Aristophanes' Speech



es, said Aristophanes, who followed, the hiccough is gone, not, however, until I tried sneezing, and I wonder whether the harmony of the body has a love of such noises and ticklings, because no sooner did I sneeze than I was cured.

Eryximachus said: Be careful Aristophanes my friend, making fun of me that way before you speak, or I'll have to watch  for an opportunity to laugh at your expense, when you've spoken..

You're right said Aristophanes, laughing. I'll take back my words, but please don't lie in wait for me, since I'm afraid that when I make my speech, instead of others laughing with me, which is the way of my muse and so much the better, I shall only be laughed at by them.

Do you expect to shoot your bolt and escape, Aristophanes? Well, maybe if you're very careful and bear in mind that you will be called to account, I might be convinced to let you off.

Aristophanes announced that he would adopt a new approach and praise Love differently than either Pausanias or Eryximachus. In my opinion, Mankind, he said, judging by their neglect of him, have never understood the power of Love. For if they had understood him they would surely have built noble temples and altars, and offered solemn sacrifices in his honor. But this is not done, though it most certainly ought to be, since of all the gods he is the best friend of men, the helper and the healer of the ills which are the great impediment to the happiness of the race. I will try to describe his power to you, and you shall teach the rest of the world what I am teaching you. In the first place, let me discuss the nature of man and what has happened to it, for the original human nature was not like it is now. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, which had a name corresponding to this double nature, which once really existed, but now is lost, the word ‘Androgynous’ being preserved as a term of reproach. In the second place, the primeval human being was round, his back and sides forming a circle. He had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and exactly alike; also four ears, two sexual organs, and the rest to match. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers turning cartwheels, when he wanted to move fast. Now there were three sexes, such as I have described them, because the sun, moon, and earth are three. The man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved in a circular path like their parents. Their might and strength were enormous, their ambition was great, and they attacked the gods. They inspired the tale told the tale of Otys and Ephialtes who, as Homer says, dared to scale heaven, and would have laid hands upon the gods. Doubt reigned in the celestial councils. Should they kill them and annihilate the race with thunderbolts, as they had once done to the Titans. In that case, there would be an end of the sacrifices and worship which men offered to them. On the other hand, the gods could not suffer their unrestrained insolence. At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus discovered a way. He said: ‘I think I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve their manners. Men shall continue to exist, but I'll cut them in two, and they will be diminished in strength though increased in numbers. This will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us. They shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue to be insolent and will not be quiet, I will split them again and they shall hop about on a single leg.’ He spoke and cut men in two, like a sorb-apple which is halved for pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a hair. As he cut them one after another, he had Apollo give the face and half of the neck a turn in order that the man might contemplate the other half of himself, as a lesson in humility. Apollo was also given the task of healing their wounds and and shaping them into smooth forms. So he gave a turn to the face and pulled the skin from the sides all over what is now called the belly, like a draw purse, and he made one mouth at the centre, which he fastened in a knot (the same which is called the navel). He also molded the breast and took out most of the wrinkles, much as a shoemaker might smooth leather upon a last, though he left a few in the region of the belly and navel, as a memorial of the primeval state. After the division, the two parts of man, each desiring its other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one. They were on the point of dying from hunger and self-neglect, because they didn't like to do anything apart. And when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them—being the sections of entire men or women—and clung to that. They were being destroyed, when Zeus took pity and invented a new plan. He turned the sexual organs around to the front, for this had not been always their position. Previously and they sowed their seed like grasshoppers on the ground, but now they did so in the bodies of one another. After the transformation, the male generated in the female, so that they might breed and the race might continue through the mutual embraces of man and woman, or if man approached man for satisfaction, they would part and go their way about the business of life. So ancient is the desire for one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man. Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but half a person, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men. The women who were a section of the primeval woman do not care for men, but have female attachments; this is the origin of lesbians. But those who were part of the double male, when they are young, hang around men and embrace them, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature. Some indeed claim that they are shameless, but this is not true, for they do not act this way from any lack of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And when they grow up these become our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saving. When they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children. They do so if at all only in obedience to the law, but they are satisfied if they are allowed to live with one another unwedded. Such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment.  These are the people who pass their whole lives together, yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of sexual intercourse, but of something else, which the soul of either evidently desires but cannot identify, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment. Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, came up to the pair who are lying side by side and to say to them, ‘What do you people want of one another?’ they would be unable to explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said: ‘Do you desire to be wholly one, always day and night to be in one another’s company? If this is what you want, I'm ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one, and while alive, live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of two. I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to attain this? There is not a man among them who would not accept the proposal, and who would deny that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is what we call love. There was a time, I say, when we were one, but now because of the wickedness of mankind, God has dispersed us, as the Arcadians were dispersed into villages by the Lacedaemonians. And if we are not obedient to the gods, there is a danger that we will be split up again and go about in bas-relief, like the profile figures having only half a nose which are sculptured on monuments. So let us exhort all men to piety, that we may avoid evil, and obtain the good, of which Love is to us the lord and minister, and let no one oppose him. He who opposes love is the enemy of the gods. For if we are friends of God and at peace with him, we shall find our own true loves, which rarely happens in this world as it now is. I am serious about this, and therefore must beg Eryximachus not to make fun of me, or to claim any reference in what I am saying to Pausanias and Agathon, who, as I suspect, are both of the manly nature, and belong to the class which I have been describing. But my words have a wider application. They include men and women everywhere; and I believe that if our loves were perfectly accomplished, and each one, returning to his primeval nature, had his original true love, then our race would be happy. And if this would be best of all, then the second best and, under present circumstances, the nearest approach to such a union, would be the attainment of a compatible love. So, if we would praise him who has benefited us, we must praise the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future, since he promises that, if we are observant, he will restore us to our original state, and heal us and make us happy and blessed. This, Eryximachus, is my discourse on love. Although it is different form yours, I must beg you to leave it untouched by the shafts of your ridicule, in order that each may have his turn. Each, or rather either, for Agathon and Socrates are the only ones left.

Indeed, I am not going to attack you, said Eryximachus, for I thought your speech was charming, and if I didn't know that Agathon and Socrates are masters in the art of love, I would be really afraid that they would have nothing to say, after the world of things which have been said already. But, for all that, I am not without hope.


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