Thursday, May 24, 2012

When Eros Means Man-Boy Love

I have to admit that I can't really get my arms around the idea that the noblest form of erotic love is the love of an older man for a beautiful boy.  But Socrates and his pals at the Symposium seem to think it's the most natural thing in the world.

The only question, for young Phaedrus, is what is honorable or dishonorable in man-boy love, or whether, for Pausanias, there are two kinds of eros, the common or the heavenly. The common is the one for those that care only about "completing the sexual act" and like women as well as boys.  Whereas the heavenly version...

For Eryximachus the doctor eros suffuses everything, even in the business of the physician and his patient, for "the physician's task is to effect a mutual reconciliation and establish mutual love between the most basic bodily elements."

And then there is Aristophanes, with a Platonic "likely story" about humans as "completely round, with back and sides in a circle; they had four hands each, as many legs as hands".  Plus two faces, two sets of sex organs, etc., until Zeus decided to cut humans in two.  Thus cut in half, humans wanted to reunite with their lost half, and that is how you get love.

Then Agathon goes off into ecstasies about the beauty of the erotic god, his youth and delicacy.  "Love fills us with togetherness and drains all of our divisiveness away." Mildness, kindness, "comrade and savior".  Everyone should follow love.

I suppose the problem for us 21st century moderns is our attachment to the ideal of romantic love.  In that, at least, we can understand Aristophanes and Agathon.  But the curious way in which man-boy love is experienced by Greek aristocrats as a preparation for valor, and a way to socialize boys into manhood:  t's just as weird as what comes next: Plato's insistence that the highest form of love is philosophy, the love of wisdom.

Today's philosophers don't seem to be much in love with wisdom.  They just love to chop logic.

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