Symposium by Plato. - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
But the love of youth when not depraved was a them we should hesitate to ascribe, any more love of virtue and modesty as well as of beauty, than to the attachment of Achilles and Patroclus the one being the expression of the other; and in Homer, an immoral or licentious character.
in certain Greek states, especially at Sparta and There were many, doubtless, to whom the love Thebes, the honourable attachment of a youth of the fair mind was the noblest form of friend-to an elder man was a part of his education. The ship (Rep.), and who deemed the friendship of
‘army of lovers and their beloved who would be man with man to be higher than the love of invincible if they could be united by such a tie’
woman, because altogether separated from the Symp.), is not a mere fiction of Plato’s, but bodily appetites. The existence of such attach-seems actually to have existed at Thebes in the ments may be reasonably attributed to the infe-days of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, if we may riority and seclusion of woman, and the want of believe writers cited anonymously by Plutarch, a real family or social life and parental influence Pelop. Vit. It is observable that Plato never in in Hellenic cities; and they were encouraged by the least degree excuses the depraved love of the practice of gymnastic exercises, by the meet-the body (compare Charm.; Rep.; Laws; Symp.; ings of political clubs, and by the tie of military and once more Xenophon, Mem.), nor is there companionship. They were also an educational any Greek writer of mark who condones or ap-institution: a young person was specially en-proves such connexions. But owing partly to the trusted by his parents to some elder friend who puzzling nature of the subject these friendships was expected by them to train their son in manly are spoken of by Plato in a manner different from exercises and in virtue. It is not likely that a that customary among ourselves. To most of Greek parent committed him to a lover, any more 27
than we should to a schoolmaster, in the expec-to have been no longer tolerated by the greater tation that he would be corrupted by him, but refinement of the age. False sentiment is found rather in the hope that his morals would be bet-in the Lyric and Elegiac poets; and in mythology ter cared for than was possible in a great house-
‘the greatest of the Gods’ (Rep.) is not exempt hold of slaves.
from evil imputations. But the morals of a na-It is difficult to adduce the authority of Plato tion are not to be judged of wholly by its litera-either for or against such practices or customs, ture. Hellas was not necessarily more corrupted because it is not always easy to determine in the days of the Persian and Peloponnesian whether he is speaking of ‘the heavenly and wars, or of Plato and the Orators, than England philosophical love, or of the coarse Polyhymnia:’
in the time of Fielding and Smollett, or France and he often refers to this (e.g. in the Sympo-in the nineteenth century. No one supposes cer-sium) half in jest, yet ‘with a certain degree of tain French novels to be a representation of or-seriousness.’ We observe that they entered into dinary French life. And the greater part of Greek one part of Greek literature, but not into another, literature, beginning with Homer and including and that the larger part is free from such asso-the tragedians, philosophers, and, with the exciations. Indecency was an element of the ludi-ception of the Comic poets (whose business was crous in the old Greek Comedy, as it has been in to raise a laugh by whatever means), all the other ages and countries. But effeminate love was greater writers of Hellas who have been pre-always condemned as well as ridiculed by the served to us, are free from the taint of indecency.
Comic poets; and in the New Comedy the allu-Some general considerations occur to our mind sions to such topics have disappeared. They seem when we begin to reflect on this subject. (1) That 28
good and evil are linked together in human na-the imputation of secret wickedness (which can-ture, and have often existed side by side in the not be either proved or disproved and often can-world and in man to an extent hardly credible.
not be defined) when directed against a person We cannot distinguish them, and are therefore of whom the world, or a section of it, is predis-unable to part them; as in the parable ‘they grow posed to think evil. And it is quite possible that together unto the harvest:’ it is only a rule of the malignity of Greek scandal, aroused by some external decency by which society can divide personal jealousy or party enmity, may have con-them. Nor should we be right in inferring from verted the innocent friendship of a great man the prevalence of any one vice or corruption that for a noble youth into a connexion of another a state or individual was demoralized in their kind. Such accusations were brought against sev-whole character. Not only has the corruption of eral of the leading men of Hellas, e.g. Cimon, the best been sometimes thought to be the worst, Alcibiades, Critias, Demosthenes, Epaminondas: but it may be remarked that this very excess of several of the Roman emperors were assailed by evil has been the stimulus to good (compare similar weapons which have been used even in Plato, Laws, where he says that in the most cor-our own day against statesmen of the highest rupt cities individuals are to be found beyond all character. (3) While we know that in this mat-praise). (2) It may be observed that evils which ter there is a great gulf fixed between Greek and admit of degrees can seldom be rightly esti-Christian Ethics, yet, if we would do justice to mated, because under the same name actions of the Greeks, we must also acknowledge that there the most different degrees of culpability may be was a greater outspokenness among them than included. No charge is more easily set going than among ourselves about the things which nature 29
hides, and that the more frequent mention of and among ourselves, as between ourselves and such topics is not to be taken as the measure of continental nations at the present time, in modes the prevalence of offences, or as a proof of the of salutation. We must not suspect evil in the general corruption of society. It is likely that ev-hearty kiss or embrace of a male friend ‘return-ery religion in the world has used words or prac-ing from the army at Potidaea’ any more than tised rites in one age, which have become disin a similar salutation when practised by mem-tasteful or repugnant to another. We cannot, bers of the same family. But those who make though for different reasons, trust the represen-these admissions, and who regard, not without tations either of Comedy or Satire; and still less pity, the victims of such illusions in our own day, of Christian Apologists. (4) We observe that at whose life has been blasted by them, may be Thebes and Lacedemon the attachment of an none the less resolved that the natural and elder friend to a beloved youth was often deemed healthy instincts of mankind shall alone be tol-to be a part of his education; and was encour-erated (Greek); and that the lesson of manliness aged by his parents—it was only shameful if it which we have inherited from our fathers shall degenerated into licentiousness. Such we may not degenerate into sentimentalism or effemi-believe to have been the tie which united nacy. The possibility of an honourable connexion Asophychus and Cephisodorus with the great of this kind seems to have died out with Greek Epaminondas in whose companionship they fell civilization. Among the Romans, and also among (Plutarch, Amat.; Athenaeus on the authority of barbarians, such as the Celts and Persians, there Theopompus). (5) A small matter: there appears is no trace of such attachments existing in any to be a difference of custom among the Greeks noble or virtuous form.