[Milton-L] Adam's better half

Thomas H. Luxon Thomas.H.Luxon at dartmouth.edu
Sun Aug 15 10:31:42 EDT 2010

On Aug 14, 2010, at 4:20 PM, richard strier wrote:

> Ideologically, the great thing about the story is that it equates the sexual 
> "identities":   homo male; homo female; hetero.  All have same status, same story.

Well, Yes and No.

Yes, this story understands all sexual desire as based in the body—a longing for one's missing other half. One might almost say that according to this originary story, all human erotic desire is homo-oriented, because all humans desire a missing part of the self, the same self of its origins. (Or all erotics is a kind of auto-erotics?) In any case this is one basis for the strong and long-lasting theory that erotic desire, indeed all desire in the universe, is oriented towards sameness (see Aristotle's NE on friendship).

In Aristophanes's account, all have the same story, but I do not agree that all have the same status, according to Aristophanes's story.

Here is what Aristophanes is reported (by Plato) to say about hetero-oriented halves:

"All the men who are sections of that composite sex that at first was called man-woman are woman-courters; our adulterers are mostly descended from that sex, whence likewise are derived our man-courting women and adulteresses" (191d-e)

and here's what he says about homo-oriented female halves:

"All the women who are sections of the woman have no great fancy for men: they are inclined rather to women, and of this stock are the she-minions" (191e).

But the best people, according to Aristophanes, are those who were once globular double males, males longing for a male other half. In this regard, he pretty much agrees with Pausanias that men who love men are the most manly, most dignified and most virtuous of all:

"Men who are sections of the male pursue the masculine, and so long as their boyhood lasts they show themselves to be slices of the male by making friends with men and delighting to lie with them and to be clasped in men's embraces; these are the finest boys and striplings, for they have the most manly nature. Some say they are shameless creatures, but falsely: for their behavior is due not to shamelessness but to daring, manliness, and virility, since they are quick to welcome their like. Sure evidence of this is the fact that on reaching maturity these alone prove in a public career to be men. So when they come to man's estate they are boy-lovers, and have no natural interest in wiving and getting children, but only do these things under stress of custom; they are quite contented to live together unwedded all their days. A man of this sort is at any rate born to be a lover of boys or the willing mate of a man, eagerly greeting his own kind" (191e-192b)

So, to sum up Aristophanes's opinions, heterosexual men are sexually promiscuous and unfaithful, homosexual women are "she-minions" and the most daring, manly and publicly successful men are those naturally inclined to other men.

Tom Luxon

Quotations from Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925. found online at the Perseus Project.

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