Friday, November 14, 2008

More Lessons From Plato

In today's reading, children, we learn how to cure hiccups, and the origin of the euphemism "Greek Culture".

Hiccup Cure

When one of the Symposium guests has an attack of the hiccups, Dr. Erixymachus advises:
....let me recommend you to hold your breath, and if this fails, then to gargle with a little water; and if the hiccough still continues, tickle your nose with something and sneeze; if you sneeze once or twice, even the most violent hiccough is sure to go.
Apparently, the traditional folk remedies have a longer history than I had imagined. However, none of them sound like as much fun as this one:

In case
you're wondering: it worked. And speaking of sex, that brings us to....

Greek Culture

The diners elect that they will discourse on the topic of Love. The first oration is given by Phaedrus, who speaks of the custom in their society, that an older man would take under his wing a youth. The relationship is one of companion and mentorship, but obviously goes beyond simple instruction and advice:
For I know not any greater blessing to a young man beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth.
The following speaker, Pausanias, distinguishes between two types of love, which respectively emanate from the "common Aphrodite" and the "heavenly Aphrodite".
But the Love who is the son of the common Aphrodite is essentially common, and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner sort of men feel, and is apt to be of women as well as of youths, and is of the body rather than of the soul....

The goddess who is his mother is far younger, and she was born of the union of male and female, and partakes of both sexes. But the son of the heavenly Aphrodite is sprung from a mother in whose birth the female has no part, but she is from the male only; this is that love which is of youths only, and the goddess being older has nothing of wantonness. This who are inspired by this love turn to the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant and intelligent nature....

And in choosing them [ie. a man choosing a youth] as their companions, they mean to be faithful to them, and to pass their whole life with them, and be with them....

....and the coarser sort of lovers ought to be restrained by force, as we restrain or attempt to restrain them from fixing their affections on women of free birth.
Another speaker, Aristophanes, tells an origins myth, according to which humans were primevally double, having four arms, four legs, two faces, and so on. Moreover, there were three sexes: male; female; and the androgynous union of the other two, and each human individual comprised parts of all three sexes. But these humans rebelled against the gods, who as punishment, divided them each in two parts, the navel being the spot at which the skin on the cut surface was drawn together and re-sealed. And ever since then, every human has been seeking for their lost other half, that they may be whole again -- hence, the idea that each of us has a soul-mate, a perfect life partner. He goes on (emphasis mine):
....and after the transposition, the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest and go their ways to the business of life...Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lascivious; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous and lascivious women: the women who are a section of the woman don't care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But the men who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being a piece of the man, they hang about him and embrace him, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature. Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow up are our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saying. And when they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children, which they do, if at all, only in obedience to the law, but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him.
So there you have it: to the old Greeks, not only was gay OK, but in some ways even superior to us straights. Suck on that, fans of "traditional marriage"!

PS: An Anachronism

Being currently under the pleasant post-prandial influence of a couple of glasses of Pelee Island Merlot, I must mention that a few pages later, a drunken Alcibiades refers to the proverb "In vino veritas" (if you don't know what that means, I'm sure that Google Is Your Friend). Which prompts the question: Why is a pre-Roman Greek quoting proverbs in Latin? Or equivalently: Why did the legendary Jowett choose to translate a (presumably) Greek phrase into Latin, as part of his English translation of the text?

(Thanks to my Lost-and-Found Other Half for taking dictation on the lengthy Aristophanes excerpt. Half way through, it occurred to us that the text is doubtless available online).

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