yetzer. For the Yetzer, like Satan, misleads man in this world, and testifies against him in the world to come. However, Yetzer is clearly distinguished from Satan, and on other occasions is made exactly parallel to sin. The Torah is considered the great antidote against this force. Though, like all things which God has made, the Yetzer is good. For without it, man would never marry, beget a child, build a house, or trade.


In the New Testament, the word "lust" is commonly used as a translation of the Koiné Greek word, 'επιθυμία'. According to the definition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, a Christian's heart is lustful when "venereal satisfaction is sought for either outside wedlock or, at any rate, in a manner which is contrary to the laws that govern marital intercourse".

In Roman Catholicism, lust became one of the Seven Deadly Sins, taking the place of extravagance (latin: luxuria). This change occurred because in the Romance languages, the cognates of luxuria (the latin name of the sin) evolved to have an exclusively sexual meaning; the Old French cognate was adopted into English as luxury, but this lost its sexual meaning by the 14th century.

Lust is now considered by Roman Catholicism to be a capital sin; the reason for this is due to the Catholic belief that the gravity of an offence is measured by the harm it works to the individual or to the community. And insofar as impurity bears the evil distinction that, whenever there is a direct conscious surrender to any of its phases, the guilt incurred by the individual is always grievous. However, when there is some impure gratification for which a person is not immediately responsible, but simply had posited its cause and had not deliberately consented, the sin is only considered venial.

The determination of the amount of flagitiousness depends upon the proximate danger of giving way on the part of the agent, as well as upon the known capacity of the things done to bring about venereal pleasure. This sin applies to external and internal sins alike, forasmuch as Jesus had uttered the word 'lust' during his Sermon on the Mount thus :

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:27 - 28)


In Islam, lascivious glances and thoughts are wrong. As the Prophet Mohammed once said, "The fornication of the eyes is to look with lust; the fornication of the tongue is to speak lustful things; the fornication of the hands is to touch with lust; the fornication of the feet is to walk towards lust; the fornication of the heart is to desire evil."


Few ancient, pagan religions have actually considered lust to be a vice. The most famous example of a wide-spread religious movement practicing lust as a ritual would be the Bacchanalias of the Ancient Roman Bacchantes. However, this activity was soon outlawed by the Roman Senate in 186 BC in the decree Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. The practice of sacred prostitution, however, continued to be an activity practiced often by the Dionysians.

In art

Visual art

see also vanitas


From Ovid to the works of les poètes maudits, characters have always been faced with scenes of lechery, and long since has lust been a common motif in world literature. Many writers, such as Georges Bataille, Casanova and Prosper Mérimée, have written works wherein scenes at bordellos and other unseemly locales take place.

Despite the apparent evils of Baudelaire, author of Les fleurs du mal, he had once remarked, in regard to the artist, that "The more a man cultivates the arts, the less randy he becomes... Only the brute is good at coupling, and copulation is the lyricism of the masses. To copulate is to enter into another -- and the artist never emerges from himself".

The most notable work to touch upon the sin of lust, and all of the Seven Deadly Sins, is Dante's la Divina Commedia. Dante's criterion for lust was an "excessive love of others," insofar as an excessive love for man would render one's love of God secondary.

In the first canticle of Dante's Inferno, the lustful are punished by being continuously swept around in a whirlwind, which symbolizes their passions. Penitents who are guilty of lust, like the two famous lovers, Paolo and Francesca, cannot cleanse their soul of this sin and will never purge their minds from their lustful desire. In Purgatorio, of the selfsame work, the penitents are forced to walk through flames in order to purge themselves of their lustful inclinations.

In philosophy

The link between love and lust has always been a problematic question in philosophy.

Schopenhauer notes the misery which results from sexual relationships. According to him, this directly explains the sentiments of shame and sadness which tend to follow the act of sexual intercourse. For, he states, the only power that reigns is the inextinguishable desire to face, at any price, the blind love present in human existence without any consideration of the outcome. He estimates that a genius of his species is an industrial being who wants only to produce, and wants only to think. The theme of lust for Schopenhauer is thus to consider the horrors which will almost certainly follow the culmination of lust. See Eros and Schopenhauer.

In psychology

Lust, in the domain of psychology, is often treated as a case of "heightened libido".

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lust" 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.

Personal tools